Category Archives: Writing & journalism

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.

Developing youth resources with the Miscarriage Association and Brook

Stage 1 – Online and face to face workshops with young people

“I’ve honestly literally never spoken about my experience with anyone since I left sixth form, this is the first (and possibly last) time – but I’m happy that I’m using it to hopefully help others”

I was recently approached by the Miscarriage Association to help them research and develop youth friendly online (and possibly offline) resources. Young peoples’ voices are missing and their needs are not being fully met by the Miscarriage Association’s current offering. But before we decided what to develop, we needed to do some research to find out a bit more about what young people were experiencing, what they want and – most importantly – why they want it.

Knowing WHY helps us get a deeper understanding of the need. Knowing that a young person wants online videos is one thing, knowing that they want them because they feel alone in their experience and want something to help reduce this isolation is much richer information. If we know this, we are in a position to find the very best way to meet this need.

Our hope was that the young people we worked with in this research phase would become engaged enough to stay involved and work with us through the development phases too.

Working in partnership

Our first step was to approach Brook. We’d identified that they had little online information about miscarriage and knew that for many young people Brook would be the first port of call when they needed help with pregnancy loss. Brook are redeveloping their website and resources so it made sense to work in partnership to share learning and ensure that young people were supported at every stage of their support-seeking journey. Continue reading

‘Crazy’ by Amy Reed – a review of a YA book about bipolar disorder.

A review of Crazy by Amy Reed – published by Simon and Schuster

Crazy by Amy Reed

It’s hard to truly imagine what depression or bipolar disorder is actually like. The language of mental health is woefully inadequate. The word ‘depression’ has become part of the spectrum of everyday language used to describe feeling sad. We’ve all said or heard it. “My team lost, I’m so depressed” or “God, this TV programme is so depressing”.  As a result it becomes harder to find the words to adequately distinguish between natural sadness and the entirely different experience of a chemically depressed mind.

Someone without diagnosed depression might fail to understand why those who have can’t ‘just cheer up’. Those who are ill might judge themselves a failure for feeling unnaturally sad or incapable. A greater linguistic distinction would be helpful.

But even if the words depression, mania, OCD or psychosis were only ever used to describe specific conditions, they still don’t explain what it actually feels like.  That’s where stories can play an important role.

Reed’s ‘Crazy’ is one of those stories. It explores a mental health crisis through the eyes of those experiencing it. Told in a modern epistolary style through emails and instant messages between two teenagers, it has an immediacy and deeply personal feel that works well with the subject matter.  After meeting at camp, Izzy and Connor start exchanging emails and chatting online. It soon becomes clear that something isn’t right. Izzy’s highs are too high and her lows are scary and dangerous. Continue reading

Guardian Voluntary Sector Network Xmas Volunteering

Representing online volunteering in the Guardian

Just before Christmas I wrote a piece for the Guardian on why I volunteer at Christmas. It was a pic of Xmas volunteering piecepersonal explanation of my motivation to volunteer, why I’ve continued to do so since leaving YouthNet and why it’s particularly important at Christmas.

It was one of a series on Christmas volunteering. It was the only one about online or virtual volunteering. I’m glad it was represented  – I’ve managed online volunteers for many years and have seen it becoming increasingly popular, especially in support work. I wanted to explain in a bit more detail how it can have as much, if not more, impact as your more traditional face to face volunteering.

A more detailed description of what running a live support chat is actually like can be found here.  Here’s some more info on the volunteer role I managed for five years – online peer advisors. If you’d like to chat support volunteering, virtual volunteering, training volunteers and giving peer support online, drop me a line.

Now I’m off to open up TheSite.org chat room for another Sunday support session.

 

Articles for ONEinFOUR

Screen Shot 2013-10-29 at 16.51.25

I’ve written four articles for lifestyle, health and mental wellbeing magazine ONEinFOUR.

Spring-Summer 2013 – managing depression and anxiety in relationships

The first was published in the Spring-Summer 2013 issue. It was one of the cover stories and explored managing anxiety and depression in relationships.

anxiety and dep rels

Autumn-Winter 2013

More recently I’ve written three pieces for the Autumn-Winter 2013 issue.  A piece about volunteering and mental health, an article on stigma and a longer piece on managing the festive season by avoiding making too many comparisons.

Clare uses her knowledge of mental health and previous professional experience to write good mental health and wellbeing related content that focuses on what would be useful for people to know. The results of this moves mental health away from a symptom/service defined subject and into the real textures and experiences of everyday life.

Mark Brown – One in Four Magazine and Director Social Spider CIC

Mental health information articles for 16-25 year olds

Information on recent mental health support writing for young people

logo of thesite.org

I recently completed two articles for TheSite’s new Anxiety and Depression section. Trouble getting help for mental health and Online Counselling.

Writing for young people

The aim of The Site.org content is to provide clear, straight talking and supportive information for young people. Articles respond to questions young people search for and help them to understand their situation and options.

Trouble getting help for mental health

This article helps young people who have taken steps towards accessing support but have struggled to get the help they need. This might be because their GP didn’t respond how they had hoped; they have been referred but haven’t yet heard anything; counselling didn’t work or they didn’t like their therapist.

It aims to give reassurance, emotional support and practical solutions.

Accessing your GP can be a struggle. All too often young people fall through the gaps. This was obvious every day in the work I did in YouthNet’s Engagement and Support team on overcoming barriers to support. I hope that articles like this one and services such as Doc Ready will help young people feel more able to get the help they deserve from mental health services.

I’m really really pleased with this piece. There’s a bright future in front of you. Any writer who can follow a brief is worth their weight in gold!

Holly Thompson – TheSite.org Editorial Team

Online counselling

This article gives an overview of the types of online counselling available for young people. It also gives them the information to help them decide if it is right for them. It includes information on online self-help services (both open and prescribed) and one to one counselling support online. It also looks at where and how it is accessed and how to tell if a service is reputable.

 

Pills and Pregnancy – when careless journalism damages vulnerable people

Pills panic

Sitting down at my desk this morning, I opened Twitter for my usual pre work browse. My eye was caught by this tweet, which linked to an article by the BBC ‘Antidepressants ‘could be risk to unborn babies”.

Of course, I clicked straight through. My recurrent depression and uneven support and information from mental health services means I have been on varying doses of Citalopram since I was 17 – almost 13 years now. For most of the last seven years I have been attempting to reduce my dose.

I have a range of support and techniques in place – Mindfulness, exercise, writing being the main ones. Despite these, I haven’t managed to get below 20mg. Above 20, all is well. Below 20, things become a slog, a constant joyless fight against endless rumination and negative fog.

I’m also almost 30 and with a long term partner. It won’t be long until I’m thinking more seriously about pregnancy. Future pregnancy is one of the reasons I am trying to cut down. I’ve been told in the past by doctors that they would always recommend a mother continued with appropriate antidepressants during pregnancy if she needs them – that a depressed mother is a much greater risk to a baby than anything else. But, ideally I’d rather not be taking them – especially given the occasional headlines about the risks. These tend to ‘trigger’ increased worry and rumination associated with depression. It’s not always rational – but depressive thoughts aren’t. Continue reading