Death and Statistics

They’re quite effective, I think – those “kill your speed, not a child”, or “don’t drink and drive” adverts we see on our televisions each year. Especially around Christmas, when there is a little too much festive spirit in our veins, and a stark reminder of how suddenly our loved ones can be snatched from us might make some otherwise thoughtless people leave the car at home.

No doubt, it is a horrible thing. And if we can prevent it we should try everything we can to do so. Perhaps it is a sign of success that the number of fatalities from road traffic accidents was at an all time low of 1,901 in 2011.

On the other hand, 2011 saw an increase of adult suicide rates, leading to 6,045 people completing suicide that year.

6045.  That’s over three times the number of deaths on the roads. And yet – where is the hard hitting television campaign to try and reduce these deaths?  Where is the imagery of the person alone and depressed at Christmas – reminding people to reach out to friends, families, neighbours in the holidays and see how they are? Where is the advertising reminding people that alcohol and drugs can worsen depressive states and increase risk of suicide?  People sharing stories of hope, pointing people to sources of help, encouraging people to talk.  Why is it the work of charities such as the Samaritans to offer help? Why not a national public health campaign?

Good work is being done on raising mental health awareness, and trying to get people asking for help, and talking about mental health in general. But the hardest fact of all is seldom stressed. Mental Health problems can sometimes, if untreated, or unrecognised, be fatal illnesses. People can lose hope and take their own lives, leading to an ever increasing circle of impact and increasing risk. Maybe we can’t prevent every one of those tragedies, but help is available. Things can, and do, improve. And the more we can do to help people to remember that in their darkest hours – the better.

If you are having thoughts of suicide, please talk to someone. A friend, family member, your GP – or contact the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90 (UK) / 1850 60 90 90 (ROI) – or email

Holistic Health

MHFA recognises there are many different ways to improve our emotional wellbeing. Sometimes that might mean medication, sometimes talking therapies – but there are also a wide range of alternative therapies, and strategies for improving our coping skills which may be of use in our recovery journeys.

Some of them may have great bodies of evidence for or against their efficacy. There are huge debates around whether certain non- “conventional” medicines / therapies are any use, or whether it’s all just a placebo effect. Indeed there have been studies that say placebos can work even if we know they are placebos. The brain, as we know, is a funny, and powerful thing.

I’ve written something over on The Willow Twisted (where I put my personal witterings, poetry, etc.) about my own experiments with Binaural beats.  The “scientific” explanation for why these are supposed to work is dismissed by many as rubbish. I don’t know enough about neurology to say either way. But so far, it’s having a great effect on me. Whether for the reasons suggested or not. So does it matter?

It’s important that we make informed choices, whether with conventional or alternative therapies. We need to know about possible side-effects, or drug interactions, and if possible long term outcomes and / or health effects – before we can say, ok. I’ll give it a go and I’m prepared to take any risk involved.  We need to to be lied to, by snake oil salesmen or Big Pharma. We need to do our own research, or if we are unable, be able to trust our medical professionals to give us unbiased and accurate information.

I twitch a little when supposed miracle cures cost a fortune. If I hadn’t have been able to find free downloads – I might not have tried Binaural Beats. But that doesn’t mean to say that if it carries on working I might not be prepared to pay to explore what else it might help me with. I wouldn’t expect to go to a practitioner of some therapy for free- they’re giving me their time and need to make a living. But I would hope not to be ripped off. And the measure of that for me is whether it works. If it doesn’t work, I might give it a month, then pack it in as a bad job. If it does work – I have to decide whether the benefit to me is worth the ongoing cost.  Just as with anything we pay for. I’ve been having my nails done for the past few months. Is having pretty nails, and the nice feeling I get from looking at them, and the hour or so of setting the world to rights when they are being done – worth what I pay? Are the “side effects” – being over cautious with them, not being able to do certain crafty, manual things with ease, not going with all my clothes 😉 – something I can handle? My credit cards – is the convenience and extra spending power worth the interest / debt?

I keep looking and reading into different therapies. There’s always a worry that there’s a health risk I don’t know about. But for now, I’m happy to take the risks I know about (and the uncertainty) – for the benefit I am receiving. Regardless of whether there’s a scientific reason why it should or shouldn’t work.

After all, Prozac / Fluoxitine has a big body of evidence saying why it should be effective, but for me it did nothing more than make me vomit and bruise easily. Venlafaxine worked but turned me into a zombie. A cost I eventually could not afford.

