May is Mental Health Month

Good Morning!

Mental Health has recently, and rightly so, been the topic of hot discussion and debate. People are starting to research, understand and evaluate mental health, albeit with difficulty, to try and really help sufferers.

May is Mental Health Awareness month and we want to help shine a light on something that has been kept in the dark for a very long time.

Steven Walker, in the book ‘Modern Mental Health‘, has put together a series of mental illness accounts in order to offer an alternative and thought-provoking perspective. In aid of this month’s efforts here is an extract from Hannah Walker’s story- the full account is available here.

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Part One – The Human in the System

Chapter 1: A Survivor’s Story

By Hannah Walker

Introduction

My name is Hannah and I’m a survivor of the military mental health system, the NHS mental health system and a number of psychiatrists.  I suffer from bipolar disorder and PTSD, and I was diagnosed twenty years ago.  In this chapter, I will tell you some of my story.

I was adopted at 4 months into a loving upper middle class family who lived on the Isle of Wight.  I have a sister, also adopted, who is six years younger than I am.  Neither of us has ever wanted to trace our biological parents, because we were happy at home and didn’t feel the need to go meddling.  Both our adoptive parents are now dead, but they would have been quite happy had we wanted to seek our real mothers, but we thought not.  No point.

I went to the local grammar school, and left at the age of 18 having been Head Girl and having collected a few O and A levels – nothing spectacular.  When I was in the Upper Sixth, my best friend died; I later discovered that she had committed suicide.  I had the first of what were to be many, many episodes of mania and depression after that event and had some time off school.  The episode was curious – I didn’t know what was happening to me and didn’t really have the words to explain it to the GP.  All I could tell him was that all the colours went bright outside, and I felt a rush of panic and fear as though I could no longer remain alive and deal with it.  In that instant, I contemplated taking an overdose of painkillers – not so that I would die, but so that I could become unconscious and not have to feel the pain.  I couldn’t be alone, but I couldn’t tell anyone what I was feeling as it was impossible to describe.  The only time I felt “well” was when I was driving a car.  I slept with the light on as I couldn’t bear to be alone in the dark with just my thoughts for company.

My parents hadn’t any idea of what to do with me, so they sent me to my GP, and I tried to explain what had happened to me, without much success.  He diagnosed an extreme grief reaction, without much in the way of a clue as to my illness.  I became even more depressed and started self harming, making up the most outrageous stories as to how I had cut myself.  I spent hours with razor blades, slashing my arms to pieces, and telling the A&E department that I had fallen through windows/dropped a glass which had shattered/been hit by a hockey ball.  No one helped.  No one asked me if I was OK – not even the medics who assiduously stitched me up every time.  I was sent to an Educational Psychologist, but refused to talk to her as she had hinted to me that she thought I was self harming.  Far too ashamed to admit it, I reiterated my stories and told her that I was just very accident prone.  She gave up.

I pulled myself together and carried on as though nothing had happened, which sowed the seeds of later episodes

Please read the rest of the account here for FREE.

If you have a story you’d like to share then please do get in contact. You can reach me at hannah@criticalpublishing.com

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An Afterthought- The London Book Fair

Hello everyone, so this time last week I was at the London book fair for the first time.

Here is a short reflection of my three days there!

So my first London Book Fair was… well… I can’t really sum it up in just one word so let me try and set the scene for you.

I had been told stories about the book fair before. Most of these recollections involved variations of the same sort of terms: ‘amazing’, ‘grand’ or even more simply ‘cool’. However, none of these accounts prepared me for 3 floors, two grand halls and about fifteen coffee shops…

When I first entered Olympia I was honestly at awe. I know that’s cliché to say and I wish I had a more original way to describe it but it’s true- it was awesome. When you think of the phrase “book fair” you can’t help but visualise a few tents filled with eager, cultured-looking, London-living booklovers engaging in fierce debate over various plot twists, hidden-messages and characterisation. The term is outstandingly misleading and doesn’t quite do the event justice. So for all those who know very little about the book industry the book fair is most definitely a business event.

