Archive | November, 2012

Mental health: you can’t dye your hair red!

30 Nov

Here’s a Storify story I put together with my tweets and other tweeps’ hilarious responses when I started off by tweeting:


“Downsides of having a mental health diagnosis: you can’t dye your hair red or be grumpy & opinionated without it being considered a symptom.”


It’s a serious point: everything is considered a symptom and we can even start needlessly pathologising our own ordinary everyday experience once we’ve had a diagnosis. Well, there’s more to life than a mental health diagnosis.

Anyway, hope you enjoy the tweets!


Update: February 2014



Mental health: stable

22 Nov

Toy stable

There’s more to life than being stable on medications and welfare benefits. Here‘s yesterday afternoon’s little rant on my frustrations with trying to access treatment and suppport to help get me back on my feet. Grr.



Mental health & the media: the Mind Media Awards 2012

20 Nov

On Monday 19th November, the Mind Media Awards ceremony took place in London, hosted by Mind’s president Stephen Fry. Here’s a blog post I put together whilst watching the awards via that hashtag #MindAwards (the only way to follow the awards live); here‘s a Storify story of the tweets using that hashtag, which really gives a flavour of how the evening went, including some atmospheric photos.

What are the Mind Media Awards all about? As Mind’s website says: “Broadcast, print and digital media wield enormous influence and there has been definite progress in representations of mental health problems since the awards began 19 years ago. The awards recognise and celebrate those who have successfully challenged the myths and stereotypes that surround mental health problems. Most importantly through work that includes the voices of people who have themselves experienced mental health problems.”

“As Mind’s President,” says Stephen Fry, “I’m thrilled to be hosting this year’s Mind Media Awards. The media, in all its glorious incarnations, has enormous power to influence people’s perceptions of mental health, not least in being able to challenge the stigma that sadly still surrounds it.  The Mind Media Awards is a fantastic opportunity to celebrate those actors, writers, programme makers, journalists and bloggers who are helping to dispel the myths around mental health and reduce discrimination.”


The winners are as follows (scroll down for links to the winners & those short-listed):

(1) Factual entertainment: “Piers Morgan’s Life Stories” (ITV1)

(2) Mark Hanson Digital Media award: The Mental Health Cop police blog by Inspector Michael Brown who said, on receiving his award:”If my blog has helped one person, it’s all been worthwhile.” @MentalHealthCop

(3) News & Current Affairs: Channel 4 News: Antipsychotic Drugs for Kids

(4) Documentary: “Britain’s Biggest Hoarders” (BBC One)

(5) Speech radio: “Henry’s Demons” (BBC R4)

(6) Soaps: Emmerdale

(7) Student Journalist of the Year: Ashley Hammer (London College of Communications)

(8) Journalist of the Year: Julia George (BBC Radio Kent)

(9) Drama: Homeland

(10) Making a Difference Award: Sunday Express team for their Crusade for Better Mental Health

(11) Speaking Out Award: Vasoulla Savvidou (who featured in Britain’s Biggest Hoarders)

Congratulations to all the winners!

Here’s a Storify story of the tweets sent with the hashtag #MindAwards, to give you a flavour of how the night progressed. The tweets were very exciting, & there are lots of photos.


Here is a link to the 2012 shortlist. Full details of all the nominees are below, and they are well worth checking out.

The Mind Media Awards categories, winners and shortist

(1) Factual entertainment

Winner: Piers Morgan’s Life Stories (ITV)


  • Julia George (BBC Radio Kent) – Julia covers a range of emotionally charged issues, including  depression and suicide, with sensitivity and compassion.  Callers are  encouraged to share their experiences, inspiring the many listeners to  the morning show.
  • Men’s Hour (BBC Radio 5 Live) – Tim Samuels routinely champions, and normalises, real male candour and new thinking around mental health, through the pioneering men’s  magazine show.
  • Piers Morgan’s Life Stories (ITV) – Piers Morgan’s primetime biographical chat show invites celebrity  guests to share their life experiences. Frank Bruno, Rolf Harris, Peter  Andre and Paul Gascoigne have all spoken openly about their own mental  health problems, prompted by Piers’ careful questioning.
  • Sky Sports Rugby League State of Mind (Sky Sports 1) – This piece sat at the centre of Sky Sports’ coverage of the pioneering campaign State of Mind, to raise awareness and challenge stigma around mental health problems in rugby, in the lead up to live Super League games
  • Gok’s Teens: The Naked Truth (Channel 4) – Gok Wan inspires the nation’s teens, starting conversations around  mental health issues.  He frequently draws on his own experiences as a  teenager to help give the next generation confidence and self-belief.


