I invite you to visit also my literary blog: Journeys in Creative Writing where I post original fiction including short stories, poetry and 'Paternity', a full length mystery novel.

Sunday, 30 August 2009

The Media and Mental Illness

It’s about time the media took seriously their responsibilities towards people with mental illness.

A badly worded story can do far reaching damage to sufferers and their families, and yet some newspapers and television journalists are insensitive beyond belief.

One of the newspapers that circulates in our local area disgraced itself last week be printing large photographs and stories featuring a man whose actions may have pointed towards him suffering a mental illness. In fact the newspaper story stated that an ambulance later took the young man for psychiatric assessment at the local hospital.

The young man was not doing anything consciously threatening, terrible or destructive. He was simply acting in a way about which he may have been unaware and which he probably wouldn't want published for all the world to see.

And yet the newspaper, the Tweed Daily News, chose to spread this embarrassment all over the front of its week-end issue and spilled it to fill most of an inside page. Thankfully, these pictures and stories attracted condemnation from the general public, and from the journalists' peers.

The Daily News is published in the Tweed Valley on the North Coast of New South Wales in Australia.

I’m not going to repeat the crime here by reproducing evidence of this cruel act, but I do wish to chastise the newspaper for being self-serving, ignorant and extremely clumsy, to say the least.

Media too often feeds on sensationalism, and time and again sells newspapers and explodes ratings at the expense of unfortunate people. It was great to see the public reaction this time was the absolute opposite.

However, the Daily News is certainly not alone in displaying insensitivity, even though their example was astonishing.

Surveys of Australian media have shown that one fifth of items on mental illness still used language such as "cracked up", "crazy lunatics", "nutcase", "a psycho" and "mental hospital".

In 50% of cases, the method of self-harm in reporting of suicide was described in detail. This is despite recommendations that the method of suicide not be described less copycat behaviour result.

Sane Australia is an organisation doing great work in this area, attempting to educate the media about how to approach this fraught subject without doing damage.
Its web site can be found at

Featured is Sane’s Stigma Watch programme which monitors media portrayals of mental illness and suicide, to ensure that they are accurate and respectful. If they’re not Sane tells them so, and suggests educational programmes to stop it happening again.

The Australian Government’s Mindframe National Media Initiative has a stunningly good web site. Mindframe was produced to inform appropriate reporting of suicide and mental illness, to minimise harm and copycat behaviour, and reduce stigma and discrimination.

It was developed with the assistance of media professionals, suicide and mental health experts and consumer organisations.

One section discusses the portrayal of these issues on the stage and screen in Australia.
There are also resources for media, police, courts, and health professionals. See

Personally, I’d also recommend these sites to every person interested in helping others cope with mental illness. To understand the issues, and spreading the word are themselves priceless contributions.

Wiping out stigma is a major concern if we are to reduce the impact of mental illness in our communities.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation television programme Media Watch last night featured criticism of the Tweed Daily News stories and photographs.

Presenter Jonathon Holmes called the newspaper 'a little rag'.  The programme carried comments from the young man's father who also castigated the newspaper and confirmed that his son suffered a serious mental illness.

He said the young man had hoped the news team would help him, and was upset when they didn't.

The father said his son saw the articles and went missing for four days.  He was subsequently admitted to the local psychiatric unit for treatment.

Perhaps the Daily News may now begin training their staff about respect for mentally ill persons.

Perhaps they will make mandatory the study of the Australian Government's superb website Mindframe -

Do you know why it is not acceptable to call a person ‘a schizophrenic’?

Could bad media reporting result in a person with mental illness committing suicide?

Did you know that 20 per cent of Australians experience some form of mental illness at some time in their lives, and that this figure is repeated in many other nations?

Friday, 21 August 2009

Identify Choices and You're Ahead!

Choices are a big deal in my life.

Until one learns to recognise that we almost always do have them, choices can slip by unnoticed and are wasted.

Once understood, I reckon they can introduce us to a path towards happiness or helplessness, productivity or inactivity, self realisation or mediocrity, the ordinary or the extraordinary.

