Archive | October, 2013

#AsylumNO Petition hand over

29 Oct

Katie Sutton's Asylum No bannerHere are some practical details so you can join Katie Sutton when she hands over her petition at Thorpe Park’s HQ on Wednesday 30th October 2013. It should be a fun day out, and we should get a great photo!

.

  • Date: Wednesday 30th October 2013
  • Time: No later than 2pm
  • Meeting place: Staines rail station (south west of London)
  • Aim: For Katie to hand over her #AsylumNO petition to Thorpe Park’s HQ in a fun, light-hearted way, showing there are many different ways to dress up and have scary fun without needing to ridicule or demonise a vulnerable and marginalised group like people with mental health problems.
  • Photo time: 2:45pm sharp for the big photo at the Thorpe Park gate! Then at 3pm a smaller group including Katie will do the official petition hand over at the ticket line
  • Who will be there? Look out for Katie Sutton @caffeinurse who will be holding the #AsylumNO placard above, dressed as a skeleton! There will be a small group of around 10 to 20 people.
  • What to bring:
    • Your biggest smile and sense of fun
    • Placards, bunting and flags from mental health charities
    • Halloween make-up, spare wigs and props for those in need! (Katie is bringing some too)
  • What to wear: Suggested costumes are either:
    • Fun Halloween costumes, such as zombies, witches, black cats, ghosts, ghouls and monsters – but anything that brings scary fun into Halloween without ridiculing and demonising a vulnerable minority like people with mental health problems
    • Your everyday clothes – ie your “mental patient” costume – to show that we really aren’t “scary mental patients”
  • Please note: This is not a protest and there will be no confrontation with Thorpe Park fans. This has been arranged with Thorpe Park in advance, so it’s all above board and should be fun, not stressful.
  • Getting in contact: Please let Katie know if you’re planning to join her. She can be contacted by twitter @caffeinurse, so keep your phone with you! Otherwise, look out for the zombies holding mental health charity placards!Katie Sutton's Asylum No petition

.

Useful information:

.

.

South London and Maudsley on film: humanity and humour

28 Oct

Bedlam (4) OCT 2013Bedlam (1) OCT 2013

Looking at a newspaper story about the murder of drummer Lee Rigby earlier in the year, Lloyd, who has a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia, said that hearing about schizophrenics in the news made him feel worse. He worried that he didn’t know his own mind and wondered if he himself could turn into a murderer too, since that’s what he read in the papers. Dealing with the symptoms of psychosis can be difficult enough in itself. Having to deal with society’s perceptions that people with your diagnosis are violent and unpredictable adds another level of difficulty.

Earlier today, I attended an advance screening of Channel 4’s new series on the realities of modern mental health care at the South London and Maudsley (SLaM) mental health trust.  In the screening room in the basement of Channel 4′s headquarters in Horseferry Road, a select audience sat in red plush seats watching one of four programmes in the series on modern mental health care. The series is entitled Bedlam and the name choice has caused controversy. To an extent it can be argued that, when a respected NHS trust calls a television series after a medieval asylum, it dilutes the strength of the case against Thorpe Park’s “mental patient scary fun” horror maze Asylum. But what of the series itself?

The episode previewed profiled the work of Speedwell community mental health team (CMHT) in Deptford, south London, over the course of a year. The four-part series, which starts at 9pm this Thursday, also covers the Anxiety Disorders Residential Unit, Lambeth Triage (the front line for emergency cases) and the older adults unit (over 65s).

Without giving too much away, we followed patients Tamara, Lloyd and Rosemary, all of whom experience psychosis. We saw them trying to cope with periods of illness, voices, delusional beliefs about bed bugs and with children being taken into foster care.  We saw them using prescription drugs as well as speed and alcohol to help manage their troubling symptoms. We saw them at times chaotic and disturbed, and at other times funny and happy.

We saw social worker Jim Thurkle doing his best to hunt down and help patients, a third of whom refuse to engage with him. We saw Dr Tom Werner doing his best to confirm the stereotype of the psychiatrist in the bow tie. We saw the fine line between enabling someone to live the life they choose and intervening in the interests of their own health and safety.

Not once did we see someone who could be considered a danger to anyone else. Not once did any of the patients present as anywhere remotely near the stereotype of the paranoid schizophrenic mad axe murderer. What we saw was patients struggling to manage their lives in difficult circumstances, and the professionals who tried to help them.

It was particularly interesting to see the work of a CMHT  which, along with GPs, carry out the bulk of psychiatric care in this country. As the booklet handed out at the advance screening says:

“The lion’s share of SLaM’s work takes place in a community setting, looking after more than 35,000 people with mental health issues. SLaM treats 8,000 psychosis patients a year; 6,000 of whom are based and treated in the community. We touch on different treatments available and see intense and moving interaction with social workers and mental health teams.”

As Pete Beard, the producer of the episode, who answered questions after the screening, said:

“We wanted to reflect the realities of this challenging work, following the actual narratives of people walking a tightrope with their mental health as it happened and the teams who act as a safety net. I feel that these realities are rarely reflected accurately in the media and as a result it is important to demystify the work performed as community teams, especially taboo subjects such as being sectioned”.

It was profoundly moving to see someone taken away from their own home, against their will, and detained with no legal authority other than the personal opinions of a social worker and doctors. No police arrest, no court process, no judge, no jury. Just a simple form signed, and you have no choice about even the simplest things like what you eat, where you sleep or what shampoo you use to wash your hair. And, on a more intrusive level, you have no right to refuse medication.

