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.
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.
Mind has been asking people to #TakeOffTheTape and share something that makes them anxious. Something they haven’t spoken about before.
I thought I would use the opportunity to write about something that’s hardly spoken about at all.
I’m finding it incredibly hard to balance trying to conceive with managing my mental health.
We don’t talk about this. We don’t even talk about the first twelve weeks of pregnancy much (as I’m well aware from my work with the Miscarriage Association). Trying to conceive often happens in almost complete secrecy. I didn’t realise how it would interact with my fluctuating mental health and I wasn’t prepared.
It’s taken a while to get to this stage. The doctor who removed my coil last year strongly implied that it would be best to continue with my efforts to come off my Citalopram. She moved me to Sertraline (it’s considered safer in pregnancy) and told me to try and reduce my dose completely over the next month.
In fact it took me three more months. I’ve been trying to come off anti depressants for a while anyway (after a muddled fifteen year relationship with them) and trying to conceive gave me the strength to make it through a hideous withdrawal period. It was probably the hardest thing I have ever done. Alex didn’t have much fun either. I’ve written about it here.
I’m more vulnerable to hormonal changes now. I still have very dark times when everything seems hopeless and I can’t see a way through the next ten minutes let alone the rest of my life. Difficult images and ideas jostle with an endless repetition of fears and doubts. Sometimes the same phrase over and over again. They whisper just below the surface of my consciousness. They’re loud enough to wear me down and shrink my focus to a single point of constant worry – but not quite conscious enough for me to recognise what’s happening in a way that helps me stop.
One these days I’m separated from the world by thick glass that bounces every negative thought straight back at me, infinitely magnified. My attention is forced inwards but my mind is everywhere but present, infecting all it can with worst case scenarios. I can’t look up and out, can’t see the variety of the world and my place in it, can’t take a long deep breath. My chest physically hurts and I feel constantly sick with the fight or flight chemicals flooding my poisoned body as it tries to deal with the powerful threat of my mind.
These times are getting further apart and each one adds detail to our understanding of the best way to manage them. But trying to conceive has made my anxiety worse. It’s given it another peg to hang its hat on. Issues with eating and body image are often about control (with an emphasis on control over your body) – and anxiety hates uncertainty. But trying to conceive is a very uncertain time. What my body does – and doesn’t do – isn’t completely under my control.
I was managing my mental health to the extent I felt I was in a position to come off medication – in order to do something that has made the problem worse again. The irony isn’t lost on me – although on bad days it just makes me want to cry.
I’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?
I organised and co-facilitated six co-design workshops with community members and local Minds. All the workshops had an online consultation component.
I’ve been thinking a lot about sport, and running for mental health recently. This is partly due to 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.
One of these runners is Christie Plumb. She’s running the British 10k for Sane after losing her Mum 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.
Mind asked me to created a #mentalhealthselfie, a video blog about my mental health, for Mental Health Awareness Week 2015. The theme was mindfulness.
As I blogged for Mind about my Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy course in 2012, I decided to do something a little different this time and talked about how my dog Watson helps me to remember some of the core teachings – acceptance, curiosity and overcoming reverse motivation.
I recently attended a training and meet up day for Time To Change Organisational Healthcheck Consultants. As I mentioned when posting about the work I did on an anti stigma campaign for Richmond Borough Mind, there is still a lot of discrimination, misunderstanding and silence surrounding mental health in the workplace.
The Time To Change Organisational Healthcheck seems to be a brilliant programme. It will often, but not always, start with organisations making a pledge to end mental health stigma in their organisation. As part of their plan to do this, they ask Time To Change to do an independent review of the current situation in their workplace. As a consultant I will look at the current policies and documents, conduct an organisation wide survey and interview employees about their experiences. I will then produce a report and recommendations for the organisation.
Some organisations choose to do this as the first step towards improving mental health in their workplace. Others will put some measures into place and then ask for the healthcheck as a way of assessing their success.
We spent the day sharing good practice and key learnings from the healthchecks already completed. It sounds like in many cases there are simple, creative solutions to issues that come up. Often people are uncertain about how to manage or talk about their own mental health or that of their employees. They may need suggestions and examples of good practice from elsewhere.
Sometimes the issues are more entrenched and will take longer to rectify – but at least the organisations have taken the first step.
In all cases it sounds like employees appreciate having a confidential, non-judgemental space to talk about their own mental health and wellbeing.
I’m only just starting this project, but I’m really looking forward to getting more involved.
The campaign was focused on reducing stigma around mental health with an emphasis on encouraging employers to consider mental health and wellbeing in the workplace.
I wrote messaging and created a design brief for leaflets and posters, liaised with printers and distributers, advertised a breakfast briefing with Zac Goldsmith at the Chamber of Commerce, recruited and supported two locum staff to help create a business database and started planning the social media presence around the campaign.
Richmond Council were particularly interested in an anti stigma campaign because of some recent issues they had had surrounding sheltered housing in the borough. However one of the things I found most interesting were the responses to some of the calls we made to local businesses. We were hoping to speak to them about the ways that Richmond Mind could help them improve the wellbeing of their staff. The resources or training offered were completely free and at this stage all they needed to do was express an interest.
Some of the replies we received as soon as Mind – the mental health charity – was mentioned were quite telling. I particularly remember: “Oh we’re all fine here” and “Are you sure you’ve called the right place? We’re a marketing agency?”
Because of course marketeers don’t get stress, anxiety or depression?!
It’s attitudes to mental health in the workplace like these that make me feel very glad that I will soon be starting work with Time To Change as a workplace health consultant. Despite the excellent work of local and national anti stigma campaigns there is still a lot of misunderstanding, fear, stigma and embarrassment about mental health out there.
Clare was a joy to work with. She worked through ideas for our campaign, formed a project plan and acted on it very effectively. She is professional and tenacious and I would highly recommend her.
Val Farmer – CEO Richmond Borough Mind
I first came across the Elefriends community after attending their online peer support training. I was interested in online peer support for adults and wanted to find out more about the impact of providing community members with peer support training. How does this affect their experience? I wrote about this training here.
I really enjoyed working with both the community and the digital team at Mind so I was really pleased to be asked to do some consultancy work for them. At the time, Elefriends was moving from a Facebook page to a new platform. The team were looking to consult with the community both on and offline. This was to ensure that as many community members as possible got a say in the changes.
I attended the offline consultation days and then based on my discussions with community members I:
– Designed a three day online consultation to gather community members’ views on how the site should be managed
– Used interactive tools to keep the group engaged, and provided support to participants throughout the exercise
I summarised the findings, to produce recommendations and draft guide for community managers
I also helped the team design an evaluation survey for their funders, which looked at how community members used the site to better manage their mental health.
At times, the consultation touched on sensitive issues, including the expression of thoughts of self-harm and suicide. Clare’s understanding of mental health, empathy and respectful approach has been a real asset to this project and I look forward to working with her again.
Eve Critchley – Senior Digital Officer at Mind