Thursday, 25 November 2021

Male Mental Health

 As we emerge from the pandemic there are many challenges that the government is currently grappling with.  There is a degree of turbulence in international supply chains, a labour shortage, work to be done to help children and young people catch up with their education, and a backlog of operations caused by NHS being focused on Covid over the last two years.

Another emerging challenge relates to mental health.  It is clear that two lockdowns have led to heightened anxiety, more loneliness, and more cases of depression.  Doctors’ surgeries locally are currently under intense pressure and much of the new case load is due to mental health related issues.

We humans are social creatures.  Friendships and the company of others are important. It is scientifically proven that spending quality time with loved ones and friends in a social setting has a considerable positive impact on our mental health. While we may not fully understand both the physical and economic impacts of lockdown for some time, it is clear that spending months confined to home and being unable to socialise and meet friends and family has put a strain on some.   On a more optimistic note, there is also a lot of evidence that people are extremely resilient, schools report that most children have rebounded very quickly as they have returned to school and society has largely picked up where it left off.  People are socialising again, going out for a drink with friends and have returned to work.  

It has long been recognised that men are more likely to be affected by depression than women because they are less likely to discuss their worries, thoughts or concerns with others and can bottle up negative thoughts. Often fear is the most prohibitive factor in men not having these discussions; fear of judgement, fear of losing control or fear of being weak. This makes it even more important that as a society we work hard to address this inequality and cannot ignore the issue of male mental health.

In the UK, men are three times more likely to die by suicide than women with men aged 40-49 having the highest suicide rates. Furthermore, only 36% of referrals for NHS psychological therapies are for men. Men are more likely to go missing, end up homeless, become dependent on alcohol or drugs and suffer from clinical depression. Men are often expected to be the breadwinners and to be strong, dominant and in control. While these aren’t inherently bad things, they can make it harder for men to reach out for help and open up. Some research also suggests that men who can’t speak openly about their emotions may be less able to recognise symptoms of mental health problems in themselves, and less likely to reach out for support.

While this may paint a gloomy picture, it is important to highlight the important work that many charities such as MIND do to promote male mental health. One group, called Strong Men, does brilliant work supporting men that have suffered from a bereavement. There are also efforts of organisations such as Movemeber that has men all over the UK growing moustaches to raise awareness for men’s mental health and prostate cancer.

Tragically, we have recently seen a rise in suicide throughout the pandemic including here in Cornwall. Such incidents are often not predicted and can take friends and family by complete surprise.   There are no easy answers to the complex factors that influence mental health but getting a focus on wellbeing and trying to nurture a culture that promotes it in our society is going to be increasingly important.  

Thursday, 18 November 2021

Remembrance Day 2021

Last Sunday was Remembrance Day and I joined many others attending services in both Hayle and Illogan. Last year, the lockdown meant that parades and services could not be held so it was good to see such a strong attendance return again this year on the 100th Anniversary of Remembrance Sunday.  Once again local Cadets, Scouts, Brownies and other youth groups like the Illogan Football Club and Hayle Life Saving Club were out in force.
This year also marks the 100th year since the creation of the Royal British Legion, which was first created in May 1921 as a voice for the ex-service community- incorporating several other organisations that were created following the end of the First World War. The organisation was granted a royal charter in 1925 and has enjoyed consistent patronage from members of the Royal family ever since.
The scale of sacrifice in our country is apparent through the names listed on memorial stones up and down the land and both the First and Second World Wars and all the wars since touched every community and virtually every family.  I take one of my Christian names from Charles Botterell, my Great Grandfather who fought in the First World War and suffered ill health as a result of his shrapnel wounds.  At the service in Hayle, the names of the fallen from the town in each of the world wars were read out which was powerful but drove home the scale of loss.
The Royal British Legion is best known, aside from Remembrance Day, for creating the Poppy Appeal. The red poppy was chosen as the flowers grew quickly in the war-torn region of Northern France and Belgium. The poem ‘In Flanders Fields’ refers to the poppies growing among the graves of fallen soldiers. Ever since, the flower has been a symbol of remembrance for many, showing that the individual has chosen to give a donation to the Royal British Legion and support their vital work for those that have served in our country’s armed forces.
Charities such as the Royal British Legion, or others such as Help for Heroes or Combat Stress, play a vital role in our country supporting veterans and highlighting issues such as PTSD or other mental health conditions resulting from serving in combat. The issues they highlight directly led to the government establishing the Office of Veterans Affairs in 2019 and the Prime Minister giving the clear commitment to make this the best country in the world for veterans to live in. I firmly believe that it is our duty to ensure that those who served our country continue to receive the very best possible care.
We also have a number of local veterans’ groups that do good work supporting former service personnel including Turn to Starboard, Surf Action and Active Plus. These charities do vital work with those suffering from the effects of PTSD, physical injury or who have difficulty re-adjusting to civilian life. This gives the veterans a chance to take up new activities and learn new skills; be that circumnavigating oceans or learning to surf alongside men and women who have shared similar experiences and trauma.