This extended scene cannot help but make you reflect on the balance of power between the state and the individual, and on what society deems to be acceptable norms of behaviour. This is especially so when you’re dealing with someone you don’t really know, as can be the case when a mental health team is called out to consider sectioning someone. Britain has a proud tradition of eccentricity, but that is not tolerated if you are deemed to be mentally ill. Simply being a nuisance to others but in no way dangerous to yourself or others can, ultimately, mean three people decide on your behalf that your quality of life will be improved by a compulsory stay in a locked psychiatric ward.

The sectioning sequence made me think about the boundaries or free will and autonomy and to what extent people’s peculiarities are tolerated. I have been on the receiving end of such a process, and it changed my life irrevocably. As Dr Baggaley said, when he’s taken part in sectionings he does wonder whether this was what he trained for. Although he sees it as difficult, he does see it as necessary.

Dr Baggaley described the person in question as a “revolving door patient” who would face repeated hospitalisations, some under section (compulsion), for the rest of their life. And yet this is someone who will – under the current welfare benefits system – also face repeated Work Capability Assessments. It is hard to see the point of such assessments in this case particularly since, as Dr Sarah Wollaston MP wrote today, WCA’s are not geared towards helping people with mental health problems find and retain employment.

One of the things which struck me in this episode was the amount of humour. Despite their difficult circumstances and troubling symptoms, the patients followed could come across as affable, amenable and warm-hearted. Ripples of laughter would regularly rumble across the audience, and not just because viewers were looking for a little light relief in what was, after all, a serious topic. As with any other fly-on-the-wall documentary, the colourful charaters in this episode were full of humour. The seriousness of the subject matter made the flashes of levity even more welcome.

Overall, this preview episode was intimate, insightful and profound. It showed human beings in all our difficulties, complexities and ambiguities. It showed the realities of trying to combat the stigma around mental illness with humanity and humour. It showed that danger and fear are the least of the concerns of the CMHT.

On a final note, I will end with a criticism that was raised by audience members with personal experience of mental health services: namely that the episode was somewhat naive and unrealistic. Audience members had received far worse experiences of mental health care, or had been able to deliver a far worse service due to cutbacks. It was acknowledged by the film makers that Speedwell CMHT had a ring-fenced budget, so had not been under the same constraints and workload other CMHT’s they’d liaised with had.

It was also highlighted that a lot of the difficulties patients needed help with were practical, and that these needs were not being met. The patients were unable to deal with these matters themselves and therefore they were stuck in difficult circumstances. Examples were the bedbugs which did actually exist in Tamara’s flat. It was not a delusional belief (though its extent may have been) and dealing with that practical problem may have lessened her delusional symptoms. This and her use of amphetamines may also have been the way she managed the immense sorrow of losing her children. Lloyd appeared to be using alcohol to numb his pain.

With a series planned over two years and filmed over twelve months, much footage will have ended up on the cutting room floor. It’s a shame, however, that the close relationship between medical help and social support, and the parts played by talking therapies and thereapeutic activities, were overlooked completely in this preview episode.

Nor was the 9% reduction in inpatient beds in the past 2 years mentioned.  Nor were the terrible cuts to community mental health services mentioned.

On the other hand, as Madeliene Long, SLaM chair said:

“Despite it affecting so many people, mental illness is still poorly understood. The stigma and discrimination that people face can make their mental health even worse and can prevent them from seeking help. So it’s really important that we do everything we can to raise awareness, challenge stereotypes and promote the facts about mental health. I’m really pleased that we have been able to work with Channel 4 and The Garden Productions on such an ambitious project which sets out to do exactly that.”

As executive producer Amy Flanagan said,

“Many of these patients had lived long lives with no history of mental illness. It could happen to our parents, to us.”

And, if it does happen to us or someone we know, programmes such as these will mean it feels a little less alien and a little more a part of everyday life.

.

.

Web links thumbnail

.

 

..

 

..

Media coverage:

  • Channel 4 press release about Bedlam
    • Anxiety (Episode 1/4) – 9pm Thursday 31st October – “It’s a condition every one of us experiences from time to time, but imagine if one day you woke up and found your anxiety had spiralled completely out of control.”
    • Crisis (Episode 2/4) – 9pm Thursday 7th November – “At Lambeth Hospital in south London, the Trust has pioneered the use of short-stay emergency wards for patients in crisis. It’s effectively run like A&E but for those with mental illness.”
    • Psychosis (Episode 3/4) – 9pm Thursday 14th November – “In this episode we explore the world of the mentally ill who live in the community.”
    • Breakdown (Episode 4/4) – 9pm Thursday 21st November – “In the final episode of Bedlam, cameras gain access to a psychiatric ward for over 65s at the South London and Maudsley (SLaM).”

    .

South London & Maudsley NHS Trust:

.

People involved:

  • Dan Charlton – Head off communications & media at SLaM (twitter @Dan_Charlton1)
  • Dr Tom Werner (twitter @TellDrTom) – psychiatrist & CBT therapist – website

.

Blogosphere

.

.

Related coverage:

.

.

Dear theme park customers and horror fans: an open letter

21 Oct
Scare actors from Thorpe Park's the Freezer horror maze experience

Scare actors from Thorpe Park’s the Freezer horror maze experience

.Update small

Update: Scroll down for links to media coverage

.

Dear Theme Park Customers and Horror Fans,

Over the past few days, you may have heard about or seen criticisms of theme park horror attractions such as the Asylum at Thorpe Park, Psychosis and Insanity at Farmaggedon and Insanitorium at Norfolk’s Dinosaur Park. Yesterday I put together a round-up of coverage. I’m writing to explain how this arose and what the issues are. Let me start by reassuring you that there is no plan to try to ban Halloween, horror movies or scary fun!

