There are many things I feel are incredibly important; these are a few of them. If you’re involved in any of these areas, I’m always happy to get involved, give advice, or just have a friendly discussion. These subject areas already get a reasonable amount of visibility. Here they get an identity slant.
We’ve already put in a lot of work to ensure equality of opportunity for children coming up through schools, although a lot of work remains to be done. Yet I feel we are still missing an important aspect of what’s needed. If the discourses – the ways of thinking about self, others, and the opportunities – are not available to the children, they may not be in a position to be able to take advantage of them, or see themselves able to do so. We need to work on providing support for all children to understand their own capabilities, as well as providing support for them to have the skills and funding to be able to take advantage of the opportunity. We also need to move away from discourses that have positioned academic ability as more valid and desirable than technical ability. Both should be seen as equally valid.
The levels of post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health issues, homelessness and incarceration among those who have left the armed forces is truly distressing. I believe that, in addition to the problems caused by serving in high-stress situations, we fail to take into account the huge shock to identity that must occur when someone leaves the structured group environment of the Army, Navy or Air Force and is expected to reintegrate back into civilian life. I believe that we are letting down those who have served their country, and that we must do much more to help them build up and reinforce a civilian identity, in addition to the Forces identity which will always form part of who they are, as well as providing support for PTSD and any other medical conditions, and also providing support in taking up the practicalities of daily life.
Mental Health Support
Given that 6 in 10 people will experience a mental health issue at some time in their life, it’s ludicrous that there is still any type of stigma around mental health – and yet, this stereotype still persists, although we are slowly becoming more open. I feel that this is partially still due to a lack of understanding, which requires education and more open conversations. We also frequently fail to talk about the positives that are part of many mental health conditions – for instance, the elevated goal focus and concentration that can be a part of hypomania, or the attention to detail and retentive memory often seen with Asperger’s syndrome. There is also a tendency to label people by conditions, rather than allowing that, like all other parts that make up a complex human being, these things are just an aspect of the person. The rigid diagnostic criteria of the DSM often does not allow this to be taken into account.
While walking through Birmingham to get to university, I frequently sit down with the homeless. The amount of people that just walk by, avoiding eye contact, is startling. Understanding of what life is like from the homeless becomes clearer when you sit on a wet pavement, watching an endless procession of walking feet and averted faces. Speaking about accommodation is not enough. Many homeless people have issues with mental health or addiction. A large proportion of them talk about the lives they used to have, with homes and families, lost through domestic issues or financial problems. There is a high incidence of trauma. Support for the homeless must of course include providing suitable accommodation and help with the practical aspects such as managing money and dealing with any physical or mental health and addiction problems, but beyond this, many homeless people have suffered damaging challenges to their identity and self-esteem, and need support to build themselves back up.
Retiring Sportsmen and Sportswomen
This area seems to be completely neglected. However, in order to have reached the heights of the profession, it’s necessary for sports professionals to have dedicated a huge proportion of their lives to their sport, often since they were children, and build a strong identity around that. Retiring from the sport brings, at a younger age compared to many jobs, not only brings loss of income and time commitment, but also of a strong identity position. I believe that working with professionals who are coming up to retirement would help to mitigate problems with mental health which many occur after they are no longer actively participating in their sport, and help them to move forward with whatever they choose to do next.
Long Term Unemployment
Much media wrath is directed at the long-term unemployed who, lacking a mental or physical disability that prevents them from working, otherwise appear not to be actively seeking employment. Admittedly, nobody should feel that this is an ideal state; as much for the well-being of the person involved as for the greater good of the economy. However, like all situations that have been allowed to develop over time, this will not be altered overnight; and it certainly will not be altered by a few scathing headlines and outraged comments in the readers’ section. Identities develop in environments; and, as has already been discussed, they can only develop in line with the discourses available to them. Financial support, combined with training, education, and provision of more helpful discourses that allow imagining of a more positive future, aligned with the appropriate opportunities, would seem to be a more helpful way forward.
Though retaining the ability to be amended during the adult years, childhood provides the formative years for identity. Children who have been removed from the home environment, often after having undergone significant trauma or neglect, start out at a significant disadvantage. Deprived of much of both the material and emotional support that many (though not all) children who have remained at home will benefit from, they may face challenges in forming relationships and building a stable life and identity. I would like to see significant levels of support provided to assist these children in building on their strengths, developing their abilities, and dealing with any challenges they face going forward; not only while they are in the system, but in the first years after they leave it.