(2) The Mark Hanson digital media award

Winner: Mental Health Cop blog by Inspector Michael Brown


  • Big White Wall – An online community for anyone experiencing mental distress. It’s a  ‘safe’ place to express feelings using graffiti-style ‘bricks’, take  part in live therapy sessions and discussions, or simply post  experiences and questions in a nonjudgemental environment.
  • Ilona Burton Blog – Through this blog Ilona Burton speaks with great honesty and openness  about her own experiences of mental health problems and eating  disorders, as well as reviewing media portrayal of related issues.
  • John Just Human video blog – A series of frank videos talking openly about schizophrenia, suicide and the stigma that surrounds mental health problems.
  • Fathers Reaching Out website – A sensitive resource for the husbands of women experiencing postnatal depression.
  • Mental Health Cop – A useful resource accessed by both police officers and service users,  clearly explaining the legal processes, police procedures and human and  civil rights associated with mental health problems.


(3) News and current affairs, sponsored by Samaritans

Winner: Channel 4 News: Antipsychotic Drugs for Kids


  • BBC Look East: Combat Stress (BBC One)  – A look at the psychological impact of fighting on the frontline,  including an in depth interview with Paratrooper Peter Doolan, who  experienced PTSD after he returned from the Iraq war.
  • Channel 4 News: Antipsychotic Drugs for Kids (Channel 4) – An investigation into how health professionals are treating children  with behavioural problems. It uncovered a dramatic rise in the use of  powerful antipsychotic drugs, and a shocking absence of monitoring.
  • Iain Dale: Mental Health and The Work Capability Assessment (LBC 97.3) – A look at the effects of the Work Capability Assessment to people  with mental health problems, with calls from listeners detailing their  experiences.
  • Newsbeat: Male Anorexia (BBC Radio 1) – A look at the 66% increase in NHS hospital admissions for male eating  disorders, including interviews with case studies and GPs. The piece  highlights the need to understand that eating disorders are not just a  female issue.
  • ITV News: The Forgotten Fallen (ITV1) – Geraint Vincent’s series investigated the issues faced by serving and  veteran soldiers and their families, in overcoming stress, PTSD and  mental health issues.


(4) Documentaries

Winner: “Britain’s Biggest Hoarders” (BBC One)

Short list:

  • We Need To Talk About Dad (Channel 4) – The powerful story of a family coming to terms with their father’s  unexplained psychotic episode and the physical and emotional aftermath  that followed.)
  • Art for Heroes: A Culture Show Special (BBC Two) – An exploration of the role art therapy can play in the rehabilitation  of ex-servicemen experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • The Trouble with Men: Tonight (ITV1) – Revealing insight into the rarely discussed issues surrounding men’s  mental health. Sensitive first-hand accounts from men with personal  experience of mental health problems, including former England rugby player Duncan Bell.
  • Britain’s Biggest Hoarders (BBC One)  – Presenter Jasmine Harman follows her mother, Vasoulla, and two others  who all experience hoarding. A look at the strain hoarding can put on a  whole family.
  • Freddie Flintoff: Hidden Side of Sport (BBC One)  –Cricket star Freddie Flintoff talks to Steve Harmison, Vinnie Jones,  Ricky Hatton and other sporting heroes about the serious effects of  depression. He confronts his own issues as England captain and the  stigma attached to talking openly about depression.