Instead, the aim has been to highlight the cruel and unacceptable ridiculing and demonisation of a vulnerable and marginalised minority – namely people with mental health problems. What is being sought? The replacement within the horror genre (including Halloween theme park attractions) of the “scary mental patient” stereotype with … something else.

In the case of the Asylum at Thorpe Park, for instance, this would mean renaming the horror maze and adapting or replacing the scare actors’ costumes so that they no longer represent “the lunatics taking over the asylum”. It might mean reverting to its 2005 name the Freezer, where crew members dressed as scary abattoir workers (pictured above).

There are plenty of alternative terrifying horror themes from which to choose, such as zombies, vampires and monsters. This could be achieved quickly and with relatively little expense. Other venues have almost identical attractions (such as Tower of Terror at the Alton Towers Scarefest) which make no reference to the “scary mental patient” stereotype – and provide just as much scary fun!

Like racism, homophobia and sexism, the “scary mental patient” stereotype has been around for a long time. And, just as with racism, homophobia and sexism, times have changed. Nowadays, right-thinking people welcome the fact that, in a civilised society, it is no longer acceptable to use vulnerable and marginalised minorities for entertainment and profit, trivialisation and monstering. It’s time for the horror genre and tourist attractions to catch up and be responsible citizens.

Let’s be very clear: This is not about people being offended: it is about the real harm that is done to real people by the repeated evocation of the “scary mental patient” stereotype.  Real harm, such as (to give just one example) enabling the closure of 9% of inpatient psychiatric beds in the past 2 years with no public marches or protests – because negative stereotypes mean people are ashamed to speak out.

This harms individuals with mental health problems, it demeans society and has a huge economic cost. The fact is, research shows that people with mental health problems are far more likely to be victims of crime than to be violent or dangerous to others. The “scary mental patient” stereotype hammers home the opposite view; and, in the case of a live action maze, delivers it with a big dose of fear chemicals that help to reinforce the stereotype in the brain.

Because I am frequently asked the same questions or have the same statements put to me when I tweet on this subject, if I have time I will put together a piece responding to points such as these: “It’s just a maze!” “It’s just entertainment!” “It’s not meant to be realistic!” “It’s a slippery slope!” “It’s banning freedom of expression!”, “It’s political correctness gone mad!” and so forth. These arguments are flimsy when subjected to scrutiny. So, to those who seem intent on making a stand on this issue, I’d say: get your priorities straight.

Last month, after a public outcry, Asda, Tesco and Amazon acted swiftly, apologised and withdrew from sale what they had offensively labelled “mental patient fancy dress costumes”. Asda agreed to pay £25,000 (equivalent to the profit it would have made had it sold the costumes) to a mental health charity. Further steps are in process.

Those objecting to the evocation of damaging stereotypes for profit by the likes of Thorpe Park include senior healthcare mental professionals, mental health charities and people with personal experience of mental illness. So far, we have been unable to persuade Thorpe Park to take the same ethical stance or even respond substantively. Instead, we have been stonewalled. That is why I am appealing direct to customers.

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter. Its subject matter is important to the one in four of the population who experiences mental health problems. You will either be such a person, or know others who are – though shame may prevent them from being open about this. If you agree with the sentiments expressed in this letter, below are some suggestions for what you can do to help. And how you can encourage Thorpe Park (and other relevant companies) to take action and become part of the solution, not part of the problem.

Yours sincerely,

A not-so-scary mental patient

4#TLB`L;;M;S;;;.

Appendix I – What can you do?

.

Appendix II – What can Thorpe Park do?

Some suggested steps which would cost no (or hardly any) money:
  • Apologise for the harm caused by evoking the “scary mental patient stereotype – no excuses, no hedging, no fudging, and to come right from the top (if it doesn’t sound like an apology, you’re only making it worse)
  • Make the Time to Change mental health pledge, get involved with other anti-stigma actions and encourage staff to do so too
  • Include links to mental health information on its website page, facebook and videos
  • Invite mental health charities to do the following:
    • to hand out leaflets at the park
    • to host an information stall at the park
    • to discuss what further steps would help improve the mental wellbeing of management, staff and customers
Steps that would involve expenditure:
  • Rename the Asylum and change the scare actors’ costumes so they no longer have any connection to the outdated, inaccurate and damaging “scary mental patient” stereotype
  • Donate the profits from this year’s the Asylum to a mental health charity such as Rethink Mental Illness (which started the #AsylumNO and #AsylumOK hashtag campaign), local mental health charity and/or anti-stigma campaign Time to Change
  • Provide training and support (for instance, through mental health charity Mind), including:
    • mental health awareness training for its senior management team, PR team and HR department
    • making mental health support services available to all staff
    • training staff in mental health first aid (in addition to physical first aid) and provide parity of esteem between mental and physical health first aid services to customers and staff throughout the park’s operations

    .

Appendix III – What are those working in the mental health field saying?

.

Appendix IV – What are the media saying?

.

.

Halloween: What’s wrong with evoking the “scary mental patient” stereotype?

18 Oct

Halloween (2) SEP 2013

Update small

.

Update: Scroll down for new additions (flagged with the handy yellow update picture), including links to numerous other people’s posts, a defence by a theme park enthusiast & an overview by a theme park industry website

.

On Thursday, it came to the attention of the lovely twitter people that one of Britain’s major theme parks, Thorpe Park, had a “scary mental patient” experience as part of its Halloween offering. It was called Asylum. Just as when, a few weeks ago, Asda, Tesco and Amazon marketed their “mental patient fancy dress costumes”, the mental health twittersphere exploded in protest.

