How autumn can be seriously good for your health…

Early_autumn_morning,_Somerset_levels_(2931445670)

Somerset Levels in autumn

We came a little late to this research, but as meteorological  autumn begins, and the nights start drawing in, we thought it was a good time to cast off any gloom at the imminent end of the British summer and highlight how wonderful autumn is, and how good it can be for your health.

In 2014 The National Trust undertook some research that showed how a walk in the colours of autumn can lift the mood, even as the health giving properties of the light fade.

The National Trust found that more than eight out of 10 (84%) people felt that bright autumn walks made them feel happier, healthier and calmer. About 70% of those surveyed felt a lowering of their mood as the days shorten but almost 50% admitted that they did not get out in the fresh air often enough

It is not just a matter of filling your lungs, however. Colour psychologist Angela Wright is quoted as saying:

“Natural colour schemes can inspire us and lift our spirits. Autumn, combined with the rich light at this time of year, is a flamboyant blaze of intense colours with each affecting us in a different way……Fresh air, exercise and the sense of getting away from it all play a positive role in improving our well-being. However it’s the colours that we experience which are the most powerful tonic to affecting our mood.”

Autumn is a time for reflection and taking stock and for many seems melancholy, heralding endings. Children dread the end of summer holidays and head back to a new school year and parents have to get used to packing young adults off to University. But it is also a time of great bounty as many enjoy a harvest festival and the hedgerows fill with nuts and berries, stored by wildlife to see them over the coming winter.

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Great Wood

The Trust drew  up  a list of some of the best places to experience the full range of autumn colours- those delicious reds and oranges through to exotic purples and deep evergreens. None of the suggestions, from Snowdonia to Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire are close to Somerset, so we were curious to know whether there is a favourite local walk you like to take as the leaves turn. We are, after all, in a county with a wide variety of landscapes. One of our favourites is the Red Walk Trail in the Great Wood at Ramscombe in the Quantock Hills, where ancient oak jostle with spruce and fir and you can, if you are lucky, spot the occasional deer….

So on those beautiful, misty mornings over the Somerset Levels or on a cool, sunny Sunday afternoon, where do you head to kick over the traces and breathe in that distinctive musty autumn smell?

The Sculpted – a brave & shocking film about FGM…

CaptureAs regular readers of this blog might remember, we at The Terrace have always supported the campaign against the practice of Female Genial Mutilation (FGM). Figures recently released suggest the number of girls coming forward for support has increased significantly, but the procedure, also called ‘cutting’ or female circumcision, continues. It has been illegal in Britain for many years, but girls and young women are still abused in this way, often take abroad to have their external genitals partially or wholly removed. This results in painful sex and exceptionally difficult, and dangerous, labour and childbirth.

So when we saw this short film, made by student film-makers Ellie Jones and Miholyn Soon, from Westminster University we wanted to share it to highlight the cruelty of the practice. It  ‘deals with the intimate thoughts of a young girl about to undergo female genital mutilation (FGM). It follows the internal monologue of a girl who never actually speaks, and uses creative imagery to illustrate the cruelty of the cut’.

It is available to view via The Guardian website HERE

It has been screened at Campus MovieFest in Hollywood and is a valuable addition to the campaign for a worldwide ban within a generation. Do take a look  – it just 4 minutes long and deeply moving…

Measuring well-being – why is Britain’s ranking lower than it should be?

benefitshealthcare-370x229What does ‘well-being’ mean to you? How would you measure it? Can we even try? Well, a study, called the ‘2014 Country Well-being Rankings Report’, has been carried out by researchers at Gallup and Healthways, (a US natural foods chain) which brings together more than 146,000 surveys in 145 countries in an attempt to do just that – create an index whereby we can measure a country’s well-being and rank them against each other. Here in Britain we didn’t do nearly as well as might be expected.

One particular category that dragged our overall score down is called ‘social’, which measures how supportive and loving our relationships are, but we were also less positive than many poorer countries, particularly in the Americas. We were also only 67th when it comes to physical well-being. This is a little disturbing, not least because we know that those in supportive relationships are less stressed, feel more respected and are more likely to be willing to help others.

Perhaps it is not surprising that in a country so dependent on financial services we scored best in the ‘financial’ category – how we manage our finances to reduce stress in our life – but even then we only came 20th.

