Legal Highs

So pleased to note that Reading Festival banned Legal Highs from their festival over the weekend.

Legal Highs pose a particular kind of problem that to me signals exactly why drugs should maintain an identity in terms of the law. The lack of any kind of legal identification paradoxically indicates safety – ie these are ok as they are no illegal. Yet these substances, clearly identified as ‘not for human consumption’ are made with poisons and toxic substances that are completely unregulated and unidentified exposing the curious teen to life threatening experimentation in the name of a good time and rock ‘n’ roll; particularly when mixed with alcohol.

People need proper education around drugs so they know what risks they are taking, and the proper support available when they run into difficulty.  They also need to recognise difficulty when it happens; sounds strange but it’s true.  An aspect of Addiction is denial; so knowing you have a problem is genuinely hard. The role of the justice system should be to provide support by maintaining a legal line in the sand for those who abuse the system.

How many more deaths need to occur before we take action and follow Reading’s example?

Depression is not about sadness

This is what Ruby Wax stated this morning on Radio 4 and it caught my attention, as I agree. Too often the word depressed is used to describe low mood of all kinds confusing its definition with experience of our humanness, so we have forgotten what depression really is.

With a 23% increase in anti depressant prescriptions between 2010-2012 it seems even the professional population may have forgotten too, as a culture of prescribed pill popping has developed in part I believe because our tolerance and understanding is not there for our own emotional processes and experience  – the fear, loss, sadness and anger.

With a severe recession affecting almost everyone in the country, job security is at a low, job prospects are bleak and unhappiness, anger, fear and disappointment thrive. People can feel too under pressure and ill equipped to deal with these kinds of feelings instead seeking advice from the GP. The GP has 10 minutes and as Ruby Wax also suggested this morning, should use that time to refer to someone who is qualified to diagnose. Because a course of anti depressants may not be the best course of treatment; it may also be a step towards learned helplessness.

I see it in my work treating addiction where people will have long histories of ‘depression’ alongside increasingly complex self destructive patterns where they have tried to manage their emotions and usually failed so that they end up in my office still looking for answers. With almost all of these people treatment or intensive counselling usually provides the compassion, stability and tools required to stop the self destructive behaviours and develop different ways of managing their humanness. It can also lead to a medication review and either appropriate ongoing medication or coming off the antidepressants entirely.

The more we can talk about depression and other mental health disorders such as addiction the more we can properly define and therefore better understand them. These are not vagaries born of a self indulgent population, these are real conditions warranting targeted treatment and well deserved successful outcomes.

With 1/5 of us struggling to cope with our feelings, and the county enjoying the biggest baby boom in 40 years,  it’s about time we made emotional intelligence a priority so that we are educating for a healthy future.

After all, we reap what we sow.

International Animal Rescue (IAR)

A few months ago I was having coffee with my great friend and colleague Caroline Curtis Dolby to discuss a client referral, and out of the blue she began talking with real passion, and compassion, about animal cruelty, about the agony of dancing bears in India.  She didn’t give me horror stories, but she sailed close enough to that wind to give me a picture.  What she focused on was the rescues. This was a story of success, of change, of going up against the system and winning.  For the rescue wasn’t only of the poor unfortunate bear, but of the family who made it dance to earn the money to survive. The rescue was of beast and man.

Then out of the blue she asked me if I would join the committee to raise funds for International Animal Rescue (IAR).

Was she crazy? I am one of the busiest people I know and my life is timetabled to a ‘t’ …where would I find the time? Yet here I was at the beginning of a long clinical day and with 2 hours of commuting already behind me, captivated. I leant forwards as she spoke, feeling drawn to this cause driven by International Animal Rescue, a charity with the simple integrity of doing exactly what it name says – it rescues animals from suffering across the globe.

Here are just three examples of where they make a difference in the words of IAR CEO and founder, Alan Knight, OBE: 

“Dancing Bears – In the past 10 years we have helped with the rescue of over 600 sloth bears that were ‘danced’ cruelly on the streets of India.  As a result International Animal Rescue (IAR) and its partners have effectively ended this activity in India and the bears now reside happily in three spacious sanctuaries.   Through our retraining programme many of those human individuals responsible for bear dancing have now been retrained and employed in different occupations.

Orangutans – Largely due to aggressive deforestation and the palm oil industry orangutans are losing their habitat at an alarming rate.  In January, this year IAR opened its brand new orangutan rescue and conservation centre in West Borneo, Indonesia to provide facilities for displaced orangutans.  IAR has so far rescued over 80 orangutans with a number being translocated to protected habitats in other parts of West Borneo.

Our aim is to ensure that (where possible) all our orangutans are able to explore and enjoy the forest and that they are not confined to cages – with many animals eventually being released back into conserved forest areas.    Despite the creation of our new centre we still need more space for the adult orangutans.   Our plan is to create ‘island’ spaces for the adults and we will be purchasing more land later this year.

Dogs and Cats – IAR not only works with wild animals but also has an extremely successful clinic (Animal Tracks) for dogs and cats in Goa which treats literally thousands of animals each year.  The focus of the project is on reducing the numbers of stray dogs and cats through a humane programme of sterilisation.  However, the clinic has become so successful it is now a major veterinary centre for all animals in the north Goa region.   In fact, IAR works with highly experienced vets on all its projects often flying in veterinary experts where necessary, from other countries, to treat specific conditions such as dentistry for bears and surgery on limbs for orangutans.

These are just some of our projects.  And yet, however accurate our name is in describing our work rescuing animals it is far from the full story.  It would be short-sighted of us to respond to cases of animals in desperate need without working to address the underlying causes.  And time and again the suffering and neglect we encounter are routed in ignorance and fear, rather than acts of deliberate cruelty.  For this reason, the educational work we carry out at home and abroad is absolutely vital if we are to bring about a lasting change in attitudes to animals and to the environment as a whole.

Our work is limited only by our resources.

I know that cruelty and ignorance beget cruelty, and that man can become desensitised to suffering through his own experience of trauma and neglect. But knowing this does not increase my tolerance.  I cannot abide cruelty of any kind, but cruelty inflicted on the helpless and the vulnerable is a kind of cruelty that truly raises my blood.  Some might say that I am motivated to save others as I need (or needed) to save myself. But, with the help and support of the many wonderful people whose paths have crossed mine, I have already saved myself. Now I want to make a difference because it’s the right thing to do.

Cruelty to animals and children is the worst kind of cruelty, and I personally believe they are connected.  Charities and organisations that are proactive about promoting sustainable change around cruelty of any kind desperately need and deserve our support.

So I now meet regularly with a group of inspirational and generous people on the IAR fundraising committee to organize a glittering event in early September to raise funds for this valid and worthy cause. I am hoping it will be the first of many…

I have included below their website where you can make a donation, as well as links to some powerful footage of the great work IAR does, setting animals free from cruelty and providing people the training to do something productive.

Please support them and be part of the solution. If I can afford the time, believe me, so can you!

Website for further information: