Tag Archives: advice

Should we be worried about the rise of antidepressants? #PillShaming

6 Jan

Another post where I’ve set out my thoughts in tweets and hope to write it up into a blog post but, in the meantime, here are the tweets:

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Related links (in date order):

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Mental health moocs – Free online courses

25 Aug

FutureLearn The Mind is Flat.Update small

Scroll to the foot of the post for updates on newer courses

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One day about a month ago, I introduced two people at the day centre to the concept of the “mooc” – the massive open online course. They were so thrilled that I thought I’d do a little blog about them, to share them with others who might not know that there’s a wealth of online courses from some of the world’s top universities available free of charge.

If you’re looking for courses, a good place to start is FutureLearn from the Open University (@futurelearn, @OpenUniversity) and Coursera (@coursera). FutureLearn only went live this year. Coursera has been running for longer and offers courses from mainly US universities (bear in mind that, in the field of mental health, US thinking and teaching can be very different to that elsewhere). There are many different courses, at all levels, from improving your writing skills through to niche high level academic courses.

Please note:

  • All courses and course material are free of charge. There is no charge to participate in the course. All you’ll need is online access to be able to read or watch course material and to take online progress quizzes and so on. If there’s material to read, it will be available online or to download (for instance, selected book chapters).
  • Typically courses are composed of lots of bite size chunks, including videos, material to read, progress quizzes and end of section reviews.
  • One of the really helpful aspects of moocs is the way they’ve been developed to facilitate online interaction between the (sometimes) thousands of online participants. For instance, courses may have online discussion forums where people can post questions and receive answers from fellow participants. There may also be online groups you can join if, say, you want to take the course in a hurry, at a more leisurely pace or if you’re from a particular country. And, if there isn’t one to suit your needs, why not set one up yourself?
  • Some providers offer optional extras for a small fee, including:
    • Certificate of completion (if you want to have evidence you’ve competed the course, for instance for a CV or job application)
    • Recommended course textbook (there may be a discount rate for course participants buying a recommended book)
  • All courses are complete and beneficial in themselves. However, some may also whet your appetite to take a longer fee-paying course with the same institution. The stand-alone course is worthwhile, but afterwards you may receive online marketing for a related fee-paying course. It’s easy to opt out if you’re not interested.
  • Many moocs will be re-run periodically so, if it’s too much the first time round (I couldn’t join the dots the first time I tried a mooc, which was a bit frustrating), you can always try again later. Or go for a different course.

If you’ve got a particular area of interest, have some spare time on your hands, or want to take your mind out for a little walk to see how it does, why not sign up for a free course? Give it a go. Here are some courses I’ve come across related to mental health. Let me know if you come across others so I can share them here.

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Courses that started recently (you can still join) or are currently open:
  • The Clinical Psychology of Children and Young People“The course will cover the basic guiding principles of the Clinical Psychology of Children and Young People and illustrate how theories of psychological development can be applied in understanding children and young people’s mental health and well being within a wider societal and cultural context. We will also discuss current psychological models of prevention and treatment for Children and Young People. University of Edinburgh (@UniofEdinburgh) (Coursera) – 5 weeks of study, 1-3 hours of work per week – Started 28th July, runs to 7th September
  • Introduction to Psychology“This course is all about you … your mind, your behavior, and what underlies them both. It will be a fast paced tour of the most important experiments in psychology, one that is intended to fascinate, inform, and provoke deep thought. Come learn about yourself with us!”University of Toronto (Coursera) – 8 weeks of study, 4-6 hours of work per week
  • Social Psychology – “Ever wonder why people do what they do? This course offers some answers based on the latest research from social psychology.” – Weslyan University (US) (Coursera) – 7 weeks of study – 4-8 hours of work / week – Started 14th July, runs to 15th September

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Upcoming courses:
  • Major Depression in the Population: A (US) Public Health Approach“Illustrates the principles of public health applied to depressive disorder, including principles of epidemiology, transcultural psychiatry, health services research, and prevention.” – Johns Hopkins University (US) (@JohnsHopkinsSPH) (Coursera) – 7 weeks of study, 2-4 hours of work per week, starts 3rd November
  • The Mind is Flat: the Shocking Shallowness of Human Psychology – “Make better personal and professional decisions and consider the psychological dimension to key ethical and political choices.”University of Warwick (FutureLearn ) – Duration 6 weeks, 5 hours study per week – Starts on 13 October – #FLmindisflat
  • Psychology and Mental Health: Beyond Nature and Nurture“How a psychological understanding of our emotions and behaviour can give us new ways to improve mental health and well-being.”University of Liverpool (FutureLearn ) – With professor of clinical psychology Peter Kinderman (@peterkinderman) – 6 weeks of study, 3 hours per week – Starts 8th September

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Courses that may run again if enough people sign up:
  • Drugs and the Brain“The neuroscience of drugs for therapy, for prevention, and for recreation.  Drug addiction and drug abuse. You’ll learn the prospects for new generations of medications in neurology, psychiatry, aging, and treatment of substance abuse.”Caltech (US) (Coursera) – 7 weeks of study, 4-6 hours of work per week
  • The Social Context of Mental Health and Illness“Learn how social factors promote mental health, influence the onset and course of mental illness, and affect how mental illnesses are diagnosed and treated.”Toronto University (Coursera)
  • Why We Need Psychology“For adults with an interest in the study of human behaviour – especially those who have often considered studying psychology but who have yet to begin.”University of London (Coursera) – 6 weeks of study – 8-10 hours of work per week

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Others:
  • Medicines Adherence: Supporting Patients with their Treatment “How can healthcare professionals help patients to improve their health through medicines adherence?”Kings College London (FutureLearn) – Duration 2 weeks, 2 hours per week, started 25th August – A course to teach doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals how to get patients to adhere to treatment. Wouldn’t it be nice if medics were taught to work in partnership with patients?

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“He’s a psycho” – Professor Adrian Furnham on the importance of cleansing the workplace of undesirables

19 Jun
Harry Enfield as Kevin the Teenager (PA)

Harry Enfield as Kevin the Teenager (PA)

 

Have you seen this? Rachel Hobbs of mental health charity Rethink Mental Illness asked me this afternoon. She was referring to the charity’s response to a piece in the Sunday Times headed “I’m sorry, he’s not a differently gifted worker – he’s a psycho”. I’d just arrived home so hadn’t but, sadly, I had already seen the piece that prompted the rebuttal – and been shocked to the core.

The Sunday Times piece to which Rethink had issued a response advises employers of the necessity of screening job applicants and employees to weed out undesirable ones. The author writes:

“There are three important questions. The first is how you spot these people at selection so you can reject them … The second is, given that they have already been appointed, how to manage them … Sometimes it is a matter of damage limitation …  The third is how to rid your workplace of these maladaptive personalities, and that is the toughest question of all.”

Putting aside for one moment the reference to “maladaptive personalities” and the telltale use of “these people” (a clue that we’re about to experience a group of people being made “other”), this all seems fair enough. After all, what employer wants to end up lumbered with rogues or duffers, or people who are simply not suited to the post being filled?

In any recruitment process, whether to fill a new role or replace a departing employee, some sort of selection process is inevitable. Indeed it is welcome, since it will give both prospective employer and employee the opportunity to see whether post and candidate are a good fit. I’ve read plenty of books and done courses including interview techniques, networking, career development and workplace psychology. I’ve undertaken interviews and assessments. It’s an interesting field and one that can bear fruit for employers and employees.

So what’s the problem? The problem is that the premise of the piece is – regardless of the role to be filled – people fall into two categories: they are either desirable or undesirable in the workplace, and the “unemployables” are to be hunted down and excluded. “These people” are to be avoided at all costs. “These people” have “maladaptive personalities”.

“These people”, according to the piece, fall into 5 categories, namely people who exhibit what is classified as antagonism,  disinhibition (Harry Enfield’s Kevin the Teenager – pictured above – is the illustration the author provides for this category), detachment, negative affect or psychoticism (bear with me – this isn’t made up). Each, as described in the piece, has a clear link to mental health problems.

Reading the piece, I had several strong immediate reactions – to the extent I sat down and wrote out my thoughts (then, unhelpfully, lost the piece of paper; perhaps there should be a sixth category of “unemployables”, the abstent-minded).

First, I took away the message that (based on the characteristics of the people described in the 5 categories, some of which I share) I was most definitely not wanted in the workplace. I was not wanted in the workplace and there were armies of workplace psychologists devising tests designed to make jolly sure I wouldn’t be able to sneak in undetected.

It felt as if, when I finally feel able to re-enter the competitive employment market and, were I ever to make it through to a job selection process, there would be a head to head battle. On one side would be the selectors, trying to expose my “maladaptive personality”; and, on the other, me, desperately trying to keep my deficiencies and undesirable characteristics under wraps. Then, in the unlikely event I was able to pull the wool over their eyes and win on that occasion, I would always be at risk of exposure and therefore dismissal. And, even if I started a job mentally healthy but then (for whatever reason – even if it was because too much work was loaded onto me at work, causing unnecessary stress) I became unwell, my employer wouldn’t seek to support me, a valuable employee, through that illness – but instead try to get me out.

I was reminded of the recent disappointment of prospective cabin crew Megan Cox. Notoriously, her offer of a dream job with Emirates Air was withdrawn when she disclosed a past history of depressive illness. In Megan’s case, it was clear that the prospective employer had based their decision on generalisations about depressive illness rather than the individual under consideration. Perhaps they were administering a standardised workplace psychological assessment which sought to weed out the undesirables. Megan Cox was deemed undesirable by Emirates Air. Lucky escape for them that they were able to spot her during the recruitment process. The piece made clear that, similarly, I would be weeded out.

Second, the contents made me want to send the piece to all those people involved in making decisions about the social security support of people who, like me, are managing disabilities, to show them the high barriers we have in getting into employment. Only today, it was reported that Employment and Support Allowance and the Work Programme were costing more than the predecessor welfare benefit Income Support and were getting fewer disabled people back into work. Is it any wonder that a system based around the notion that disabled people are out of work because of a lack of motivation (and incentives – or, rather, penalties) to seek work will fail when the actual barrier is the attitudes of employers – fed by pieces such as these – towards people with disabilities?

Third, having assumed at first glance that the piece was written by a generalist journalist to meet a deadline, I was gobsmacked to find it was written by a professor of psychology. A renowned academic – Professor Adrian Furnham – of a renowned institution – University College London – was the author. It simply did not compute.