Panama was, for the second consecutive year, top of the well-being league followed by Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, Switzerland, Belize, Chile, Denmark, Guatemala, Austria and Mexico.The five countries with the lowest levels of well-being are Tunisia, Togo, Cameroon, Bhutan and Afghanistan.

What do statistics like this indicate about the society we live in? It certainly suggests that it is not financial affluence that makes us happiest. Supportive networks in close communities, extended families living nearby and a willingness to engage and work with others to create an overall sense of well-being override material possessions. Whilst we are encouraged to want more and more; to work harder and harder to buy technology that seems to take us further from physical interaction with those we love, we are losing sight of those things that nurture us mentally and physically.

Statistics can’t always be relied upon to tell us the truth of a given situation, but surely this is one of those occasions when data is sending us a message we would do well to take notice of?

Diet, health and well-being – it isn’t all about the nanny state….

3d61aa7a6c15e14210176777221f0045It is so easy to feel confused by all the health information in the press. Have you become almost blind to all the warnings or recommendations about what we should or shouldn’t eat, and the effect certain foods have on our health? Why, despite all the advice, and the threats, does Britain continue growing ever more overweight? Is it because we don’t like being ‘told’ to limit our intake by the government or NHS? Is it the pressure of advertising and the availability of so much choice?

We aren’t pious or sanctimonious about food here at The Terrace, but we do like to promote a healthy lifestyle that considers both mind and body – what we eat can affect our mood as well as our weight. To deprive ourselves of certain nutrients is as bad as over indulging in others (for example, there is some evidence that the B vitamins and magnesium have been shown to support our mental health) and we know that getting the balance between diet and exercise can seem like a nightmare. But it is so important to our overall well-being to find something that suits us, and ensures we don’t carry on until our physical health deteriorates and our lives are shortened.

b8422f4b-e7ef-4646-965c-25417b36ae87-620x372Sadly, the news today highlighted what can happen when we take things to extremes. Britain’s heaviest man, Carl Thompson, has died aged just 33. He weighed 65 stone and had been housebound for more than a year. It took a small crane and all the emergency services to remove his body from his flat, where he was cared for by visiting NHS carers. He has already had five heart attacks, and had been told he needed to lose 45 stone or die. He had cut down on his 10,000 calorie a day intake but was still existing on takeaways to the last. Reports told of how he had developed a difficult relationship with food from the age of three, when he used to raid kitchen cupboards, but no one had been able to find the root cause of what was, of course, a serious eating disorder.

Now we would not suggest our favourite recipe for delicious nettle soup or tabbouleh salad, or any other healthy eating plan should have been forced upon Carl. At some point he lost control of his eating and despite being increasingly disabled by his weight he could not stop. It is desperately sad, and we have to hope he got all the support available.  However, for most of us it is not too late to gradually change the way we think about food. Therapy can help, as can the support of peers who experience the same issues. A major breakthrough can take place when someone notices how their diet can affect their mood. The mental health charity Mind has a wonderful page that goes into diet and mood in a very accessible way, as does the Mental Health Foundation. They offer recipes, talk about  about eating the right fats (not no fat), drinking plenty of water and ensuring you take in protein as well as your five a day. Do take a look and see what we mean. No fuss, no ticking off and no draconian measures required.

If you do want to see  the sort of recipes we enjoy eating, with the ingredients we know can lift mood and aid digestion, take a look at our Pinterest page devoted to healthy foods. You don’t have to go all out for vegetarian foods, or drop things you enjoy completely but there is a world of delicious stuff out there many of us know little about. It may feel annoying to be told what to eat by the government, or doctors; but seeing Carl, and the horrors of his weight gain, isn’t it worth biting your lip and just taking those first few steps to get out of a cycle that can affect both mind and body?

Guest post: Living a real life again – on giving up a twitter addiction for Lent…

Brooke Sheldon

Today we are pleased to welcome Brooke Sheldon as guest blogger to let’s talk! Over the coming weeks we will be offering a variety of writers, thinkers, therapists and anyone interested in well being the opportunity to talk about something of importance to them and to give their thoughts on how we can support our own emotional and physical well-being in our increasingly fast paced world. Here Brooke writes of her decision to leave the twitter-sphere for the 40 days of Lent, and the results – some surprising, some less so –  of her experiment. Social media addiction, affirmation and validation can be replaced by something far more meaningful….

social-media-addictionIn February, on my blog, We Are the Books We Read, I wrote a post about giving up Twitter for Lent. I decided to take a break because it had become an all-consuming vacuum, a fake symbiosis. I truly believed that those who ‘followed’ me were as absorbed in my life, thoughts, exaggerations, petty complaining and bitching.