Why? Take a look at this video to see the stereotypical “scary mental patient” scare story played out. “Watch your back as you weave your way through The Asylum, a maze of dead ends and hidden corners.” Who are you to watch out for? The Thorpe Park crew dressed as “mental patients”, without a doctor in sight. As one reviewer wrote, “The lunatics have taken over the asylum”. And, just as Asda had renamed its zombie costume the “mental patient” fancy dress costume, so Thorpe Park had decided to rename the Freezer attraction the Asylum, replacing abattoir workers with “scary mental patients”.

Yet again, a high profile British business was showing staggering insensitivity to the harmful effects of evoking negative stereotypes to make money. And yet again – initially at least – some rushed to defend it with points such as these:

  • Get a grip! Isn’t this all a bit over the top? Don’t get so het up about it. You’re blowing this all out of proportion!
  • It’s just a bit of fun! Go on, get a sense of humour, laugh a little, don’t be such a killjoy! Laughter is good! Laughter is a great way to challenge stuff.
  • Don’t be offended – it wasn’t intentional! No offense was intended. I’m not offended.
  • It’s political correctness gone mad! It’s the political correctness jihadists!
  • What about freedom of expression! This is censorship! It’s a slippery slope when you start trying to ban things!
  • There are more important things to worry about. Get your priorities straight! You’re distracting from the real issues.
  • It’s just you that’s bothered about it. It’s only a few people. It’s a tiny minority.
  • It’s just entertainment! Can’t you tell the difference between real and fake?
  • Don’t judge it till you’ve tried it! You’ve never been there, so how can you judge?
  • You’re just drawing attention to all this: ignore it and it’ll go away.
  • It’s been around for years! Why all the fuss now?
  • Don’t close it down – it’s fantastic!
  • This is a storm whipped up by the media! You’re just jumping on the bandwagon. What next, ban Halloween and horror movies?

These were exactly the same issues that arose when Asda’s “mental patient” fancy dress costume was on sale. And they came up again and again today.

Have you been thinking along these lines yourself? Or have things like this been said to you? Do you want to understand the other side of the argument? Or do you want to know how others have responded? If so, I’ll try to write a blog post on the topic myself but, in the meantime, I’m gathering together what everyone’s been posting – from blog posts to twitter to hashtags – and, if you read it, you will find answers to the points raised above – every one of them. You will find my views set out in my tweets. All posts are linked below (scroll down). To follow the conversation on twitter, see hashtags #AsylumNO and #AsylumOK, set up by mental health charity Rethink Mental Illness.

What happened to Asda, Tescos and Amazon? After public protestations, the offensive products were removed from sale, a big donation (equivalent to the profit that would have been made had the costumes been sold) was made to anti-stigma campaign Time to Change and promises were made to engage meaningfully with mental health issues.

What is Thorpe Park’s view? As they tweeted to me on Friday morning:

“The Asylum is a fantastical experience which is not intended to be a realistic portrayal of a mental health institutioUpdate smalln.”

(Update: On Saturday morning, the stock answer has been revised to: “The Asylum is a horror maze, part of a larger horror event. It is a fantastical experience not intended to offend.”)

So for Thorpe Park it seems the fact that it views Asylum as a “fantastical experience”: it was “not intended to offend” and it was not intended as a realistic portrayal”. What will Thorpe Park do? At present, their management team has not showed the same presence of mind, commercial insight or even basic decency to react, other than to say the experience will run the full season though feedback will be considered. Even the simple, inexpensive and quick fix of reverting to the original name Freezer isn’t on the table it seems.

So, if Thorpe Park thinks it’s okay to make money from ridiculing a stigmatised group who face discrimination – and worse – daily, who else does it think is fair game? Now discrimination against people on the basis of race or sexuality is no longer part of the mainstream, who’s left? Which vulnerable groups can be picked on without fear of criticism? Clearly it’s people with mental health problems, as Thorpe Park’s Asylum shows. But what about a ride based around “big fat” gypsy and Roma people stereotypes, or “benefits scroungers”? That seems the order of the day.

There are some interesting suggestions for other rides or experiences Thorpe Park could incorporate into its theme park – more “fantastical experiences” which are “not intended to offend” and “not meant to be realistic portrayals of real” situations. One currently up and running at another tourist attraction is a fantasy rape experience. Yes, you read that right.

On the other hand, what would the answers to the points above look like if, rather than “mental patients”,  the subject was racism or homophobia. If the answers aren’t obvious beforehand, if they’re answered through the prism of anti-racism and ant-homophobia, they should be clearer now.

One final thing: let me make a little prediction. What happens when an oppressed group starts to stand up for itself? At first there’s indifference. Then, when it’s noticed, more indifference. Perhaps ridicule. To some extent, that’s where we are now. Then, once successes start to be achieved, those who are quite comfortable with the status quo thanks very much start the backlash. That’s what I predict will happen next: there will be some successes, but there will also be a backlash. So I hope those wanting to kick down the doors of mental health stigma and discrimination are ready.

.

Please let me know of any additional links to add to the page so it’s as complete as possible.

 

.

Web links thumbnail.

.

.