So then  I did a little reading around the subject on the internet. I discovered that Furnham hadn’t made up terms like “dark traits” or “psychoticism”. No: they were legitimate. These terms came from last year’s new version of the US psychiatric manual (DSM5) and from workplace psychology (for the past couple of years).  The meat of the piece seemed to be almost a cut and paste from ideas that would be familiar to people who’d studied the field: nothing new, surprising or out of the ordinary. This wasn’t some rogue piece by a lazy journalist in a hurry: it reflected current thinking in (US) workplace psychology. That was hard to swallow.

However, on reading the piece again, there were some flaws (whether of the author or in the editing) which meant it was skewed to paint a worse picture than US workplace psychology actually seems to do. Thank goodness. For instance, the professor conflates the DSM5’s “maladaptive personality traits” (undesirable characteristics) with “maladaptive personalities” (undesirable people). To confuse a trait with a person is a big leap – and a damaging one for the people on the receiving end of the “undesirables” label. Furnham also conflates mental illness (with references to “disorders” and “pathology”) with personality disorders (he lists the 3 DSM5 clusters) and personality traits. Thankfully, therefore, the piece isn’t an accurate representation of the current state of play. In fact, it’s a bit of a mess.

In addition – as is common with fear-mongering pieces – the particular damage “these people” could do in the workplace is left vague; but the fact that they will cause damage is made plain.

The trouble is, however, that anyone not familiar with the nuances in the field (and that might be your average Sunday Times reader) would easily be expected to come away with the very clear message that people with mental health problems – yes, people like me – should be excluded from the workplace at all costs. And that is a damaging message.

Which leads me to my fourth thought on the topic: I wonder (and I don’t know) whether the piece might breach disability discrimination laws.

Furnham argues for keeping “these people” – people with “maladaptive personalities”, people whose symptoms which, as described, fall within mental health diagnoses such as anxiety, depression and schizophrenia – out of the workplace. My understanding is that, where a condition impacts on someone’s health for 12 months or longer, that counts as a disability and is protected by law. In other words, discriminating against someone in these circumstances counts as disability discrimination.

I’m trying hard to see how advising employers on how to avoid employing or get rid of people with disabilities is any different to advising employers to not employ black people or gay people or women. Whether or not it amounts to disability discrimination, it’s clear it is not good to advocate discrimination in the workplace.

Rethink Mental Illness has been in contact with the author and are hoping to have a piece – written with other mental health charities – published in this weekend’s Sunday Times. Rethink reports that Furnham and colleagues were surprised at the reaction to the piece and believe it has been misinterpreted. It seems to me there is a clear opportunity for a dialogue, and for largely commercially-focused workplace psychologists to gain a greater understanding of the crossover between their work and mental illness and the role they can play in the negative stereotypes.

Until employers are willing to consider job candidates or existing employees as individuals rather than categories based on assumption, the prejudices and assumptions of employers will impact on people managing mental health problems like a form of modern straight jacket.

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Update smallThe Sunday Times published a letter from Rethink Mental Illness and others on Sunday 22nd; and the following day Furnham wrote to explain, apologise and request that the article be withdrawn. Constructive engagement and a willingness to engage produced a positive result.

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The Sunday Times story and rebuttal:

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Employment and Support Allowance

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Emirates Air and depression

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Here’s the full text of the piece written by Adrian Furnham and published in the Sunday Times on 17th June under the heading “I’m sorry, he’s not a differently gifted worker – he’s a psycho”:

Open quotesTWO things account for the success of a popular personality test: extensive marketing and the reassuring message you get with your results. Whatever profile you have, or type you are, “it’s OK”. We have different gifts. We can’t all be the same. Everyone is fine. Celebrate your quirkiness.

The message makes it easy for consultants and trainers. Researchers, however, know that one of the best predictors of success at work is (raw) intelligence, along with emotional stability and adjustment. But too many in the selection business are afraid of using well-proven tests to assess these factors for fear of having to deliver feedback such as: “Sorry you were unsuccessful in your application: the reason is that you are too dim and too neurotic.”

However, the message of “we are all OK” is not true. There are people with a distinctly unhealthy personality. There are many words for this. Some talk of “dark-side” traits, others of “abnormal” traits. And for more than 20 years, clinicians have talked about the maladaptive personality.

Researchers have recently tried to spell out traits that are most clearly manifest in the maladaptive personality. There are five of them.

Antagonism
This is defined as manifesting behaviours that put people at odds with others. It has components such as manipulativeness, deceitfulness, self-centredness, entitlement, superiority, attention-seeking and callousness.

Antagonistic people put everyone’s back up. They are selfish, self-centred and bad team players. The clever and attractive ones are the worst, because they use their skills and advantages to get what they want, come hell or high water.

Disinhibition
Defined as manifesting behaviours that lead to immediate gratification with no thought of the past or future. It has components such as irresponsibility (no honouring of obligations or commitments), impulsivity, sloppiness, distractability and risk-taking.

Think Kevin the Teenager. It can mean enjoying shocking others with unacceptable language, outlandish clothing or poor manners. This may be amusing in the playground but hardly acceptable in any form in the workplace.

Detachment
This is defined as showing behaviours associated with social avoidance and lack of emotion. It has various components, such as a preference for being alone, an inability to experience pleasure, depressivity and mild paranoia.

These are the cold fish of the commercial world. They seem uninterested in nearly everything and certainly the people around them. Some seem frightened by others, most just not interested in being part of a team.

