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Laughing at mental illness – good news for Russell Howard

25 Apr

Russell Howards Good News 3

I really enjoy radio and TV comedy and comedy clubs. As I tweeted a couple of weeks ago:

“I love laughing. And this comedy series with @RussellHoward always ends with an uplifting story.”

My tweet included a link to the BBC Three show Russell Howard’s Good News. This show, now in its eighth series, is written by Howard and is a light hearted upbeat sample of the previous week’s news stories. The show includes lots of humorous video clips and newspaper headlines, a mystery guest with a whimsical skill which Howard samples on stage, and ends with an unashamedly cheesy story. The show’s material is tested in front of an audience on Sunday, filmed on Tuesday then the show airs on Thursday. It’s the channel’s most successful entertainment show ever.

Last Thursday, to warm people up for the new series that started tonight, Howard’s 2011 stage show Right Here, Right Now was broadcast. The tour played to over 200,000 fans and is one of Howard’s best selling DVDs. That’s a whole lot of people laughing along to the series of jokes I was shocked to see Howard tell on the theme of “madnRussell Howards Good News 5ess” and “lunacy”.

Here was Mr Upbeat, Mr Uplifting Story, Mr “It’s not all doom and gloom”, telling jokes using mental illness as an insult. Not only that, the routine repeated inaccurate and damaging stereotypes, linking mental illness with violence.

I wondered why Howard, in particular, was going for cheap jokes and easy stereotypes. Perhaps comedians have run out of groups to laugh at. Perhaps they think laughing at mental illness is still okay, now they’re not supposed to tell racist or homophobic jokes any more. Why not laugh at people who can’t stand up and challenge it, for fear of being the subject of stigma and discrimination themselves? Go for it. It’s easy to laugh at autistic children, as Howard did in his mental illness routine. Fair game.

Last week, a flyer came through my letterbox for a local comedy club. I’d love to go again. I used to sit in the front row with a foot resting on the stage, waiting to be picked on, enjoying every moment of the show.

Would it be the same if I were to go now? How would I feel now if I were in a comedy club and the comedian started telling jokes that make fun of mental illness? What would I do? Laugh along? Sit it out? Heckle? Leave?

What about you? You’re in a comedy club. You’re enjoying an evening out with your friends. The comedian’s really funny. And then the jokes about mental illness start.

Not jokes based on the teller’s personal experience – it can be good to laugh at ourselves after all, especially if the joke is really funny. But no. Jokes that use mental illness as an insult. Jokes that equate mental illness with stupidity. Jokes that repeat dangerous stereotypes, like people with mental illness are violent. Jokes that aren’t clever and aren’t funny. Jokes where the mental illness punchline is throw in where in the past a racist or homophobic stereotype would have done the same job.

Would you laugh along at the jokes, trying to blend in? Would you sit it out, hoping no-one noticed you, waiting for that segment of the routine to pass? Would you excuse yourself quietly and go to the toilet or get a drink from the bar while the routine played out, then rejoin your group? Would you quietly walk out, leaving the comedian and audience to laugh at mental illness while you go elsewhere, or go home?

Would you walk out noisily? Would you heckle the comedian? Would you call out something witty to make him think twice about poking fun with people with mental health problems? How would you feel? What would you do?

Take a look at the varied responses of the lovely twitter people here.



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Russell Howard mental illness.

Mental health nurse & patient tweet chat: what do newbies need to know?

11 Feb

Psychiatric Nurse - Garrison - Book cover

Update small..

The tweet chat took place on Thursday 20th February 2014 with We Nurses – catch up with the discussion by taking a look at the full transcript!


I’m planning my first one hour tweet chat in a couple of weeks (date to be announced). (Check out my quick guide to tweet chats for more on what they are – this and other helpful links are below). Here’s what I have in mind, for an inpatient mental health nursing tweet chat:

  • Patients: Are you a patient who’s experienced inpatient mental health nursing? What would you like the newbies to know – the student nurses about to start a placement or the newly qualified mental health nurse. What things that nurses did – good or bad – made a difference to your experience on ward?
  • Students: Are you about to qualify as a mental health nurse? Are you a student nurse about to start your mental health placement?  What is the balance between fear and excitement? What would you like to know? What practical concerns do you have? What do you want help with to make your first days on ward a success?
  • Nurses: Are you a qualified mental health nurse? Are you a student nurse who has completed your mental health placement? What tips would you like to pass on to newbies about to qualify or about to undertake a placement? What are those little insider tips that really helped? What would you have liked to know when you were a newbie?

