Category Archives: Mental health & emotional wellbeing

Published in The Recovery Letters

Last year, James Withney of The Recovery Letters emailed to see if I would be interested in contributing a letter to the published anthology. The Recovery Letters are addressed to people experiencing depression. They share experiences and give friendship and hope for recovery.

I’ve always believed in letters and writing as a way through difficult times. In 2012 I wrote about the benefits of public and private writing, on and offline. In 2013 I wrote about creative letter writing for self-guidance and managing mental health and in my post ‘Understanding mental trickery, notes from depression island‘ I used islands as a metaphor for the concept of depression being such that it’s often hard to remember you’ve ever felt happy or imagine you’ll ever feel better. And when you’re not experiencing it, it’s hard to understand or even remember how it feels.  I introduced the idea of finding and making connections between a happier mind and a depressed one. These messages don’t always have to be words. But it’s this idea that forms the basis of my recovery letter.

The book is published next week. I got my copy yesterday. There are some wonderful messages from people prepared to open up and be vulnerable, to share their experience to help others.

And I’m also chuffed to report that mine is the very first letter in the book.

Understanding eating problems – updated Mind resource

I don’t usually blog about individual Mind booklets and online resources I write or update (you can see the list here).

But my most recently completed product is pretty close to my heart. It’s called Understanding eating problems.

Changes and updates

I’ve tried to emphasise that you can find eating problems incredibly difficult to live with, without necessarily having a diagnosed eating disorder. I also wanted to make sure it was clear that you can have an eating problem or disorder without being noticeably over or underweight – and that you shouldn’t need a certain BMI or a particular diagnosis to access treatment. It was important to make sure the information was accessible and useful to everyone – including men and older women. These are both groups who are affected by eating problems but often less able to speak about their experiences and access treatment. I also tried to include blogs and quotes from lots of different people, about a range of experiences and problems.

It wanted to talk about the fact that even thinking about recovery can be scary. Eating problems can feel safe – and even exhilarating. Despite an eating problem making your life difficult, you may not feel ready to try and recover straight away. On top of this, I wanted to expand the information we provide on coping with recovery – dealing with food and eating every day in an on and offline world that can seem to spin around eating, food, weight, appearance and body image (you can read more about my own experience here). Sometimes you can look healthier physically, while mentally you’re actually feeling a lot worse. Recovery can take a long time and relapse is common.

The Information Standard

All Mind products are written to the Information Standard. This means that a first draft was reviewed by a number of people with personal and professional experience of eating problems. I love this stage of the writing process as it always gives you new things to think about, and opens my eyes areas I may not have considered or covered properly. We also make sure we consider and respond to all the feedback we receive – I’m looking forward to reading this too (whether it’s positive, negative or suggestions for improvement).

NICE recently updated their guidance around the recognition and treatment of eating disorders. These changes were reflected in the update too.

Writing to the Information Standard for Mind and the British Lung Foundation

screenshot-2016-11-23-19-14-26If the events of 2016 have told us anything, it’s that people can write any old rubbish and post it online as fact. And people will believe them. Especially if those people are vulnerable or anxious.

And no one is more vulnerable or anxious than when it comes to researching health concerns. The internet is our first port of call for any worry – but news articles can leave us feeling confused and worried about what research shows and evidence recommends. I wrote about this in relation to antidepressants in pregnancy here.

Hundreds of other articles identify our most vulnerable moments and use them to drive traffic to their advert loaded pages.  If you’re struggling to conceive it’s hard to avoid clicking on an article entitled ‘Trying to get pregnant – 10 proven sperm killers!’

On the same search results page I found ‘10 things to do if you want to conceive’ and ’10 myths about trying to conceive’. They were basically the same and no one was any the wiser.

Reliable, balanced, current and evidence based information

The Information Standards recommended search hierarchy.

The Information Standard’s recommended search hierarchy.

It’s really important that people have access to reliable, balanced, current and evidence-based health information. Which is where the Information Standard comes in. Any organisation achieving the Information Standard has undergone a rigorous assessment to check that their information production process generates high quality, evidence-based, balanced, user-led, clear and accurate quality information.
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Community moderation training for OCDAction

Last week I ran a session on community moderation for OCDAction.OCD action

Unlike my session for Leeds Mind (which was for community managers and focused on developing a moderation strategy) this session was for moderators themselves.

OCDAction have an established community but they want to expand their moderator team and make sure their current moderation practices are as effective as possible. They planned to use this session to help their first group of volunteers get started. Learning would also feed into new guidelines and support for future moderators.

Moderator skills

We started with an overview of the strengths and limitations of online support and the nature of community moderation. We spent the majority of the session identifying and exploring the main skills that moderators might need and practising applying them to example cases. We looked at:

  • emotional support and empathy
  • good comprehension and listening  through language
  • communicating effectively through the written word
  • resolving conflict
  • understanding and respecting boundaries
  • courage and assertiveness
  • a good knowledge of OCD and a genuine desire to help

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Standing up to stigma – why I blog about work, projects & my mental health in one place

Pressing pause

Linked in

Should my LinkedIn link to my blogs too?

Every time I go to press ‘publish’ on a tricky post exploring my mental health I pause for a moment. The way my blog has developed means that my personal struggles and successes sit alongside blogs about my work and details of my skills, training and experience.

Should I keep them separate? Will employers reject me if they read that I took Citalopram for 15 years or that I use exercise to manage my anxiety?

I know stigma and discrimination around mental health in the workplace exists. I spent 2014 time to changeproviding evidence based reports on mental health policies and support in a number of organisations across a range of sectors for the Time To Change Organisational Healthcheck programme. Tom Oxley writes a good piece about how the programme worked on pages 10 and 11 of this newsletter.

