I just spent a frustrating morning on the phone to John Lewis, BT, and Netflix. Some of our biggest companies, and you would have thought it might be a pleasure. If you were an alien from another planet, you might think so. But raising a complaint about how your new wifi enabled TV is no longer connecting to your favourite streaming service is no easy matter. The problem was that it was an SEP – “Someone Else’s Problem”. John Lewis phoned Panasonic on my behalf, as they were their supplier. But they wouldn’t phone BT for me, because it was a software, not a hardware problem. The problem was that Netflix have updated their software and forgotten to make it compatible to BT. Both companies apparently are blaming each other. A couple of hours total on the phone to all the different combinations of help lines, and I’m still no closer to resolving the issue. All I could do was suggest to all the people that I spoke to on the phone that they escalate it upwards, and hopefully BT and Netflix will eventually talk to each other. A problem in our home viewing life, but definitely a first world problem.
It reminded me of how my husband and I sometimes play the end of the world game. You know the one – it’s the end of the world, or a nuclear fall out or some disaster scenario, and you have to work out what skills you offer the group. Now that the world is so much more complex, it would take some time to rebuild Netflix. And the majority of us work in some kind of knowledge economy, and don’t have survival skills as such. If you had to persuade the group that you were worth taking on for your skills, what would you say? When I was a little girl, I remember being told the story of how my grandad, an engineer, worked out how to build a cathode ray TV in the 50’s, and that my dad’s household was one of the first on their street to have a TV due to his ingenuity. Not possible now.
The two experiences of personal self sufficiency versus flailing in the face of big corporations make a telling contrast. I like to think that I am in charge of my destiny, and don’t like being reminded of my dependence on systems beyond my control. Likewise in my mental health, I like to focus on the things I have control over, and turn a blind eye often to what makes me feel small. I don’t like being reminded that I am part of a system that is bigger than me. And when I am, it makes me feel bad about myself.
But trying to make change in the vast system of mental health is like phoning the BT guy in India or the Netflix guy in the States and trying to get them to escalate the problem so that these two big companies talk to each other. It would be easier just to get them to swap numbers and have a conversation. So in our mental health, would it in fact be simpler just to take responsibility for ourselves and the changes we can make? Not to get frustrated, as I did this morning, by the thing that at the end of the day, all the companies together are going to say is an SEP – Someone Else’s Problem. Like mental health records. Does it matter, what someone else thinks and records of you? Trying to tell your own story, consistently, with authenticity, with passion, with meaning, and to make it an official story that registers on your official records – which bit matters the most? The passion, or the officialdom?
In making Mental Snapp, we are attempting to change big systems, the way that official records of mental health are owned and recorded. We can only change them though, one person at a time. If it ends up being the equivalent of loads of calls to the guy in India and the guy in the States, so be it. Maybe we can escalate it up. At the very least, mental health is not Someone Else’s Problem. It belongs to all of us, and we are all responsible for our own. It is the element of personal responsibility that we want to reclaim. We are all responsible for our own story, regardless of what the system thinks or how it wishes to record us. Let that be the verse. And let us remember the serenity prayer – after all, it is the ability to change what we can change, the serenity to accept what we can’t, that makes our way in the world a journey that we can accommodate ourselves to. And Someone Else’s Problem? Well that comes down to the wisdom to know the difference.