Why This Government Is Acting Like An Alcoholic Parent

Broken Trust Concept

Munchausen syndrome by proxy (MSBP)

Definition: A mental health problem in which a caregiver makes up or causes an illness or injury in a person under his or her care, such as a child, an elderly adult, or a person who has a disability. Because vulnerable people are the victims, MSBP is a form of child abuse or elder abuse.

Stockholm syndrome

Definition: A psychological response. It occurs when hostages or abuse victims bond with their captors or abusers. This psychological connection develops over the course of the days, weeks, months, or even years of captivity or abuse.

One of the main symptoms developed by people who live with an alcoholic parent is a difficulty or inability to have trust in that person.

When you grow up in an atmosphere where denial, lies and secrecy are the norm, children of alcoholics can develop serious trust issues in adulthood because they have learned from the broken promises of the past that trust will eventually backfire on them.

Let me make myself crystal clear here regarding alcoholism and alcohol abuse: alcoholism is a powerful, baffling and cunning addiction. It’s devastating for everyone – the alcoholic, the partner and children, friends and colleagues. 

I have enormous compassion for anyone battling this addiction and enormous respect for those who face it through any form of recovery for it.  I work with recovering alcoholics and I also work with the now-adult children of alcoholics who grew up in a home of addiction.

Make no mistake – I’m painfully aware of the devastation alcoholism wreaks. 

Yet in many ways, this government has now begun to behave like an alcoholic parent, and we have become the children at the centre of its abuse. And it’s downright scary.

There are times when it feels very much like we’re being held against our will as an endless stream of flaky ‘statistics’ and inept testing combine to create a narrative that’s thin on substance and fat on control.

Like the child of an alcoholic parent, we are coerced and cajoled into pretending everything is okay – Eat Out to Help Out and ‘Go back to work’ – only for the inevitable U-turn to plunge us back into the anxious reality of lockdown.

If we don’t comply with the evidence-lite strategy we are bullied and shamed into believing we are to blame for the pandemic, that our selfish ambition to be able to live lives that are as normal as possible will kill those closest to us, that we are ignorant Covid-deniers.

Let’s get one thing straight here and now. Covid-19 is real. It exists. It’s serious. Only the most foolish would deny that.

But does the tangible provable risk justify the extreme response? Does the evidence exist to support the blanket Munchausen by proxy strategy that one way or another turns us all into Covid victims? Does it justify the unquestioning and wholehearted support of Government strategy that feels more and more like a mass episode of Stockholm syndrome with every passing day?

With hindsight it’s easy to see where we might have done things differently to mitigate the impact of Covid-19. Maybe we should have gone into lockdown earlier. Maybe we should have closed our borders sooner. Maybe we should have insisted on mask-wearing immediately.

Maybe, maybe, maybe.

The negative impact of not doing things sooner or later, quicker or slower earlier this year was extraordinary. Businesses failed, people lost their jobs and income, and critical health services were compromised as NHS resources were diverted to deal with demand that – as the empty Nightingale Hospital standing silently sentinel proved – simply never materialised.

But, hard though it will be to accept for many of those who have been scarred in some way by the virus and the Government’s response to it, we can at least in part empathise.

No one really knew what we were or weren’t dealing with until it was much too late, and so a reluctance to do some things and a hunger to do others can in some ways be understood, even if it’s hard to accept.

Not so this time, as we make our way through the first week of this lockdown. Because this time the hindsight we developed should have served as the foresight we needed to get a grip of the second spike.

Yet knowing what they do about the catastrophic economic and mental health impact that shutting down the country will have on us all, Boris Johnson and his government have instead chosen to plunge us into another month-long abyss of isolation.

It’s a decision taken on the frankly sketchy advice of a very narrow panel of so-called health experts who seem more or less incapable of agreeing with each other on the best way to deal with the virus.

Before the pandemic, one in 5 people in the UK admitted to having considered suicide. One in four families worldwide has a family member who suffers with a serious or severe mental health disorder. One in six adults claimed to have experienced depression or anxiety in the previous 7 days.

We were already in the middles of the biggest global mental health pandemic imaginable. It has become exponentially worse. Poor physical health, isolation and financial worries are the key triggers for depression. We have seen all of them in abundance over the last seven months.

We’re told the current lockdown is a ‘firebreak’, a measure intended to deprive the virus of sustenance. Like an alcoholic parent, the government behaves with an inconsistency that bedevils the possibility of trust.

Just who does Mr Johnson think he’s kidding? When two of his pet rats – the sneering architects of doom who have overseen rampant hysteria and the decimation of livelihoods – jump ship following a reported power struggle within 10 Downing Street, how are we to trust him or anything that comes from his mouth?

When two Tory front benchers – first Gove, then Hancock – break ranks within a week to contradict their boss and tell us that even though the Prime Minister has said the lockdown will end on December 2nd it could go on for much longer, how do we attach any credibility to anything we are told?