I’d like to be able to share some really useful tips to help new mental health nurses and nursing students make their best start on ward, because that benefits both staff and patients. Here are some example questions I’ve thought up that students might want to know the answer to:

“How can I prepare for my placement so I get the most from it?”

How can I put the knowledge I’ve learned at university into practice on the ward?”

“How can I settle in as quickly as possible so I fit in with my nursing team and ward life?”

“How can I switch off after a shift?”

“What should I do if I see another nurse doing treating a patient unkindly?”

Here are some examples of useful tips to pass on:

The Bic 4-colour pens are really useful for filling in your paperwork.”

“Remember to always respect the patient as an individual and see past the diagnosis.”

“Don’t make assumptions or have preconceived ideas based on what you’ve been told before. Remain open-minded and make your own judgments based on your own personal experiences.”

As I’m not a nurse and haven’t run a tweet chat before, I’ve invited @MHnursechat – associated with the awesome We Nurses website and tweet chats – to run a joint tweet chat with me. We’re going to be discussing how this will work and, hopefully, setting a date. Very exciting!

In preparation for the tweet chat, I’m asking you to please share your tips and questions. That will help set the agenda to be followed and the areas we’ll focus on in the tweet chat – so it covers the most burning questions and drills down to the most useful tips. It may be that there will be more than one tweet chat on this topic – perhaps one covering what nurses need to know in their first few days, and another for when they’ve been there a few weeks. We’ll see. A tweet chat needs to have enough of a focus to engage people without overwhelming them, but at the same time enough breadth so it doesn’t peter out prematurely! If there are other topics you think would be good for tweet chats then please let me know!

You can comment below or tweet me (please don’t try to pack more than one query or tip into each tweet ) @Sectioned_ (please remember the underscore). It’s helpful if you could say whether you’re offering your comment from your experience as a patient, nurse or student. Look forward to hearing from you!

Why a tweet chat? I’m often interested in discovering what other tweeps think about topics and then sharing those insights. So, quite a few times, I’ve tweeted questions then collated the responses into a Storify story which I’ve sometimes turned into a blog. (I was rather excited to learn that this is called “crowd sourcing” and “curating the chat”.) This time I thought I’d try making it a bit more organised & involve more people: I’m beginning to learn just how valuable Twitter is as a way to bring together groups of people to share views openly in a way they might not otherwise do. (I’m told this is called “disruption” – disrupting the natural order of things and mixing it up, like mental health peeps and staff learning together.) (Thanks to Victoria Betton for all the cool jargon!)

Why this topic? After all, I’m not a nurse. As a child, however, I remember being taken to one of the big long-stay psychiatric hospitals of the sort portrayed in the film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. I remember the high ceilings, big windows and long corridors. Happily I wasn’t being booked in myself. I was visiting family friends who worked there as psychiatric nurses. Members of my family also worked on psychiatric wards and in nursing.  When I was sectioned a couple of years ago, my inpatient experience fell far short of the care I would hope all psychiatric nurses aim to deliver. You could say that everything that could go wrong did go wrong. But, as I’ve been around nurses my whole life, I know that the image and practice of mental health nursing has come a very long way since the fearsomely controlling figure portrayed by Nurse Ratched. For me, nurses are (or should be) an essential part of the team that helps get me well. So I’m all for sharing tips and best practice to help nurses be their best. I’m hoping this tweet chat will be one small way to do that.



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  • Guide to tweet chats – all you need to know to join in your first tweet chat or get more from them
  • Mental health jargon buster and acronym buster – please send yours in! We’ll try to avoid jargon during the tweet chat itself, but if the jargon’s in the jargon buster, I can just tweet a copy of that by way of explanation

For the nurses and student nurses amongst you, here’s some nurse-focussed content:



Hot baths & how I relax

4 Feb

The new cover for The Bell JarIMG-20130124-00982

“There must be quite a few things a hot bath won’t cure, but I don’t know many of them.” So wrote poet Sylvia Plath in her novel The Bell Jar, whose central character has clinical depression. Hot baths are certainly a remedy I turn to when feeling out of sorts. There’s a reason my Twitter avatar is a bath filled with hot water.