.Update small

Twitter (collations of tweets using Storify):

  • What points would I like to get across? Take a look at my tweets on the topic on Friday 18th OctoberSaturday 19thSunday 20th OctoberMonday 21st – Please read these, as they set out all the points I want to make but haven’t had time to copy and paste into a blog post yet (I’m better at tweeting than writing blog posts!)
  • The #AsylumNO hashtag: – Friday 18th OctoberSaturday 19thSunday 20thMonday 21st – Tweets on the hashtag #AsylumNO, started by mental health charity Rethink Mental Illness yesterday to canvass opinions on whether people were for or against the Asylum (runs to 11pm on Friday 18th October)
  • The corresponding #AsylumOK hashtag didn’t really take off, but here are the tweets – AsylumOK
  • A conversation with a tweep who wondered why all the fuss was being made now, 8 years after the attraction had been opened, and suggested the name be changed
  • What is twitter saying about Thorpe Park’s Asylum? – Here are tweets that come up when searching “Thorpe Park Asylum” – Friday 18th & Saturday 19th October – Sunday 20thMonday 21st
  • What is Thorpe Park saying about Asylum? – Here you’ll see all of the tweets sent by Thorpe Park’s twitter team since the story broke. And you’ll soon recognise a familiar pattern because there is no movement: the same arguments are rolled out again and again. There were no responses on Saturday after 11:30am, though the twitter account was active till 7pm – Wednesday 16th to Saturday 19th October and Sunday 20th (a deafening silence: twitter blackout on responding to Asylum complaints) and Monday 21st

.

Update smallPetition

.

The blogosphere (self-published online writing)

Update small

.

Update smallThe blogosphere – defences of “scary mental patient” Halloween horror experiences

  • Wednesday 16th OctoberThe Asylum debate – By Scare Tours UK blog – The defences raised here are (i) these sorts of rides and their “standard” characters have been around a long time; (ii) they are harmless entertainment because people know they are fictitious; and (iii) it’s politically correct killjoys trying to ruin people’s fun. In that case, why not bring back the Black & White Minstrel Show? It’s been around for ages, it’s harmless entertainment, do don’t be a kill joy! It’s obvious, really, isn’t it …?
  • 2011Review of the Asylum (2011) – By Scare Tours UK blog – “… freaks and misfits … all dressed as inmates (with no doctors) … the underlying story of the lunatics taking over the asylum … exuded a feral energy …” The “scary mental patient” stereotype writ large.

.

Theme parks and tourist attractions

  • Dinosaur Adventure (Norfolk)
    • Insanitorium – 1 of 5 attractions in the PrimEvil experience for Halloween
    • Contact them to let them know what you think about their Insanitorium attraction (see Easter Daily Press story below)
  • Farmageddon (Lancashire)
    • Insanity is a different experience altogether, preying on all 6 of your senses, flaunting your phobias and leaving you a shadow of your former self. Featuring “The Treatment Plant”… where our inmates disappear…. Will You?”
    • PsychosistHeY’Ll SeE yOU COmInG, ThEY’lL HeaR yOu scReAMiNg bUt YOu wOn’t seE tHEm…..unTIl iT’S aLL tOo LaTE …”
  • Thorpe Park

    Scroll down to see some of the theme park publicity material

 .

Theme park industry commentary:Update small

.

Links to older pieces:

.

Mainstream media:

.

Mainstream media – older pieces:

  • October 2008 – Daily Telegraph newspaper – Fright Nights: Thorpe Park’s Hallowe’en mazes – The reviewer describes an attraction aimed at “children and teenagers” and says that, of all the horror mazes in the park, “… I found The Asylum the most effective because it has a plausible mental hospital theme” – That’s right, a “plausible mental hospital theme” for goodness sake.

.

Farmageddon Psychosis banner, complete with ... scarey clowns

Farmageddon Psychosis banner, complete with … scary clowns

Farmageddon Insanity banner, complete with blood spattered cleaver

Farmageddon Insanity banner, complete with blood spattered cleaver

.

.

..

.

.

.

.

Tweet chats for newbies: Getting started

13 Oct

Snow White bluebirdUpdate small

.

See also Part 2 (tweet chat do’s and don’ts; and what you can expect during a tweet chat) and Part 3 (tweet chat trouble shooting)

.

Whenever I have the chance to participate in a tweet chat, I always get a great deal from it. Whether it’s finding interesting new people to follow, learning something new, or having a view challenged or confirmed, it’s never dull.

I’d been on Twitter for a while before I learned what a tweet chat was, another little while before I dipped my toe in the water and it was another while longer before I realised I didn’t have to sit at a computer watching tweets then tweet in on my phone! If you haven’t heard of tweet chats, are curious but cautious or would like a little help to get you going, here’s my introduction – what Americans would probably call “Tweet chat 101” – in the spirit of sharing.

Initially it was one big fat blog post, so I’ve broken it up into bite-sized chunks, of which this is the first. It covers the following topics:

  • What is a tweet chat? – tweet chats in a nutshell
  • What’s in it for me? – what can I gain from participating in a tweet chat?
  • How do I follow a tweet chat? – how do I sign up and join in?
  • How do I find tweet chats?

Follow up posts will cover topics such as:

  • Tweet chats on mental health topics with links to some of the best!
  • What can I expect during a tweet chat? – what format does a well-run tweet chat follow?
  • Tweet chat do’s and don’ts – tweet chat etiquette & suggestions for getting the most from your tweet chats
  • Tweet chat troubleshooting – some common problems and what to do about them

If you have some personal favourite top tips for tweet chats or have comments on mine, let me know by adding them to the comments below – or tweet me!

.

What is a tweet chat?

A tweet chat (or Twitter chat) can simply mean a spontaneous discussion on Twitter between several tweeps (people with Twitter accounts) on a particular topic. In this post, I use the term to mean when the following:

A tweet chat is when people with a common interest gather together on Twitter at a designated time to discuss and share ideas.

So that everyone interested can follow along, people include a unique tag (#) called a hashtag (such as #mhchat) in each tweet. Typically a tweet chat will take place once a week or once a fortnight and will last an hour.

What’s in it for me?

