‘let’s talk! about mental health – #Take5 on the 5th February to discuss mental health

logoToday is Time to Talk Day, when the charity Time to Change asks us to all to spend five minutes discussing mental health issues. The aim is to raise awareness, reduce stigma and encourage people to open up about a subject which is still taboo for many.

So here on let’s talk! we thought we should do just that, and have asked our regular contributor, Suzie Grogan, to start a conversation about how mental health issues affect her, and what raising awareness means to her.

My name is Suzie and I have experienced mental illness. There I have said it.

This is actually how I began my first ever post about mental health, four years ago, on my blog over at No wriggling out of writing and the response to it was overwhelming. It led to my offering a monthly guest post slot to someone else who wanted to say something about how depression and anxiety had affected their lives, and a book – dandelions and Bad Hair Days – followed. It proved to me that there are millions of people out there who are longing to be open about their feelings and find support in others; but the possible stigma that attached to the declaration was a significant concern. What will my friends and family think? What will happen at work?

I can’t remember when I experienced my first real bout of depression. I was an anxious child, and terrified teenager. I had a loving and secure childhood, with two younger siblings but with a father poorly with Parkinson’s from his mid-40s onwards perhaps I took on some of his anxious nature. He was certainly incredibly superstitious and convinced the worst would always happen. I later discovered he had lost his first wife and child, and saw his mother fall dead in front of him. 

After I had my own children I was diagnosed with a form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). All parents are anxious but I took it to extremes, convinced that if I didn’t follow certain rituals (such as making the beds properly, or laying the table with matching cutlery) some terrible accident would befall my family. I developed an eating disorder as a means of introducing some control into my life and was eventually desperate enough to approach my GP. I was lucky to be offered Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and the OCD became manageable, but the lingering thought that something I did, or failed to do, would bring some disaster on us all remained.

Unluckily for me this feeling seemed to be confirmed when, only in my early 40s, I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006. All my fears having come true, and despite coming through all the treatment successfully, I became swallowed up with anxiety about my health and I felt terrified of everything the future held for me. It is nearly nine years since my cancer diagnosis but the anxiety remains, and occasionally it is unbearable. My life is consumed by it,and the black dog of depression snaps at my heals.

As a mother I knew I was supposed to bring up my son and daughter to be confident, caring people with a proper sense of who they were and what their place in the world might be. I was meant to give them all the opportunities I could to equip them for a future with choice and the ability to forge happy relationships with their peers. How was I supposed to do that when I had no sense of myself, no confidence that I had anything to offer anyone? I thought I was bound to be abandoned if I was not the ‘best’ mother, wife, friend, person I knew and my desperation to please, to make everyone happy, inevitably failed in the hurly burly of life with little ones, simply reinforcing my view of myself as a bad parent. But despite all this pain, all the unhappiness I have put myself and my family through, my children have turned out to be confident, and caring and I am incredibly proud of them. And after four years of counselling I can be proud of myself – for being a ‘good enough’ parent. And person.

Book Cover resize (2)Dandelions and Bad Hair Days raises money for the mental health charity SANE, and it is full of poetry and prose by more than twenty people who were keen to keep the conversation going. And that is what we must all do – on the 5th February and beyond.

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It’s official – hugging a tree is good for your health…..

CLF - Olmstead ParksHere at The Terrace we are always keen to promote green business and are committed to being as environmentally aware as possible. We monitor our carbon footprint and source any products we use from ethically sound companies.

But being environmentally aware is about more than the business. It is, literally, at the root of what we do and how we seek to support the well being of our clients. We regularly run mindfulness taster sessions and longer courses and other therapies are based on a stillness and calm that takes us deep within our selves.

So it was with great interest that we read yesterday that researchers at the University of Exeter have found that those living in parts of London populated with a greater number of trees take fewer antidepressants than those who survive away from leafy lined roads and parkland.

It was a simple piece of analysis – data was gathered on the number of antidepressant prescriptions issued across London in 2009-2010 and then compared to the number of trees on the streets in the same area.The places with higher tree densities had lower prescription rates and although some of this might be explained by the greater affluence of some of these areas, and the reduction in respiratory illness in areas where pollution is filtered via the greenery, there is little doubt that being in touch with the seasons and with nature through the life cycle of the trees has a calming influence.