When a former front bench Government minister says the Cabinet is ‘hopeful of having more of a say in Government strategy’ now Cummings and co. have gone to spend the proceeds of their calamitous policies, how we can do anything other than ask who in God’s name has been governing us for the past seven months or more?

Like a marriage between two alcoholics, the marriage of Cummings and Johnson lies in tatters, the mental health and financial security of hundreds of thousands of people lying in its wake, gasping their last breaths.

Johnson leads a government that makes promises it can’t possibly be sure it will keep, offers directions that seem to have no root in sense or logic, says one thing under the intoxication of ‘science’, only to say something completely different tomorrow.

It brandishes the stick of threat (on the spot fines for lockdown rebels), guilt (we’re all going to kill other people if we don’t follow the new evidence-lite rules) and ruin, whilst simultaneously offering the carrot of an extended furlough, a Christmas with fewer if any restrictions, a tangible end to the pandemic, only to be plunged back in come January.

And in the process it makes us hostages to a rule of law that lacks true scrutiny and oversight, that lacks the weight of compelling scientific evidence, that lacks any empathy for the financial, economic and mental health devastation that will be left in its wake.

Half the nation now follows these directives with the alacrity of conversion that is almost religious – an alarming transition to a form of Stockholm Syndrome that is necessary for the measures to be upheld – whilst the rest of us stand in furious objection to the march of totalitarianism that threatens to overwhelm and devour our civil liberties, livelihoods and mental health.

And as if in counterpoint to the severity of the situation in which we find ourselves, there is the syncopation of the bizarre as we see the introduction of the spot-checking Covid police, the relaxation of the travel embargo for those who want to commit the currently illegal act of assisted dying abroad, the you-can-play-golf-with-a-friend-wait-no-you-can’t-play-golf-with-a-friend advice of the Conservative front bench and apparently deserted Covid testing centres the length and breadth of the country.

If the Government truly believes lockdown is the right approach – and I don’t believe it is – then logic compels it to shut everything down. If lockdown isn’t right, then shut nothing down.

But this one-foot-in-both-camps approach of locking down one part of society and then allowing it to interact with another, unrestricted part makes no sense at all.

I specialise in complex post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) which is governed by four primary survival defences: fight, flight, freeze and fawn. 

All of those responses are vital for our emotional and physical safety. We use ‘fight’ to stand our ground. We use ‘flight’ to act quickly and decisively and escape danger. Freeze allows us to stop and make rational decisions about what to do next. Fawn gives us the tools to calm the situation down and find agreement and reason. 

But when we’re put under chronic and relentless stress such as the current lockdown, we risk our nervous systems becoming get stuck in fight or flight mode (on), or stuck in freeze or fawn (off). 

Most people in the UK are stuck in one of these trauma defence responses right now. It’s nothing new, and in fact I wrote about it in my previous blog, but the problem is they’ve been stuck since March. 

In his book Complex PTSD – From Surviving to Thriving, leading psychotherapist Pete Walker talks of the over-reliance on the four trauma responses by those who are repetitively traumatized in childhood and how this leads to the emotional impoverishment of life. 

Whilst Walker’s text is primarily aimed at children, the responses to the Covid pandemic mean adults, too, are now experiencing the same phenomena through constantly changing restrictions and rules, job losses, uncertainty, impacted relationships, the loss of homes, the anxiety of children, looming poverty or financial hardship, enforced loneliness and the removal of control and choice.

Of these four responses it is fawn that I fear most. I see a nation acquiescing to a confused and bewildered government as a child would to a drunken parent who has long been without all their faculties.

On its own, this is a problem. But without any exit plan or believable reassurance from the government, it is a crisis.

2.9 million mostly self-employed people are excluded from any government support yet are still being reminded to pay their income tax by the end of January. Suicide rates among excluded communities are rising. Use of food banks is escalating. And we haven’t even begun to talk about the children yet 

Any therapist worth their salt, and especially a hypnotherapist with a very clear understanding of the subconscious mind, knows just how ‘installing’ a trauma works.

Take a young and tender psyche and shock it enough times with a repetitive message, and what do you have?

Anxiety, OCD, depression, negative self-belief, negative and possibly dangerous perceptions about the world and others.

Children’s charities are now dealing with Covid PTSD. But we shouldn’t be surprised. When the Health Secretary tells them they could kill granny, what should be their response? Apart from directly undermining the decision to send children back to school, it paints every child as a potential murderer or monster.

When the Government tells us life will never be the same again, it takes away a reason for living and erodes our connection with the world and with each other.

Recently, I was asked to play an active role in the work of Recovery – a collaboration of people from all walks of life, all political persuasions, all creeds – to lobby the Government for a more considered and reasonable approach to managing the pandemic.