I spoke to people in every workplace who said that they wouldn’t tell their manager if they were experiencing a mental health problem. Many said they would lie about taking time off.

”I’d probably say I had a migraine or something”

Those who had been honest about taking time off for a mental health problem said they felt that now they had more to prove.

Unfortunately in some cases I could understand why. Some managers said they felt people with mental health problems couldn’t ‘cope’. Others saw investment in employees’ mental and physical health as a burden rather than something that makes moral and business sense.

”You’ve got to be careful or people will just take advantage, start using ‘depression’ as an excuse.”

”We need people on top form to do this job – if you’re depressed you just won’t be able to cope.”

1 in 6 employees are currently dealing with a mental health problem. Like colds, flu, delayed trains, bereavement and accidents it’s always going to be part of a workforce. It’s how employers deal with it that counts.

My mental health is part of what makes me. It’s part of what makes a life – and in many cases it’s part of what makes me good at the work I do.

Pressing publish – every time

In the run up to Time To Change’s Time To Talk Day on Thursday I thought I’d share some of the reasons why I press publish on those tricky posts every time.

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APP’s online peer support services: vital and life changing

“I’ll always remember the first time I met a ‘PP lady’. It was a very special day.”

“I had lots of friends who were mums but none of them understood what I was going through. I felt weird, lonely and isolated. When I found the forum I was like ‘Oh my god. People understand.”

APPLast Saturday I was invited back to run a third online peer support training session for Action on Postpartum Psychosis’ peer supporters.

Every year it is a moving and inspirational day (you can read about what we covered here). As I listened to the co-ordinators speak to new volunteers I was struck once again by just how important their peer support programme is.

In fact I think their services are a really good example of the life changing benefits that online peer support can provide. Peer support can be valuable for everyone but it is absolutely vital for APP.

Online peer support that connects those who’ve been there

Research by APP shows that women desperately want to meet other people who have been APP trainingthrough PP, to share symptoms and have time to talk. Partners said the same.

Everyone needs to share stories, to be accepted and understood – especially if you’re going through or recovering from severe mental illness. Unfortunately, because PP is relatively rare, friends and family don’t know what is is or what it feels like. There is unlikely to be someone living near you who has been there. Some people may be scared to speak about their experience for fear of stigma and misunderstanding. For most women the APP Peer Supporter training sessions are the first time they have been in the same room as someone who has also experienced PP.

APP’s forums provide that link. They connect people with hundreds of others who can support them. When someone signs up for APP’s one-to-one email support service they are actively matched with someone who has had a similar experience. The chances of finding that offline are very very small.
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Engagement, co-design and community moderation on the Elefriends community at Mind

elefriendsI’ve just finished 9 months working on the mental health peer support community Elefriends. The role was a maternity cover post and focused on community engagement as well as moderation training and support.

So what did I get up to?

Six co-design workshops with community membelefriends co designers

I organised and co-facilitated six co-design workshops with community members and local Minds. All the workshops had an online consultation component.

  • Two workshops to co-create community content and ‘themes’ functionality for Sport England funded project Get Set To Go.
  • co designTwo workshops to co-create community content and functionality for Big Lottery funded peer support project Side by Side
  • Two workshops to co-design a mobile app for the community. The Apple version is in the app store now.

I worked with agencies PAN and Yoomee to create and test content and functionality initially developed in the co-design workshops.

This included three animations to encourage community members to get more active. You can see the first one here.
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Running for Sane – Christie’s story

Exercise for mental health

I’ve been thinking a lot about sport, and running for mental health recently. This is partly due toChristies just giving page work – I’m involved in the development of Mind’s Get Set To Go programme through the Elefriends community. I’ve also written a number of posts for New Level on the benefits of exercise for mental health and wellbeing.

There’s a strong personal connection too. Exercise is a vital tool for managing my own depression and anxiety. Recently I’ve been struggling to balance my mental health needs against the need to rest and recover after physical injury (darn knees!).

It feels as if more and more people are running. There’s definitely more people out and about in the parks and along the canals. This spring and summer has seen thousands of running events across the UK. One of the best things about these events is that each one is full of people pushing themselves for charities that mean a lot to them.

Christie’s story

One of these runners is Christie Plumb. She’s running the British 10k for Sane after losing her Sane logoMum when she was 11. Christie told me she felt that the stigma surrounding mental health problems and a lack of support contributed to her mother’s death. The work of charities like Sane and Mind are helping to reduce that stigma and provide support to those who need it.

Fundraising has helped her to open up about her mum’s death, to talk about it and give people ways to support her.

But Christie has found that running has helped her too. She said that before her boyfriend suggested the NHS Couch to 5k she was convinced that running was “impossible, physically impossible for me”. But she stuck at it and found it was helping with her own anxiety, clearing her mind and improving her confidence.

I really identified with the way she described running her way out of very strong feelings of anxiety and panic.

“Within the first mile, my chest loosens up and I’m not shaking any more. It’s incredible…before the Couch to 5k I had never got past that first barrier. Now I always carry on and push through. In a way it’s an analogy for pushing through anxiety and depression. You just have to keep going, even if it feels like you can’t. You’ll get there in the end.”

In running she has found a way to honour the memory of her Mum, to talk openly about her loss to people around her, to support a charity that means a lot to her and to look after her own mental health. To sponsor her, take a look at her JustGiving page here. To have a go at Couch to 5k yourself, take a look at this page. Who knows where it might lead.