This news reminded us of a wonderful poem by Mary Oliver. Called In Blackwater Woods the rich imagery the poet uses takes the trees and turns them into a life force, energising and reminding us of the power of nature to heal. It also, I think, stresses the limits of the mortal life and the connection we have with the natural cycle of the world we are lucky enough to live in.

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
everything
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it
go, to let it go.

There is a sense here of literally clinging to the tree trunks as pillars of light and life. What do trees mean to you? Do you notice them as part of the landscape, or see in them the spirit of life itself? They are, after all, our very breath…..

On a Mindful Christmas contentment. Why can’t we just ‘be happy’?

trolleyLots of Christmas shopping was done over the weekend. We woke up in the knowledge that money needed to be spent,  car park spaces must be battled  for and crowds coped with. It was daunting, but ’tis the season…’ and all that – jolliness is required of us. Here at The Terrace we do like to offer support to readers over the festive season, but in the rush of consumer madness that is challenging.

So it was good to come across a piece by our own Miranda Bevis, mindfulness practitioner and leader of many of our workshops and courses. She recognises that the real world makes living in the moment (the basis of mindfulness practice) tough, but maintains that with work we can achieve a peace and level of contentment in many of those situations that threaten to overwhelm us. Here she offers some wise words on becoming content. How much of the ‘stuff’ we accumulate over the Christmas period do we actually need? We have written on here about looking at our rituals and making a decision to change. No more three for two gift sets, over indulgence and post Christmas strain on relationships – and perhaps creating new ways to celebrate the things that are important to us.

This time of year should be reflective, a time to take stock, but we have to admit that major changes  to seasonal celebrations are best planned rather earlier than mid-December when many of our presents are bought and paid for and meals planned etc. So, take a look at what Miranda writes below, and have a think about how we can appreciate the things we have already. Then perhaps we can take steps this year to enhance our Christmases to come.

Scanning the weekend newspaper supplements, I find so many articles and advertisements telling us how we could (should?) change: How to get fitter, thinner, look younger; give your garden a makeover, re-design your interiors. Revitalize your love life, spice up your cookery and your sex life (because you’re worth it). There is no end of things that we could change for “the better”. And of course, change is supposed to be good for us; after all, we wouldn’t want to be bored or get stale, or allow ourselves to get into a rut, would we? We “deserve” more, we “have a right” to more. We should seek out new excitements, discover new thrills, acquire new things, visit new places, meet new people.

“Now and then it’s good to pause in ourAnd there’s nothing wrong with any of this, except, perhaps, the overall message. Which seems to be that, if things were different, in terms of our looks, our possessions, or our experiences, we’d be happier. That there’s a better place to be, a better way to be, than where we are right now. And that surely breeds dissatisfaction. It’s all too easy to get caught up in disgruntled thoughts, and end up not noticing what we’ve actually got.

When we practice Mindfulness, we explore being with whatever is, without immediately trying to change anything. Sitting with our sensory experiences alone, and allowing them to be exactly as they are, while letting go of thoughts and desires for things to be different. We begin to realize that often it’s not so much what is actually happening that is the problem, but rather the thoughts about it. Realizing that the mutterings of “I don’t want it to be like this”, “It’s not fair”, and “I deserve more” breed discontent.

Letting go is not the same as giving in. It’s not a state of hopeless resignation. But it gives us the space to fully appreciate what we already have. It can help us to discover what really does need changing, and teaches us to develop a different relationship with what we have no control over.

The art of contentment and well-being is being good at noticing what you have, and wanting what you’ve already got. In the words of Guillaume Apollinaire: “Now and then it’s good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy”.

Miranda is offering more taster sessions and courses in the new year. See our ‘What’s On’ page for further details.

 

‘Re-charging’ the Christmas ritual….

images (3)As the days of December rush past, leaving us little time to pack in all the annual rituals – present buying, writing and sending cards, attending the work Christmas ‘do’- as well as trying to keep the non-Christmas side of our lives under control, it is all too easy to succumb to a bug, or feel oneself become overwhelmed with the stress and anxiety of it all. Here at The Terrace we like to gather together some tips to help survive the second half of December and on into the new year.

For many of us the rituals are all part of the season and fill us with a sense of nostalgia. For others, the rituals seem stale, lowering and unnecessary, washed away in a sea of consumer madness, bright lights and bad tempers. Money is tight, the shops are filled with things we can’t afford and don’t need. It can be difficult to cope.

