Tag Archives: resilience

Prevention is better than cure

The incidents of mental health illness is rising. Currently the statistic quoted is 1 in 4 people will suffer during their lifetime and this is thought to be rising. Community Mental Health Teams are so under resourced they are constantly having to raise the threshold people have to reach to gain access to the service. All too often I hear people in crisis are not getting the support they need.

With mental health crisis services in crisis what can we do? 
In the past medication was the cure-all. But people often need therapy to fully understand the underlying problems and to develop management techniques. The government initiative of Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) is great. Although it sounds great that I recently heard one service is doubling the number of Psychological Well-being Practitioners (PWP) it’s training, it concerns me that (although these therapies are obviously needed) we’re throwing money at the wrong end of the line.
Surely, prevention would be better than cure? But what’s being done in this respect?

Mental illness develops due to a variety of factors. These include biological, psychological, social and societal factors.
There is controversy about whether we genetically eradicate illness. Finding the genes responsible for mental illness predisposition is a long way off so we do not need to consider this just yet. So, what can we do about the other risk factors?
The World Health Organisation (WHO) published a document in 2004 detailing how prevention of mental health disorders is a public health concern. They found a number of protective factors to avoid developing a mental illness, these included:

  • Empowerment
  • Ethnic minorities integration
  • Positive interpersonal interactions
  • Social participation
  • Social responsibility and tolerance
  • Social services
  • Social support and community networks

The BBC published an article recently citing a longitudinal study of 10,000 people showing that if children had been involved in scouts or guides they were “15% less likely than other adults to suffer from anxiety or mood disorders.”

The Scout organisation states that they:

  • Offer challenging and unique opportunities
  • Enable people to help others and make a positive impact in communities
  • Help young people reach their full potential by developing skills including:
    • Teamwork
    • Time management
    • Initiative
    • Communication
    • Self-motivation
    • Cultural awareness
    • Commitment
    • Creativity
    • First aid
  • Help young people to get jobs
  • Create an environment to make friends and have fun
  • Ensure young people get outdoors

It strikes me that the being involved in scouts or guides covers all the the protective factors quoted in the WHO publication!

There is something unique about the variety of activities and opportunities offered and the environment created by scouts and guides as researchers “didn’t see the same protective effect from, for example, volunteering or from church groups”.
We assume that the “15% less likely to suffer…” is due to the protective factors produced by being involved in scouts of guides, however, it could be that people who are less susceptible, choose to be involved. There may be no way of knowing which way round the relationship is but I’d say there’s no harm in joining, it sounds like a lot of fun and the opportunity to gain skills and experience will definitely be of benefit to any young person.
Find out more:

6 conundrums of online dating with a mental health diagnosis

find love
Online dating is now the second most common way to meet people (after meeting through friends) and it accounts for over 20% current committed relationships and this number is growing. As an introverted, bottom of the career ladder, divorcee, the  advert practically wrote itself! In a world where “women’s desirability peaks at 21” once I was ready to be thinking about dating again, I was considered over the hill! I’d been in the mental health world for many years, out of work and my self esteem was pretty low. My last relationship had ended with my mental health playing a large role. I’d been hurt when most in pain and it was hard to consider trusting anyone again. I was ambivalent about wanting someone else in my life.
1. Am I ready? I did not want my mental health to dominate a new relationship, nor did I want my unhealthy behaviours to be considered normal but I felt, for my personal recovery journey to continue, having that someone special, just might be the key. I think it’s important not to look for someone who’ll fix you, that won’t work. I was on and off online dating for over a year, tried different sites, met a few people – I just had to take it all as an interesting experience. I think being at the right point is really important. You have to be ok with “putting yourself out there”, it’s important to feel ok with who you are and where you’re at…then start looking. Having said this, if you give it a go and realise you’re not ready, you’ve not lost anything, leave it and go back to it in a few months.
2. Do I put my diagnosis on my profile? If you consider your diagnosis to be part of your identity then yes. If you want to be judged (positively or negatively) because of your diagnosis then yes. If you only want to attract people who understand mental illness right from the start then yes.
I did not want anyone to make contact with me based on my diagnosis i.e. “Ah, she has anorexia, I like skinny girls” – I’m not skinny so this would not work, or “Ah, I know about depression, she’s vulnerable, I’ll look after her” – I do not need looking after, nor is this a good basis for a relationship.
Nor did I want to scare anyone off just because they didn’t understand about mental illness. I like opportunities to spread the word that we (people with a mental health diagnosis) are not aliens or scary, we’re just “normal” people but I couldn’t do that if they rejected my profile before we’d even started chatting!
I took the chance that I might get to know someone and then be rejected, but online dating is about being open minded, giving things a go and just seeing what happens. I am so much more than a diagnosis, it was fun (but really hard!) putting a profile together, it helps you think about what’s really important to you, what makes you tick. I would suggest a mental health diagnosis does not need to define you, it can be something you talk about later (like a cantankerous aunt you have to visit weekly).
3. Would I date someone with a mental health diagnosis? I’d be a bit of a hypocrite if I said “no”! But it’s an interesting consideration because 2 people with mental health problems would be a lot harder to manage but we’d certainly have a lot more understanding and empathy for each other. I had to think carefully about people I came across who put their diagnosis in their profile, I wondered whether they considered it part of their identity or whether they were just trying to avoid starting to get to know people who would judge them for it. It did not stop me connecting with them per se but I knew I would only want to get to know someone if they had a similar attitude about their mental illness and recovery as I did (i.e. it did not define them). Of course, someone can become mentally ill later down the road so it’s worth considering when you get into a relationship with anyone – can I stick by this person, no matter what?
4. Do I talk/write about mental health before meeting? I wrote some hints on my profile, such as “has been through some difficult stuff”, so people would know there was more to me than met the eye but I decided not to bring it up unless asked. I would exchange a few emails before meeting just to check out a few basics but to be honest, once the internet has done its thing of enabling paths to cross, I’d say meet asap – ultimately a relationship is in person so why put it off?!
5. Do I talk about mental health at the first date? I did not want to avoid the subject for too long, nor did I want it to be this massive “I’ve got something to tell you”. I decided I would look for opportunities to drop it in. I’m very fortunate that my job is mental health related so it’s a very helpful “test” conversation. Another way to drop it in might be to say you’ve just spend an afternoon with a friend who has depression/schizophrenia or whatever, this way you can gradually gauge the reaction and see what conversation arises. I’ve been pleasantly surprised people have often come out with “yeah, I had an episode of depression a couple of years ago” or “yeah, my uncle has schizophrenia” – obviously their previous positive or negative experience will influence how they feel about you sharing your story but there’s nothing you can do about that, you can only be honest about your experiences.
I’d always say it’s important to be open. If you’re asked a straight forward question, answer it! Living with mental illness, it’s easier to hide the truth when stigma and discrimination are rife but if you’re considering a committed long term relationship, this is not the time to keep secrets. 
6. What if I’m rejected because of my mental health? Stuff ’em – they’re not worth it. It’s painful but if you’ve done everything you can to make it work and if they choose to go, let them.
In case you’re interested, I met my husband on Christian Connection and you can read our stroy here

Work life balance

work life signpost
Having been off work sick for long periods, I’ve had to learn ways of being resilient and ensuring I keep my work and my home life in balance. Some people live to work – I am definitely not one of these people! I’m very fortunate to have found a job I enjoy but I work to live and have put together some tips on keeping work at work, avoiding work stress tipping over into your home life and making sure you have a life worth living outside work!

