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Unexpected questions – I didn’t expect to be asked that!

11 Apr


Fearless baby - now that looks like a risky activity!

Fearless baby – now that looks like a risky activity!

Since coming into contact with mental health services, I’ve been asked all sorts of questions I never imagined I’d be asked. Questions by a social worker as part of a needs assessment for a care plan, a mental health advocate at Mind, a mental health day centre and my new support worker as part of preparing my support plan. These include:

  • How long after we don’t hear from you should we consider you to be missing? That’s one to ponder when you’re asked out of the blue. The support worker suggested two weeks or a month. I said one day: I’d like to think someone would start looking for me after a day, you know?
  • Do you have access to children? “Access” to children? How does that work? I was asked that as part of a needs assessment for a Care Plan.
  • Do you have a history of violence or aggression? Really? Do people get asked these questions when they’re assessed for a medical problem? No.
  • What is your level of trust and hope in services? I was asked this only today as part of my support plan now I’m getting my first ever support worker. Well, when you factor in PTSD then parking on meds and benefits, frankly pretty low.
  • What risky activities do you engage in? Ooh, eating food just past its ‘best before’ date? Going for a walk without a pac-a-mac? This prompted some hilarious responses from the lovely twitter people!

Read the full twitter conversation here.




What does mental illness look like? Asda and the mental patient

29 Sep

Halloween (1) SEP 2013

Have you been thinking along these lines or have things like this been said to you? Do you want to understand the other side of the argument or know how others have responded?

  • Isn’t this all a bit over the top? Don’t get so het up about it, it’s just a fancy dress costume! There are more important things to worry about. Get your priorities straight! 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!
  • No offence was intended – it wasn’t intentional!
  • You’re just drawing attention to all this. Ignore it and it’ll go away.
  • It’s freedom of expression1 You’re trying to censor me! It’s a dangerous slippery slope when you start trying to ban things!

If so, read on to find out what people have written on this subject, why it’s important, and what comes next.

Blog post to follow hopefully in the future, once it’s all percolating through the medication haze. In the meantime, here are my tweets from the evening of 25th. A

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



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My related links:


Responses from health and mental health organisations:


Other organisations:




Mainstream media coverage:


Overseas media:


Criticisms of the anti-stigma campaign:






What does mental illness look like? The head clutcher

31 May
The Scream by Edvard Munch, 1895

The Scream by Edvard Munch, 1895

Once you start to notice them, they seem to be everywhere: the head clutcher. What are they? Not the image above, The Scream, an iconic portrayal of human misery, which has been much copied and parodied. Instead, they are stock pictures trotted out to illustrate media stories with a mental health angle, typically showing someone with their head in their hands.

I’ve tweeted about them before and, last week, I started to do so using the hashtag #headclutcher after seeing one stock photo (below right) appear in 3 separate media stories in the same day! Poor woman.

Head clutcher woman - she's popular with the press

Head clutcher woman – she’s popular with the press

In this blog post, I’ve drawn together what others have written about the head clutcher, including the blog by tweeter @Huwtube. After seeing my #headclutcher tweets, he wrote an hilarious post entitled The Rise of the Headclutcher, critiquing various such shots. It’s well worth checking out if you want a laugh.

Of course the serious side of this is that using stock head clutcher photos perpetuates an image in the public mind of what mental distress looks like. And, if you don’t meet that stereotype, well clearly you’re not deserving of help.

I’ve commented on this before (here) and I’ve experienced this myself. I can appear confident and cheerful and this counted against me in an Atos medical assessment (for eligibility for state sickness benefits): after checking I could touch my toes and reach overhead, the assessor noted in his written report that, because I had made eye contact, I must be fine. No mental health problems whatsoever. Perhaps if I’d spent the assessment with my head in my hands I’d have met with his expectations of what mental illness looks like and scored more than the zero points I was awarded.

As national anti-stigma campaign Time to Change says (in its guidance to journalists on choosing images to accompany stories with a mental health angle), “Some really strong stories that may include great content and have educational value can be weakened by the use of an inappropriate image”. We can do better. We should do better. We must do better.

Check out the links below for more examples of head clutcher shots, together with others’ blogs on the subject. And, if you come across more head clutcher shots or other stereotypical representations of mental illness in the media, please feel free to add them in the comments below.

Happy head clutching!


web links 5.

My head clutcher Storify stories (with links):


Links to others’ stories on the head clutcher and other media representations of mental illness:


Media guidance:Head clutcher Simpsons The Scream


Other stories about the use of stock photos:


Mainstream media stories illustrated by head clutcher pictures (often the same one):


Headclutchers in stories by other commentators:



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.

Psychiatrist humour: the alternative DSM-5?

3 Jan

The doctor is in JAN 2013

Happy New Year and thank you for taking the time to read my blog.

I do enjoy a good laugh, and sometimes it’s psychiatrists helping me to find my funny bone. First there was UK psychiatrist Dopamine Diva. Back in December, she revealed what she’d really like to say when asked, “Will these tablets turn me into a zombie …?”). That conversation still makes me laugh 2 weeks later.

Now there’s more hilarity from US psychiatrist Satirical Shrink, who tweets as @SatiricalShrink. She’s summarised, in 140 characters or less, 10 common psychiatric diagnoses using the hashtage #DimeStorePsychiatry.