Negative affect
This is defined as experiencing anxiety, depression, guilt, shame, anger and worry. It has components such as intense and unstable emotions, anxiety, constricted emotional expression, persistent anger and irritability, and submissiveness.

These are the neurotics of the world. They can be very tiring to engage with and highly unpredictable because of their mood swings. The glass is always empty, and they seem always on edge.

Psychoticism
This is about displaying odd, unusual and bizarre behaviours. It includes having many peculiar beliefs and experiences (telekinesis, hallucination-like events), eccentricity and odd thought processes. Some may see such people as creative, others as in need of therapy.

Psychiatrists have grouped those with personality disorders into three similar clusters: dramatic, emotional and erratic types; odd and eccentric types; and anxious and fearful types.

There are three important questions. The first is how you spot these people at selection so you can reject them. This is easier with some disorders than others. It is virtually impossible to spot the psychopath or the obsessive-compulsive person at an interview. Clearly, you need to question those who have worked with them in the past to get some sense of their pathology, which many are skilled at hiding.

The second is, given that they have already been appointed, how to manage them. There is, alas, no simple method that converts the antagonist into a warm, open, honest individual or the disinhibited worker into a careful, serious and dutiful employee. Sometimes it is a matter of damage limitation.

The third is how to rid your workplace of these maladaptive personalities, and that is the toughest question of all.

Adrian Furnham is professor of psychology at University College London and co-author of High Potential: How to Spot, Manage and Develop Talented People at Work (Bloomsbury) Close quotes

 

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Schizophrenic leaders

9 Feb

Hypocrite

“As long as they’re not two-faced, hypocritical, schizophrenic.”

What would you say if you heard that in a meeting? Would you pipe up there and then to challenge the misuse of a psychiatric diagnosis in that way? Would you seethe and stay quiet, lost for words or not wanting to expose yourself to scrutiny? Would you follow up quietly afterwards? Or let it drop, for the sake of self-care or personal privacy? What’s the best way to educate people about the negative impact of stigmatising stereotypes and the use of terms related to mental illness as insults? What would you do?

Here are some thoughts on the topic of the casual use of the word “schizophrenic” in a derogatory way and how (and whether) to challenge it. First my musings, then the responses and suggestions of the lovely twitter people.

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Tweet chats part 3: Troubleshooting

17 Dec

Twitter cup cakes

Following parts 1 and 2, here is the third instalment of my introduction to tweet chats. Most tweet chats are great fun and informative, though occasionally you can run into problems. Here’s some advice, just in case things start to go wrong.

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  • The tweet chat is too fast – I can’t keep up!

    Tweet chats are meant to be enjoyable, so don’t worry about missing things. Popular chats can move very fast. Just follow the topics or lines of conversation that interest you, and chip in when you can. You can always catch up later by reading the transcript.

  • I’m a bit lost / I don’t understand!

    Lurk for a bit to try to tune in, but don’t be afraid to speak up and ask for help. Generally, tweeps are a friendly bunch who really enjoy helping others. And, if you have a question about what’s going on, there are bound to be others thinking the same thing.

  • Someone’s arguing with me!

    It’s fine to disagree on a tweet chat, and often controversial topics are chosen to generate heated debate! But keep it to a discussion, not an argument. If you don’t want tweets from a particular tweep, block them and ignore them in the tweet chat. Simples.

  • I’m being harassed, intimidated or abused!

    Sometimes people can get passionate about a topic they care about. Sometimes misunderstandings can occur, given the brief nature of the tweet. Sometimes a tweep or two will be downright nasty. If you feel you’ve been harassed, intimidated or abused in a tweet chat, here are some options to consider:

    1. Take a screen shot of the offending tweets. This provides a record for later.
    2. Save the offending tweets using a service like Storify – ditto.
    3. Block and report the offending tweeter using the button on the screen. If enough people do this, it can result in their account being suspended temporarily. And, at the very least, you won’t have to see their nasty tweets any more.
    4. Send a direct message (DM) to the tweet chat organiser. They may be able to take action at the time or (more likely) afterwards. (You’ll both need to be following each other to be able to send a DM.)
    5. Email the tweet chat organiser with copies of the offending tweets.
    6. If warranted, report the matter to your local police. You’ll need copies of the offending tweets as evidence.
    7. If the offending tweets are from a professional (such as a doctor, nurse or solicitor) whose conduct online is governed by a code of professional conduct (like one of these), consider reporting them to their governing body. You’ll need evidence for this.
  • Someone’s spamming the hashtag / trying to derail the tweet chat!

    Sometimes someone will spam the hashtag or try to derail the tweet chat for their own purposes (eg to push their own agenda or promote a product). Consider whether any of the measures above may be appropriate (other than calling the police). Or just ignore the tweep.

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Here are some suggestions received earlier:

  • If in doubt … pause. – Ian Hulatt (twitter @IanHulattRCN)
  • Enlist someone to back you up in helping lead the chat to greet people, catch important questions or take over if you have technical problems. – Nedra Weinreich (twitter @Nedra)

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!

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Merry mental health Christmas !

7 Dec
My photo of Santa with baubles

My photo of Santa with baubles

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Scroll down for Christmas 2014 ideas

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With Christmas just 3 weeks away, here are some gift ideas on a mental health theme. They might be gifts for a friend or family member who’s managing a mental health problem themselves. Or perhaps that’s you and you want to help others understand the issues a bit more, or need ideas for gifts on a budget.