How about you? What techniques / therapies / supplements do you find improve your mental health / emotional wellbeing? I’d love to hear.

Help for Line Managers

MHFA England have released an updated version of the Line Manager’s resource, originally developed by Shift – the Department of Health‘s campaign against stigma and discrimination relating to mental ill health.

This is a great resource and one I would recommend for everyone to have a read of – especially if you manage staff, or hope to in the future. It covers useful things like having conversations with people who are distressed, the impact of stress, your responsibilities under employment law. If you have mental health issues yourself, why not pass this to your own manager – they might find it useful, and you may benefit from their increased awareness.


Calming the Nerves

It’s a shame we don’t deal with anxiety on the first day of MHFA training, because we could have just stood me at the front and said, there you go. Last Thursday, the first day of my first ever course as a (trainee) instructor. I felt so sick in the morning, after not a great deal of sleep. I couldn’t even drink the tea my mother made for me, let alone cope with breakfast. Sweaty palms, palpitations, a feeling of utter panic.

We understand anxiety at times like that. Before doing presentations, going for an interview, meeting your in-laws for the first time. Things you maybe would rather not have to do, but you can’t avoid them, and you want it to go well, you want to make a good impression. It is one of the few times I think I managed to get someone to understand the way my depression / anxiety can manifest physically, was when I said, remember how you felt before the last interview you went for. Now imagine you feel like that, or worse, all the time, and you don’t know why.

Or you know why, but you know your anxiety is out of proportion to the stimulus. You logically know the probability of the bus crashing, or you vomiting in the street is low, but you cannot overcome the fear and panic which the thought of it induces within yourself. And you beat yourself up, because you know you “should” be able to do these things just like everyone else. You assume everyone else would laugh if they knew how ridiculous you were.

Well. If only we were all as perfect as other people think we must be. Anxiety is one of the most common mental health problems, and who’s to say that a quarter of that bus load (or more) aren’t also in their own personal hell as they go to work. Maybe they’ve got a little way further in finding a way to cope. Maybe that’s why their music is so loud, or they won’t meet anyone’s eyes. Maybe that’s why that guy got off when it got too full. Maybe it’s not the bus that bothers them. Maybe it’s the tube, or taxis, or answering the phone. Anxiety is ubiquitous, problematic anxiety is common. You are not alone. And there are many ways to begin finding a way to cope and live fulfilling lives, from medication, talking therapies to self help and relaxation techniques. Don’t give up hope!

As for me, I pushed through the horrible pre-course nerves, stumbled my way through the first bit, and eventually found my rhythm, and you know what? I really enjoyed it. A day helping a group of engaged, interesting people learn about mental health and how to help someone who isn’t doing so well. Magic. Day two today, wish me luck!

Mental Health First Aid – a massively important programme

I first heard of Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) some years ago at a Mental Health and Disabilities conference in London. I picked up a flyer which showed what a particular regional organisation was doing and a little about this training they were rolling out which aimed at bringing a “first aid” approach to the helping people experiencing mental health crises.

“What a fantastic idea” I thought. As someone with, as they say, “lived experience” of mental health problems, I could think of a million scenarios where someone, a friend, a colleague, a teacher, – could have helped me if they’d have had a little knowledge, and a little courage. And countless times when people tried to help and maybe made it a little worse, or harder to deal with, because they didn’t understand what was happening with me.  I don’t blame them – at least they tried, but the potential benefit of giving “ordinary” people a little bit more knowledge about what to do in times of crisis – was instantly apparent.

Mental Health First Aid was developed in Australia and has been slowly spreading across the globe.

I attended the two day course in October, and learnt a great deal – more than I expected to. As someone with my own experiences of depression and anxiety – and many friends with an assortment of diagnoses – I have read a lot. But there is always more to learn. More importantly – I came away feeling better prepared to help others, and indeed myself, if the need were to arise again.

When my employer announced they were looking to get some people qualified to deliver the training, I leapt at the chance. And in February this year I joined a cohort of excited and committed people from many different backgrounds – all eager to begin delivering Mental Health First Aid training to the world at large.  We had a great, and quite intense time together learning about the course, about different conditions, different forms of treatment / therapy. It by no means made us mental health experts or therapists – but helped give us a grounding from which to build our knowledge.

Tomorrow, is the first day of my first course. I am nervous, but excited, and hope my trainees find the course as inspiring as I did last year, and go on to help lots of people.