It got me thinking that maybe US psychiatrists could do away with all the drama and controversy surrounding the rewrite of their psychiatric reference manual, the DSM-IV, and just use these 10 Twitter categories instead. Have a look for yourself and see what you think.

Remember, the clue is in the name: these tweets are satirical. They’re not intended as judgments.

Lesson #1: The Narcissist, aka Prima Donna. Plus: Life of the party. Minus: No one else can attend.

Lesson #2: Obsessive-Compulsive, aka Anal Retentive. Plus: Tends to be neat. Minus: Tends to be maddening.

Lesson #3: Paranoid, aka Conspiracy Theorist. Plus: Picks up on cues. Minus: Cues usually wrong.

Lesson #4: Addict, aka Drunk or Dope Fiend. Plus: Likes to have fun. Minus: Likes to be numb.

 Lesson #5 Passive-Aggressive aka Dawdler/Martyr. Plus: Easy to get along with. Minus: Hard to get along with.

Lesson #6: The Depressive, aka Eeyore. Plus: Emotionally sensitive. Minus: Emotional baggage.

Lesson #7 The Control Freak, aka Backseat Driver. Plus: Highly productive. Minus: Highly eruptive.

Lesson #8 The Phobic, aka Yellow Belly. Plus: Always prepared. Minus: Always scared.

Lesson #9 (my personal fav) The Rage-aholic, aka Loose Cannon. Plus: Strong-willed. Minus: Strong lungs.

Lesson #10 The Sociopath, aka Con Man. Plus: Really charming. Minus: Really harming.

Do you recognise yourself or anyone you know in these tweets? I know I do! Let me know in the comments section below what you think of these categories, and any ones you think should be added in.

A bit about SatiriSatirical Shrink stethascopecal Shrink. Her Twitter bio is, “Teaching Physician. Psychiatrist. Writer. Raging workaholic, working rageaholic. Out of rehab and in denial. No, you can’t have any fucking Xanax”. She decribes her location as, “5th Circle of Hell” (though appears to be based in the US). Her current Twitter pic is to the left.

Here’s a link to the Storify story of Satirical Shrink’s tweets. Hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

I’ll add more psychiatrist humour as I come across it. Never underestimate the power of laughter.



Happy Christmas Atos!

21 Dec

A collection of tweet stories on the Atos Work Capability Assssment (WCA) process:



Tuesday 5Updateth February 2013: I was finally able to put my Atos form in the post. Not complete, but as complete as I could make it with the limited help provided. With services at CMHT slashed (eg almost all the support workers have been let go), if you can’t do these things on your own you’re pretty much stuffed.



Will these tablets turn me into a zombie …?

19 Dec

Dopamine Diva butterfly

Here’s a link to an hilarious conversation I had with Dopamine Diva, who tweets as @Dopamine_Diva and describes herself as, “Mildly eccentric psychiatrist. Not always completely euthymic myself. I like chocolate, knitting and rock music.”

The photo on the left is her Twitter pic.

Dopamine Diva says she’s frequently asked, “Will these tablets turn me into a zombie?” “To which I reply, ‘No. My aim is to get you well and doing the things you want to do. If they make you sleepy, I’ll change them’.

“However I’d prefer to say, ‘Yes. Yes they will. It will be awesome, and we can see if the hospital’s Zombie Plan is any good.'”

Which still makes me laugh every time I read it.

Here’s a link to a Storify story of the original tweets. Well worth reading if you want a belly laugh.

Of course the flip side to the story is that commonly prescribed psychiatric medications like antipsychotics can be highly sedating. That’s why they’re prescribed for insomnia. And (because of their weight gain properties) also for anorexia. And becoming a fat zombie isn’t so funny after all.


Mental health: psychiatrist bingo

11 Dec

Buzzword bingo

Here are some tweets I sent this afternoon after coming out of an appointment with my psychiatrist.

These appointments tend to be fairly hard going and, no matter how I try, I tend to come out of them feeling fairly flattened by his bulldozing and bullying.

I try various tricks to try to get myself through them. Now I generally try to just speak when spoken to and respond only to my psychiatrist’s questions rather than offering something of my own. But sometimes I do need to ask something. Such as what happened to the referral my psychiatrist made in June … But no good can come from that.

So this time it was “Psychiatrist Bingo“: mentally ticking off my psychiatrists pet phrases or behaviours each time one popped out. And often they came out more than once. Here’s a link to the Storify story.Bingo

Why do I put myself through these appointments? Because my GP, with whom I have a good relationship, really doesn’t feel confident in managing my condition without back up from an expert. Because being seen by a psychiatrist at the Community Mental Health Team is a gateway to other services (like the day centre I’ve just joined). Because I’ll need a letter from a psychiatrist as part of the pending Atos work capability assesment (WCA) process.

What would I like in a psychiatrist? Simple: someone who worked with me as a partner on a journey towards health. I’ve tried to build that relationship with my psychiatrist. Utterly fruitless. Hence Psychiatrist Bingo. Because, if you can’t have a healthcare partnership, at least you can have a laugh (or at least smile inwardly whilst looking deferential).



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