Monthly Archives: March 2015

Exploring mental health.

Exploring mental health.

Over the past two months I have been carrying out interviews with members of staff and service users from two different charities for a featured charity segment on a radio show I co-host. On our show Daves of the Week on we look at a charity for six weeks and promote their work and fund raising initiatives amongst other aspects of what they do. We have featured Combat Stress and are now with Mary Francis Trust. Aside from doing the interviews for the show, I have also found out a lot, and been made to think more about mental health as a concept. There has been too much to cover in one post, so I will explore different aspects in future posts, as well as new aspects when they come up.

One concept I found most interesting was from an interview with Patrick Volter CEO of Mary Francis Trust. In this he compared how people view their physical health as opposed to their mental health. Patrick spoke about how if someone has an issue with their physical health, they would not think twice about seeing their doctor. On the other hand, it seems people are less likely to take as much care over their mental health and see a doctor, for anxiety as an example. I can speak from personal experience of this being true. I resisted the urge to see a doctor about my depression for the longest time. I simply did not see it as connected to my physical health. This is why I think this is a good concept to be aware of. Emotional health needs as much care as physical health.

I wonder why people do this? What is it about feeling emotionally unwell that does not feel the same to people as feeling physically unwell? I think part of it is the way mental health is portrayed or thought of by the general public. Another part is how people with mental health issues think of themselves and what they think they deserve or need to help them cope. I remember thinking that I didn’t deserve any help as I was only feeling down, so I was as much as fault for not getting help as anything else. I don’t recall if I felt that I shouldn’t get help as being depressed was frowned upon by society, so I will not blame that as a reason for myself, but I do think it is a factor for others in not getting help when they need it.

Something I have learnt is that there seems to be an abundance of services to help people with varying degrees of mental health. Talking to the Mary Francis Trust, I have found that the range of services they offer is amazing. From minor to major mental health issues, there is something to help people in numerous ways. The same can be said for services like Samaritans; they are there 24/7 for people to simply talk to, but not everyone knows they are there. Which is why I will mention a request that came from an interview. If you are at a doctors or at the hospital and you know about services that might help people, let the doctors or nurses know because they simply might not have heard of the service before. Or if you know someone that might benefit from a service, then let them know. This is a very simple way to raise awareness and could potentially be of use to someone further down the line.

One of the things I find hardest to deal with when doing the interviews or talking about it on the show is the thought of people suffering in silence or for want of knowing about a service that could help them breaks my heart. I do applaud the drives in social care to confront and alleviate the isolation that people can feel when they have a mental health issue. To show them that support for them is available if they need it is a wonderful. I only hope more people find out about them and access them to make their lives better.

Another aspect I found out about was the struggle charities can have with the media trying to report aspects of their work in a sensationalist fashion. An example would be the reporting of a soldier with PTSD lashing out violently in public. The actual facts do not seem to matter as much as the juiciness of the story, which I find both sad and aggravating. Not only do charities have to try and raise awareness of what they do and the people they do it for, they also have to fight against a media that cares not for the details and more on the impact the headlines have.

Another example is the front page reporting of the German pilot who crashed an airplane into the mountain. Naturally, I have nothing but sympathy for the families and friends involved in this tragic story. It did bother and make me angry that the some paper’s front page headlines ran with ‘Madman in the Cockpit’ style reporting. Or I should say ‘reported’ depression as it is not clear if this was what he was actually suffering from or the reason he did what he did.

I think what makes me angriest is the concept that seems to come across of ‘He was depressed so he flew his plane into a mountain. This makes sense.’ It really doesn’t make sense. Did anyone think about this logic before they said it? Or what is worse, what if people thought about it and knew that it did not make sense and published it because it was inflammatory and likely to cause a stir. How does this widespread speculation help anyone, let alone someone who has any form of mental health related issues to see their conditions being portrayed in this way? Irresponsible does not even come close.

I think that mental health awareness is getting better, then I see the headlines from yesterday and I am reminded that there is a long way to go. Still, I have to hope in the long term it will become something that is understood more clearly, services to help people are more widely known and that people with mental health issues know that there are things that can help them. Until then, I will do what I can in my small way to help that come about.

If you have any thoughts or comments, I would love to hear them.

Take care buddies,



The Arrogance of Youth vs. The Uncertainties of Mid-Thirties.