I’ll try and clarify what I mean by that- publishing, distribution, sales, publicity and printing companies are all there to look for opportunities to grow their businesses. For the most part the stands are manned by one or two employees whilst the rest of the team are preoccupied with back to back meetings. I for one can vouch for that, both directors of Critical Publishing had meetings every half hour from the beginning of the day till the end, most of which were planned and booked in the two weeks leading up to the fair!

When there is some free time available, seminars run throughout the day in about seven different conference rooms where the range of topics available is nothing short of impressive, I’ve got the list for you here. I filled my days attending these seminars, meeting with other interns and getting to grips with the fact that I was only aware of a small fraction of publishing companies out there.

Do you know what I loved most about the fair though? The fact that everyone spoke to each other or knew of each other or made an effort to network with people they hadn’t met yet. For such a massive industry, it is ridiculously tight-knit and that is comforting to be around- booklovers stick together!

Oh and I almost forgot- the free wine was a great bonus too!

So all in all, a great few days filled with books, business, a lot of walking and an excessive amount of caffeine.

Word on the street is that Frankfurt is even bigger… so I look forward to someday going there too!

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If you have any questions you can reach me at hannah@criticalpublishing.com – as always we’d love to hear from you.

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Our welfare system- is it enough?

Good Monday morning to you all.

Rebecca Joy Novell, one of our most acclaimed writers and author of the hugely popular book ‘Starting Social Work‘, has put together this insightful passage inspired by her own experiences as a social worker.

Do you think the welfare system as it is is enough? If not what can we do to improve it? 

See what Rebecca has to say below.

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The Reality of Social Work in the Age of Austerity

 

I’ve worked as a Social Worker for four years now; and have worked with young people in the criminal justice system for eight years. Over those four years, I have always found being a Social Worker stressful and emotionally demanding beyond comprehension. I have always had disappointments with the fact that our Government and our society does not do nearly enough to support the most vulnerable people.

 

In 2014, I stepped out of Social Work for a year and went in to Policy work to see if I could make some of the changes I believed to be necessary. I found that I missed the day-to-day practical support of frontline voluntary sector Social Work and so soon returned back to the coal-face. 

 

Since returning in September 2015, I can honestly say that the state of our Welfare system and social and health care provision has transformed beyond recognition, in that short time. Our country is on its knees and I witness, on a daily basis, the poor and vulnerable being told, there is no more help for them.

 

In case you think I’m being dramatic or trying to score political points, I want to share just one of the many stories of people I am currently working with.

 

Bella is a young woman, aged 22, who has grown up on the same deprived estate her whole life. Crime, anti-social behaviour, drug use, domestic violence and long-term unemployment are the norm in this white, working-class community. Bella began taking drugs before the age of 10 and was raised by an Uncle who taught her how to burgle houses at the age of 5. By the age of 17, Bella was a Mother, by 19 she was a heroin addict and by age 21 she was in prison.

 

On release from prison, Bella decided she didn’t want to spend the rest of her life like her siblings, going in and out of jail – so she sought support from her local community centre, which she began attending every day. The community centre I manage. In addition to asking for help, with her own amazing strength and resilience, Bella detoxed completely from heroin within two months. 

 

Bella’s main issue, like many people leaving prison, was having no home to go to. Fortunately, she had some friends who would allow her to sofa surf for weeks at a time, but she was left with no stable place to call home. We supported Bella to apply for housing through the Council. However, she was denied any form of housing whatsoever and was informed that she could “cope well on the streets” and therefore did not meet the threshold for Council support. 

 

Of course, in addition to this, Bella faced enormous barriers to employment due to her criminal record and was repeatedly rejected from jobs, meaning she had no income other than benefits. 

 

Somewhat predictably, Bella suffers from acute mental health problems and recognized that she needed to address this in order to stop her offending behaviour. However, after supporting her to put a referral in, we received a voicemail from the local Mental Health Service saying, that due to cuts, there are no longer any counselling services available, as all staff have been asked to work in the acute ward. Therefore, Bella did not – and has not since – received any support with her mental health.