Result One. The first thing I noticed after logging out was the increased time I had every single day.  Very quickly, I had literally hours to fill. Where once I updated the feed every few seconds, I now had time to look at a draft of the book I’ve been working on since 2011. That’s right, 2011 and while I’m still not finished all these 40 plus days later, I have completed more editing in this time than in the last six months. I had wrongly believed Twitter to be as reliant on me as I on it and that I needed Twitter to be a validated as a person.

Result Two. I started thinking again; ideas, realisations, sentences, comments, interactions and experiences all materialising in forms greater than 140 characters. The world opened up. I noticed the life around me and I revelled in the mundane.

A few days into Lent I wrote in my diary, the trees are budding with flowers and new leaves. Life is coming back into the park by the bus stop. A few days later I wrote, the storm last night has blown the flower petals all over the ground. They look like snowflakes against the dirt. Observations like this have been out of character for me in recent years. Sad but true.

Result Three. Increased time to read, to watch films, to engage with creative mediums. Don’t misunderstand, I never stopped engaging with these activities but there was always the tug of what was happening on Twitter. The need to see what everyone else was doing, thinking, emoting etc. debilitated the enjoyment.

Result Four. On Twitter nothing has changed. The same conversations are happening, the same arguments are repeating, the same causes are being fought for, the hatred of various people is maintained – the continuity is familiar but falsely safe, disappointingly prosaic and invidiously narcissistic.

What I find curious is the numeric stability of followers to my account. There has been fluctuation yes but not as much as expected considering the only Tweets appearing were those automatically generated via my blog. Inconsistently, the unfollowers have mainly been those who assert (allege), in their biographies, that they are followers of Jesus, belonging to Christ, and other variations. These are people (accounts) one could expect to understand the path I had taken.

This brings me to Result Five. Did anyone who follows me, notice I was gone? Did they open the app, or the website and think, ‘gee, I haven’t seen Brooke around lately, I wonder where she is?’. My bio states my intention, but was the message read? Was anyone interested?

Initially, I vainly wanted the email alert saying someone had “DM”’d me, I wanted the email saying someone had mentioned me in a Tweet and not one came. I can honestly say this was a problem. Yes I said where I was going but no one said ‘hey, good choice’, or ‘good luck, see you after Easter’ and I felt let down. I felt like no one cared.

What I’ve realised is that in the reverse, I was (am) the same when people stop using Twitter. I wouldn’t notice they were gone until someone asked about them. We, as humans, are so wrapped up in our own concerns we take little time to be the shoulder to lean or cry on. We spend excessive time putting our happiness in the hands of strangers who communicate in 140 characters (or less) and we allow the control of that 140 characters to determine our worth. Honestly, I am happier without that little blue bird smothering me.

I was going to write “there is no way to avoid Twitter these days” but this is what social media types want us to think. Those who seek to saturate us with various social elements don’t want us to realise that smiling at someone in the street, giving up a seat for a pregnant lady or picking up a piece of rubbish is a social act. The ‘socialverse’ wants us, nay, insists and forces our engagement, through screens big or small and tell us that to not do so is unnatural, deviant.

On day one I thought I would be desperate to open the app and pick up where I left off. Now I realise, like any addict, I wasn’t in control and the desire for Twitter manipulated me every minute. Twitter is a tool to use and this had become reversed. The biggest realisation from this experience is that I am okay as I am. I don’t need validation via 140 characters.

Our thanks to Brooke. Do check out her lovely book review blog We Are the Books We Read .                                                                                                                                                                                                      

‘Boys don’t cry’ – Will the Mental Health Charter for Sport and Recreation help men open up?

Clarke Carlisle

Clarke Carlisle

The Guardian newspaper reported today that former star of the Premier League, Clarke Carlisle, has said he felt “no shame” about his suicide attempt in December 2014, when he was ‘incredibly unwell’. The former Burnley and Leeds United  footballer  stepped in front of a 12-ton lorry on the A64 near York and was seriously injured.

Isn’t it strange, how a high-profile male sports personality needs to say that he does not feel ashamed of his attempt to take his own life? Why should it be shameful? Carlisle was at The Oval cricket ground, alongside Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, to help launch a new programme to tackle the stigma of mental health issues in sport.  The Mental Health Charter for Sport and Recreation has already received endorsement from The Football Association, the Rugby Football Union, the Lawn Tennis Association and the England and Wales Cricket Board.