If you have more suggestions, please tweet me or add them to the comments below. Here are some suggestions I’ve received from the lovely twitter people so far (and here are lots of interesting book recommendations too).

The following gift ideas are covered:

  • Christmas cards from mental health charities
  • Subscriptions and memberships
  • Different ways to make charitable donations
  • Gift voucher ideas
  • Free and low cost gift ideas with a mental health theme if you’re on a budget or prefer to do stuff rather than buy stuff (my favourite way of giving gifts)
  • General well being and quirky gift ideas

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Christmas cards:

  • Rethink Mental Illness  – £3 pack of 8 cards (plus £1 postage)
  • Sane – Packs of 10 ranging from £2.95 to £3.95, with free postage for orders over £15

Here’s a website (Combined Charities Christmas Shops) which sells Christmas cards and goodies for all sorts of different charities.

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Subscriptions & memberships:

Why not give a magazine subscription or membership of a mental health charity to spread mental health awareness?

  • £10 – One in Four magazine subscription – Just £10 for 4 glossy magazines a year! “Want real life stories from people who’ve been through it and lived to tell the tale? Want the latest news, views and opinions? One in Four is a glossy full colour quarterly 32-page quarterly magazine written by people with mental health difficulties who lived lived through it and found ways around it.  It’s the perfect guide to getting stuff in your life sorted.”
  • Membership of one of the mental health charities:
    • £6 (unwaged) or £26Mind annual membership“Become a Mind member and we’ll keep you up-to-date with all of the latest mental health news. We’ll let you know about Mind events and groups in your area. And we’ll support you to get your voice heard. A standard one-year membership costs £26. A one-year membership if you are unemployed, receiving benefits, retired or a full-time student costs £6.” Members receive the quarterly Mind Membership News magazine; regular email newsletters; a 10% discount on Mind’s publications; the chance to vote for our trustees and to become a trustee yourself; Mind membership card.
    • £2 monthly or £24Rethink Mental Illness membership“As a member you can help to make a difference and be involved in many different ways. As a member you’ll get an enamel badge & welcome pack, an invitation to our spectacular annual event, National Members’ Day, our quarterly membership magazine Your Voice, opportunities to have your opinions and ideas heard by people who help shape mental health policy & involvement in the governance of Rethink Mental Illness.”
  • £10 – 3 Rethink sleep packs (or £65 for 20 sleep packs)You can probably relate to the experience of a restless night’s sleep and the effect this can have on your mood, emotions and management of day-to-day tasks. You may have even said, ‘all you need is a good night’s sleep’ – more often than not, this advice is true. With your help we can help a person with mental illness at their lowest point; they can be welcomed into a crisis house as an alternative to hospital admission. Here, they are in a calm and safe environment. And now with the introduction of Sleep Packs, we’re hopeful that people will have the best possible start to their recovery. It costs just £3 to fill each Sleep Pack with these simple but crucial items, please give the gift of sleep and help improve someone’s life. Thank you.” Each sleep pack contains an eye mask, ear plugs, lavender essential oil and bubble bath, a sachet of milky drink plus top ten tips for a better night’s sleep.
  • Subscription to a mindfulness site – for example Headspace (you can try for free beforehand)

    The Big Give Challenge #TBGchallenge

    The Big Give Challenge #TBGchallenge

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Charitable donations:

One idea for a Christmas present is to make a donation to a mental health charity on someone else’s behalf. You’d then give them a Christmas card which mentions your donation.

  • Buying presents through certain sites means a donation will go to a mental health charity – for instance, Give as You Live (twitter @giveasyoulive) – “Shop online at your favourite stores and raise funds for charity – at no extra cost, just by shopping online!”
  • Sometimes a donation will be doubled – eg through organisations like The Big Give which have pots of matched funding that open at given times (and run out, so you have to get in quickly when you hear they’ve opened!). Here is a list of charities The Big Give currently matches funds for, including ones with a mental health theme in the UK and overseas.
  • Make a one off donation or a regular donation to a mental health charity, such as:
    • Mind
    • Rethink Mental Illness – one off or regular donation
    • Sane“Please give a gift to improve mental health. Each £10 enables one person to receive the precious gift of 30 minutes personal and emotional support, helping them on their journey from crisis to recovery. To thank you for your generosity, SANE will send you a Black Dog Campaign #StopStigma wristband for each donation that you make.”
    • There will also be many local mental health charities you can donate to. Please let me have details if you’d like one added.
    • Here’s one I spotted today: “5 Quid for Life is a small charitable trust which provides financial support to people with mental health problems who have lost their benefits as a result of the UK government’s welfare reforms.” (twitter @5quidforlife) [NB: The organisation says it’s too small to register with the Charities Commission, so I’m not sure about regulation or transparency or the establishment of the trust.]
  • Please bear in mind that, if you are a UK tax payer, your purchase or donation may be increased by HMRC by an extra 25% if you make a gift aid declaration at the time you make your donation.