I have been wondering about asking questions about myself and how my life is going and when questioning myself becomes a form of general anxiety and fear. As an example, asking myself (gently) ‘What is happening in my life and where is it going?’ is different to thinking ‘My dreams aren’t coming true and my life isn’t going how I want it.’ It is the quick descent from one to the other that interests me. I do acknowledge that it might just be me that goes from pondering my existence to having angst about my existence, however, I have come to learn that a lot of people have worried about issues that I presumed were my sole domain.

I believe in its best form, asking questions about our existence and experience in, and of, life is an important part of life. I would not go as far as to say the unexamined life is not worth living as it seems a trifle harsh and uncompromising (would someone who is unable to question their existence through a learning disability for instance, be said to have a life not worth living?) but I do think it is of value to us as humans to look at what we were, what we are and what we aspire to become.

The slight problem with this, for me at least, is when the questioning becomes a torrent of self-doubt, recriminations and ultimately a sense of failure before I have even fully lived the life I have presumed I will fail at. This is not the case all the time, and I have become much better at controlling these wayward thoughts that desire me to feel much worse about myself than I should, yet, it is without doubt that I can slide into a fear spiral about my existence and what I am doing.

To give another example, I have been considering my approach to writing and how it differs to how I wrote when I was in my early twenties. If this version of me were a biblical figure, it would definitely be old testament style; fire, brimstone and severe judgements. I don’t recall thinking about what I wanted to say as the younger version of me had the arrogance of youth on its side. I didn’t need to think about what I was writing as it was obvious that something needed to be said about the topic I was writing or I wouldn’t have bothered to write it in the first place. Or so my younger self thought.

Ah, I miss that certainty. I don’t miss the arrogance that came with it, or the simplistic view of issues that I had, as we know that nothing is simple, merely a set of increasingly complex contradictions. There is a lot to be said for not overthinking however. There was no procrastination or doubt, there was simply writing flat out until my hand hurt. Yes, it was long enough ago that pen and paper were still the preferred method for my writing.

With the wisdom (???) of age comes a more considered approach to writing. I do wonder if I should be writing about some subjects as I may not know enough about it, or whether the subject is interesting, or what would make a good story etc etc etc. With that comes a longer period of not writing. Or a longer period of worrying over what I should write. This then leads to me wonder about how as I have gotten older, I have become less certain of things, which I thought would be the other way around.

It seems to come back to the question of questioning. What is the right amount of questions to ask? Writing without questioning can lead to misinformed and inflammatory results, which I am sure some people simply adore to do, but it is not really my cup of tea. Writing with too many questions can prevent the writing from starting at all, which rather defeats the whole idea.

So, perhaps the answer is to use the writing as a way of questioning, or to explore ideas that I do not know the full answers to as I want to find the answers. It has just this second occurred to me that maybe the reasons I write now have changed. As opposed to wanting to fix the world as a younger man and the certainty that I did indeed know how to do that, perhaps I write now to try and make sense of a world that appears to be increasingly more complex the more I think about it.

Writing with no doubts or questions seems dangerous to/for me. Writing with too many questions is plain stifling. I am thinking there is something in the middle where consideration is given, but not to the point of killing the writing to begin with. In the same way, asking questions about my existence is useful if I don’t allow it to get out of control and drown me in doubt and fear. As with many things, finding the right balance is the tricky part.

Listening to the right voices in your head.

Listening to the right voices in your head.

It occurs to me that one of the points of therapy, or any kind of self-analysis, is to get to a point where you are listening to the right voices in your head. Since I do not have the power (yet) of being able to see into everyone else’s mind, I am going to presume that to a greater or lesser degree, we all have voices in our heads.

These voices can be our child voices ‘I wanted an ice-cream. Why did not-one get me an ice-cream?’ or ‘Oops, I broke that. I am in so much trouble.’ The voices can be ourselves now but variant on confidence ‘I look awesome.’ or ‘I look like a hedge that has been dragged through a cat backwards.’ They can even be other people, such as a feared teacher ‘You boy! What are you doing?’ and a million variations beside. There are also quasi philosophical/existential voices that inform you, usually at about 2.45am that everything is pointless and meaningless. How very helpful.

The same voice can be varied by its intention. If the intention is to feel good then the voice will say ‘I am going to clean so that the flat is tidy.’ If the intention is to feel negative ‘Oh, you cleaned the flat. That’s going to change the world.’ Same situation with two different outcomes of how a person will feel afterwards.

Why does one voice come across as negative and one voice as positive? Are there too many variables in one person to count, let alone all the variables for all of the people? I am intrigued to see what other people think.

