Archive for the Mental Health Category

You have the power to change someone’s life – Time to Talk Day 2017

Posted in Mental Health with tags , , on February 2, 2017 by telescoper


Today, 2nd February 2017, is Time to Talk Day, which means that it’s time for the nation’s biggest conversation about mental health.

One in four adults and one in ten young people will experience a mental health problem every year. Talking about it doesn’t have to be difficult but can make a big difference. It’s easy to have a conversation about mental health, and it could change someone’s life (including yours). You don’t have to be an expert to help: sometimes just asking  how they are is all you need to do to help someone who’s having a hard time.

Here’s a little video about Time to Talk Day:

For more information on how to get involved see here.

Changing Patterns of Work

Posted in Biographical, Mental Health with tags on November 28, 2016 by telescoper

I read an interesting piece in yesterday’s Observer about a number of people who have decided to switch careers, or at least change the pattern of their working life, relatively late in life. Unlike the cases described in the article, I haven’t had the nerve to try an entirely new kind of job – at least not yet! – but I did feel the article in question had some relevance to my own decision, made a few months ago, to resign from my previous post as Head of the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences at the University of Sussex and move back to Cardiff.

I’m not going to go into all the reasons for stepping down, but one of them is I wanted to establish a better work-life balance. Fortunately, I never sold my little house in Cardiff and had also paid off the mortgage on that property some years ago, so returning to live there full-time was relatively straightforward and meant reducing my outgoings considerably.  I was therefore more than happy to accept the offer of a position here on a 50% salary. In other words, I am officially a part-time member of staff. I’m planning to use the other 50% to pursue some other interests, such as writing a couple of books and running the Open Journal of Astrophysics, but generally just taking more time off the treadmill of academic life.

Another thing I ought to mention is that my current position is fixed-term, for three years only. The earliest I’ll be able to retire is when I am  55, which is still a couple of years away. Whether I do go then depends on a number of things, including how difficult the University funding environment becomes as a result of loss of EU income and the proposed large reduction in numbers of overseas students.  If things become really tight I think it’s important for people of my age to make way so that the younger generation have a better chance. Perhaps I won’t retire at that time anyway. Perhaps I’ll follow the example of the folk in the Observer piece and start a new career as something completely different!

Having said that I’m a part-time member of staff, I have to also admit that I’m finding it quite difficult actually working part-time. This is largely because the University’s calendar of business continues at a full-time rate. Some of the jobs I’ve been asked to do in my new role – specifically designing a couple of  new postgraduate courses – had to be completed quite soon after I arrived, something I had not realized when I accepted the position here! However, now that those deadlines have been met I can hopefully settle down to a regular pattern of work, involving a bit of teaching and research in the School of Physics & Astronomy and helping get the Data Innovation Research Institute off the ground. When things have settled into a steady state I think I’ll start filling in time sheets – not for anyone else’s use, but for my own records. I can manage comfortably on a part-time salary, but I draw the line at unpaid overtime.

On the other hand, it’s always difficult to draw the line when you’re an academic. We’re basically paid to think and most of us don’t stop doing that even during our time off..

World Mental Health Day

Posted in Mental Health on October 10, 2016 by telescoper


Today is World Mental Health Day 2016, so I made use of the part-time nature of my current employment to take the day off work and, among other things, go for a walk in the park in the autumn sunshine. That is all.

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week

Posted in Mental Health on May 17, 2016 by telescoper


I will just add a comment of my own. No job is worth risking your mental health for. Nor is anything else for that matter.

For further information see the Mental Health Awareness Week website.

Farewell to Whitchurch..

Posted in Biographical, Mental Health with tags , , on May 4, 2016 by telescoper

One of the things that happened over the Bank Holiday Weekend was the closure of Whitchurch Hospital on April 30th 2016. I read about this here, from which source I also took the photograph below:


Whitchurch Hospital was built in 1908 and was originally known as Cardiff City Asylum. After over a hundred years of providing care for the mentally ill – including soldiers treated for shell shock in two world wars – the remaining patients have now been transferred to a brand new psychiatric care unit at Llandough.

It was strange reading about the closure of Whitchurch Hospital. Having spent more time myself there than I wish I had, including an extended period an acute ward, I never thought I would feel nostalgic about the place. Quite apart from the fact that it looked like something out of a Gothic novel, it was in dire need of refurbishment and modernisation. Looking back, however, I have the greatest admiration for the staff who worked there and deep gratitude for the patience and kindness they showed me while I was there.