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Gift vouchers:

  • An NHS prescription prepayment certificate – A humorous and serious suggestion from Larlot ‏(twitter @CharmandersFire), as an alternative to an M&S or Boots gift card! If you’re not entitled to free prescriptions, a prescription costs £7.85 per item, but a 3 or 12 month PPC covers all your prescriptions for that period, no matter how many you need. £29.10 for 3 months or £104 for 12 months.
  • Buying a voucher for something that will make a difference. There are lots of shops and online services that offer vouchers for anything from a massage (lots of tweeps recommended this one!), or haircut to a visit somewhere unusual like a bird of prey sanctuary.
  • Home-made gift vouchers. This is something you’ve paid for (or will pay for when it takes place) and write out yourself in a card, such as:
    • a cleaner to visit and help your friend or family member get on top of their cleaning
    • personal trainer to come round for a few sessions, to get your friend and family member started if they’ve put on weight and are having trouble getting motivated or putting together a plan.
  • Personal IOUs (see below).

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Mental health books, CDs and DVDs:

Lots of interesting books recommended as Christmas gifts by some of the lovely twitter people are included here. What are your ideas for a good mental health book gift? That might be:

  • A biography or life story of someone living with a mental health problem or who’s got through adversity – either to help the recipient understand more about your (or someone they know’s) mental health problems, or to provide inspiration from someone who’s overcome adversity
  • A book on a practical skill they’ve said they want to learn
  • A self-help book that you think the person might find useful or inspiring (though that’s probably a delicate balance – I once received a Jane Fonda work out video and, whilst I did have a few pounds to lose, it wasn’t necessarily the present I wanted to receive! It might be best to keep the self-help books to ones you’ve discussed with your friend or family member and which they’ve shown an interest in reading)

    Science Museum: Mind maps - stories from psychology

    Science Museum: Mind maps – stories from psychology

  • An uplifting arts book
  • Something on their hobby or special interest

 

Free and low cost gift ideas:

  • Personal IOUs: Give an IOU slip or card for something you can do (a skill you have) that your friend or family member will value. For instance, an IOU offering/promising:
    • for them to come round for tea and cake, or a Sunday roast
    • to do their washing up 5 times
    • to help them go shopping / choose a new mobile phone contract /change utility provider
    • to take their dog for a walk
    • to knit them a jazzy scarf
    • to go out to a free event or venue, such as a city farm, park, festival, museum, talk or event (such as this one from Dr Tom Werner, Mind Maps: stories from psychology, on at the Science Museum in London)

    Be imaginative! The thought you put into choosing what to offer to make the IOU personal, and the time it will take you to fulfill your promise, is what shows you care. And take responsibility for setting a time and date and organising the whole thing to make sure it does go ahead!

  • Challenge yourself by signing up yourself and a friend to a fundraising event with one of the mental health charities. There are lots of ways to get involved (or you can organise something yourself,) and it can be a fun way to get out and do something unusual and possibly get fit! Here are some ideas from the Mental Health Foundation.
  • Simple hand-made crafts. Don’t worry about them being perfect as it’s the personal touch and the time and effort you’ve put in that counts. For example:
    • Hand-made Christmas cards. You can often buy packs of 10 blank cards and envelopes in pound shops that you can decorate yourself with a bit of glue, glitter and imagination.
    • Hand-decorating a Christmas bauble. You could even make a different one each year, so a little collection grows.
    • Hand-made sweets or edible Christmas decorations strung with ribbon to hang on the tree.
  • Free e-books. There are thousands of books available free of charge and you can download them onto any computer (you don’t need a Kindle or other e-book reader). These might be about a specific diagnosis, a real life story or general well being. You could download these for your friend or family member, or send or give them a link to suitable ones. You’ll have done the research or running around, which will be appreciated.
  • Plants. If you’ve got a window box, garden or allotment, you can often dig up the odd plant or two to give away as an inexpensive gift.

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General well being and quirky gift ideas:

  • Give the gift of comedy, such as these DVD suggestions from Seaneen Molloy (twitter @Brain_Opera) or tickets to a live stand up show. Some places have open mic nights which are free – and you never know, the acts could be really good!Dopamine earrings
  • Dopamine molecule earrings (recommended by twitter psychiatrist @Dopamine_Diva)
  • My favourite: lavender bath soak!
  • Socks. You can never go wrong with socks.
  • A SAD (seasonal affective disorder) light box or sunrise wake up clock

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Hopefully that’ll have given you a few ideas for gifts with a mental health theme. Feel free to leave your comments and suggestions below – or tweet me!

Finally, some tips for good gift giving:

  • ‘Tis the season to be jolly. Don’t leave it till the last minute so you’re stressed and rushing. Enjoy the pleasure of getting gifts for people. Either gather together gifts slowly over time – or go out one afternoon and get everything in one go then be done with it.
  • The “perfect” gift. It’s not important to get the “perfect” gifts for every one. What matters is you’ve thought of that person and got them something, no matter how small or how little it cost to buy.
  • Children. When buying for related children, remember they won’t know how much you spent: just make sure you give the same number and same size gifts!
  • Your time, thought and attention are the best gifts you can give.

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Update smallUpdated ideas from the lovely twitter people for Christmas 2014!

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Tweet chats part 2: What to expect and some do’s and don’ts

3 Nov

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Last month, I put together a beginner’s guide to tweet chats. Here, I develop that further, sharing some more of the things I’ve learned along the way about tweet chats. The aim is to help those new to tweet chats to join in and get the most from them!