If you fall into the latter category – or if Christmas holds darker memories and is a time when you battle depression-  rather than avoiding it altogether, you might want to create your own ritual, one that is personal and connects you to who you are rather than joining the ‘Christmas Mad Rush’. So why not consider the following:

  • Pay particular attention to what is important to you; seeing special friend(s) or spending time with one or two members of your family rather than all of them.
  • Prepare a meal you enjoy, rather than feeling obliged to have turkey with all the trimmings, or create your own spiritual practise – meditation and or quiet time.
  • Take time to read a book, or watch a film that interests you.
  • Don’t allow yourself to be pulled into an arrangement which you know is not going to work for you. If you cannot say ‘No’ outright, say you would like some time to think about it and let the other party know a time when you will get back to them.
  • Never feel guilty about saying you need to spend time alone if that is what you really want.
  • Try to build an understanding of what is important and getting it right for you. When a ritual has become dead for one person it normally has for others too – naming it can be a relief and stimulate new ideas. You might be concerned about upsetting other people’s routine – but they may just be waiting for someone to take that step for them!

In getting the festive season right for you, it often gets it right for others too.

More mindfulness practice: On eating that Christmas raisin……

a-mindful-christmasWe are in December now, and here at The Terrace we are keen to promote ways to ensure our well-being is protected in what is a busy, festive month. We have written many times on mindfulness, and have started a new series of posts on the subject. Our expert practitioner Miranda Bevis offers regular and popular taster sessions and courses here, to those interested in finding out more. Here, Miranda discusses an exercise that some of you may already have heard of, and perhaps even dismissed. After all – how useful can eating one raisin be? Read on and find out. Perhaps, as you eat your rich Christmas cake or pudding this year you can give it a try…..

“The first exercise we do in the Mindfulness course is to eat a raisin. It seems a bit crazy. Never mind. Just do it. Notice. What does it look like? How does it smell? What happens when you put it in your mouth? As best you can, try not put the experience into words, but just allow yourself the bare experience.

If the mind wanders, which it probably will, gently guide it back to the exploration of this small object. Let go of any thoughts or judgments.

The whole thing takes about 5 minutes. People are always surprised and I regularly hear comments such as  “I didn’t know I could get so absorbed in such a small and insignificant thing”, “I can’t believe how intense it tasted”, “I didn’t think I even liked raisins, but that was really enjoyable”; and there’ is always someone who says, “It’s really strange, but I feel so much more relaxed”.

This exercise is far from crazy, and should not be dismissed. It demonstrates a number of things, including how, a lot of the time, we don’t really notice what we are doing, but are functioning automatically. Now, that’s not always a bad thing to do. For example when we react to real danger, or the mechanics of driving. In this complicated world, there are many times when we have to multi-task.

But if we function without awareness, we miss out on much of our experience. How many meals do we not even taste because we are in such a hurry?

And sometimes it’s downright unhelpful, and can actually make things worse. Reaching for the biscuits or the bottle when we get stressed, or kicking the cat because we are feeling irritable – perhaps if we were more aware of our actions, we might act in ways that were kinder to ourselves, and to others.

raisinFinally, the person who noticed she became more relaxed whilst eating the raisin had touched on something of great importance. I never used the “relax” word, never say ‘chill out’. I just said, really, really notice what you are doing. So what we discover is that, just by becoming fully absorbed in a very mundane activity, the body relaxes.

Why not give it a try? For a few mouthfuls every day, switch off the radio, don’t read or talk. And just eat. And notice…”

Miranda Bevis is offering mindfulness taster sessions and a new 8-week course in January 2015. See our ‘What’s On’ page for more details.

An introduction to Mindfulness – the first of a new series on ‘let’s talk!’

miranda

Miranda Bevis

Miranda Bevis, our expert Mindfulness practitioner has prepared some articles on how we can all take advantage of the benefits the practice of Mindfulness offers. As she will make clear in teh coming weeks, it does take practice, it is no quick fix. But that is what it is all about – taking that time to add it, gradually, into our lives….

Mindfulness is very much in the news these days, as means of finding a bit of tranquillity in our increasingly stressful world.  We are all subjected to pressures from many different sources, including work, relationships, family, money worries and information overload. Often the strain may prove too much, and problems arise. A high proportion of illnesses are now thought to be stress related, and there are no ‘quick fix’ medical answers.