 

Four months after her release from prison, Bella gave up. With no home, no job and no mental health support, Bella began using heroin again and begged her probation worker to send her back to prison. When her probation worker said no, Bella stole £17 from a purse and was sent to Court, where she begged the judge to send her back. And despite it not being a custodial offence, the judge agreed, stating that there was more support for Bella in prison than there was in the community. 

 

As I write, Bella is currently sitting in a prison cell; where she has a stable place to sleep, no financial worries and weekly mental health and drug rehabilitation support.

 

And the real tragedy is that Bella is one of many who will have a better quality of life in prison than they will in society. Our welfare net is so broken that it is the criminal justice system that is now picking up the most vulnerable and disadvantaged. This is not what the criminal justice system is for.

 

As a Social Worker, I get up every morning with the sole motivation of working with people to give them the happiest and healthiest lives possible. The day Bella was sent to prison (effectively for being homeless) I cried myself to sleep. Partly because I had seen how hard she had worked to make a success of her life on the outside; and partly because, unless something drastic changes in terms of the resourcing of support services, Bella, and many others I work with, are truly better off in prison. For many Social Workers in the voluntary and charity sector, we have been stripped of so much that the only resource we have left is ourselves, and unfortunately, it isn’t enough.

 

What do you think? Email hannah@criticalpublishing.com with your thoughts.

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A FREE Short Story for you to Share

It’s National Storytelling Week!

To celebrate this awesome time we’ve got an amazing short-story for you written by Naomi Riley-Dudley, a Creative Writing masters student from Loughborough University.

If you’re a teacher, have a go at reading it to your class. If you’re a parent, why not read it to your kids before bed? If you’re a student, then read it to your mates! If you read this and enjoy it you should definitely SHARE it- after all that is what this week is all about!

This is a great little story about a kid named Arlo who just doesn’t quite fit in at school. Keep reading to find out why!

How to be human

Okay. Breathe, you can do this. Inhale. Exhale. You are normal. I opened my eyes, studying my reflection in the mirror. I smiled, exposing my pointed orange teeth, trying to be positive. I just wanted to fit in. Ever since I’d been on this planet I’d felt out of place. Today was my chance to change everything and I was terrified. I adjusted my purple blazer, staring at the Townsend Church of England School logo emblazoned on it. My blue hands were poking out the sleeves – surely everyone at school would notice. The bare walls of my bedroom were judging me, their simplicity mocking the complexity of my situation. I looked at the clock (what a strange thing time is; where I come from it’s a feeling that cannot be measured; we move to our own beat and dance to sounds that our tears make as they fall to the ground). I needed to leave for school, but the angry rain was falling onto the loft’s arched window, its muskiness filling the air. The sky was grey; even the sun was scared to show itself today. I really wasn’t ready for this. Putting my raincoat on I braced myself for the February downpour. My rucksack was heavy. I wasn’t sure what I needed to pass as human so I filled it with stationary and books. It still didn’t feel as heavy as my brain pounding in my skull.

The school gates were in front of me and I couldn’t remember how to be human. As I walked down Cavan Drive I could hear the thud of my heart and feel the thoughts in my head moving in time with my footfalls. Thud, thud, thud. They were all red, dripping from my hair like hot wax down a burning candle. The muffled sounds of children in the playground talking were painful. My ears became numb, doing their best to forget what sound was. A boy looked at me and smiled. I felt exposed but smiled back, isn’t that what humans do? I tried to focus, putting one foot in front of the other, my grey eyes scanning for the main building. Everyone around me had already endured this place for 3 months; I had so much catching up to do. After spotting what looked like the office, I tried to prepare myself for this interaction. The off-white floor tiles kept squeaking against the rubber soles of my shoes every few paces.

“Hello, my name’s Arlo. Today is my first day and I was told to report to the office once I got here.”

“Ah yes, according to our records you’ll be joining Mr. Heath’s year 8 tutor group. I’ll take you over now. Oh and here’s your planner. The bell won’t be going for another 5 minutes so you can have a look through it.”

“Okay thank you,” I tried to make my voice sound nonchalant, to hide all my fears.