How much of a choice do we really have over the way we think? I will speak for myself and say that I think there is a large part of my thoughts that I have no control over, yet I am getting better at managing how I react to them. I am confident this is different for everyone. I am also confident that I might be wrong about myself as there is so much we do not know about how the mind works. So, I will go with this theory for the meantime.

When I say ‘how much choice do we have?’ I am asking openly with the idea that I might be choosing to think of things in a negative way and reinforcing those thoughts whilst at the same time thinking ‘why am I thinking so negatively?’ Have you heard someone say ‘I have no friends’ and then go on to talk about their friends without realising they have friends at all? Or anything similar where they talk about not having the thing they clearly have.

It is seeing one thing in a different way to how it appears. Once you see that, you can ask what other ways can I be seeing this? Does one view help me more than an other? If so, why not choose that view? Perhaps with enough practise, seeing something in one way can become a reflex. Then again, that seems the cure and the poison at the same time. We can train to think positively, or we can train to think negatively. They both become the reflex.

My thoughts so far on this is try not to listen to the voices that make you feel terrible or that everything you do in life is pointless. I concede that this is not always easy or even possible at times. I do believe there is the equivalent of battening down the hatches and riding out the storm. When the storm is over, we can then try and ask ‘what was true about what was thought?’ Then the next time we are prepared for a negative thought and can deflect it with a positive riposte. Or so the theory goes.

Then again, I don’t think that goes far enough. It is not enough to not listen to the negative voices. We have to seek and find the positive voices and give them a chance to warm their vocal chords. I heard about something called neuroplasticity recently. In layman’s terms, it is like muscle memory for the brain. I am going to look into this and see if it can help. Until then…

Take care buddies,


What does ‘raising awareness’ actually mean?

What does ‘raising awareness’ actually mean?

I have heard the phrase ‘raising awareness’ many times in the past month. I am wondering, aside from the obvious, what does it actually mean? In real terms, what happens when awareness is raised? As importantly, what happens after awareness has been raised?

Casting my mind back, I am struck by the outpouring following Robin Williams’ death and how his suicide should help raise awareness of mental health issues. I can’t recall another instance leading to such a response about raising awareness of depression. If you can think of another one then please let me know.

Let me be clear. I have nothing against Robin Williams or people who felt sad at his death. I have nothing against people wanting to say that awareness of depression should be raised. I do have a problem with what seems to be the great gaping hole after awareness has been raised. What next? What are we going to do now awareness has been raised?

So we know depression exists. What do we do next? How do we help people more? Does an awareness campaign last long enough to keep the momentum going to affect change in the long term? Or do things have a brief boost and then reset?

Raised awareness can also be affected by outside influences. Imagine you are a charity trying to promote actual facts based on research and you are confronted by a media only interested in telling one side of the story, usually the juiciest and most salacious. How are you going to get the real awareness raised? What do you do when people are thinking they know the real facts behind something when they have only been told the ones most likely to sell?

I wonder what really changed about awareness of depression after Robin Williams died? Are more people aware of depression as a concept? More people were talking about it so logic dictates that more people know about it. Or are people more aware of it as a concept but not aware of the details? I am not saying one way or the other, but I do wonder.

Did people come away with their awareness raised about how to spot the signs in someone who might be depressed, or of helplines they can phone for support, or feel more free to discuss the subject? Did people with depression feel less isolated? I am hoping that people do take knowledge away with them. Or you can let me know. I am aware that I don’t know what others learnt, so feel free to add your thoughts.

How long do we look at something when awareness is being raised? How long do we keep looking at it before we move on? If we look for a finite period of time before something else comes along, how long is the awareness raised for? Does it have a shelf life? What happens after this?

One thing has niggled me for a while. It was a comment I read on Facebook and I am sure it was well meant. You can be the judge. The comment was ‘Do something for people with depression. Say a prayer for them today’ or pretty close to that. Am I a terrible person for getting annoyed by this? Perhaps my own awareness is lacking. I was not aware that being depressed was something that could be prayed away.

In the end I am curious why I am so bothered about it. Raising awareness should be an obvious thing for me to support. I do support it. I also get angry that there is still a stigma attached to mental health issues and that people suffer for longer than they need to as a result. Awareness is being raised and that is a good thing. Things are getting better. Or I like to think so. Can they get better more quickly? I hope so.

I think what really brought it home was learning that it takes an average of thirteen years for an ex-military service person suffering from PTSD to seek support. Imagine the how high the wait time for some is to make the average thirteen years? This breaks my heart. Which is why people are trying to raise awareness of it and other issues like it. I hope the awareness is and stays raised.