Many people struggle with anxiety, panic attacks and depression. Social isolation, lack of confidence and low self esteem are common and they may leave us feeling exhausted, trying to find solutions in our lives, and feeling powerless to change things. A lot of time is spent wishing we were somewhere, or someone, else. Energy may be invested in ruminating over unwanted thoughts.

The idea behind mindfulness is very simple. It is just to be fully in the present, moment by moment. We learn to focus on what is happening right now, and cultivate a kind and non- judgmental attitude to ourselves. This is not an intellectual exercise, but requires a fair amount of practice. Over time, we develop a different relationship with what distresses us. What exactly are we focussing on? It is often the breath, an anchor for our attention. It may be our body sensations, or what we can hear or see. We learn to be aware of what we are doing, while we are doing it. We observe thoughts and emotions, and learn to let them pass by, instead of getting hooked into them. Gradually, we realize there are different and more constructive ways of responding to difficulties, instead of reacting in old, often unhelpful, automatic patterns.

The approach was developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn in the late 1970’s. It draws from ancient eastern philosophies, but is delivered in an entirely secular way. Research, over three decades, supports Mindfulness, and it mindfulness_oneday_6_1_1_1_1_1_1_2_1_1has been shown to increase feelings of well being, and decrease the impact of living in a stressful world. It is now taught widely in many different settings including schools, the mental health services, hospitals and hospices, prisons and government agencies

Over the next few weeks I am going to explore what we mean by Mindfulness, and how we can use it to navigate whatever stresses may come our way, not be blown away. I will also include some wonderful poetry, which can help focus our minds and support our practice.

“It may be that when we no longer know what to do,

we have come to our real work,

and when we no longer know which way to go,

we have begun our real journey.”

Wendell Berry

Miranda has some new Mindfulness workshops and courses starting in the New Year. Follow us on Facebook to find out more or see www.the-terrace.co.uk

‘let’s talk!’ about ‘parity of esteem’ in mental health

esteemOver the past few weeks we have heard the term ‘parity of esteem’ used a lot, in relation to mental and physical health. It is an important phrase with an important meaning, but how many of us really know what it means? And would parity of esteem actually improve the way mental health services are delivered?
The NHS defines the term as meaning:

“My family and I all have access to services which enable us to maintain both our mental and physical wellbeing.”
“If I become unwell I use services which assess and treat mental health disorders or conditions on a par with physical health illnesses.”

Professor Sir Simon Wesseley, incoming president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, has highlighted this issue in The Guardian recently, as he took up his post, challenging Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt on his pledge to ensure mental health services achieve the same level of provision as physical health services . He believes the gap is already so great that finances will never be able to close the gap. If less than a third of people with cancer received any treatment at all, wouldn’t we be up in arms? What if they had to wait 6 months for a scan? These are the figures for those suffering with depression, a condition that can worsen, result in life-threatening illnesses and at its most severe, death.

On the Radio 4 programme ‘All in the Mind’ yesterday, Clinical Psychologist Martin Seager, who spoke so eloquently at the Taunton Association for Psychotherapy Conference in 2013, said that the well-known statistic that 1 in 4 of us will experience mental ill-health is misleading, and could even increase stigma. He feels that this discussion on parity of esteem hides the real issue – that we all experience mental and physical health or ill-health. There is a mental health aspect to physical health, and vice versa. Looking at those two NHS definitions above therefore, the first seems more appropriate, and is one that many therapists would endorse.

Simon Wesseley continued:

Professor Simon Wesseley

Professor Simon Wesseley

“The whole of our healthcare system is about separating mental and physical. You couldn’t devise a system better suited to separating the mental and the physical if you tried……..Most people have quite complicated views of their illness anyway…….They are not resistant to doctors offering cardiac tests and counselling for a recent divorce at the same time.” He has seen psychiatrists on general medical wards work with great success.

“But we know people with physical health problems who also have mental health problems cost about 45% more than those who don’t. That’s absolutely and unequivocally clear. The cost of their care goes up. They comply less with treatment, they come back more often, they have lower satisfaction and they have more complications.”

So the President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists is calling for more holistic treatment across the health service, which could achieve significant savings if implemented. Parity of esteem is surely all about keeping physical and mental health separate, thereby perpetuating the myth that we can be mentally ill but physically healthy, or physically ill but without mental health needs. Doesn’t this, as Seager suggests, increase the possibility that mental ill-health will remain stigmatised and disconnected from, and in competition with (for resources, time etc) with other health services?

We would love to know your views!