Tag Archives: humour

#AsylumNO Petition hand over

29 Oct

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

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

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South London and Maudsley on film: humanity and humour

28 Oct

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As executive producer Amy Flanagan said,

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

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

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Media coverage:

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

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South London & Maudsley NHS Trust:

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People involved:

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

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Related coverage:

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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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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!

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My head clutcher Storify stories (with links):

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

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Media guidance:Head clutcher Simpsons The Scream

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Other stories about the use of stock photos:

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

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Headclutchers in stories by other commentators:

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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.

Twental Health Awards for the best in mental health tweeting

13 Jan

TWOM logo batshit crazy smileyThis morning, I was very pleased to learn that I’d won not just one but two Twental Health Awards for the best in mental health tweeting from the World of Mentalists blog. Woo hoo!

The lovely Twitter people had voted for me to win both the Patient Experience tweeter and Subversive tweeter categories. The last time I won two prizes at the same time was at school … which was some time ago! It certainly brought a smile to my face on a crisp sunny winter morning.

I tweet abTwo trophiesout patient experience a lot. I’m very interested in seeing improvements in psychiatric inpatient care –  so that staff love their jobs, the environment is therapeutic and patients recover. Based on my own experience, there’s still some way to go (to say the least).

But I also know that there is excellent mental health inpatient care out there, as well as people who really care about making improvements, and that gives me hope. What an honour that tweeps think my ramblings on patient experience are worthwhile.Subversive

The award for Subersive mental health tweeter left me pleased of course … but a tiny bit puzzled. I’m not quite sure what “subversive tweeter” means, but it sounds pretty cool! Especially for someone who can be quite timid and conservative. Looking at the dictionary definition, amongst other things a subversive is someone who intends to overthrow or undermine the establishment. It seems a lot to live up to!

The best thing about the Twental Health Awards is they contain a whole list of interesting tweeps to check out. They’ve won the hearts and minds (or at least the votes) of mental health tweeps, so they’re well worth a look.

You can see the full list of winners and runners up here, but here are my top 12:

  • Patient experience runner up @PatientOpinion
  • Campaigning winner @Rethink_ and runner up @TimeToChange
  • Informative winner @MarkOneinFour and runner up @MentalHealthCop
  • Helpful winner @VictoriaBetton
  • Nursing winner @nurse_w_glasses
  • Social work winner @Ermintrude2 and runner up @444BlackCat
  • Occupational Therapy winner @ClaireOT
  • Academic joint winners @Neuro_Skeptic and @MentalElf

Congratulations to all the winners and runners up, as well as the nominees. The awards have certainly given me some interesting and informative new tweeps to follow and I hope they do the same for you.

I can also recommend the World of Mentalists blog. As the website says:

“The World of Mentalists is a e-zine of news, commentary and blog digests in the arena of mental health. Our blog digests are known as This Week in Mentalists (TWIM) […] TWIM is a weekly digest of selected writings from blogs across the Madosphere, our affectionate name for the mental health blogosphere. […] A group of volunteer authors take it in turns to write the digests, which enables a wide base of mental health blogs to be reviewed. We cover blogs from professionals and patients alike.”

Well worth reading.

Finally, thank you to the World of Mentalists co-editior Zarathustra (@thus_spake_z) for organising the Twental Health Awards, and to all the lovely tweeps who voted for me.

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Twental Health Awards winner 2013

 

Update smallIn January 2014, I was bowled over to win the following awards in the 2013 World of Mentalists Twental Health Awards:

Twental Health Awards runner up 2014In.

Twental Health Awards winner 2013

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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.

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