What can you gain from participating in a tweet chat? The benefits depend to a large extent on why you’re using Twitter in the first place. There are so many different reasons. In general, however, here are some good reasons to join in:

  • Find follows – Engaging in a tweet chat on a topic you’re interested in can be a great way to find like-minded people to follow from amongst the millions around the world on Twitter – and to make new online friends – in one concentrated blast.
  • Share and learn – A tweet chat is an excellent way to communicate and share knowledge on a topic- and to learn in ways you may never have anticipated.
  • Engage – As tweet chats are open. public and in real time, you get the opportunity to engage with, make an impact on and learn from people you might never meet in real life.
  • Spread awareness – Engaging in tweet chats can help you spread awareness of your own brand and ideas, and create content and connections to enhance your personal influence. That’s a bit of a mouthful but what it means is that, if you’re starting out or branching out, tweet chats can give you a leg up.

How do I follow a tweet chat?

First, you’ll need to sign up to get a free Twitter account. Then, once you’ve found some relevant chats (see below), you can check the designated hashtag at the time the chat is scheduled to take place. Alternatively, follow the tweeps who run the chats (the organisers or moderators) to get updates on their upcoming sessions.

This is what you'll see when you first log in to tweetchat.com - type the hashtag into the box

This is what you’ll see when you first log in to tweetchat.com (though with your Twitter background, not mine) – type the hashtag into the box

Once a tweet chat starts, an easy way to follow along is to use a free service like TweetChat (the one I use) or Twitterfall. Just log in with your Twitter user name and password, type the relevant hashtag in the box in the top middle … and you’re off!  (You can also follow a hashtag in services such as  Tweetdeck or Hootsuite: set up a search for the hashtag, and all of the tweets with that hashtag should show up in the search window.)

Only tweets which include the hashtag will appear on screen; they’ll be in a stream, updated as new ones come in – like the screen below right. This means you won’t be distracted by seeing tweets by people you follow who aren’t using the hashtag; and you won’t miss out on tweets by people you don’t follow.

You can watch the chat, tweet into it and reply to others’ tweets – all at the same time, in the same screen

This is what a tweet chat looks like in tweetchat.com (though it will have your Twitter background)

This is what a tweet chat looks like in tweetchat.com (though it will have your Twitter background)

Popular tweet chats can have tweets coming in at a furious rate, so you might want to just observe (“lurk”) for a while – maybe even the first couple of times – till you feel comfortable joining in. When you want to tweet into the chat, remember to include the relevant hashtag so others following the chat can see them. If you’re signed in with a service like TweetChat, the hashtag will be added automatically.

How do I find tweet chats?

To find a relevant tweet chat, ask tweeps you know, search Twitter or search online for “tweet chat schedule”.

In my next post on tweet chats, I’ll post tweet chats which cover mental health topics. In the meantime, if you have some personal favourite top tips for tweet chats, have comments on mine or know of some great tweet chats, let me know by adding them to the comments below – or tweet me!

.

Web links thumbnail.

.

.

.

Help yourself! What are your favourite free online mental health resources?

9 Oct
My photo of Souzou: Outsider Art from Japan at Wellcome Collection

My photo of Souzou: Outsider Art from Japan at Wellcome Collection

.

Update small.

More links have been added below (scroll down) – please keep them coming!

.

.

In the resources section of my website, I have a little page tucked away entitled self help. It’s where I’ve posted links to useful online resources to help you manage your mental health. It’s a random collection of what I happen to have stumbled across, mostly on twitter. I have to admit that I haven’t tried any of them personally – but they come highly recommended.

I’d like the page to be as helpful as possible – and I also know there will be things out there that I’d find useful myself, if only I knew about them! – so I’m inviting suggestions of free online resources that you have used and found helpful – or, alternatively, ones that you’d recommend people steer clear of! I’d like to mine the hive mind and see what we can come up with to help ourselves – so we can side-step those pesky waiting lists for treatment or do our best whilst waiting for treatment.

So far, my self help page includes links to three areas:

.

Free online cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT)

What is CBT? As Living Life to the Full describes it, “CBT is a structured form of psychotherapy that aims to alter the unhelpful thinking (cognitions) & behaviour that commonly occur during times of distress.” The 4 resources I’ve come across so far are:

  • e-couch – An online programme for preventing and coping with depression, generalised anxiety disorder and social anxiety
  • Living Life to the Full (twitter @llttfnews) – This was recommended to me during a ward round. It’s a free life skills resource teaching practical skills using CBT. The strapline is, “Be happier, sleep better, do more, feel more confident” – which sounds pretty good to me!
  • MoodGYM – An Australian National University training programme that teaches CBT skills for preventing and coping with depression.
  • Moodjuice – A site developed by Choose Life Falkirk and the Adult Clinical Psychology Service, NHS Forth Valley. The site is designed to offer information, advice to those experiencing troublesome thoughts, feelings and actions.

.

Free online mindfulness

What is mindfulness? It’s a method of mental training, a simple form of meditation that can be quite quick to do – and can be done any time, any place, anywhere. The resources below include guided mindfulness exercises you can listen to online or download for later.

  • Frantic WorldFree meditations from mindfulness, taken from the book ‘Mindfulness: Finding Peace in a Frantic World’. The book contains the complete 8 week mindfulness course developed at Oxford University.
  • Free Mindfulness – A collection of free-to-download mindfulness meditation exercises.“
  • MindfulFree online audio and video mindfulness instruction, online courses in mindfulness and other resources
  • UCLA Mindful Awareness Research CentreFree guided meditations

.

Free online bipolar disorder resources:

  • Beating Bipolar“Beating Bipolar is an interactive internet based programme that aims to improve understanding of the condition. It includes video of professionals and people with lived experience of bipolar disorder and discuses various approaches that many have found to be beneficial.”

.