I am honoured to be a member of the mental health committee for the group and here you can find out more about what Recovery does and the 5 Reasonable Demands it is making. My purpose in being part of this group is to bring reason, logic and – most importantly – proportionality to the Government’s strategy.

But the confusing data, lack of trust in Government policy and the blinkered focus on Covid to the exclusion of everything else is in danger destroying lives – and we are only at the edge of the precipice 

When MPs and high ranking civil servants can’t follow their own rules or, in the case of Michael Gove last week, don’t actually appear to understand those rules, how are we supposed to believe they know what they’re doing, never mind trust the integrity of their decision-making?

I am now treating people who had no underlying anxiety or depression issues prior to March. I am treating kids with newly-developed OCD, who see other children as a contagion, who are terrified mummy and daddy are going to die.

Children, in other words, who are being forced to skip their childhood in under the weight of adult fear.

Like a domineering and belligerent alcoholic parent, the likes of Matt Hancock rail against anyone with independent thought, insisting that Covid-19, not Government policy, is responsible for our mental health issues.

His Mini-Me Nadine Dorries – that renowned bandwagon-jumper – takes a more invidious approach, using minimisation and denial to counter hard evidence (the like of which Professor Chris Whitty and his Government lapdogs have been conspicuously devoid) to denounce the very notion of a gargantuan Covid-related mental health crisis.

The measures we have implemented in the last 10 days are like a voracious and fast metastasising cancer. They consume common sense. They erode mental health to dangerous degrees. They are unaccountable. And they appear to have no cure.

Good government is about selflessly doing what is in the interests of those whom that government represents and affects.

We all hope an alcoholic parent this harmful and this dangerous would never escape real scrutiny. Would never be allowed to care for a child. Would never be trusted to safeguard the mental and physical health of a fellow human being.

How long must we wait and how much more damage must be done in the name of ‘protecting’ us before responsibility for our welfare is forcibly removed from Boris Johnson and his self-serving cronies?

Just as the child of an alcoholic parent or a deeply dysfunctional parent must begin the painful yet necessary  process to see them with utter clarity, we must now do the same with our Government and call out what we see.      


This Christmas It’s Time To Negotiate Your Own Emotional Trade Agreement

mental health at christmas

Well here we are – the end, as near as makes no difference, of 2019.

Sometimes it’s felt like spending 12 months in some sort of shared experiment involving a mass mental health episode. Barely a day has gone by when, as a society, we haven’t been angry, depressed, riddled with self-doubt, mean-spirited, filled with hatred, intolerant, schizophrenic, phobic and lost.

As years go, this has been one of the more divisive.

It has been dominated by Brexit and political mistrust. It’s been a year of finger-pointing and disruptive direct action on climate change. A time when anti-Semitism and Islamophobia have been evidenced at the very heart of our system of government.

All in all, it’s been a year when our society hasn’t seemed to like itself very much.

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185 Little Reasons Why We Should Care More About Child Mental Health

Children's Mental Health

We’ve known for a while that child mental health is in crisis.

Earlier this year we discovered just how bad it has become, with the Office for National Statistics revealing that 5 in every 100,000 young people aged between 15 and 19 commit suicide each year.

To put that in perspective, there are 3.67 million people in the UK in that age group, meaning we can measure the appalling record of successive Governments’ policies on child mental health by the 185 body bags that find their way to hospital morgues every year.

If that sounds overly dramatic, it’s because it is.

Last month the mental health charity Mind called on Boris Johnson to deliver on six mental health priorities. Among them was a challenge to meet the existing commitment to schools and to make progress – through better funding – on prevention and intervention.

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We Need To Talk About Medication

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I’m a Hypnotherapist, which means I’m a big believer in recovering as naturally as possible from the knocks we take to our mental health as we go through life & building inner resilience & resources.    

I try to help people to do that by looking with love and compassion at what’s really going on under the bonnet of your subconscious & supporting people to make people better life choices. We’ve got a pretty good track record there – my Associates and I have some fantastic successes when it comes to helping people recover from bloody horrific childhoods and extremely difficult life circumstances.

But even though I believe passionately in what we achieve here at Zoe Clews & Associates, I’m also not foolish or dumb or arrogant enough to believe that what we do is the answer for absolutely everyone, despite what the one-session-fix merchants would like you to think.

Do you want to know the truth? Sometimes what we do isn’t enough. Sometimes life has given someone such a pasting that they need the kind of help that we’re just not qualified to give.

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Why This Government’s Stance On Mental Health Is Nothing More Than Tokenism

Have You Got A Mental Health Issue….Or Is It Your Lifestyle?

Doubtless the Whitehall apparatchiks thought themselves terribly clever when they sold the Prime Minister the notion that using World Mental Health Day to launch the Government’s new mental health would be a brilliant PR coup.