Last weekend, I was with a group who took turns to share one thing they did to nurture themselves, as a pick-me-up, to relax. Naturally I  mentioned my favourite cure all, the hot bath. One woman, when asked what she did to nurture herself, burst into tears and said she never had any time for herself. Then she remembered she’d recently had her nails done, and her nails were indeed a glorious deep berry colour. And, as we went round the group, we all learned new ways we could try out to relax ourselves.

I was really inspired by some of the suggestions, so thought I’d share them with the lovely Twitter people and at the same time ask them for their tips. If you can’t think of some way to nurture yourself, or are looking for some inspiration from things that work for others, take a look at the suggestions below and in the linked Storify story of tweets where there are many more.

I’m pretty sure there’s something for everyone! And if you have a tip of your own to share, please feel free to comment below or tweet me to be added to the Storify story of tweets.


Here are some things the women in the group said they did to relax, to nurture themselves, to care for themselves:

“I sit in a coffee shop & watch people.”

“On Sunday, when I go for my long run, I take off my watch, leave my phone behind & just go.”

“I read gossip magazines like Okay. It feels good to focus on something completely superficial.”

“I put on my snuggly dressing gown. Whatever I’m doing, it’s really comforting.”

“One Sunday a month, I turn everything electrical off for the whole day.”

“Walking in nature” & “Walking my dogs.”

“On summer afternoons, I lie on the trampoline in the garden in the sunshine. In winter, I watch TV series.”

“I go to a spa or get a pedicure” & “I paint my nails”.

“I try on clothes in expensive shops!”

“I sit on my prayer mat & imagine it’s a magic carpet transporting me somewhere calm.”

“I spray my favourite perfume in the air” & “I use aromatherapy oils”.


Here are some suggestions from the lovely Twitter people when I asked the following:

What helps you to nurture yourself when you’re feeling out of sorts? What says “me time” to you? What do you to relax? What are your tips? #howIrelax

  • I bake, put radio 4 on and create yummy food … lifts my spirits always (Fibrogirl @fibro_girl)
  • I always watch police programmes – watch someone else get into trouble for a change! (Petrolhead999 @Petrolhead999)
  • My garden, birdwatching, long hot bubble baths, my cats and music (I make ‘rescue’ cds/playlists) for when things are bleak (Liz (@redliz)
  • Do something you enjoy: baking, reading, dancing, seeing friends/family, walking, running, painting. Put a hole in your stress bucket. (LYPFT Library @lypftlib)
  • Hot bath,relaxing music, undersea nature documentary, drawing/painting/collage, writing poetry and masturbation (Michael Brown @brownie1983)
  • Long hot bubble bath seconded. (Stroppy Ambo Woman @Stroppyambo)
  • Watching my pets, baking, knitting, youtubing animals. (Just another one @priorynutter)
  • With mental health specifically: just stopping & forgetting any responsibility I feel to “work through” the feelings of anxiety & depression. (Coffee Zombie @xcoffeezombiex)
  • I play the keyboard. When low it brings me out of myself, when high it burns off rocket fuel safely (Polarbearcub @megandoodah)
  • Knitting, as it helps to keep my mind and my body occupied. I also essential oils as smell is an easy distraction technique. (Bexatron @DuckBeaki)
  • Bath, music, horlicks, clean sheets. oh, and crochet! (Ceri Jones @liberatedwomble)
  • People watching is great. Listen to music. (ForeverMorrissey @Mozgirl71)
  • I take a nice long hot bubble bath, light some incense and candles and play calming music (Sarah @sarahxXx1990)
  • I tend to put headphones on to block out the world with music or a marathon of a favorite tv show. (Roiben @roiben)
  • I’ve always been helped by music, both listening and playing, can relax, elate, or show you’re not on your own (Shaun Blezard @cluttermusic)
  • I watch the sunrise, and sunset! (Rokayah415 @Rokayah415)
  • Read novels, swim, workout at the gym, pat my cat, go shopping (not food), watch movies (Anna Butterfly @aButterfly123)
  • As a nerd I play computer games to purge my mind of the insanity of my day. Nothing like wiping out Alien hordes to destress (Notjarvis @notjarvis)
  • Has to be the relax cd by Paul McKenna for me with benzoin aromatherapy oil! (Michelle @oldtrouty)
  • Favourite music, lush baths & clouds. Oh … and Twitter – for good virtual support from good people. (Kimbohud @Kimbohud)


If you have any suggestions of your own, please comment below, or tweet me to be added to the Storify story (check it out – there are many more helpful suggestions here too).



