Thursday, 26 May 2016

Sit Down and Shut Up

Antisemitism is not a new thing; it is centuries old. Antisemitism within supposedly progressive elements of society is also not new - funnily enough, it is also centuries old and arises partly from linking Jews with capitalism.

What is new is that antisemitism is now being discussed seriously in non-Jewish circles. Finally - we've only been waiting, like, thirty years for people to start paying attention.

I know that me talking about this is not going to make me any friends. In fact, it's probably going to alienate and annoy my friends and family, and make me enemies among people with whom I should really have a common cause.

I'm surprisingly not sorry about this.

Being a Jewish leftist in the UK is different from being a non-Jewish leftist - not just because of theological issues (I'm a culturally Jewish atheist, so theology is not an issue for me, but I'm still treated differently) but because of double standards.

If you are Jewish, you will probably have to take this test at some point. If you are non-Jewish, you have probably administered this test at some point, or you have watched someone do it.

The test is this:

"What do you think about Israel?"

The correct response is some pearl-clutching about Israeli crimes, expression of solidarity with the Palestinian cause, and disavowal of Zionism. I am very good at giving this response. All Jewish leftists have to be.

I note politely that saying you are not the Israeli ambassador and asking the questioner about their support for Western imperialism is most definitely the wrong response.

If you are Israeli, you will become even better at this test. In some cases you will reject your identity as Israeli or hide it.

The reason you have to become even better at this test is because the stakes for failure become much, much higher. If you are a British Jew and give the wrong response to the Israel test, you will be excluded from your particular leftist circle. That is bad enough, but if you are an Israeli Jew and give the wrong response to the Israel test, you will lose your humanity. You will be a brute, a monster, a force of evil rather than a person. Even if you give the right response to the Israel test, it may not protect you; witness the smearing of Noam Chomsky as a gatekeeper.

If you have been involved with social justice for any amount of time, you will be familiar with the phrase "listen and believe": that is to say, when people tell you about their experiences, they are usually telling the truth.

If you have been involved with social justice for any amount of time and have been paying attention, you will notice that "listen and believe" does not seem to apply to the Jews. (To be fair, "listen and believe" seems to be more of a nice idea in many places than a rule people act on - many women assaulted or raped by leftist men aren't believed. Incidentally, covering up antisemitism and covering up sexual assault and rape intersect. It sucks.)

When we talk about antisemitism, one of three things usually happens.

The most common response is for our concerns to be ignored or dismissed. After all, the Palestinians have it worse and Jews are just complaining about mean words.

If we're making too much noise, non-Jews get nasty. Any claims of antisemitism are said to be made in bad faith, either because we're all stooges for Israel afraid of our crimes being exposed (incidentally, talk to an Israeli, any Israeli, and the general attitude is that the PR's shit) or because we just like making stuff up to smear other people. The idea that claims of antisemitism aren't real or have an ulterior motive behind them is especially nasty because it comes from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a 20th-century antisemitic forgery purporting to show Jewish plans for world domination. Although debunked in 1921, people continue to take it as truth.

A common but frustrating response is to be believed for the wrong reasons. For example, leftists invested in believing that their movement is unproblematic may cherry-pick statements from Jewish groups and decide that because of their cherry-picking, antisemitism is not something they have to worry about. More worryingly, right-wing philosemites with a vested interest in discrediting the left like to use Jews critical of these double standards as proof that the left is evil and corrupt. This is particularly bad because it further reinforces something I'm going to expand on: the idea that being Jewish and being left-wing are mutually exclusive.

What all this adds up to is a constant performance. It is a constant reminder that Jews are not welcome in a space to combat bigotry and prejudice of all kinds, unless we pass tests and don't speak out against non-Jews. It is a constant reminder that the power to decide Jewish humanity lies not with Jews ourselves, but with non-Jews, and that our humanity can be revoked for acting in the "wrong" way.

So knowing this, why am I embracing an identity that does not belong to me theologically, being open about being Israeli, and risking exclusion and hatred?

It's simple: I am stubbornly and stupidly defiant.

As an Israeli Jew and seeker after truth, I am totally screwed here.

I can lie, pretend to be as British as fish and chips, and vow that I have no associations with Judaism whatsoever. This will be quite easily debunked because although I am a naturalised British citizen, my name is extremely Jewish, my birthplace is Israel, and neither of my parents speak English as a first language. Also, I'm a terrible liar.

