Category Archives: Writing & journalism

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.

5 star review for Miscarriage Association training materials in RCOG’s journal (TOG)

 

Learning materials for health professionals

I was really chuffed to hear that the Miscarriage Association learning materials for health professionals were given a 5* review in the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists’ journal The Obstetrician & Gynaecologist (TOG). I did a lot of work on these resources and it’s brilliant to get such positive feedback. Can’t say it better than Kath Evans from NHS England who partially funded the resources…

 

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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Strong, powerful, upsetting, thought provoking and with important teaching points – developing Miscarriage Association learning resources for health professionals

Sorry about the picture on the left....

Sorry about the picture…noone wants Trump on their blog…

Skimming through the British Medical Journal, I came across a blog called Breaking bad news in maternity care. It’s a lovely piece about the new learning resources I worked on with the Miscarriage Association.

I coordinated the development of these resources, working with the National Director of the Miscarriage Association, the Media Trust and lots of service users and health professionals. Mary Higgins describes them as strong, powerful, upsetting and thought provoking with important learning points. I’m pretty pleased with that.

The resources are online now although we’re not launching them officially until the new Miscarriage Association website is live. But it’s great to see that health professionals are finding them useful already.

There are six films  – one each for ambulance crews, A&E staff, GPs and booking in staff supporting women with pregnancy loss and two for anyone talking to women about management of miscarriage and what happens to the remains of their baby.  Each one is accompanied by a good practice guide.

Research

  • I created a short survey for women and their partners. It asked them the top three things they would like to tell the relevant health professional about their care – and had a free text box too. In the BMJ blog Mary Higgins writes ‘what I say will be remembered for the rest of their life’. And it’s true. Most women who responded remembered exactly what they were told – good or bad – even after 10 or 15 years. It’s so important to get it right.
  • I also surveyed health professionals to find out what they and their colleagues found hardest about these situations and where they would like more training.
  • I wrote a report on each of these six areas, identifying key learning points and pulling out quotes and experiences we should highlight.

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Writing a blog about your mental health – why and how?

Blogging about my mental health

A few weeks ago had an internet date. Of sorts. Not a romantic first date (thank goodness) but a face-to-face meeting with someone I met online. Someone like me in lots of ways. Someone who could be a friend.

We knew a lot about each other’s vulnerabilities and fears before we set eyes on each other. And that made things much easier. The conversation could get right to the good stuff. We could be open and honest. We chatted about medication, work, diagnoses, panic attacks, weddings and how our dogs help with our mental health. Not really first date fodder.

social anxiety blogIt’s all down to our blogs. Claire writes WE’Re AlL mAd HeRe about social anxiety (she’s also been asked to write a book about anxiety based on her blog – wow). She got in touch a few months ago and suggested lunch. I’m so glad she did. Meeting inspiring new people is just one of the things that blogging has done for me.

I’ve had a number of  readers get in touch with me recently about starting a mental health blog – overcoming those demons of uncertainty that whisper ‘what’s the point, who cares what I have to say?’

I know the feeling – I have it about writing fiction. But I thought I’d share a little about what blogging has done for me – and a few things that helped me get started.
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New youth resources for the Miscarriage Association

“People said it was lucky really. I don’t know how to deal with that”

This quote was one of many we gathered from young women we spoke to during the youth young girl with bookproject consultation process I ran for the Miscarriage Association. It highlighted the need for additional support resources that  reflected the experiences of younger people.

Young women told us about dealing with miscarriage after an unplanned pregnancy, finding themselves isolated and unable to speak to parents or partners, turning only to friends for support and experiencing difficult reactions from hospital and nursing staff.

And now I’m excited to help the Miscarriage Association launch the resources we developed as a result.

A soft launch at Primary Care 2015

It sMA stall at Primary Careeemed appropriate to soft launch the resources at the Primary Care conference in Birmingham. It was here, last year, that community midwives and school nurses asked for more specialist resources for younger women. The Miscarriage Association’s National Director Ruth, some wonderful volunteers and I spent two days spreading the word about the Miscarriage Association and sharing our new resources.

They were universally well received and we sent boxes worth of leaflets out into the world as well as showing our new films (created for us by Rob Mitchell of MadCutta films) and chatting to anyone who would listen about what we were up to. It was wonderful to see how many people benefitted from the work the Miscarriage Association does – professionally but also in some cases personally.
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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.