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  • Storify story “How I relax” of my tweets & those of others. (Last week I learned from Victoria Betton (@VictoriaBetton) that asking people to contribute in this way is called “crowd sourcing”!)
  • Another good way (backed up by science) for reducing stress and anxiety is to look at images of nature & other cute stuff – so I also have a page of cute stuff that I update as I come across new material.
  • Sylvia Plath’s novel The Bell Jar was in the news last week when a new 50th anniversary edition was issued with a controversial “chick lit” cover (pictured above) – eg “The Bell Jar’s new cover derided for branding Sylvia Plath novel as chick lit” (Guardian, 1st February 2013)


Ward newbies: what advice would you give to a patient on a psychiatric ward for the first time?

25 Jan

Welcome to the ward

My stay on a psychiatric ward was a bit of a shocker. No one explained what was happening, why it was happening or what to expect. It seemed there were 1,000 unwritten rules for patients to abide by – or, if they were written down somewhere, they were not communicated to patients. And, as a result, we never knew what was expected or what we’d done wrong.

If only I had had someone to explain how things worked, my stay would have been much more therapeutic. If only staff had communicated with me rather than turning up mob-handed to wordlessly pin me down and inject me with unnamed drugs then disappear. If only staff had taken simple steps like telling me when mealtimes were, rather than waiting for me to spot the trolley being wheeled away from the dining area then saying I was too late to eat. Again. If only I’d been given the ward Welcome Pack on day 1. Rather than day 8.

I know there is great psychiatric inpatient care out there and, even where there isn’t, there are hints and tips that will help inpatients get a more positive experience of their stay on ward.

So, what would your advice be to someone staying on a psychiatric ward for the first time?First day

  • Are you a patient on ward now? What questions do you have? What advice so far has been helpful to you? Perhaps you wonder why your phone charger has been taken. Or why there’s someone watching you and making notes on a clipboard several times an hour. Or how to get hold of tampons and a toothbrush.
  • Have you been an inpatient on a mental health ward before? What would you have liked to know when you first arrived? What tips would you like to have been told? What advice do you have for someone who’s being treated on a psychiatric ward for the first time?
  • Are you a member of staff – a health care assistant, nurse, occupational therapist, cleaner, doctor, advocate? What advice would you give to patients on their first stay on a psychiatric ward that would help them understand the experience and get the most from it?
  • Are you an AMHP or police officer who takes people to psychiatric wards or places of safety? What would you like patients to know?

First day 2As TheSchizoPodcaster (@UKschizophrenic) tweeted last night:

“No one has explained anything yet. […] Do staff watch you all the time when you are sectioned? It is normal for this to happen? I don’t like it at all! Makes me angry!”

Student mental  health nurse Kathryn Finch (@Kat_Finch) tweeted back:

“It’s just to monitor how you are and if there’s improvement or not in how you are. They’re looking after you, try to stay calm. You’ll be on obs for at least the first 24 hours. It all depends on how you’re presenting and the risks they feel are there.”

Hopefully that advice was reassuring and useful. Please let me know – either in the comments below or on Twitter – so we can share the best tips for patients on psychiatric wards for the first time.