If this option fails - which it will - I can say that I'm not like those other Jews and Israelis, because I oppose Zionism, acknowledge Israel as a colonialist oppressor, or whatever's become fashionable to say. (Yeah, I'm cynical. Did you not pick up on this when I was talking about passing tests and performing?)

This option will also fail for multiple reasons.

Firstly, I've just described myself as a seeker after truth. As a seeker after truth I have researched Zionism and anti-Zionism a lot. I cannot in good faith identify myself with forcibly expelling people from their homes - which means I can't describe myself as either a Zionist or an anti-Zionist without identifying with those bad parts. As a seeker after truth, I can also honestly say that Israel and Judaism are complicated, which is what happens when a diasporic people ride the shitty nationalist 19th-century tide after centuries of oppression (I'm still talking about Europe here, mind you...). Basically, there's no canned phrases I can spout to show off how good my politics are, because any canned phrases inevitably end up implying support for something horrible or being untrue.

Secondly, non-Jews control UK discourse and reserve the right to strip Jewish humanity from us at any point. I do not see the point in becoming somebody's token Red Sea pedestrian and potentially doing something stupid to keep that position, such as promoting antisemitic tropes or renouncing my Israeli citizenship. No matter what I do, someone will always decide that as an Israeli Jew, I am subhuman. I am not interested in appeasing people who will happily treat me like vermin if I do something they don't like.

I don't know if this option will fail yet, but it seems to be the only one I've got so far: speak my truth. As a seeker after truth, that definitely suits me.

I don't claim to be an arbiter of morality. I don't even think any absolute morality exists. In my worldview, the only thing I can do is to examine actions through a moral framework I have built up. (It doesn't work properly and there are some bits of it that are incommensurable. I'm not even sure you can make a completely coherent framework.)

Something I don't like to acknowledge much, because it doesn't fit with my ideals about dispassionate rational introspection, is that morality, and particularly a sense of what's right, is visceral. It's physical. When something contradicts your moral framework, you don't calmly think "this has contradicted principle X in my morality". You feel judders of emotion, a pervading sense that something is wrong here.

That's how I feel when someone tells me not to talk about antisemitism - that pervasive wrongness. There is something in me that will not allow me to shut up because silencing people is wrong. No amount of talk about privilege or hasbara or the implication that talking about antisemitism is something only those evil Zionists do has stopped the visceral feeling of wrongness.

I don't necessarily intend to convince hardcore antisemites to change their ways and hug Jews, because that's really, really difficult, but I'll settle for pissing them off by speaking my truth. I intend to convince people who are undecided that antisemitism is real and I intend to defend myself and my humanity. I'm done cowering and I certainly don't trust anyone to speak for me.

I'm under no illusions that I will get much support for this. I'm a loud Israeli Jew who grew up in Britain with no faith (but still going to a Christian school) and criticises Israel. That means everyone can find a reason to hate me. And honestly, I'm probably going to schedule this for publication and then have an anxiety attack over potential backlash, because I've been conditioned to believe that speaking out gets you punished. But I'm done being silent to please other people.

Nobody ever made advances by being quiet and respectable and hoping that their oppressors would be nice to them. Resistance is loud, unpleasant, and thoroughly unrespectable, but people listen.

I ask nothing.

I will take my humanity.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Tinkering with Music

Dear friends: I apologise to you for having to put up with a diva like me. That is all.

I am the only child of a music teacher who studied the interpretation of music in detail. At least, that's my excuse.

I like different interpretations of pieces and have been known to listen to the same piece of music interpreted in four completely different ways. Only other music people seem to get this, particularly if I get into an argument with someone about how I prefer X conductor to interpret Y piece and they say actually Z was much better, and you won't be able to shut either of us up for the next hour...

...With this in mind, it's not exactly surprising that I like rearranging pieces too. (It's work, though, and I really don't have the time to spare to be working on full arrangements. Aaargh.)

I suppose part of it is that I come from a very classical background, where technical skill in performing pieces other people have composed is paramount. One can think of Western art music as a series of very technically skilled covers. Western popular music, by contrast, concentrates far more on the production of individual songs rather than their subsequent interpretations (okay, this is very general and doesn't take into account things like TV shows which mostly have contestants performing covers, but I'm trying to draw a contrast here). As such, you see a lot more distinction between an original song and subsequent covers, which are usually seen as inferior.

I think - but I'm not sure if I'm making this up - that radically different song covers are a bit of an unusual thing because of a desire to stay true to the source material. (I suppose parallels could be drawn with the historically informed performance movement, which seeks to recreate pieces as they would have sounded when they were composed.)