Thursday, 11 November 2021

COP-26: Protecting Nature

Over the past two weeks, world leaders and Ministers have been in Glasgow at the COP 26 meeting, working on new agreements to tackle climate change.  I was there for four days over last weekend to lead some of the discussions on forests and nature recovery and took part in sessions on forestry and sustainable agriculture.
We have made some good progress.  More than 120 world leaders signed up to commit to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030, in an agreement known as the Glasgow Leaders Declaration on Forest and Land Use. Those leaders represent over 90% of the world’s forests – from the northern forests of Russia to the tropical rainforests of Brazil, Colombia, Indonesia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Crucially, it is also being backed up by £8.75 billion of public funds and £5.3 billion of private investment. Forests are the lungs of our planet, absorbing around a third of the global CO2 released from burning fossil fuels every year. We have been losing them at a terrifying rate.  This has to be the moment to reverse this trend, protect our forests and restore degraded land.
We have put nature at the heart of our COP presidency, and we have worked closely with countries around the world on this agenda. For example, Costa Rica has done incredible work in restoring natural ecosystems and it is a case study of how economies can benefit from the revival of nature and biodiversity.
Against a backdrop of the most significant and ambitious commitment to forests in a generation, we asked countries to commit to radical action on nature, food, and farming and help people adapt to the impacts of climate change. Of course, land can be a great source of emissions, or a great carbon sink, depending on how we manage it.
We have secured a consensus around a number of key actions contained in a new roadmap around the sustainable commodities trade, which will put the world on a pathway to ensure that the link between deforestation and the production and trade of agricultural commodities does not put pressure to forests. We have already seen 28 governments endorse a statement committing to deliver this.
It is something that I have been working on for the last eighteen months since the UK has co-chaired the dialogue with Indonesia. We’ve had the open and honest conversations needed with countries that represent over 90% of global exports of palm oil, 80% of cocoa and 85% of soya – as well as the major consumer markets of these commodities.
It is encouraging that we are seeing countries committing to transform agriculture and food systems.  We have also seen countries coming forward to make other commitments with 90 per cent of the world’s economy now committed to getting to “net-zero” greenhouse gas emissions by the middle of the century.  As the Prime Minister said earlier this week, we will have a chance to end humanity’s long history as nature’s conqueror, and instead, become its custodian. Let’s hope that a final agreement offers some good progress.

Thursday, 4 November 2021

Protecting our Forests

This week the COP-26 Conference is taking place in Glasgow. This is an important moment for both the UK and the international community in the battle against Climate Change. One of our key objectives from this conference is to secure greater recognition and more commitments from every country towards nature-based solutions to contribute to tackling climate change. In particular, we were seeking to get an agreement to halt the loss of forestry around the world by 2030 and get as many countries as possible committed to that. 

On Tuesday, we announced that we have managed to get the commitment made by over 100 world leaders, representing countries containing more than 85% of the world’s forests, to halt and reverse deforestation and land degradation by 2030. This is a hugely important breakthrough. Five days ago, I would have probably been apprehensive about whether we would have landed this agreement on forests, however, we have managed to find an agreement among a large portion of the world’s nations which is very positive. 

This agreement on forests is backed by £14 billion of public and private money that will mainly help to protect the Amazon, and tropical forests in Indonesia and the Congo Basin as well as other significant forests around the world. The money will support activities in developing countries, including restoring degraded land, tackling wildfires, and supporting the rights of indigenous communities. The declaration specifically recognises the rights of those communities, which should help in hitting the 2030 target, as they tend to be effective at protecting forests under their control.

Gaining the commitment of countries like Russia and Brazil is a huge step forward for the global effort to halt and reverse the effects of climate change. An area of forest the size of 27 football pitches is still being lost every minute around the world, so it is vital we engage with these large countries to help keep the global temperature below 1.5°C of pre-industrial levels. 

Locally, we must recognise the brilliant work of organisations like the Eden Project and the work they have done to promote conservation both within the UK and across other countries. As part of the COP-26 summit in Glasgow, the Eden Project have announced that they will be opening a site in South America, in Colombia’s Meta region to further promote their conservation efforts. It is great to see this important project grow and expand as the work they carry out has significantly contributed toward climate change awareness. 

It is clear we have a great deal to do further before we overcome climate change, however, this agreement is a significant step forward. Cornwall has led the country on innovative technology in the past, we can be proud that we are continuing this tradition by helping the whole country by cutting emissions, and establishing a pathway to protect our precious environment for future generations.