Archive for Time to Change

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

time-to-talk-day

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.

Advertisements

It’s Time to Change: Don’t Demonize Depression!

Posted in Mental Health with tags , , , , , on March 27, 2015 by telescoper

Like everyone else I was shocked and saddened on Tuesday to hear of the crash of an Airbus 320 (GermanWings Flight 4U 9525 from Barcelona to Dusseldorf)  in the French Alps.  That initial reaction turned to consternation and confusion when it appeared that flying conditions were good and no “Mayday” signal was sent for the eight minutes it steadily lost altitude until it hit the mountains., and then to complete incomprehension yesterday as evidence emerged that the crash, which resulted in the deaths of 150 people, appeared to have been the result of deliberate action by the co-pilot, Andreas Lubitz.  It seems that the co-pilot waited for the pilot to leave the cockpit to use the lavatory, then locked the door and proceeded to put the plane on a descending trajectory designed to take his own life along with everyone else on board. The horror of these events is beyond imagining. It’s also beyond imagining what could have possessed Andreas Lubitz to do such a terrible thing, for this was an act of mass murder.

Although it seems a paltry gesture, I’d like to take the opportunity to express by deepest condolences to the families, friends and loved ones of everyone who lost their life on that day, including Andreas Lubitz whose family must be experiencing pain on a scale the rest of us are completely unable to contemplate.

I’m not going to speculate at all about what drove this man to behave the way he did. I’m not qualified to comment and it would obviously not be helpful to anyone for me to do so.

That has not stopped the gutter press, however, who have seized upon the fact that Andreas Lubitz had a history of depressive illness to sell copies of their rags by labelling him “a madman” and splashing lurid details about his private life. A Daily Mail article (to which I refuse to link) clearly implies that anyone who has ever suffered from depression is potentially a psychopathic killer. Not for the first time, I am ashamed that people exist with so sensitivity that they could think this sort of journalism could ever be justified.

What this tragedy says to me is that only a better understanding of mental illness will help prevent similar things happening in future and that will not happen if the media continue to demonize those who suffer from depression and/or other mental health problems because the stigma that causes makes it so difficult to seek treatment. I know this for a fact. It is difficult enough to ask for help, even without  headlines screaming in your face from the front page of the Daily Fail or the Sun or even the Daily Telegraph.

I agree completely with Professor Sir Simon Wessely, President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists who is quoted in today’s Guardian as

The loss of the GermanWings Airbus is a ghastly horror. Until the facts are established, we should be careful not to rush judgements. Should it be the case that one pilot had a history of depression, we must bear in mind that so do several million people in this country.

It is also true that depression is usually treatable. The biggest barrier to people getting help is stigma and fear of disclosure. In this country we have seen a recent fall in stigma, an increase in willingness to be open about depression and most important of all, to seek help.

We do not yet know what might be the lessons of the loss of the Airbus, but we caution against hasty decisions that might make it more, not less, difficult for people with depression to receive appropriate treatment. This will not help sufferers, families or the public.

A conservative estimate is that about one in every four people in the UK suffers from depression at one time or another, many of whom struggle with mental illness without either asking for or receiving medical help. Help is there, but we need to much more to encourage people to use it.

Here’s another quote from Time to Change, for whose organization in Wales I wrote the piece linked above,

The terrible loss of life in the Germanwings plane crash is tragic, and we send our deepest sympathies to the families. Whilst the full facts are still emerging, there has been widespread media reporting speculating about the link with the pilot’s history of depression, which has been overly simplistic.

Clearly assessment of all pilots’ physical and mental health is entirely appropriate – but assumptions about risk shouldn’t be made across the board for people with depression, or any other illness. There will be pilots with experience of depression who have flown safely for decades and assessments should be made on a case by case basis.

Today’s headlines risk adding to the stigma surrounding mental health problems, which millions of people experience each year, and we would encourage the media to report this issue responsibly.

It is Time to Change attitudes to mental health, and a good place to start is to realise that it’s Time to Change how the media approach the subject. If you would like to complain about inappropriate reporting of mental health issues in the media then please follow the link here.

Ignorance + Fear = Prejudice

Posted in Biographical with tags , , on September 26, 2013 by telescoper

george-mental-patient-1-522x293

The charming costume displayed above was advertised by Asda as part of their Halloween “Fancy Dress” range, along with this explanatory text:

Every one (sic) will be running away from you in fear in this mental patient fancy dress costume.

In fact in response to a deluge of critical comments, Asda has now withdrawn the offensive article but one still wonders who could have thought this was a good idea in the first place.

Years ago when I lived in London I served on the Governing Body of a residential home in Hackney for people with a range of mental health issues. Doing this opened my eyes to the level of prejudice that exists about mental health. I remember one example very vividly. After months of training to try to help one of the residents live a little more independently, she finally plucked up courage to take a trip on the bus. She bought her ticket and sat upstairs. Unfortunately, she got a bit confused and missed her stop. She then started to panic and burst into tears. The reaction of the people on the bus was at first to ignore her distress and then when got worse to forcible restrain her. The bus was stopped and eventually the police were called. She was eventually found by staff from the home in a police cell in a state of complete disarray. Months of good work had been undone.