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  • My Storify story of tips received by Twitter so far … hopefully more to add!
  • The Code of Practice to the Mental Health Act – guidance to staff on their powers and duties, which can give patients an idea of what to expect
  • The Nice Guidelines on Service User Experience in Adult Mental Health – this is the experience NHS care providers are supposed to provide
  • The Wardipedia website’s tips on welcoming new patients



Mental health jargon buster: AMHPs & the Association of Major Holiday Parks

11 Jan

When you first come across the mental health field, there are lots of unfamiliar phrases and acronyms bandied around and you’re left wondering what they mean. If you’ve been in the mental health field for a while, you may be bursting with jargon you want others to know, so they can understand the system better. So – ta dah! – here are my acronym and jargon busters:Image

  • Jargon buster – What on earth does “sectioning” mean anyway? In this section, there are commonly used terms in mental health settings. Please take a look & let me know your favourite jargon so I can add it to the jargon buster. This section really needs help to get it in shape!
  • Acronym buster – An acronym is word formed from the initial letters of other words, such as radar and laser, but also mental health examples like CMHT and AMHP. Does AMHP really stand for the Association of Major Holiday Parks? What’s the Climate Policy Network got to do with CPNs? I  have lots of acronyms already, but I’m sure there are more so please take a look & send me your suggestions.
  • Alternative jargon buster – Here I’ve started a page of silly or ironic definitions, which does need bolstering as it’s light on material at present. Any clever, amusing or ironic definitions are welcome!

Please help me make it more useful by sending your jargon and acronyms – preferable together with their associated definitions!



Top tips for Twitter newbies

8 Jan

Twitter for newbiesYesterday was my first Twanniversary. Hooray! In anticipation of that milestone, I asked the lovely Twitter people what tips they’d give to someone new to Twitter. What would they have wanted to know when they first joined Twitter? And I received some really helpful suggestions.

Many were familiar, some were definitely news to me, and some I’d forgotten and was grateful to be reminded of. Here’s a link to the Storify story with the tweets collated. A selection of helpful tweets appears below (but many more are in the Storify story).

But first, here’s my own top tip for Twitter newbies: ask yourself what you want to get from Twitter and then use Twitter in a way that helps you to achieve that purpose. Why are you using Twitter? What aim do you have in mind? What can Twitter do for you? This will (or should) inform what sort of tweeter you are, from choosing your Twitter name, writing your Twitter bio and choosing your profile picture (avatar) to the topics you tweet about, who you follow and who you connect with.

People use Twitter in many different ways. For instance, you might be looking to connect with like-minded people as a support network. Or you may want to develop your online network as part of career development, or to promote your (or your employer’s) business, or raise awareness of a particular issue. Or perhaps you just want an anonymous outlet for your sarcasm or a fun personal account where you can tweet along with cyber friends to favourite TV programmes and hear breaking news stories, serious and silly. Last year’s “Essex lion” story was a goTwitter Essex Lion police tweetod example of of the sort of fun to be had on Twitter.

You might even want to have have more than one Twitter account and use them for different purposes. For instance, you could use a pseudonymous (pen name) account to connect with people with similar issues anonymously and at the same time have a Twitter account in your own name where you stick to tweeting about stuff that will develop your career profile.

Twitter can soak up a lot of time for no good reason, or even damage your reputation or land you with a lawsuit! But, when used wisely, there are a lot of benefits to using it. So choose what sort of tweeter you want to be and be that tweeter.

And now, here’s a selection of the top Helpful tipsTwitter tips from some of my favourite tweeters (here’s a link to a Storify story with a whole lot more – well worth a read):


“If you’re nervous lurk for a while to get a feel for the Twitterverse.” Helenpleb (@helenlp)


Feel free to ask people and twitter as a whole questions. We like communication and connection.” Roiben (@roiben)


Follow people you’re interested in because they’ll be the people who help you learn. Who you follow influences what you find out.” MarkOneinFour (@MarkOneinFour)
“Follow at least some people who’s views u don’t instinctively agree with” BC (@444blackcat)
140 characters leaves lots of room for confusion. Try not to get annoyed or angry with others who may misunderstand you.” Anne Marie Cunningham (@amcunningham)

“Like begets like. Be interesting and interested, kind and respectful, funny and sceptical.” Jonathon Tomlinson (@mellojonny) quoting Mark Brown (@MarkOneinFour)


“Retweeting is the best compliment you can give someone. Kim Garst(@KimGarst)


“ Listen. Don’t worry too much about follower numbers. Don’t worry about missing stuff. Jump into conversation. And remember manners: behind every avatar is a person with feelings. Don’t forget a public timeline is public.” Ermintrude 2 (@Ermintrude2)


Finally, here’s a link to the Storify story with all the tweets collated in one place. If you have your own top tip or two, feel free to add them by commenting below. Happy tweeting!