This is where things take a radically different turn and I reveal that I'm actually really into folk music! One of the things I value about folk is its ability to keep reinventing and re-interpreting itself, constantly branching out into new genres and re-interpreting old pieces in so many fascinating ways. Maybe it's because of that fearlessness I see under the broad folk umbrella that I, too, become fearless. If I hear a piece where the instrumentation and vocals are godawful but I think the lyrics and chord progression are too good to pass up, the song itself doesn't need to be thrown out but I'll happily experiment with instrumentation and different vocal texture. (While I'm on the subject: your diaphragm, intercostal muscles, pelvic muscles and back muscles all help you to achieve a rich and much more pleasing tone than wheezy whispering which is overdone and not a substitute for actually conveying actual emotions in a song, so please fucking use them more. Also, it will be better for your voice in the long run.)

Come on, it's better than just saying I don't like the song, right?

The point is that I love tinkering. Tinkering is good. It allows you to preserve what you do like and change what you don't. And come on, it's a song, not the fundamental constants of the universe. If you think my interpretation is crap, by all means make a better one. The world won't end and now we have even more music.

Nothing in music is sacred. All is taste. So go out. Experiment. Mess around. Make things that are to your taste and let's have music that innovates.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Are Mentally Ill People Annoying?

Mental illnesses are very cruel. They make you feel like you're worthless, suffering through a living hell, and better off dead. They warp your perception of reality; everything you do is a burden on humanity and everybody secretly hates you. And because the world's a horrible place, mental illness is viewed as something shameful, a weakness, a vileness in the soul.

With this in mind it's important to have support and people who keep reminding you that they love you. I find that a lot of people, especially younger people or those burnt by a recent betrayal, are very hung up on the idea of people leaving.

(While I'm on the subject: everyone leaves or dies. This does not make the time you spent together any less meaningful. Prepare accordingly.)

A natural consequence of self-hatred and the desire to still have people love you is hyperawareness of every tiny little thing you do, constantly watching out for anything which might annoy or upset them, at which point they will leave forever. When you're in that state, being told you're annoying might be akin to being told you deserve to die.

Spoiler alert for people who manage to come out the other side: everyone's annoying. No exceptions, certainly not mental health based ones. Hell, even unborn babies can be annoying and they're still in the womb.

Everyone's annoying because everyone has different needs and wants and these are never going to gel perfectly. Some people think you need to lighten up. Some people think your jokes aren't funny. Someone gets annoyed because you don't contact them enough. Someone else gets annoyed because they think you contact them too much. You get the picture. This is why trying to please everyone is fruitless.

And sure, you might annoy people sometimes (or get annoyed by them), but that doesn't mean we don't love you really. Sure, you might be a bit irritating sometimes, but everyone is - and being a bit irritating sometimes in no way cancels out love, support, friendship, fun, building amazing memories together, you name it and it's probably in there somewhere...

...So go forth and be annoying. It's not a judgement on how awful you are, it's a sign that you're human.

And seriously. We still love you anyway.

Monday, 23 May 2016

Uppity Jews having opinions and being uppity

Surprisingly for a loudmouth such as myself, I've been reasonably quiet about the most recent antisemitism row (where "reasonably quiet" has been redefined to mean "making lots of upset tweets"). I've sort of just been hiding, waiting for it to blow over and focusing on my exams.

Unsurprisingly for an argumentative and opinionated young woman, I've decided to stir this up again for shits, giggles and pretending to be good at this social justice malarkey. I couldn't really think of a good format to put this in, so this is a list of common responses I get when upset about antisemitism.

"But criticising Israel isn't antisemitic!"
Ah. Got to love everyone's go-to. Look, I know criticising Israel isn't antisemitic, you know criticising Israel isn't antisemitic, your mother knows criticising Israel isn't antisemitic and basically everyone who isn't ridiculously pro-Israel can tell the difference between criticising the Israeli government and criticising Jews.

The issue is people saying blatantly antisemitic things and then using "well, the Israeli government does bad things" to justify that. Replace Judaism with any other religion and Israel with a corresponding government. If this no longer seems morally right to you, congratulations - you understand that the actions of a government don't justify prejudice towards an entire ethnoreligious group.

"The Palestinians have it worse. Why are you complaining?"
I don't know. Perhaps - and you might need to grab the smelling salts if this suggestion shocks you - because even if someone's issues aren't as bad as another person's problems, they might still be bad and worthy of attention?

Shocking idea, I know.

"Jews are getting upset over words while other people are being attacked in the streets!"
It's not "just words".