If you’ve ever wanted to take part in a tweet chat, wanted a few tips to help you along, or wanted to send someone else a guide to encourage them to join in, I’m hoping my tweet chat guides will be a good starting point. In part 1, I covered:

  • 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?

Here in part 2, I cover:

  • Tweet chat do’s and don’ts – some suggestions for getting the most from your tweet chats
  • What can I expect during a tweet chat? – The 8 stages of a (well-run) tweet chat. This might also be helpful if you’re thinking of running your own tweet chat

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!

[Update: Here’s tweet chats part 3]

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Tweet chat do’s and don’ts:

Here are my suggestions for getting the most from tweet chats.

  • Have fun! … Or at least get something positive from it.
  • Use the hashtag. Use the hashtag. Use the hashtag. Er so, in other words, remember to use the hashtag in every tweet. That way, peeps following the tweet chat in tweetchat.com or equivalent (see part 1) will see your contribution to the conversation. No hashtag, no visibility in the tweet chat. Simples.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask! If you have a “stupid question”, there are bound to be others with the same query too.
  • Encourage and help others. You’ll soon learn that Twitter people love to help others. And, soon enough, you’ll be offering your own advice and examples to newbies too.
  • Debate – don’t argue. Do feel free to disagree and engage in robust debate! On the other hand, don’t turn it into an argument or slanging match.
  • Give people the benefit of the doubt. It’s easy for misunderstandings to arise in 140 characters, especially in a fast moving tweet chat.
  • Take care of yourself. Tweet chats can sometimes be pretty intense and stimulating – a bit of a bear pit – especially the popular ones. Is this what you need right now? Sometimes, it’s a good idea to just lurk – you can always catch up later with the transcript.
  • To swear or not to swear – it’s a contentious issue. Some feel uncomfortable with swearing in tweet chats, finding it aggressive and rude, and will back off from engaging. Some feel strongly that Twitter should be a reservoir of courtesy and will claim the moral high ground if “language” is used: for them, one swear word is enough to invalidate any otherwise valid point you may have made. Forever. So be warned.
  • If you’re a professional, be professional. Take a look at your professional code of conduct (if you have one) for advice on how to conduct yourself on Twitter. Some professional duties apply at all times, even when off duty.
  • Respect the topic. Tweeps have come together to discuss a particular topic, so keep your contribution relevant. Questions and comments are encouraged, but please don’t try to derail the focus of the chat. If it’s a topic you’re unsure of, maybe read up a little in advance so you can get something out of it. If unsure, consider contacting the tweet chat organiser in advance for guidance.

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What can I expect during a tweet chat?

A well-organised tweet chat will typically have the following 8 stages. And, if you’re thinking of organising your own tweet chat, this is how I’d recommend doing so.

  1. Advertising – In advance of the tweet chat, the tweet chat organiser will give notice that the tweet chat will take place. This might be on a tweet chat listing, in a blog post or via social media such as twitter. Some tweet chats are general get togethers at a particular time using a hashtag, whereas others will have a topic set by the organiser. Sometimes the organiser will post links to brief reading material or questions to be discussed.
  2. Advance notice – In advance of the chat (for example, at the same time the week before; at the same time the day before; and then starting from a couple of hours before), the tweet chat organiser will tweet reminders of the time, and hashtag, together with any topic, reading material or questions.
  3. Introduction – At the start of the tweet chat, the organiser will introduce the topic to be discussed, and tweet links to any advance reading or guidelines.
  4. Hello’s – As tweeps join the chat (whether to lurk or participate), some will say hi (and later goodbye). Many will not and will just tweet in when they have something to say! (I’m usually one of those!) Tweet chats generally take a little while to get going, so don’t be afraid to lurk till you catch the vibe.
  5. Questions – To get the tweet chat going (and to give it a boost if it starts to flag), the tweet chat organiser may post questions at the start and along the way. This helps to prompt and guide the discussion. Feel free to respond to these questions at the time or later. But you don’t need to respond to the questions specifically: they are just a guide.
  6. Conclusion – The tweet chat organiser will give an alert when the tweet chat is coming towards the end, so people can make last minute points, then draw it to a close. That’s the end of the official tweet chat – though of course you can keep on tweeting. These tweets may not make it into the official transcript (see below) – but they may be the part of the tweet chat you get most from. This is especially so if you prefer a slower pace, or if you’ve made connections you want to follow up.
  7. Transcript – Some tweet chat organisers will post a transcript of all the tweets made using the hashtag shortly after the event (or the next day), together with a summary and maybe a word cloud. This can be a helpful catch-up, whether or not you participated in the tweet chat.
  8. Follow up – One of the great things about participating in tweet chats is you can find interesting new people to engage with, so you’ll find tweeps following each other and making contact long afterwards.

I hope that’s given you an idea of what to expect from a tweet chat and how you can get the most from taking part. Let me know you top tips for tweet chats!

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Still to come:

  • Tweet chat trouble shooting – some tips for when things go a bit eek!
  • Mental health tweet chats – links to popular ones, how to find others & some extra things to think about

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My links:

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Tweet chats for newbies: Getting started

13 Oct

Snow White bluebirdUpdate small

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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)

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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!

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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!

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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

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

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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:

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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.

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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

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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.”

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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!