Enter Jackie Doyle-Price, stage political right. A junior minister within the Department of Health, Mrs Doyle-Price is probably more celebrated for her apparently bottomless supply of hairstyles than for any great political achievement in her 8-year Parliamentary career to date.

Yet this week she finds herself paraded before the world as the UK’s dazzling solution to the problem of suicide. Sadly, though, our very first Minister for Suicide Prevention is unlikely to be the last participant in a very grand tradition of political tokenism and bureaucratic grandstanding.

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The Inconvenient Truth About Quick Fire Therapy

Squashed Food Cheeseburger

Walk into any of the big three fast food restaurants these days and the chances are the emphasis will be on getting you in and out as quickly as possible.

The technology is designed to allow you to order your food, pay for it and then collect it from a collection point when it’s ready.

In possibly the only instance where it was actually ahead of the curve when it came to retail trends, this ‘convenience’ approach to buying was originally pioneered by catalogue store Argos.

On the surface, this ‘hit and run’ approach is a good thing when it comes to the fast food industry because in principle – and the words in principle are the kicker here – it serves both ends of the sale process: you want your food quickly, the restaurant wants to move you on so it can sell its tasty burgers someone else.

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The One Thing You Need To Do To Improve Your Life Instantly

Boxing Gloves

Give a man a fish and he’ll feed himself for a day. Teach a man to fish and he’ll feed himself forever. Or so the saying goes. It’s probably true, but who really knows? Fish can be damned smart. Particularly the ones that have been caught before.

Here’s a saying which I know is absolutely true:

Give someone five minutes with nothing to do but think and they’ll find a way to beat themselves up about something, no matter how small or trivial.

It’s a sentence or thought that starts with the words If only I hadn’t

… said that, done the other, been mean about Rachel’s new hairstyle, bought that dress, maxed out my credit card, asked out the guy/girl in the Costa queue on an irrational impulse, inhaled an entire packet of Hobnobs in a single sitting, been quite so unkind to my mother, jumped to that conclusion about Dawn Smith when we were ten, poked the cat with a stick, got back with her / him for the 30th time, thought bad things about that woman before I knew she had cancer, turned down that job promotion, frittered away my teens … the list is endlessly long.

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This White House Legacy Will Be Felt For Generations. And Not In A Good Way

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There are times – many times, in fact – when the current Presidency of the United States feels like a practical joke that has gone spectacularly and tragically wrong.

How we all laughed when he started his run for the White House. How we snickered at the impudence of it all. How we guffawed when he talked about the ‘big, beautiful wall’ he was going to build between the US and Mexico, not realising the punchline was still to come: Mexico would be made to pay for it!

We branded him a clown. But a man in greasepaint driving a small car in circles until the doors fall off is actually funny (unless you suffer from coulrophobia). Watching the doors fall off the supercharged Buick 8 that is the most powerful country in the world has been a long way from funny.

There have been times when watching the leader of the Free World has been akin to being in the audience the night Tommy Cooper collapsed during the Royal Variety Show and everyone thought it was hilarious. Until we all realised it wasn’t and that it was too late to save him.

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Why Pretending Is Bad For Your Health

Woman's Head Replaced By A Black Balloon

Last week, TalkRadio presenter and former contestant on ITV’s I’m A Celebrity Iain Lee published a blog which laid bare his struggles with his mental health.

Reading it is a deeply uncomfortable, moving and raw emotional experience and if, like many, you’re someone who is disinclined to have sympathy for well-paid celebrities who seem to have it all, I can’t suggest strongly enough that you take some time to read it.

It will teach you more about what it’s like to live with depression and low-self-esteem than you can possibly imagine.

Iain Lee often polarises opinion. He can be outspoken and provocative. His views and opinions can sometimes appear obnoxious or ignorant. But, like so many of us and as those of us who watched his journey through the jungle last autumn saw for ourselves, at heart he just wants to be liked and loved.

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5 Good Reasons To Stop Calling Your Ex A Narcissist

Reserved Ii

The more I read and hear about narcissism these days, the more I think that it is to contemporary emotional psychology what the Atkins Diet was to weight loss in the Nineties: everyone’s got an opinion about it, but no one seems to quite understand how it works.

Google my ex is a narcissist and you’ll get 2,650,000 results. Which is a crazy number. Though arguably not as crazy as some of the advice they contain.

The pearls of largely uninformed wisdom I found in the first dozen or so pages of search results included advice on how to break up with a narcissist, the signs to look for in a narcissist, the three phases of a narcissistic relationship and, most worrying of all, how to win back your narcissistic ex.

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Additional Credits

Video by Weeks360.

Photography by Liz Bishop Photography.

Production by Mark Norman at Little Joe Media and Joanne Brooks.

Hair by Jonny Albutt.

Make up by Olly Fisk and Nabeel Hussain.