Firstly, while antisemitic assaults are thankfully rare in the UK, they have happened. We have been attacked in the street simply for the crime of belonging to a particular ethnoreligious group. If you can't see why that's wrong, I strongly suggest you re-evaluate your entire moral framework.

Secondly, stirring up hate against particular groups always starts with words. Always. It starts with loudmouths trying to rationalise their hatred. It develops into hateful people writing tirades and tracts, some of which are persuasive and become widely spread. Bigotry and prejudice become polite topics to be discussed at the dinner table, while some use words to stir up violence, words to exclude and dehumanise people, words to justify their murder.

If we don't call out people on being hateful, because after all it's "just words", do you honestly think they're going to stop? No. Nobody's getting in their way, so they'll get together. They'll spread their ideas. They'll push those ideas into the mainstream, or use those ideas to justify attacking people.

Words have an awful lot of power. Not recognising this leads to an awful lot of problems.

"I don't hate Jews, I hate Zionists!"
Do you even know what a Zionist is? Here, let me grab you a dictionary definition because it's easy to find:
A movement for (originally) the re-establishment and (now) the development and protection of a Jewish nation in what is now Israel. It was established as a political organization in 1897 under Theodor Herzl, and was later led by Chaim Weizmann.
(that site's maintained by the OED people, by the way, so it's about as nonpartisan as you get)

I'm not going to claim that a dictionary definition is the be-all and end-all of Zionism. I'm not going to claim that Zionism is entirely unproblematic. If you look into this further, Zionism and anti-Zionism turn into a real can of worms; because they can be motivated by lots of different things, they can be used to justify lots of things and so end up having different connotations in different countries. The upshot of this is that using "Zionist" or "anti-Zionist" as shorthand for "good" or "evil" doesn't make sense.

The entire reason I quoted that definition in the first place is because I've had "ZIONIST" screamed at me for the heinous crime of...disagreeing with someone on twitter. That kind of makes me question whether people know what Zionism is. It's also used as a dog-whistle; for example, saying "Zionists control the world" instead of "Jews control the world". They mean the same thing, but the antisemitism is marginally less blatant in the former.

Don't get this? I'm sure you can think of other dog-whistles, such as "controlled immigration" or "radical Islam" - phrases that sound quite reasonable out of context but are used to justify, say, xenophobia or Islamophobia. If you can see why they're wrong, and how people who use those phrases are betrayed by their actions, you should also be able to see why claiming that you're anti-Zionist while also, for example, claiming that Jews were behind 9/11 would get someone labelled as antisemitic.

"Antisemitism is anything the Jewish community gets offended by!"
Do you understand the right of a community not part of the dominant culture to define what counts as aggression against them? Or, random internet person, have you suddenly been bestowed with the power to define what counts as antisemitism and what doesn't. Please, tell me more. I am so very interested.*

*I've seen this a million times before and it never gets less boring

"You're not really Jewish!"
Please, random internet person, tell me more about how you've magically been able to divine a total stranger's Jewishness using nothing more than your sense of indignation and a poorly written blog post.

Also, genuine antisemites don't care about the nuances of Jewishness. They'll go after you if they consider you in any way visibly Jewish. Or even if you're not visibly Jewish but they still hate you.

"Well, my Jewish friend doesn't think XYZ is antisemitic!"
Good for them.

Seriously, I'm not being condescending on this one.

Looks like I've been too condescending and you probably don't believe me.

Oh well. Let me explain.

We live all over the world. We have myriad different experiences, customs and traditions between us. We're not a hive mind. We disagree and differ over lots of things. I for one am perfectly okay with that.

What I am not okay with is someone deciding that a Jewish person said X, that they agree with X, and that now this Jewish person is the voice of all Jews ever and any other Jews who disagree are wrong. It happens with conservatives who use Jews and Israel as a convenient shield for their Islamophobia, it happens with supposed progressives deciding that antisemitism is totally not a problem because some Jewish people happen to agree with pretty much happens all over the political spectrum and it's always annoying. You don't get to co-opt Jews for your own ends because we're people and not a big political football.

We disagree. A lot. So let's have free discussion and open debate, not arbitrary decisions about who represents all Jews and the shouting down of any dissenters.

(Man, for people who supposedly control the government, the banks and the media, we're super bad at getting our own say.)

"But three sections ago you said that only Jews get to define what antisemitism is and now you're saying that individual Jews disagree over what constitutes antisemitism. Make your mind up!"
Guilty as charged. That's a bit contradictory. Let's resolve it.