(5) Speech radio 

Winner: “Henry’s Demons” (BBC R4)


  • Henry’s Demons (BBC Radio 4) – Henry tells his story of schizophrenia and his experience of hearing  voices that urged him to swim across Newhaven Estuary. His account is  intercut with those of his mother and father, who is war correspondent Patrick Cockburn.
  • Iain Dale: Mental Health Special Programmes (LBC 97.3 Radio) – Iain Dale frequently discusses mental health on his show – clips  include a phone-in about mental health discrimination with Diane Abbott,  an interview with Alastair Campbell about his eBook The Happy Depressive, and emotional calls from listeners in reaction to Gary Speed’s death.
  • Mental Health in Prison (Radio Wanno in HMP Wandsworth) – Created by a prisoner for his community, this programme focuses on  mental health, stress disorders and the emotional impact of prison –  providing first-hand prisoner testimony, professional guidance and  helpful signposting.
  • Poetry and PTSD(BBC Radio 5 Live)  – Tim Samuels reveals the inspiring, uneasy and unexpected story of  poetry as a form of therapy for soldiers experiencing PTSD after  returning from war.
  • Ramblings/Walking around England(BBC Radio 4)  – Clare Balding walks and talks with Stuart Jessup who has depression.   He and his wife, Kate, discuss openly the impact his depression has had  on both of their lives, and describe how the simple act of walking can  help.


(6) Soaps

Winner: Emmerdale (ITV1)


  • Eastenders (BBC One) – Having his wedding called off is the last in a string of stressful  incidences for Ian Beale, leading him to experience a mental health  crisis and leave Walford and his family behind.
  • Emmerdale (ITV1) – Having long enjoyed his position as head of the family, Zak Dingle  finds it incredibly hard to accept his diagnosis of depression. He  battles feelings of weakness and tries to hide his experiences from his  family.
  • Pobol y Cwm (S4C) – After being raped by a former friend, Macs experiences the mental  and emotional effects of the attack, before finally seeking support from  his father.


(7) Student journalist of the year

Winner: Ashley Hammer (London College of Communications)


  • Ashley Hamer (London College of Communication) – For her final year project, Ashley recorded the intimate story of a  mother and her son who regularly self-harms. An incredibly personal  portrayal which gets to the heart of the issues involved.
  • Ed Tarlton (Nottingham University) – Ed’s personal account of life as a student with depression resonates with many at university. Insightful and impactful.
  • Oliver Perkins-Gibbons (University of Lincoln) – In investigating the issue of student suicide, Oliver’s passion led  him to use the Freedom of Information Act, to obtain the figures for  students attempting suicide and those who had taken their own lives, in  every English university. His incredible investigation is documented  through this film.
  • Victoria Aitchison (London College  of Fashion) – As a final year fashion student experiencing mental health problems,  Victoria produced a digital magazine for her final project. She had a  breakdown in 2007 and has written about her own experiences hoping it  changes the way young people view mental health.


(8) Journalist of the year, sponsoredby AXA PPP healthcare

Winner: Julia George (BBC Radio Kent)


  • Emma Woolf (The Times) – Charting her personal journey to overcome anorexia, Emma Woolf has  written openly and honestly about the daily challenges and triumphs she  has faced week in, week out, through her column in The Times since 2010.
  • Julia George (BBC Radio Kent) – Julia’s morning show regularly focuses on mental health issues,  uncovering the real-life concerns faced by many who listen across the  county.  The audience have shared their experiences of depression,  suicide, body image and addiction through calls, emails, texts and  tweets, motivated by Julia’s sensitive approach.
  • Patrick Strudwick (Freelance, The Times, the Independent) –Patrick Strudwick has been dedicated in following a two-year  professional conduct case against a gay ‘cure’ therapist and reported  expertly on its conclusion. Furthermore, he has written widely about  mental health issues from bipolar disorder, bulimia and body dysmorphia  to post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression.
  • Tim Samuels, Men’s Hour (BBC Radio 5 Live) – Men’s Hour was the brainchild of Tim and once it hit the airwaves, he  has used his position to tackle mental health issues with passion,  creativity and impact. He has also shone a candid light on a range of  issues from art therapy to depression and PTSD.
  • Lucy Johnston and Ted Jeory (Sunday Express) – Since launching the Sunday Express Crusade for Better Mental Health,  Lucy and Ted have featured weekly pieces on what many regard as  Britain’s biggest taboo. They have created public debate to encourage  readers in thinking and talking about mental health in the same way as  physical health.


