Photography: ©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
Nobody belongs, de facto, to just one place, one culture. Our existence is defined by the involuntary interactions with the world in a continuous change, but we like to believe that we do belong. To a place, a space which can be defined and referred to. And when one belongs ‘somewhere’, everything seems easier to quantify, categorise. And, then, it becomes familiar. The common familiarity which emerges through similitude in language, taste, points of view, landscape brings people closer and it helps to build that sense of togetherness.
Most tragedies have been born out of rejection, out of a deep sense of ‘non-belonging’ and people felt mostly bereaved when they realised their uprooting. The recent developments in Europe, with Brexit, in North America, with Trump’s Wall, and across the world in Myanmar, Sudan, Congo, Somalia, Ukraine, Syria, Peru show that we are ‘on the move’ at a global scale. Politics and economics drive the migration at unprecedented levels and can cement a deep sense of social instability.
Millions of people move from one place to another and remain trapped in the complex process of social migration. In 2017, nearly a quarter of a million people came to Britain. And each person brought in a new narrative with elements of uniqueness and subjectivity. We could say that, in 2017, hundreds of thousands of stories came to Britain too. Untold life experiences, unheard voices; hundreds of years of education, culture, music and skills.
And this is the main focus of ‘Who We Are’ a project initiated by the artist Jen Whiskerd from University of Gloucestershire (UoG) supported by many art students, University of Winchester, illustrators, bookmakers, printers, writers, researchers, photographers. Using eight stories about migration (told by Adelaide Morris, Shelley Campbell, Fumio Obata, Anita Roy, Dolores Phelps, Maria Stadnicka, Ro Saul, John Stadnicki), the UoG art students (undergraduate and postgraduate courses) have produced a brilliant book which will be launched this weekend at Museum in the Park, Stroud, Gloucestershire.
The book, printed by Emma Evans UoG, Pittville Press, is a collection of poetry, photography, drawings, journal notes, animation.
The event is free and will take place at the Walled Garden Room, Museum in the Park, Stroud, Gloucestershire /
Saturday 20th Jan. 2018, at 2pm.
Come along to share your story and enjoy the launch or just to listen and to be inspired!
It has been my privilege to be part of this.
Maria Stadnicka, 2018
Photography: ©John Stadnicki 2018
(for Katie McCue)
The soldier, asleep by his polished sword,
was somehow surprised.
Such a big storm!
The colours, all of them, disappeared.
The city collapsed in a big crevasse.
When she cried,
The roads, the windows had to be shut
when she needed silence.
The words had to be wrapped in silvery knots
they became people.
The stories stopped being written,
the earth stopped,
the war stopped.
And simply because she had
a fear of butterflies.
The butterflies were not scared of her.
‘Migration – Stories / A Cultural Exchange / Workshop’, Stroud, Gloucestershire, Museum in the Park