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

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Cashpoint

26 Aug

Talking potatoes Family Superfoods

You know the first thing friends from the psychiatric ward ask when we bump into each other? “Have you been back in since?” We just want to stay out. Our ward wouldn’t pass the “friends & family test”: going back to that place is seen as the worst thing that could happen. “Hi! How you doing? Been back in? “No. You?” “No, thank goodness. What’ve you been up to?” “Doing what I need to do to stay out.” “Me too.”

Last night at a cashpoint, a tall young woman approached me. “Got any spare change? My benefits were stopped. I’ve got no food or electricity.” She looked into my eyes, from eye to eye, imploring. “I’ve got no money. My benefits were stopped.” Hang on … We looked again and recognised each other from the ward. Back then, she was so vulnerable, so easily led, so naive. Just a teenager. She’d been in for 18 months.

“Are you still with the community mental health team?” I asked? Last time I’d seen her, she’d been there with her mum, waiting in the waiting room for an appointment. “Yes,” she said. “Let’s make an appointment with the benefits adviser. She’s really good. She’ll help with your benefits. They’re stopping them for the least little thing at the moment. Maybe she can get you help with a loan or a grant or something.” She looked around. “How’s your mum? Is she okay?” “I don’t know. We had an argument. We don’t speak any more. Do you have any spare change?”

“What would you like me to buy you?” I asked her. The cashpoint was outside a supermarket. “I was just going into the shop. Come with me and choose something nice to eat.” She shifted from foot to foot, looked down, looked up into my eyes again. “I just need cash. I’ve got no electricity or food at home. Can you give me some cash?”

“Come back to my house then.” I lived just round the corner. “I’ll cook you dinner. What would you like?” “No thanks. I just want money. Have you got any spare change?” Her skin was bad. She’d cut her hair short. Her glow was gone. She kept looking around behind my head, shifting from foot to foot.

In hospital, she’d been beautiful, naive and full of enthusiasm. She wanted to be a doctor. Or a model. Or both. She had no street smarts or guile. Just an enormous smile.

As a girl, she’d had an argument with her bullying brother one night and had run away from home. She’d been placed in a hostel, a safe place for vulnerable young people to stay. In the hostel, she’d been sexually assaulted by another resident. The mutual friend she’d confided in hadn’t believed her. Had blamed her. She hadn’t told anyone else about the assault. She was young and naive and hadn’t known how to deal with it. She’d kept living at the hostel. With her attacker. Who’d come back for more.

She’d stopped eating when her food started talking to her; when she could see little mouths in the baked beans speaking to her. When she’d become so skinny people noticed, she’d told them about the little mouths in the baked beans. She hadn’t told them about the assaults. It takes time and trust to build up to telling someone something like that. And she hadn’t had that.

She’d been taken from the hostel to the psychiatric hospital. They’d given her drugs for the little mouths in the baked beans; for the food that was speaking to her. They’d kept giving her more drugs and more drugs till she’d told them the food wasn’t talking to her any more and had put on weight.

When I met her on ward, she’d been there for 18 months. She hadn’t had any talking therapy. Just drugs. She hadn’t had any help to prepare for life outside the ward. Just weekly group sessions with the occupational therapists where we painted our toenails or tasted smoothies. But at least she wasn’t skinny any more.

When I met her on ward, she was so sweet and helpless that everyone was protective and did stuff for her. I encouraged her to learn to do things for herself: she’d need that when she got out; or at least the confidence to believe she could learn to do things for herself.

One day, she asked me to put on false eyelashes for her. Instead, I taught her how to do it herself. It took the whole evening. But she did it. Next day, she came back & showed me she’d done it herself. They weren’t on quite straight, but she was so pleased and proud. I was too. False eyelashes rock. She looked fabulous on the outside, with her dramatic eye make-up; and she felt fabulous on the inside, with her sense of achievement.

Next day, she told me about the assaults. She told me about her life and how she’d ended up on ward. She told me she was due for discharge soon. She said she’d started to see the little mouths in the baked beans again.

I didn’t know what to do. My mind was blown by that place, by what they’d done to me there. It was too big for me to process. Hearing her disclosure scorched my brain as I listened. All I could think of to do was to tell her to tell the nurses.

She told the nurses about the little mouths in the baked beans. But not about the assaults. She still hadn’t talked about those. They increased the drugs dose to make the little mouths in the baked beans go away again. She was discharged shortly afterwards and placed in a shared flat with a stranger. After 18 months on ward. And still a teenager. She didn’t know how to wash her clothes, cook, or budget. She couldn’t even keep her room on ward tidy.

Looking at her last night, I wondered whether, all these years later, she’s had any help to process the sexual assaults. Any help with the voices. Any help with managing her life. I wondered if it mattered. Or if drugs were enough. I couldn’t tell how she was. I only knew that she was different. I only knew that I held both her hands and squeezed them as I looked into her eyes, and hugged her and hugged her, then saw her slowly walk away.

And, of course, we both knew – because it’s the first thing we ask when we meet a ward friend – that we hadn’t been back in since.

So tomorrow I’ll drop a note to CMHT asking them to check up on her. She’s too vulnerable to be begging at cashpoints. I don’t know what else to do for the best.

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Links to related websites:

  • My Storify story of tweets – Cashpoint
  • A rather creepy video of talking food (1 min) used to promote TV show Family Supercooks, an initiative of the Food Standards Agency and the Good Food Channel
  • Eleanor Longden: The voices in my head (14 mins) – her recent fascinating and inspiring TED talk

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