(9) Drama

Winner: Homeland


  • This is England ’88 (Channel 4)  – In this incredibly challenging storyline we see Lol, played by  actress Vicky McClure, reach out for help after a number of traumatic  incidents, experienced over many years, takes a toll on her mental  health.
  • Top Boy (Channel 4)  – Against the backdrop of East London drug and gang culture, a single  mother is hospitalised with depression, leaving her son to fend for  himself. A heartening tale of recovery and the wide-reaching impact of  mental health problems.
  • Homeland (Channel 4)  – Claire Danes plays Carrie Mathison, a CIA officer who has bipolar  disorder. Through the series she struggles to hide her condition,  fearful she’ll lose her job if her mental health diagnosis is  discovered.
  • Appropriate Adult (ITV1)  – A two-part drama following Janet Leach, played by Emily Watson, and  the emotional and mental distress caused to her family as she takes on  the role of Appropriate Adult for Fred West. We see her partner  experience the deterioration of his mental health and start to  experience symptoms of bipolar disorder.
  • Waterloo Road(BBC One)  – The stress of exams leads schoolboy Josh to stop taking the  medication he needs to manage his schizophrenia. He experiences episodes  of psychosis and in this episode is taken to hospital.


(10) Making a difference, sponsored by Havas Worldwide London

Presented to a broadcaster or individual whose innovative and  sensitive work on mental health problems has made a genuine impact. The  award is for those who set the agenda and initiate change.

Winner: Sunday Express team for their Crusade for Better Mental Health


(11) Speaking out, sponsored by Comic Relief

Presented to an individual who has experienced mental health  problems, for their inspirational contribution to at least one of the  shortlisted entries.

Winner: Vasoulla Savvidou, who featured in Britain’s Biggest Hoarders



Mental health in the media: “fruitloops” & “madwomen”

19 Nov

Tonight, the Mind Media Awards winners will be announced at a ceremony in London, hosted by Mind’s president, Stephen Fry. The awards aim to recognise and celebrate the best in online, TV, radio and print media in representing mental health problems. They particularly recognise those who have successfully challenged the myths and stereotpyes that surround mental health problems, as well as those whose work includes the voices of people who have themselves experienced mental health problems.

Below are two pieces I put together after watching TV programmes. The reason I’ve written this blog post is that many people learn about, and form opinions on, mental illness from what they see on TV. The medium can have a big influence.

In that context, here are my thoughts on two recent programmes – a fly-on-the-wall documentary and a big budget costume drama. I’ve linked to two tweet stories – my tweets and the responses of other tweeps which add another dimension – and commented on them. I’ve included tweets sent during the programme – people’s reactions in real time – as well as reflections afterwards.


(1) 999, What’s Your Emergency? Channel 4 999 What's your emergency

On Monday October 15th, ITV1’s “999 What’s your emergency?” had a mental health theme. The programme is a fly-on-the-wall documentary following staff from 3 of Blackpool’s emergency services, namely the police, ambulance and fire service. As I watched the programme, I was moved to start tweeting. My first tweet was:

“Ah, the familiar old stereotype of someone suffering mental distress being unpredictable & potentially violent.”

Staff are filmed as they go about their jobs, and interviewed afterwards to provide commentary. More details about the programme, as well as link to episodes, is included in the Storify story.

My first tweet was swiftly followed by:

“Er, hello, “split personality”? That’s not schizophrenia. Don’t ambos get any mental health training?”


“”The schizophrenic man”? You wouldn’t call someone “a cancerous man” would you? It’s the diagnosis, not the person.”

The programme – and tweets during and after the programme using the hashtag #999WhatsYourEmergency- illustrated some of society’s attitudes to mental illness. Some of what was said during the programme was jaw-droppingly ignorant (yes, one person referred to “fruitloops”), some of it plain silly and some highly compassionate & insightful. That also applies to the tweets sent during the programme. Read on to find out more.