For many people, the matter of having choices can be a big revelation. And choices are not simply beer and skittles, for they carry with them the reality of a big word – responsibility.

Once we’ve made our choice it’s our bag, not anyone else’s.

All actions are greeted with a reaction. Once we make our choices we need to live with them, and need to make them work.

I say to my children that they would be wise to look out for a fork in the road throughout their lives. By that I mean to suggest that they recognise when it’s time to make a decision – a decision that may very well carry huge consequences for the future.

The trick is to recognise the moment when we are being presented with choices: to understand that it’s time to pause, investigate and mull over facts and feelings, before taking the next step.

I encourage my kids to make their choices wisely; not becoming worry warts, but taking enough time to produce a confidence that the choice has been made with care and knowledge.

Every day is generally filled with seemingly insignificant forks in our life’s road: ‘Do I go shopping today or do I make a cake and take it to Mum’s for morning tea?’

‘Should I go out with that boy I met at the disco, or keep my promise to attend the movies with a school mate?’

On some days there are more important forks in the road, requiring a lot of careful thought before making a decision.

‘Will I take my best friend’s word that taking a tablet of Ecstasy is worth the risk – or not?’

‘Will I marry him or will I not?’

‘Should I take this job or that one?’

‘Will I sell my business and strike out on my own, or stay where I am for another year?’

Recognising and making a choice are the first steps of course; steps which can be taken in the twinkling of an eye if we’re not careful. It’s the living with those choices which takes the time and effort.

End of my little soliloquy.

My small thought bubbles (above) came to me this morning after I was sent an advance copy of Roger Emerson Fishman’s new book ‘What I Know – uncommon wisdom and universal truths from 10 year-olds to 100-year-olds’, out in the US of A next month.

I’ve spoken about ‘What I Know’ on 70 Plus previously, after I saw the announcement of its coming.

It turns out to be a small book with a big inside.

It’s the kind of book you keep nearby somewhere and take up occasionally for another fix. Before you know it you are being encouraged to reach out to others and their wisdom – and that’s quite a reward.

‘What I Know’ collects stories and little gems on diverse topics including perseverance, keeping your word, reinventing oneself, sharing, friendship, parenting, change and longevity. It’s attractive and easy to read.

Roger chats about choices in one of his many anecdotes throughout the book. He talks about his young son Jack 'the centre of his universe' and the life lessons he'd want him to know and practice. The fact that Jack will always have choices is one of them.

As I consult this book, and if just some of the wisdom rubs off, it's possible I’ll be able to make my personal choices more easily and wisely in future … and perhaps so will lots of others.

What do you do when you come to a fork in the road in your life?

Do you find it easy to recognise choices?

Monday, 10 August 2009

Appliances with Built in Faults Make Me Cranky

I get cranky when I buy household appliances that have features built in to fail.

It does seem that manufacturers do this so that we must replace items in the short term, thus adding to their profits.

And to the frustration of buyers!

In my book, household appliance manufacturers could be seen as being in the same box as the banks and financiers who created the global recession. I mean this in the sense of the danger the practice poses to the globe.

I reckon this built in obsolescence of so much stuff - not just electrical appliances - must stop if we are to make any headway against climate change. The waste occurring because of this practice is extreme, and the damage to our environment beyond measure.

Imagine my Dad’s day when everyone made things to last. People had pride in their workmanship and we could count on having possessions around for years to come. We should concentrate on making today's technology last.

Now, rarely do goods work much past their warranty period, and break down in that time, if we’re lucky.

Land fills are full of them.

Surely it is possible to make things last without too much overall expense. It costs to send things to landfill. It costs to make packaging for two processors rather than one well made one. I think of the transport from one side of the world to another - twice. On and on.

We’ve become meek little lambs to the slaughter, not questioning this shoddy practice, although grumbling as we try to make ends meet. It’s unfair and it’s immoral.

The obsolescence fiend struck again this week - at my place. My food processor threw in the towel. The motor seized.