Have you used a free online resource that’s helped (or hindered!) you to manage your mental health? If so, I’d really appreciate it if you could share that with me – so I can share that with the lovely twitter people and readers of this blog. I know you’ll have some great ones, so I’m really looking forward to being able to add them to this blog … and thank you in advance!

.Update small

.

UPDATE: Here are some of the fab links I’ve been sent already (they’ll be added to the self help page shortly):

.

.

.

Can stigma be challenged by evoking stigmatising stereotypes? From the Maudsley to Bedlam

2 Oct

Bedlam Hospital

Earlier today, the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust (SLaM) announced the title of its new Channel 4 mental health series. Filmed over a year, the four-part observational documentary series would take what was billed as an “in-depth and unprecedented look” at “the reality of providing [and receiving] mental health services in the twenty first century”. We were promised “exclusive access” to patients and staff “covering aspects of mental illness you may never have seen before”.

So far, so enticing and, with the prestigious SLaM at the helm, we were sure to be in safe hands. And yet, what title had SLaM chosen for the series? Bedlam.

Yes, Bedlam. That institution dating from medieval times the mention of which evokes images of madmen, chaos and barbaric treatments: just put the word in a search engine and see what pops up. Images of naked people writhing on the floor in crowded rooms, watched over by ladies in crinolines holding handkerchiefs to their noses. Of unhappy people chained to walls – by the neck. Images that play to every negative stereotype – such as dangerousness and unpredictability – about mental ill health.

This post explores my conversation with SLaM over the course of the day, together with fascinating insights from the lovely twitter people on whether Bedlam was a suitable choice for the forthcoming documentary series. Ultimately, SLaM decided that they will publish a statement setting out in more detail the background to the filming as well as what they refer to as “the name issue”.  At present, I’m left with a number of important unanswered questions. Read on to find out more.

.

[Update: On Thursday 3rd, SLaM issued a statement – linked below – clarifying their choice of name.]

.

.

My reaction on seeing the title of the new documentary series was: this title has been chosen purely to grab attention, sacrificing stigma-busting on the altar of viewer numbers. So I tweeted to SLaM:

“Curious to know why a documentary series about today’s mental health services has been given a name from the Medieval age. Can we expect footage of today’s treatments to be interspersed with dramatic reconstructions and references to Medieval ones? If so, can we see actors writhing in straitjackets or chained up in baths. Would make for entertaining TV!”

Hey, why not go the whole hog and call it Straitjacket, Chemical Cosh or even Naked Lunatics? SLaM replied, “It’s a reference to our heritage – we can trace our roots back to 1247. Our website can provide more info,” and linked back to the original press release. Indeed, I’d already read this in the press release:

“The title was decided upon both by SLaM and Channel 4. It’s based on the fact that SLaM can trace its roots back to 1247 when the Priory of St Mary of Bethlehem was established in the City of London. The priory, which became a refuge for the sick and infirm, was known as ‘Bedlam’ and was the earliest form of what is now Bethlem Royal Hospital.”

Yes, but … this is a series about modern mental healthcare, not the history of treating mental illness. This was a series which SLaM said they hoped would:

“… help challenge the stigma and discrimination that still exists today and to promote better awareness and understanding of mental health issues.”

Which brings me to the premise of this blog post, namely:

Is it possible to challenge stigma by evoking stigmatising stereotypes? Is it possible to promote better awareness and understanding of mental health issues by conjuring images of medieval madhouses and Victorian lunatic asylums?

SLaM’s view is, it seems, yes. But what did others think? Here are some of the responses I received when I asked the lovely twitter people. They are well worth reading, as they contain some of what Eric Pickles would call “frank advice” as well as hilarious suggestions.

Following feedback from myself and others, SLaM will be publishing additional information about the series and the choice of name. I look forward to reading it because, at present, I have several unanswered questions, based on my personal experience of working with the media. My queries are:

.

Queries relating to SLaM:

  • Knowledge and consent: Did participants agree to the series being named after a notorious lunatic asylum? When patients and staff signed consent forms to be filmed for a documentary series on modern mental healthcare, were they asked if they agreed to be linked with most notorious lunatic asylum? Were they asked about the name change from modern-day The Maudsley to medieval Bedlam?
  • Name choice: How was the series name chosen and by whom? Who – Channel 4 or SLaM – suggested Bedlam as the series name? Who at SlaM had the final say on name choice and – given SLaM said to me that it was decided “after much debate” – how were participants (staff and especially patients) involved in the debate and the decision?
  • Name choice: What other options were considered and why were they rejected? Why was the documentary – whose working title was “The Maudsley” – renamed “Bedlam? The team behind the series has produced other fly-on-the-wall documentaries with enticing but non-stigmatising titles such as 24 Hours in A&E, The Audience, Inside Claridges and The Year the Town Hall Shrank. Why is it only their series on mental health problems that gets a salacious title?
  • Timing: When did SLaM know that Bedlam was Channel 4’s preferred choice? SLaM said to me that, “It [the choice of name] was decided quite late in the day after much debate.” But was it really the unspoken agreement from the outset that Bedlam would be the series name of choice? Did SLaM know this when the August press release went out? Did they know earlier but not let on because the controversial name might have put off staff and patients from participating?
  • What will the impact be on SLaM’s reputation? Will trust in SLaM be damaged or enhanced by this collaboration with Channel 4? Will patients and staff feel stigmatised – or honoured by the association?Claridges cricket

.