(2) Downton Abbey, ITVDownton Abbey

Downton Abbey is ITV’s flagship Sunday night costume drama, reportedly costing £1 million an episode to film. It’s not really my thing as, though beautifully filmed and acted, I find the plot lines a bit clunky. However, it can be a nice bit of fluff to watch on a Sunday night.
Spoiler warning: If you haven’t seen the final episode in the series Ibroadcast on Sunday 11th November) then don’t read on, as this story contains references to plot lines.
During this episode, one of the central characters found out her prospective beau was married. When she confronted the man, he confessed he was married, but explained that his once-beloved wife had become a madwoman who no longer recognised him.
The description of his wife’s descent into madness and the trap the husband found himself in – unable to divorce as his wife, as a lunatic, could not be divorced – got me wondering about 1920s matrimonial law & care for psychiatric patients. I threw the question out to Twitter, and received some interesting replies. Was what was described a credible description of mental illness as it was perceived at the time? What might a diagnosis today be? Read on to find out more.
If you have any thoughts on these 2 stories, or on the topic of mental health on TV, please feel free to leave a comment below.



Mental health in the media: parity of esteem

18 Nov

Over the past few days, I’ve tweeted 3 stories on the theme of parity of esteem for physical and mental illness. I’ve been thinking about the comparison between assessment and treatment for physical and mental health problems; and how waiting for mental health treatment isn’t viewed in the same way as waiting for treatment for a physical healthcare problem. Here I’ve drawn those 3 stories together in one place.

The first story arose from a press report of a 13-year old who had to wait 48 hours to have a pencil embedded in his hand removed (the photo is gruesome!); I wondered if a wait for mental health treatment would attract the same outcry.

The second story followed on from that, after a tweep sent me to a link to a story where someone experiencing a mental health crisis was told to drink warm milk; they ended up trying to take their own life, attacking his father and being sectioned for a month. But at least the unacceptability of the delay in receiving help was reported.

The third and final story is about children who police believed were suffering a mental health crisis being made to wait for assessment by doctors in adult police cells. Appalling.

In all 3 stories, the theme for me was that physical and mental health emergencies were not viewed with the same sense of urgency. Assessment or treatment of a mental health problem can wait as, “it’s just mental health”. Read on to find out more.


(1) Waiting for treatment for a pencil embedded in the hand!

The first story arose from a Sun newspaper feature on a teenager who’d waited 2 days for treatment for a pencil embedded in his hand. The photo is gruesome.

An NHS hospital sent the boy home twice, in terrible pain. He had to wait 48 hours before the pencil embedded in his hand was removed by surgeons. Ouch.

Why highlight this story? Because I can’t imagine the media ever being up in arms about someone waiting 2 days for mental health treatment. Read why I say this, other tweeps’ responses and more about this story here.


(2) The wait for mental health crisis treatment makes the news!

This was astory sent to me in response to the one above. I’d lamented on Twitter that a wait for mental health treatment would never make the news. And – ta dah! – a tweep sent me this one.

It’s the story of Crawford Buchan, who waited over 48 hours for mental health treatment and ended up sectioned for 4 week. During the wait, he’d asked for help several times as he’d deteriorated, and ended up trying to take his own life and attacking his father.

It’s a positive story in the sense that a delay of several days in getting treatment for a relapse in bipolar disorder was reported as being unacceptable. Good news!

You can read the story, and also watch Mr Buchan describe what happened in his own words. As Mr Buchan says, “There’s nobody that knows you better than yourself and I know myself when I’m getting unwell. It’s imperative that people with bipolar are listened to when they say, ‘I don’t thnk I’m right’.”

The hilarious twist to the story was the advice Mr Buchan was given by the NHS after he’d called several times asking for help. He was told to drink warm milk!

Read more about this story here.


(3) Hundreds of children wait in police cells

The third story in this trilogy concerns today’s report on BBC Radio 4’s World at One programme that, last year, nearl 350 children were held in police cells awaiting assessment for a mental health emergency.

That’s 347 children who needed to be assessed by doctors who were made to wait locked in police cells. Dr Clare Gerada, chair of the Royal College of GPs, tweeted: “Children held in cells as police thought they were mentally ill. Must get parity of esteem between physical and mental health.”

Read the story to see Dr Gerada’s comments on this, including her conversation with Kay Sheldon (of the Care Quality Commission) and Simon Cole (the Association of Chief Police Officers’ lead on mental health).