While working well enough when it was working at all, this little machine had been falling to bits almost from the day it reached my kitchen.

The discs for shredding and slicing were the first to fail. They were made of thin aluminium which was bound to buckle. And did in short time.

More recently the main blade developed stress fractures in the plastic holding the sharp steel. This quickly became worse, and the little fractures expanded to dangerous looking cracks. It looked as though the blades could fly off any time during operation of the machine.

The failure of the motor and my decision to give the machine the flick happened at almost the same time. And I hasten to say that I hadn't been trying to chop up anything solid.

I decided to beat the system and pay twice as much for a stronger machine that would last. The new one has a big strong motor and can even be used in commercial kitchens.

It cuts and slices and shreds and mixes with supreme simplicity. My new machine with its ten year guarantee of the motor will be around as long as I will!

But wait …

The day after my purchase I’m taking apart the spindle and the blades so I can wash and store them. The spindle is stuck and won’t come away with all the twisting and pulling I can muster.

Eventually I tap the top of it on the bench top, hoping it will come free.

Still no joy. I tap half a dozen times before the two bits come apart, as it should have done easily in the first place.

I'm called on to fight this battle again when I reassemble the blades for another test. I cut my finger on the blades on this attempt, and the blood flows.

I’m off to the shop today to take back my beautiful processor.

So much for beating built in obsolescence.

How do you approach this problem at your place? Do you pay more or just get the cheap stuff and replace it early?

Should society ban the manufacture of rubbish?

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Ginger Meggs the Role Model

GINGER MEGGS, Jimmy Bancks’ brilliant Australian comic strip character, was my hero when I was a little girl.

The more I think about it the more I’m convinced that my love of reading and writing began when I followed Ginger Meggs from a very early age.

Ginger was a raggle taggle schoolboy who led his pack of mates and pets into all sorts of adventures. They stole fruit from the neighbourhood orchards, played tricks on other kids and their Mums and had an ongoing hate relationship with the headmaster at their school.

I suppose I was about six when I began looking forward to Ginger’s adventures each week-end in the Sydney Sunday Sun. My Dad would divide up the pages when the paper arrived. He’d read the news section, Mum the recipes and my sister and I would get the comics.

The colourful strips with the lively loose sketches of the red-haired hero were wondrous to me, and it wasn’t too long before my thirst for the written word took in books as well as comics, and I began to write little stories myself.

I was just twelve when I did a rewrite of Cinderella and sent it into the Sunday Sun children’s pages, then called 'Sunbeams'. In my story Cinderella morphed into ‘Jetrella’ and rode off to the ball in a space ship. It won a 'Sunbeams' certificate and a few shillings.

I became one of those lucky people who developed a hobby as a child that was to remain important to me for the rest of my life. By fifteen I had a full time job doing it and worked as a journalist and corporate public relations manager for the next 45 years.

After retirement I did my first degree, choosing a BA with Creative Writing and Australian History majors, and have been writing short and long fiction ever since. See my writing blog here.

Ginger Meggs himself is still very much alive, albeit his founder Jimmy Bancks died in 1952 from a heart attack. Bancks’ little hero first saw the light of day when the artist worked for the famous Bulletin magazine and at the same time submitted to the Sydney Sun a strip called ‘Us Fellas’ in 1921.

The red-haired Ginger Meggs was one of the ‘fellas’, and soon gained a comic of his very own. This became one of Australia’s most popular strips. A string of other cartoonists have drawn the strip since Bancks’ death, and today Melbourne comic strip artist and comedian Jason Chatfield creates the drawings.

See Jason's comment below which corrected a former remark of mine. Sorry Jason! Have a look at some of Jason's work and here at the official Ginger Meggs site where Jason has been kind enough to feature 70 Plus and Still Kicking.

Ginger Meggs illustrations from

Do you think comics can play a role in encouraging children towards reading better quality literature?

Were you lucky enough to have a hobby as a child which later became a full blown career/interest for life?