The first extended period I spent in a psychiatric institution, back in the 1980s, was in Hellingly Hospital in Sussex. That place also had something of the Hammer House of Horror about it. I was completely terrified from the moment I arrived there to the moment I was discharged and don’t feel any nostalgia for it at all.  When I recently looked at what it is like now – derelict and decaying – it gave me more than a shudder.


The Ways We Touch

Posted in Mental Health, Poetry on March 8, 2016 by telescoper

Have compassion for everyone you meet,
even if they don’t want it.
What appears bad manners, an ill temper or cynicism
is always a sign of things no ears have heard,
no eyes have seen.
You do not know what wars are going on down there where the spirit meets
the bone.

by Miller Williams (1930-2015)


In the Waitrose of My Mind

Posted in Biographical, Mental Health with tags , , on December 8, 2015 by telescoper

I’m not sure why, but the distressing events at Leytonstone at the weekend seem to have triggered a need to do one of those weird confessional posts that I seem to be prone to posting from time to time. So here goes.

A couple of weeks ago I visited Waitrose in Western Road, Hove. Nothing particularly unusual about that, you might think, although it isn’t actually a very convenient supermarket for me as I live on the other side of town. I’m not sure why I suddenly decided to go there, except that I had been avoiding it for such a long time. In fact I hadn’t set foot in that store for the best part of thirty years. The last time I went there was a few weeks after I had been beaten up on Brighton seafront. I had more-or-less recovered from the physical effects of that late-night encounter with four yobs, but I hadn’t quite got over the anxiety of going out, even in daylight. Little did I know that things were about to get a lot worse.

I only went in to buy a couple of things so it wasn’t long before I was waiting in the queue at the checkout. Suddenly I was gripped by  a deep feeling of apprehension or dread. I began to sweat and tremble, my heart was racing. I became aware of strange shapes moving unpredictably through the corner of my eye. Rapidly the shapes intensified and became threatening, monstrously distorted faces began to swirl around me uttering all kinds of threats and abuse. Terrible sounds reverberated in my ears. I couldn’t take it any more and ran from the store.

Unfortunately I was still carrying a pint of milk and some coffee so, not unreasonably, the security man jumped to the conclusion that I was  shoplifter. I made it as far as the street before he tackled me. By then I was completely incoherent, sobbing and struggling to escape, still beset by all kinds of scary visions. Someone must have called the Police, or maybe they were just passing, and I was soon bundled into a patrol car.

Thereafter it is all a bit of a blur. I was taken to a Police station and spent some time in a cell. I don’t remember how long. A person – presumably a psychiatrist – appeared and tried to talk to me but I don’t think I was making much sense. Pretty soon after that I was informed that I was being detained under then fairly new  Mental Health Act (1983). In other words I was sectioned. I think the idea that I was a shoplifter was abandoned at this point. I was taken to a psychiatric institution some way outside Brighton which looked like something out of a Gothic horror novel and was held there, for assessment.

Fortunately the worst effects of the panic attack I had experienced disappeared fairly quickly, and I was transferred to a (slightly) friendlier-looking hospital nearer home. After a couple of weeks I was discharged with a renewable prescription of heavy-duty antidepressants which seemed to work at preventing further episodes but at the cost of some quite unpleasant side-effects. I returned to work, making up a story to cover my absence. After six months I gave up taking the drugs.

Over the years since then I’ve experienced panic attacks of this type on an intermittent basis, usually much milder but sometimes not. I have been told that there isn’t really a treatment that will banish them for ever, so for the past few years  I have been controlling them using a different type of drug which seems to have fewer and less serious side-effects. I don’t like having to take medication every day, but have come to accept that’s just the way things are.

Anyway, you can now probably understand why I have avoided Waitrose in Western Road. It’s a place of painful memories for me. In a sense I went there a couple of weeks ago to attempt to exorcise a ghost.

When I walked into the shop, however, it was completely unrecognisable. The layout had changed. So had the colour scheme, the staff uniforms, the lighting, the lot.  Expecting to be overwhelmed by dread, I instead felt nothing. Relieved, I actually did some shopping. No ghosts. No swirling shapes. No terrifying noises. The only scary things there  were the prices…