You’ll also see, at the foot of the story, a convesation I had with a child and adolescent psychiatrist based in London which opened my eyes to how some view mental health emergencies …



The TWIM awards 2012 – the best in mental health blogging

17 Nov

Now’s the time to nominate your favourite mental health blogs for the TWIM awards 2012. Don’t be shy!

If you know a good blog or 3, click on this link to nominate them for an award:

Nominate your favourite blogs for TWIM awards

Please share what you know so others can enjoy excellent mental health writing too!

Here’s the embarrassing bit, the TWIM awards “meet the judges” page. Guess who’s on this year’s judging panel? Little ol’ me. Aw shucks.

Here’s a link to the Storify story I put together explaining the TWIM Awards 20112.


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The accidental Patient Participant Group: GP commissioning and mental health

16 Nov

The notice on the GP surgery noticeboard said:

“Get involved in how we run your surgery. Meet the staff & share your views.”

Turned out to be a meeting to establish a Patient Participation Group which the surgery is required to do by the Care Quality Commission. Who knew? I just wanted to ask them not to leave repeat prescriptions with other patients’ names, addresses & drugs face up on the counter.

At the meeting, I heard about Clinical Commissioning Groups & Patient Participation Groups, services currently provided in the area, future plans and the halving of the public health budget. That overview was a bit too much for my brain. I think for me right now ignorance is bliss. The big picture is kinda scarey.

The smaller picture also gave me pause. Is it really local GPs like those in that small hot room who will be in charge of the NHS budget? They see people on the frontline of primary care every day. But what do they know about management of massive budgets? Inpatient care?

And is this small group of patients, cobbled together from those who spotted a notice on a board, capable of holding the CCG to account?.”Well I think we need more guidance when we’re caring for someone at home who’s dying, on what to do when they stop eating & drinking,” one woman volunteered when asked for comments on services the surgery could offer in future. “You can get sectioned for that,” came the response from a man in the group. “What?” asked the women, concerned. “They’ll section you in a psychiatric hospital if you stop eating and drinking. It’s true.” Guess who was appointed chair of the Patient Participation Group? The guy who helpfully chipped in about sectioning people. Super.

On the plus side, my concern about not leaving confidential patient information in view will be raised at the monthly reception meeting.

Read the Storify story I put together of some thoughts & impressions I tweeted (follwed by others’ responses) after I accidentally found myself at my local surgery’s Patient Participation Group to find out more  …


PS I recognised the PPG chairman sitting on another table in a cafe this afternoon. I thought about going over and asking him a bit about himself and how he saw his chairmanship of the PPG. And about his comments on sectioning under the Mental Health Act. But by the time I’d just about got up courage, he was leaving and paying.



The politics of mental health: the new mental health task force

15 Nov

Here’s a Storify story I put together from mine and others’ tweets following the major speech by Ed Miliband (leader of the opposition Labour party) on Monday 29th October at the Royal College of Psychiatrists in which he announced the establishment of a new mental health task force.

I started with this tweet:

Dear @Ed_Miliband, good start, but remember there’s much more to good mental health than the NHS, drugs & treatment.

Read on to find out what I mean, together with comments from others tweeps.


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Mental health & Atos: my doctor says I need to rest my brain, but Atos says I must jump through mental hoops

12 Nov

I’ve been feeling strange for a few days, building up from when the Atos letter dropped onto my doormat. It seems I’m struggling to face the Atos process.

My brain feels overloaded by the thought of it, and that prevents any action. I’m focussing on trying to bring myself back to calmness. Hopefully at some point soon I will be able to get a little further than picking up the letter, turning the form over in my hands, feeling overwhelmed by the seeming enormity of the task at hand & all the various permutations & the implcations of getting it wrong … then having to put it back down and leave the room & distract myself with something restful. I’m just not up to it now, and I know I shouldn’t be putting myself through this.

My recovery so far is based on listening to myself and knowing when I can do more and when I should be resting. I tried to take on too much earlier in the year and it backfired.

I don’t want that to happen again. So I’m trying to take baby steps. I should be resting my brain now. But I know the Atos timetable is ticking down. The deadline is looming …

[Here’s a link to a Storify story on this topic]

My tweets on the topic