Man versus Institution – the Narrative of Despair

Photograph: ©John Stadnicki 2018

In recent months, I have been visiting my local surgery on a weekly basis and it has become a matter of routine to book visits and then wait my turn to be seen and checked. A matter of luck to have so many appointments, but not so lucky to have to report the effects all this prescribed medication have on me and then to find out that everything has been recorded, that the doctor has noticed if I washed my hair or not, or if I wear black, too much of it, or if I smiled or not. But then who cares anyway. I am the number written in all my medical history and my number defines my apprehension to allergies and infections.

It is the flu season, therefore busy. This morning a woman takes her nail file from her handbag and finishes her manicure just before she is called in. A man in his thirties, in a dark grey suit, with muddy brogues, on the phone with someone called Helen organises his daily appointments. The person sitting next to me finishes a BLT and wipes his hands on my chair then keeps on texting.  The waiting room, packed. At 11 o’clock, twenty-two people in waiting, talking, texting, arguing, having coffee. Busier here than the bus station just across the road. And these people, most of them, look lonely. And for this, we now have a new solution and a new scope.

This week the Cabinet announced a new appointment. A minister for loneliness in response to a documented increase in mental health cases, to a reported sense of disconnection and social isolation. According to figures published by The Guardian, we are talking here about nine million people, which is a significant slice of loneliness in the British society. Furthermore, NHS Digital shows that prescriptions for antidepressants reached an all-time high with over 64 million items dispensed in 2016. And this represents a massive 108.5% increase in a period of ten years.

This is a clear indication that we now institutionalise loneliness spending billions on pharmaceutical companies when very few alternative solutions are available to the local communities. We witness a serious lack of professional support for people suffering from mental health issues, although it is statistically recognised that one person in five is affected, at some point in their life, by mental health issues. Yes, about the time to do something about it. But what the government is choosing to do is to add to the amount of bureaucratic garbage the ministerial departments produce on a weekly basis, without concrete results or impact at the deeper levels of our society. Let’s talk further numbers.

A minister cashes in over £141,000 a year, without bonuses, travel and communication expenses, without the support staff and other technological aids. You could double or triple the sum and easily get over the half a million threshold. A mental health nurse’s annual income, at the beginning of their career, barely touches £22,000. My local surgery, or others across the UK, could easily benefit from employing further ten newly qualified nurses or a few therapists. I live in a small community where resources are stretched and stretched further and where, at times, waiting for hours to be seen by a practitioner has become an acceptable rule.

Who benefits from a new ministerial portfolio when it is historically demonstrated that no institution has ever protected the individual, when, actually, the institution is there to protect itself through complicity to a policy of silence against corruption, error and monetary gains?

I want a Ministry of Despair!

©Maria Stadnicka, 2018

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For Now, Let’s Just Talk

There is no other sign of life here,
only my fingers caught between
the wooden pages of a newspaper.

When everyone else builds
the flat packed cement houses outside,
me and the nurse behind the glass
scrutinise each other, munching dry biscuits
and maybe
saying sorry for the spoilt tea nobody drinks.
Of this I am not yet so sure.

I suppose she checks the pulse,
the nurse with a concrete face
keeps filling in the charts
with the same precision she fills in
the crossword spread open
over my legs.
I do not mind.

I say to her ‘could you please remove the batteries
from the white clock’ the time
does not matter now
what matters, I think she says, is hanging on in there.
Her own watch upside down
hanging on, just about, with her name badge.

I offer her my bed.
I could after all sit in the waiting room
by the door
or make her coffee, I suggest.
But Susan points her finger at that hole,
uncovered wound on my chest.

‘For now, let’s just talk.’
The bare wall is
the last thing I remember and
Susan watching the news.

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Photo: John Stadnicki