  1. Do whatever it takes to prepare for your day. I really struggle if I’m late for work; I spend the whole day trying to catch up with myself. I make sure my commute is as relaxing as possible (I don’t want to start thinking about work before I have to!). I always aimed to get in few minutes before necessary just so I can breathe, get my thoughts in order and tell myself I’m capable of facing the day! For some people it’s important NOT to arrive early or they’ll start work early. Find out what works for you!
  2. Don’t take on other people’s responsibilities; as a people pleaser I say “yes” to more and more work and take on work from other people. If you’re the same, say to yourself “That is not my responsibility” and stand firm. Know your boundaries and make sure other people know too – it helps all round if everyone is prepared to stick to boundaries. Provided you know you’ve done your job well then you cannot take the blame or feel guilty about what other people do or don’t chose to do. If you’re understaffed, this is really tough – I find myself saying “no-one else is going to do it and it needs doing so I have to…”. But sometimes you just have to say “no”. You are only one person! You cannot do the work of 2-3 people over an extended period.
  3. Find out what you need to do to wind down after work – I try to use my commute. For about 6 months I sang the same song over and over, to and from work, preparing to sing at my wedding. This was great for taking my mind off work! My husband and I also have an agreement – if we need to sound off to each other about work, we do it as soon as possible and then shut the door on it, we’ve agreed not to try and solve the others problems, often we just need to be heard, if we want advice, we’ll ask for it! Sometimes thoughts about work will pop into your mind while at home, this is natural. Make sure you have techniques to avoid this getting out of hand e.g. write a list of things to do the next day, imagine putting those things in a box and closing the lid – they will still be there tomorrow. Try to use mental pictures – when you close the office door/car door/ get home, physically and mentally shut the door on your working day.
  4. Make an effort to do things you enjoy. It’s easy to fall into a pattern of going to work, getting home and feeling too tired to do anything so spending the evening in front of the television. Of course, this is fine some of the time, I like TV as much as the next person but I know I enjoy country walks, playing the piano and saxophone and going out for coffee, for example. Even if I’m completely exhausted, I plan to do these things and I make sure I do them! Bigger plans are important too, book in annual leave and when things get tough, focus on your next holiday for rest, relaxation and recuperation!
  5. Are you an introvert or an extrovert? Do you feel rejuvenated/energised by being with people or being alone? I have to make sure I have “me time”, time when I do exactly what I want, on my own! I used to beat myself up (thinking I was boring or anti-social) for this but I’ve learnt “me time” is vital for having the energy to face everyday challenges. Other people (extroverts) get lonely very quickly and need to be with people (coming home to an empty house can be painful). Some jobs require extrovert behaviour (e.g. socialising, presenting or just generally being with people) that are draining for introverts. It may be important to build breathers into your day. I used to travel from client to client by car and would use my car as my haven for silence! Work out whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert and be vigilant about getting what you need.
  6. Make a WRAP (Wellness Recovery Action Plan) for personal life and work life. If you’ve been mentally unwell, having insight into your illness is vital, knowing what signs to look out for can prevent relapse. Even if you have not been mentally unwell, knowing what signs mean you are stressed/overwhelmed/ less than in balance will really help. It can be helpful to make others aware of your early warning signs. For example: looking tired, avoiding certain situations, staying late at work, being irritable, being quiet, sitting in a tense position, complaining of headaches. Most things are ok as a one off but if the signs continue for a few days, this is when it’s important to put the management plan into action. It’s important to talk to your support team about what the management plan is going to be – do you need a couple of days off? (It’s better to take a couple of days now than be off for months when things get too bad). If you can manage things at work, could you be given fewer tasks to do? Work fewer hours? Shift your day so you’re not travelling in rush hour? Try and think outside the box and think about how you would treat someone else in your situation. Don’t be afraid to say “help”. If you know what help you need, that’s great; if you’re not sure what you need, still ask for help and talk through with someone anything that could be changed to get things back in balance.

Working/studying at home is especially difficult but these key points remain important; it may be a case of thinking outside the box for how to be strict with yourself. You can still: 1) Prepare 2) Set boundaries 3) Wind down 4) Do things you enjoy 5) Make rejuvenation time and 6) Make a WRAP.
These things may sound simple and obvious but it’s so easy to get caught up and for things to get out of kilter. Noticing the imbalance is important then it’s a case of putting these simple steps in place to get things back on track.