Books can be great old friends when feeling low. The book on this video - 'I had a Black Dog' by Matthew Johnstone and the sequel 'Living with a Black Dog' are books that I come back to when I'm ill. They remind me I'm not alone and that the things I'm thinking and feeling are due to my depression. They are particularly good as they are mostly pictures so I can read them even though my attention span is shot to hell.

I would recommend these books for people to use to gain an understanding of depression, or for others like me who find them a useful companion on the dark days.

 
 
So after goodness knows how long, I remembered I have a blog. I'm off work with depression (again) and one of the things that is helping me through the days at the moment are the honest blogs of other people living with mental illness. So I thought I might try and have a go myself at writing a bit about what living with depression is like, what helps and my thoughts about mental health.
It is a bit scary exposing myself and my illness to the world, the old fears of people not believing I'm really ill or not wanting to be around me are always there. But I have such good support from those close to me, I know nothing I write will affect how they feel about me. I hope that by writing a bit about how things are for me, it might help other people understand a bit better and make the world a more understanding place for others with the same difficulties.
I'm out of energy now, but I'll write more soon.
 
 
I listened to this programme on the radio this morning. In it, Quentin Letts explored the question of what a university education is for, and whether it is any use or not in today's world. He spoke to various academic staff and students from old and new universities, and compared study of 'pure' and vocational degrees.

As someone who gained a vocational degree (a 2:1, no less) from a new university, I suppose I have a bias. But my degree has proved to be valuable, just not in the vocational area that I qualified in! I qualified as an allied health professional after 4 years of hard study and work placements. The academic side of my course covered: Psychology, Linguistics, Biology (particularly Neurology), Child Development, Counselling and  Communication Skills. In the placements it was necessary to apply our learning of those subjects to everyday life and to reflect on our own behaviour and the way it impacted on our patients and colleagues.

I often regret not studying a 'pure' subject at University. I love learning and thinking and writing essays, and I wish I had had the luxury of doing that for three years. But I cannot regret the skills, knowledge and confidence my degree course gave me, and I do not believe that I would ever have got them from the devoted pursuit of a single subject - academic or (a different kind of) vocational. Now I do not even practice the profession I trained in, but the training I received has set me up with the 'soft skills' which are so in demand the modern job market.

The debate over what education is for and how well it prepares young (and older) people for the job market often seems to want seperate people into those who have academic skills and those who have practical skills. This seperation easily allows people to judge those who should spend the money and gain a degree based on pure knowledge, and those who should spend their money on gaining skills which will make them employable.

However, it now seems that employers want more than a degree and the issues seem to be the same for those who have not been to University. So perhaps spending time debating whether GCSE Maths and a Physics degree is better or worse than a BTEC in Hospitalilty and a degree in Tourism Management is a distraction from the more pressing issue of how the education system prepares all young people for the employment opportunities that are available to them once their time in the education system is over.

I would never argue that study and learning new skills are not valuable in themselves, and I firmly believe that these options should remain open for all young people. I also believe though, that there has to be a new element of training in 'soft skills' to help young people (and older jobseekers) prepare for work.

As much as education can enrich the mind, for independence and self esteem people need to work. If the education system stays preoccupied with its own internal squabbles about academic versus vocational learning it runs the risk of letting down learners from both groups who remain unemployable in spite of its best efforts.
 
 
The case of Tia Sharp is a tragedy. That a child has died is desperately sad, that this may have been caused by a family member seems unthinkable to all right thinking people.

However in the wake of this and other such awful events, what I call the 'hanging is too good for them' brigade begin to start shouting. Why, they say, should we waste time and energy on giving the (alleged) perpetrators of this crime a trial? Hang them now! Get it over with. If anyone disagrees, surely they are condoning child murder? How could anybody think differently?

Well, I think differently. I would not for a second condone any harm to a child. But I think everyone deserves a fair trial and I will explain why.

Firstly, victims of crime deserve it. When harm has been done, people who have been harmed deserve to find out what happened and why. Sadly in the case of Tia Sharp, she does not have that option, but the people who have been deprived of her are also victims and they deserve an explanation.

By making sure the crime has been investigated fully, we as a society can try and prevent it from happening again. Following the death of Baby P
a report was published with recommendations about how to stop such a situation occuring again. Fury is understandable, even inevitable, when something so horrendous happens, but not to stop and consider how it came about would be unforgivable.

Perhaps a more selfish, but no less valid, reason for believing that everyone should have a fair trial is that we would all like one. To believe that public opinion is right, and that what is obvious to you is the objective truth, is a viable position only when you think yourself above suspicion. To believe that society should hang someone before trial (or to turn up at their house with flaming torches and pitchforks) seems attractive until the finger of suspicion points to you. As people in one of the most respected professions in our society have discovered,
the mob does not always do its research.

Outrage at the death of a child is understandable, but to let our feelings about it cloud our judgement is a recipe for disaster. By having an established process for investigating and prosecuting crime we show respect for victims of crime and provide resources to try and stop the same thing from happening again. The system also assures us that should we be accused (albeit wrongly) there is something standing between us and the pitchfork wielding mob.