So why had the other passengers behaved in such a way? I think the answer to that is that many people are very frightened by mental illness because they don’t understand it. Fear is often born of ignorance in other situations too, but it’s particularly striking in public settings, such as on a bus or train. In modern life we have to cope with complete strangers in many places and I think we rely on behavioural conventions to deal with the proximity of other individuals that we might otherwise suppose to be hostile. When people start violating these conventions – as one may do if suffering a mental illness – then we often respond in a way that reflects our prejudice that they might be dangerous, even though that is extremely unlikely. It’s the sane that we have to fear most.

That was way back in the 1980s. We like to think that times have changed in so many respects, but the appearance of that Asda `Mental Patient’ demonstrates that our attitudes towards mental illness are firmly rooted in the days when thousands were kept at a safe distance by being incarcerated in lunatic asylums. The stereotypical straitjacket `costume’ panders to ignorance, promotes fear, and encourages prejudice. It is truly offensive. It is Time to Change our attitudes.

For the record, here’s a picture of me taken late last summer in my own Mental Patient Costume:

me

Time To Change

Posted in Biographical, Mental Health with tags , , , , , , on January 20, 2013 by telescoper

I suppose you could consider this post to be my New Year’s resolution, so apologies that it’s three weeks overdue. Apologies too if it’s a bit too personal for comfort; it’s difficult to get the mixture of public and private right when you run a blog.

Anyway, regular followers of this blog will know that I had some problems with my mental health last summer;  I posted a partial explanation here.  I completed a course of treatment last autumn and have since been feeling much better.  Words can’t express my gratitude to the people who looked after me when I was unwell nor to the friends and colleagues who put up with my unexplained absences for so long.

In November last year I came across a website run by Time to Change Wales which was in the middle of a campaign to get people talking about mental health issues. Among the things they were doing was getting people to post short blogs about their experiences in order to help people overcome the stigma that sadly still surrounds mental health. It seemed right to contribute something to this campaign, so I decided to write a piece for them. I probably don’t have to explain that I didn’t find this easy to do, and I changed my mind several times about what to include or indeed whether to send anything in at all. In the end I plucked up enough courage, and my piece went live last week.

I was given permission to post it here also but, on reflection, I decided that might detract from the campaign by deflecting traffic from the Time to Change website. I also thought I’d leave it a while before referring to it on here; as it happens, there were also practical reasons why I haven’t had much time to blog in recent days.

If you’d like to read the piece you can do so here. And while you’re there, why not check out the rest of the site? Or maybe even follow them on Twitter?

Closer friends who know the whole story will realise that I’ve edited it quite severely; they’ll probably also understand why. I’d just like to add here a few things I left out because I didn’t think they were relevant in the context of the Time to Change campaign.

First, you will probably now appreciate the irony in the fact that I’ll shortly be returning to live in Brighton when I take up my new job as Head of Mathematical and Physical Sciences at the University of Sussex. That this opportunity came along when it did seemed so implausible a coincidence that  I’ve almost started to believe in fate. I feel a bit like a character in a play with a very strange plot; I haven’t a clue how it’s going to end, but I’m obliged to act out my part regardless.

In case anyone is wondering, before being appointed to my new job I did have to complete a medical questionnaire, and I did make a written statement about the problems I’ve had. I was more than a bit nervous about doing that, actually, and for a time I thought I’d get turned down. But instead of being declared unfit, all that happened was that I had a discussion with an Occupational Health Adviser who was very supportive. I know that my problems may recur, but now I know how to handle them I don’t see any reason why I can’t handle this new job either. I’m very much looking forward to it, in fact.

I’m by no means an expert on mental health, but I couldn’t resist ending with a comment arising from my recent experiences. The human brain is an incredibly complicated thing which means that even when it’s functioning “normally” it gives rise to a vast range of personalities and behaviour patterns that largely defy categorization. Likewise, when things go wrong they can go wrong in so many ways that simple descriptions such as “anxiety” or “depression” aren’t really all that useful or even complete.

You might think, for example, that panic disorder describes a fairly well-defined condition, but it really doesn’t. The things I have experienced during panic attacks – which includes alarming visual and auditory hallucinations as well as an overwhelming impulse to flee – are quite different from what others with panic disorder may describe. Post-traumatic stress disorder can likewise manifest itself in a wide range of behaviours, including extreme aggression. In my own case the dominant factor has been hypervigilance and I’ve never showed any sign at all of some of the other indicators.

It’s no surprise, therefore, that there’s no ab initio theoretical understanding of what causes such conditions, and that treatment is largely by trial and error. In short, neuroscience isn’t at all like physics. It’s also very very much harder.