Broader queries arising from the debate:

  • Is all publicity good publicity? There is no doubt that Bedlam has stigmatising connotations for people experiencing mental distress, their families and mental health staff; but is this a price worth paying for getting the subject a TV audience? Do the ends justify the means?
  • What lessons can be learned about engaging positively with the media? Are NHS trusts savvy enough to get what they want from TV companies in deals like this or do they get manipulated and suckered into doing more than is wise? Is working with TV always going to be a pact with the devil and about getting what little gains you can? When you lay down with dogs, will you always get up with fleas?
  • What is the best way to exploit valuable brands like “Bedlam” and “Broadmoor” for maximum positive impact? On Channel 5 at present is a two-part documentary series, Inside Broadmoor, which has been criticised as using every mental illness stereotype in the book. But would a psychiatric hospital get airtime without the hook of a brand name like Bedlam or Broadmoor? And if, using them as a hook risk plays into the zombie apocalypse/dangerous and unpredictable narrative that exists around mental illness, can they be used productively at all?
  • Is mental ill health too boring for TV unless it’s presented in a dramatic way? Is the only way to mental health problems portrayed on TV to provide a hook – like thirteenth century madness and torture? Do TV production companies consider audiences capable of only being interested in a topic if there is jeopardy, conflict or a journey; and, if so, how can that reality be made to work for the mental health lobby?
  • Can a good programme get its message across despite a bad title? National anti-stigma campaign Time to Change says a good story can be weakened by poor image choice; it therefore follows that a good TV series can be weakened by poor title choice. Is it really possible to challenge stigma by evoking stigmatising stereotypes?
  • What does the future hold for mental health documentaries? Will patients and staff in future be happy to participate in such programmes, knowing a stigma dump-and-run could take place?

–    

These are questions I am pondering and perhaps SLaM’s promised update on their new documentary series will answer some of them. I hope so.

My reservations about the series first arose when I saw the initial press release back in August. I assumed – because of the use of stigmatising language – that it was written by someone in the public relations team who was away the day the mental health awareness training was given. But, even so, someone approved it for publication. For instance, the initial press release makes these gaffs:

  • References to “the mentally ill” and “those who suffer with mental illness”, both of which are advised against in the Time to Change guidance on use of language around mental health issues.
  • Presenting a false dichotomy of what it’s like to manage a mental health condition: “Many people manage their illness with medication; others walk a daily tightrope with the possibility of relapsing at any time.”
  • Referring to “manic depression”, a diagnostic category which was superseded decades ago.
  • Describing Lambeth Hospital’s accident and emergency department in lurid terms: “In a postcode with the highest rates of psychosis in Europe, this is the Accident and Emergency of mental health … For our staff it’s all about risk management … Getting it wrong could have tragic consequences.” This is the zombie apocalypse narrative of mental illness.

Was the person who signed off this press release involved in the decision to call a documentary series on modern mental healthcare Bedlam? I don’t know. But it will be interesting to see what the documentary looks when it’s broadcast at the end of the month. Especially since the production company behind it also brought us a documentary from another residential setting with a long history … namely Claridges.

.

See below for further related links.

.

.

web links 5

..

.

.

.

.

 

  • Time to Change

    • Guidance on image choice in stories with a mental health element, from the national anti-stigma campaign in – “Some really strong stories that may include great content and have educational value can be weakened by the use of an innappropriate image.” Why shouldn’t the same be true of TV? In other words, a really strong documentary that may include great content and have educational value can be weakened by use of an an inappropriate title.
    • Guidance on language use around mental health issues (which advises against using such phrases as “the mentally ill” and people “suffering with” mental illness, as used in the August SLaM press release)

    .

  • Mental health on TV – some portrayals this year:

    • Inside BroadmoorChannel 5‘s current 2-part documentary – “This remarkable two-part documentary special marks the 150th anniversary of Broadmoor, home to Britain’s most notorious killers. With exclusive and unprecedented access to Broadmoor’s archives, this film unfolds the extraordinary history of the world’s most famous and feared hospital. Why was it originally created, and what has it become?”
    • My Mad Fat Diary“Set in the mid-90s at the height of Cool Britannia, this six-part drama is based on Rae Earl’s real-life diaries. It takes a hilarious and honest look at teenage life through the eyes of Rae, a funny, music-mad 16 year old who, despite an eccentric mother, body image and mental health” – Channel 4‘s drama series which opens with Rae being discharged from psychiatric hospital after months of treatment. Covers self-harm.
    • It’s a Mad World – A season of BBC Three films looking at a range of mental health issues affecting young people in Britain today, including:
      • Don’t Call Me Crazy – 3-part series filmed over a year at a teenage inpatient psychiatric unit
      • Football’s Suicide Secret“Clarke Carlisle investigates the dark side of professional sport: depression, addiction and suicide.”
      • Diaries of a Broken Mind“Using handheld cameras, 20 extraordinary young people with a range of health disorders from OCD to schizophrenia show us what life is really like as they navigate the rocky road into adulthood.”
      • Rachel Bruno: My Dad and Me“26-year-old Rachel is the daughter of Frank Bruno, the ex-heavyweight boxing champion who is one of Britain’s most famous sufferers of bipolar affective disorder.”
      • Failed by the NHS“26-year-old Jonny Benjamin, who has schizophrenia and depression, investigates why many young people with mental illness are failing to get the right treatment from the NHS.”
      • Extreme OCD Camp – 2-part documentary – “6 British teenagers and young adults living with OCD embark on a unique, life changing week-long treatment course in the US, where course leaders use exposure therapy to enable their participants to confront their fears.”
      • Inside My Mind – The science behind mental health problems
      • Free Speech – Young people debate whether modern life is driving us mad

    .

  • Additional links:

    • Image search for “Bedlam” – the results of this search are not how I perceive modern inpatient mental healthcare (and I’ve been on the receiving end of some of the worst of it)

.

.

.