I followed this strange woman down corridor after corridor, getting lost in the posters adorning the walls. Who was Oliver Twist? Why was someone comparing Mice to Men? This was going to be a long day. Finally she stopped outside a dark wooden door, opening its dull metal handle. Mr. Heath didn’t look anywhere near as scary as I thought the teachers would be. I read that they were evil, preying on the vulnerability of aliens like me. He smiled and I smiled back without thinking, maybe this wouldn’t be so hard.

“Hi Arlo, I’m Mr. Heath. How are you settling in so far? I’ll get one of the other students to give you a full school tour tomorrow, but for today I’ve paired you with Ethan. You’re in all the same classes so he can show you the ropes.”

“Okay thank you.” Luckily didn’t seem to notice that I hadn’t answered his question, or if he did, he didn’t bring it up.

I sat down at a table near the back. There was a successive shrill sound that I soon realised was the bell. It was happening. Quickly I put my planner on the beech table and started flicking through it, trying to look busy as I heard the other students getting closer. The chair next to me screeched on the wooden floor as someone sat down. I knew I needed to look up.

“Hey, I’m Ethan, you must be Arlo!” a friendly voice said.

“Hey, yeah I am” I said, trying to match his tone.

“Cool hair, that’s how I want mine to be!”

I couldn’t believe he liked my long hair, I guess I liked it too but it was one of the things that made me different.

“Thanks. Have we got chemistry first?”

“Yeah come on I’ll show you where it is.”

* * *

Walking home I couldn’t believe that I’d survived my first day at school. But more than that, I couldn’t believe how much I’d enjoyed it. Ethan was just as alien as me, and it was such a relief to know that I wasn’t as alone as I felt. When I got home I ran to tell mum about my day.

“Hey you, you look happy! Told you moving schools wouldn’t be as bad as you thought! And I’ve spent the day trying to make the house look more homely.”

“No mum, you were right. I had a really good day!”

I sprinted up to my room, happy to know that the way I see myself isn’t the way others see me.

Naomi Riley-Dudley, February 2016

Hope you’ve enjoyed that as much as I did reading it this morning! Check out our book ‘Beyond Early Writing‘ to see how you as a teacher can ensure that your students can one day write a plethora of great stories too! For details on any other title go to our website where all books are 15% OFF.

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Otherwise please feel free to message in with any questions for us or for Naomi at hannah@criticalpublishing.com

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Reflections of a Newcomer

In this post Julia Morris reflects upon the qualities and values we aim to develop at Critical Publishing.

 

It’s been about three months now since Critical Publishing won the IPG Nick Robinson Newcomer of the Year Award. The hectic schedule of the last few weeks, with the bulk of our books publishing during May and June, has meant that Di and I have well and truly come back down to Earth. Sticking inspection copies in envelopes isn’t the most glamorous of activities! Nevertheless  it has been amazing to experience the warm glow of industry recognition, which means a lot when you are working in isolation in your front room. In addition it has provided an opportunity to both reassure and share our success with all those who have taken a punt on us – authors who could have chosen to go with bigger and more established publishing houses, suppliers who believed us when we promised we could pay them, and students / professionals who have placed their trust in the quality of our products.

In recent times there has been a focus on the question of where our value lies as publishers, as free content, open access and self-publishing trends continue to impact on our businesses. For small publishers this must to some extent lie in the very personal service we can provide to our authors and customers, and for Critical Publishing this is manifested in the following characteristics:

  •  Fun – we love and enjoy what we do and we want our partners to experience this too, from the joy of having your first book published to reading a case study that makes you laugh;
  • Accessibility and support – it’s important that all our partners can reach us really easily and that we offer a high level of support whenever it’s needed;
  • Simplicity – we are committed to making things easy, from ordering an inspection copy to understanding a contract;
  • Flexibility – we can adapt quickly, and can offer bespoke commercial solutions  in terms of production and promotion for any book that requires special treatment;
  • Criticality – this is in everything we do, from the way we think about strategy to individual student questions in our books.

Of course Critical Publishing wants to get bigger, but as we grow we are determined to keep these values and ways of working at the heart of what we do.