Carlisle is becoming a very high-profile advocate of the need for sports stars – particularly male stars in a variety of sports – to open up about the stresses of life at the top and the need for support at times of crisis. Many find it particularly difficult at retirement from sport, especially if their career has been cut short by injury.

““People are very delicate stepping around it – there’s no shame invested in it for me….I stand here today with a very different perspective of what it means to be alive in this world. There’s a great expectation that once you come out of a psychiatric hospital you’re cured. You’re not cured – you just have more tools, a greater awareness of self and a greater understanding of how to manage your illness and that’s exactly where I’m at. ….I’m managing my illness on a daily basis and I can tell you today I’m very well.”

The Guardian gives figures from the Professional Players Federation which offers counselling to footballers. It has seen a significant increase in need over the past three years, supporting 143 current and former sports stars last year.

Will this charter make any difference though? Will young people, particularly young men, feel better able to express their mental health needs when sports personalities are open about their struggles? Certainly, taking part in sport can have a positive impact on physical and mental health but the huge financial rewards and pressure involved in remaining at the top of any game can make anyone vulnerable. Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff, known for his love of a party and apparently bullish attitude to life surprised many when he came out as suffering with depression, and the number of cricketers experiencing mental health issues has doubled in the past couple of years.

BCMJ_53Vol10_suicide_depressed_manSuicide in men has been described by the British Medical Journal as a “silent epidemic”; the lack of public awareness and the high incidence amongst men requiring urgent action. It is not only theworld of sport that stigmatises mental health issues, but it surely has a significant role to play in the challenges men face. We will watch to see whether the Charter is more than a piece of paper and a media opportunity for politicians who have neglected mental health service provision over the past five years and are only now recognising how deep-rooted the issues are.

Children’s Mental Health Week – why it is so important to listen & learn…

The Duchess of Cambridge launching Children's Mental Health Week 2015

The Duchess of Cambridge launching Children’s Mental Health Week 2015

Here at The Terrace we nominate a charity each year, to which we make donations from funds raised at our events and open days. We also raise awareness – which in many cases is more important than money. For the charity we have supported for the past two years – the NSPCC – that is especially important as only now is society beginning to recognise how mental health issues are affecting children and young people in the UK, and how services should be tailored to their needs, rather than tagged on to adult care.

Late last week the ChildLine Review was published, showing that four out of ten children contacting the Helpline are doing so because of a mental health issue. Two thirds of online counselling sessions offered by the charity relate to self-harm, suicidal feelings, low self-esteem, unhappiness and other mental health concerns. You can read the full report here. It makes for reading that should be of interest to parents and professionals alike.

Yesterday the Duchess of Cambridge released a video to mark the beginning of the very first Children’s Mental Health week. Filmed at the Bethlem and Maudsley Hospital School in Kent, it highlights the issues many children face as they grow up in a society that is ever more pressurised and which can leave them vulnerable to depression, anxiety and self-harm. It calls for the better provision of early intervention to ensure children get the support they need as a matter of urgency, that being the very best way to make sure they move into adulthood with the resilience they need to cope. You can watch it on the BBC News website here.

Children’s Mental Health Week was launched by Place2Be, a wonderful charity that offers emotional support within schools. Their website offers some, frankly frightening. statistics:

  • 3 children in every classroom have a diagnosable mental health problem
  • Half of those with lifetime mental health issues first experience symptoms by the age of 14
  • Depression and anxiety amongst teenagers have increased by 75% in the past 25 years

iStock_000022060638SmallBut it can also say that more than 80% of parents felt their children’s problems were better after receiving counselling, and research suggests that children are less likely to experience mental health problems in adulthood if they get this early support. Here at The Terrace we offer counselling for children and teenagers with three of our most experienced psychotherapists. Find out more here.

We have written about issues facing our children many times on this blog. Sexting, abuse, exam pressures, FGM, the use of police cells to incarcerate young people – it seems there are so many new things for adults to worry about as their youngsters grow up. But we know from the terrible cases relating to historic sexual abuse that dangers have always been there, and can be countered if children are encouraged to speak out about things that concern them and are listened to. Properly listened to and believed.

Children’s Mental Health Week is a great idea. Let’s hope we can continue the conversation, and support, all year round.