We get to define antisemitism for ourselves, to shout and sing and make lots of noise and to be uppity and irritate people who get offended when you point out their antisemitism to them. Even leaving social justice issues aside, annoying sanctimonious people is good for a cheap laugh. I don't think we get to define it for anybody else. Having heard a lifetime of nonsense, I have absolutely no desire to accuse someone of being too easily offended or a traitor to the Jewish community. If I want to attack them that much, I'll call them a bigoted asshole and attack their central points, not imply that they're self-hating (ugh, how I hate that term).

"You just hate Corbyn/You're a Blairite!"
I've had my reservations about Corbyn because of his sharing a platform with unsavoury characters like the Holocaust denier Paul Eisen. However, to his credit, he does seem to want to do something about racism and antisemitism within the Labour Party, so I'm pretty okay with him.

As for being a Blairite, I'm anti-war, anti-nation, anti-government and anti-capitalist. I wasn't aware that was considered Blairite policy.

"But the Tories/UKIP/Donald Trump are really racist. Why aren't you complaining about them?"
I do complain about them. Frequently. If I had my way, every bigot in every party would be kicked out.

Frankly, I also think that criticism of Labour for its antisemitism is not entirely unmotivated by a desire to trash the party and the Left in general, and I'm pretty annoyed by conservatives who up till now have shown no indication of caring about antisemitism except if it gives them an excuse to attack anyone vaguely left of centre. I don't think they really care about Jews. Witness the total and utter silence about the antisemitic abuse of Rhea Wolfson.

Still, I expect far better from supposed anti-racists. That's why I'm shocked and very disappointed

"This is distracting us from real news!"
Why don't you think discrimination against a historically marginalised group is "real news"? And if you don't think it's "real news", why talk about it so much?

A serious addition
The fact is, antisemitism from people who should know better is not new. It's been going on for years and most non-Jews haven't known or cared.

I grew up in a very Jewish area of North London with reasonably secular parents, so I felt comfortable talking about Jewishness and about being Israeli. I felt comfortable with what many people think of as a contradiction between calling oneself Jewish and calling oneself atheist. I knew antisemitism existed, but it never affected me directly.

I was very, very lucky.

Now that I'm an adult and I've moved away from home, things are quite a bit different.

For example, I'll be hanging out and offhand I might mention that my family's Jewish. All of a sudden, the atmosphere changes. All eyes are on me.

"What do you think about the Zionist entity?"

(As an aside: you can say Israel. It's not like if you whisper Israel in the mirror three times at night a very disgruntled Netanyahu materialises behind you.)

I dislike the idea that because my family's Jewish, I must somehow have some magical link with Israel. I do in fact have a link to Israel, but that's because my family's from there.

I also feel increasingly uncomfortable in supposedly progressive spaces, because people will use Zionism as a stand-in for Judaism, use actually antisemitic rhetoric (yes, in the 21st century!), and nobody will challenge them on this. Or if we do challenge them, we're dismissed.

This is a bit different from, say, white people complaining about being told they have white privilege, because Jews (yes, even Jews with Caucasian features, who weren't even seen as properly actually white until after WWII) have historically been marginalised, compared to vermin and swine, forbidden from certain professions...oh, and slaughtered. And survived attempts to exterminate us. The Allies being victorious does not make centuries of antisemitism go away forever.

The point I'm trying to make in a very roundabout fashion is that in the UK there exists a double standard for Jewish people compared to, say, Christians, where we're singled out, made to feel like our identities are incompatible with certain types of politics (put it this way: I feel more comfortable passing as a white gentile when talking about social justice and anti-racism than I do being open about being culturally Jewish), and then told to shut up and not complain about it.

It's really upsetting because someone can seem to really like you one moment. Then they find out you're Jewish and all of a sudden they start treating you completely differently. Heaven forbid I tell people I'm Israeli because that would make my daily life an order of magnitude more difficult.

I'm not asking for a huge deal. I'm asking you to read this blog post, which frankly is not a huge deal because long novels exist. I'm asking you to consider why some people might feel that certain things are antisemitic. Most importantly, I'm asking you to treat people based on their character, not on their race, religion or nationality.

I don't ask you to agree with me, but I do ask you to make an effort to understand where I'm coming from.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

The Real World

It's very common for people to say things along the lines of "In the real world, people aren't going to accept your gender identity/sexual orientation/anything else I personally find icky or confusing" to demonstrate just how tough and edgy they are.

You'd think the solution to this problem would be more kindness and acceptance of other people, but then we couldn't be dicks to each other on the internet.