Overcoming barriers to accessing therapy – a post for the RSCPP

RSCPP connects people with local registered therapists. It also contains articles and resources RSCPP logoabout issues you might face and the types of therapy available.

Of course, these are private therapists. And therapy isn’t cheap (although if you get the right help, it can be immensely valuable). Much of the work I have done in the past is with people who could not afford to pay for a therapist or who do not want to risk spending their precious spare cash on something they consider unpredictable and unknown. It can be a huge step to speak to an NHS therapist, let alone one for whom you have to pay.

RSCPP recently asked me to write a blog based on an interview with two of their therapists. With this in mind, I thought it would be helpful to focus on the barriers people face when accessing therapy and how RSCPP therapists suggest they may be overcome.

 “I’m not the sort of person who gets therapy, I should be able to cope on my own!”

I spoke to Dawn Davies and Sarah Lack, both registered therapists on the RSCPP site. Both of them felt that one of the biggest barriers to accessing therapy is the way we judge ourselves. Dawn suggested that there is still some stigma attached to having counselling and sometimes people feel that they are not the ‘type of person’ who would need counselling or that they ‘should’ be able to cope without help. Depression and low self esteem can make us judge ourselves harshly or lead us to feel hopeless about the possibility of anything helping.

Sarah says that often a recommendation from a GP can help people feel more justified in seeking help. In my experience, many people find it helpful to talk to others about their experiences first – perhaps in an online community such as Elefriends or TheSite.org. This can help normalise the need for support and see how it has helped others. Opening up in a supportive online community can often be the first step towards seeking further help.

Talking to your therapist about your concerns can help too. Dawn says:

“It is completely normal to feel a wide range of emotions before embarking on counselling and most people will feel a certain level of anxiety before seeing a counsellor for the first time. Counsellors will understand how difficult it may be for you to make that first step and will not pressure you to talk about anything before you feel ready”.

“I can’t attend face to face sessions”

Sarah says that “finding a workable regular, weekly appointment time amidst already busy work and home schedules” can often be a barrier to accessing therapy. School, college, work, disability, weather and family can all get in the way and take priority. If face to face sessions are impossible, you could consider accessing therapy through online or over the phone. A number of therapists on RSCPP offer online or telephone sessions – they call it ‘telephone therapy’ so search for that. To get the most out of these Dawn says that it important you find a private place away from family and external distractions if possible.

“I don’t know what to expect and I’m scared”

Fear of the unknown can exacerbate anxiety. Everything may seem much more manageable after the first session when you have found the room and met and talked with the therapist. But both Dawn and Sarah say that the first session doesn’t have to be scary. Your therapist will do everything they can to help you feel comfortable, especially if you tell them your concerns about the session. You’ll usually talk about confidentiality and how you could work together if you choose to continue. You’ll probably also be asked to talk a bit about what brings you to counselling and what you would like to get out of it. You might find it helpful to think about that beforehand.

“I tried therapy, but I didn’t like my therapist”

If you have built yourself up to attend a session and it doesn’t feel right, it can be a huge disappointment. You might feel that it was pointless or that this has proven that therapy definitely isn’t for you. But both Sarah and Dawn emphasised the importance of finding the right person. As well as the right professional qualifications, you need to find someone who you feel comfortable with. Every therapist knows the importance of getting this relationship right and all would respect your decision not to continue with them. Dawn suggests meeting more than one therapist before making your decision. This is easier with private therapy, as you do not have to wait for another NHS therapist to become available. Of course, it is also more expensive. It is worth asking therapists if they do a free or reduced fee introductory session to help you decide.

“There are many different counsellors out there and just like in our everyday lives we will get on better with some people more than others. If you have had a bad experience it maybe because you haven’t found the right counsellor for you.”

You might feel that it is hard enough to open up to one stranger, let alone finding the time, money and emotional energy to ‘shop around’. Dawn says that choosing a counsellor who uses more than one therapeutical approach can help, as they can offer different ways of working depending on your needs. You might also find it helpful to read up on a counsellor and ask them questions by email to help you decide whether they are right for you. Making a shortlist of your favourite options and only visiting the second and third if the first one doesn’t work out could be a good approach.

The main thing to remember is that there are as many different experiences of therapy as there are combinations of therapist and client. One or even two or three bad experiences does not mean that therapy cannot help you.