While having a conversation with a good friend of mine who also happens to be doing some really amazing work on disability theory, we were venting about academia - me because of my exams (and I'm procrastinating right now, aaaargh), her because MA students are surprisingly immature. In my year I've had problems with some quite prejudiced people.

There are myriad possible reasons to be horrible to other people, from sport to competition to the fact that there are many, many more ways to be a jerk to someone than there are to be kind. What distresses me about the kind of prejudice I see around me is that it's born out of wilful ignorance.

So here's what I have to say to these people:

You're in the real world now.

In the real world, not everyone comes from a sheltered middle-class background with married parents and a white picket fence. Not everyone grows up straight or comfortable with their assigned gender. Not everyone grows up neurotypical, sane or physically abled. Not everyone grows up solely around people who are neurotypical, sane or physically abled. And you're just going to have to accept that.

Not everyone lives like you. Deal with it.

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Despite Everything: Science Communication Edition

I get a lot of anxiety over whether I'm employable and doing the right things to become employable. A source of great shame for me is that I didn't get a placement last year.

So trying to write my letter of motivation for my exchange programme wasn't the most comfortable of experiences. Trying to write it in my third language didn't help either!

(I might suck at being employable, but I speak four languages with designs on improving at least an extra three beyond "bullshitting" levels. That counts for something, right?)

For anyone who hasn't written a letter of motivation, it's basically a page of showing off and explaining why you want to do something.

So in my letter I had to show off more than just my love of black holes and why I want to go on exchange to this particular university; I had to show off things I'd actually done.

I think I'm a particularly lazy person with a patchy employment history. My history disagrees with me.

I did my first proper bit of science communication when I was 15 and spoke at the Royal Institution Unconference. Since then I don't think I've been able to stop! I've woken up at ungodly hours to attend conferences all over the country, been published, volunteered with my university's physics outreach department, mentored first year students (you're all amazing and I couldn't have wished for better mentees - and good luck in your exams!) and volunteered to teach over one thousand girls basic coding skills.

(Not on my own, obviously. I volunteer with Robogals Manchester and the year I was a committee member, we managed to teach over one thousand girls. We weren't even aiming for that many.)

Not bad for someone who's basically been pissing around for five years!

The point is that despite everything - despite my laziness, my mental health problems, everything - I still do enough stuff that it comes off looking like false modesty when I say I'm actually a slob.

And there's going to be more. If I get to where I want to be next year, CoderDojo Paris is real and I want to be getting involved somehow. Maybe I'll even export Robogals and we can have our first continental European chapter...

...Point is, despite everything, there might just be hope.

Friday, 20 May 2016

Cynicism about Mental Health Awareness Week

It's Mental Health Awareness Week and I'm angry.

I'm pretty vocal about being mentally ill, both online and in my personal life. I'm vocal because I believe I shouldn't have to lie about my health to be accepted in mainstream society. And amazing communities dedicated to fighting stigma and educating the public have helped me tremendously in my recovery.

So I feel pretty terrible for saying it's not enough, but it really isn't.

Our NHS is being gutted. People aren't getting the care they need. A&E departments, mental health wards and just about every service you can think of are being shut down around the country.

A GP cannot attend to the needs of a mental health patient in a 10-minute appointment. Even the wait times for counselling are six weeks. Six weeks to someone with severe depression are an eternity. If someone needs therapy, they might wait almost two years with no mental health care at all. And if someone needs a bed on a psychiatric ward, they could be sent to a completely different part of the country, dumped in a hostel somewhere or turned away even when desperately suicidal. Not everyone can afford expensive private care, and as for the support of friends and family? That's all it is. Support. It can help a lot, but it's not a substitute for professional treatment.

This Mental Health Awareness Week, let's make people aware of how difficult it is to get help in this country. The NHS is overstretched and underfunded. And if we sit and ignore the problem, ever-deeper funding cuts will go through unopposed.

I'm not saying this will be remotely easy. This government is still standing despite widespread protest. I'm not saying that there's any guarantee of success - I've campaigned against cuts before and they've still gone through.

I'm saying that without an effective NHS which can provide treatment quickly, mental health awareness is all but useless. It's no use knowing that it's okay to have a mental illness if doctors keep refusing you help you need because there's not enough money to pay for your medication, or your therapy, or your hospital stay.

I'm saying that right now, we need to be aware of what's happening to our NHS and we need to fight like hell for it. It's going to be hard and it might not even work, but it's better than ignoring the problem altogether and doing nothing about it.