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Mental Health

The Children’s Mental Health Crisis

Children’s mental health is in sharp decline.  The number of children likely to have a mental health problem has risen by 50% in the last three years from one in nine to one in six.  That’s five children in every classroom.

Not surprisingly, the pandemic has taken its toll on young people.  And an estimated quarter of a million children have struggled with the loss of their usual support mechanisms.  Not being able to see friends and family caused the most distress.

But even before the pandemic, there has been a worrying downward trend in children’s happiness.  The latest Good Childhood Report by the Children’s Society reported that an estimated 306,000 10-15 year olds in the UK are unhappy.  That’s over 76% more than ten years ago.  School life and worrying about appearance caused the most unhappiness. 

The Millennium Cohort Study (MCS) follows the health and wellbeing of people born around the turn of the century.  The latest sweep of the MCS found that one in four 17 year olds had self-harmed in the last year and 7% had attempted suicide.  With numbers for young people attracted to the same or both genders much higher at 51% for self-harm and 19% for attempted suicide.

How can we support children’s mental health?

Half of all mental health problems manifest by the age of 14 and three quarters by age 18.  Early support is vital, but 75% of the young people who need help don’t get it.  Waiting lists for NHS treatments are long and 34% of those referred are not accepted for treatment as their condition is not considered severe enough.  But children should not have to wait until they are at crisis point to receive help.

Things you can do:

  • If you are a parent or carer worried about a child, talk to them, listen to them and let them know you can work through any issues together.   If they don’t want to talk, try text or email.
  • Speak to your GP for advice.
  • Write to your MP and support the Young Minds Fund the Hubs campaign to increase funding for early mental health and wellbeing hubs for young people.
  • Attend a Youth Mental Health First Aid course and learn more about supporting children’s mental health.
  • Supporting someone struggling with mental health is hard, so make sure you look after yourself.  Take some time every day to do something just for you. 

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Mental Health

Mental Health at Work: Millennials and Generation Z

It may not come as much of a surprise that in a recent report by Deloitte on mental health at work, 48% of Millennials (born 1981-1996) and Generation Z (born 1997-2012) reported that they have felt more stressed since the start of the pandemic.  For many of us this has been a really difficult time.

Worryingly, despite more discussion about mental health in the media in the last 18 months, 60% have not felt able to tell their employers about their increase in stress or anxiety.  Which means that even among the younger workforce, mental health stigma endures.

31% of Millennials and 35% of Gen Zs have taken time off work for mental health reasons. But astonishingly 49% and 47% (respectively) of these have given their employer a different reason for their absence.  And for those who have never requested time off for mental health reasons, 46% and 51% of them said that they would not give their employer the real reason if they did. 

When you look at the figures above, it’s not surprising that one in four Millennials and Gen Zs feel that their employer is poor when it comes to supporting workers to be their true selves.  And nearly four in ten gave their employers a poor grade when it comes to supporting mental health during the pandemic. 

Fear of discrimination due to mental ill health in the workplace is still rife. With 50% of millennials and 53% of Gen Zs believing that this frequently happens.

Prioritising Mental Health at Work

As employees, socially conscious young people are demanding their concerns around mental health and inequality are addressed in the workplace.  In another recent report from The Purpose Pulse, Gen Z and Millennials are clear on diversity and inclusivity which includes mental health. 69% (almost 7 in 10) want employers to encourage them to bring their whole self to work.

Being authentic and being able to show or be your whole self includes being able to discuss concerns about mental health with your employer.  Psychological safety is one of five key elements that allow a team to excel.  Google’s Aristotle study found that when people feel safe and connected they work better together. 

The research also showed that 66% (two thirds) want to work for an organisation that actively promotes diversity and inclusion.

There are set to be rewards for brands that have a clear social purpose and a good record on workers rights.  Over two thirds of young people (68%) are looking to buy from brands that treat their employees well. With 61% saying a brand having a clear social purpose is important in their purchasing decisions. 

Just over two fifths (43%) of Millennials and Gen Z in the UK have boycotted a company over the past 12 months because they don’t agree with their values or behaviour. This is an increase of 9% from last year.

Clearly more needs to be done to end the stigma around mental ill health.  Employers must now make mental health a priority to ensure that workers can be their whole self and to help strike a better work-life balance.

The rewards for doing this are clear.  Not only a happier, healthier and more productive work force but also a more positive image for customers too.

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Mental Health

The Strands of Equality

Sometimes referred to as ‘The Six Equality Strands’, these are the characteristics which are protected by law under The Equalities Act of 2010.  Despite this, we still have discrimination and this can have a huge impact on mental health and the treatment of mental ill health.

Mental Health and Sexuality

LGBTIQ+ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, intersex, queer or questioning. 

The LGBTIQ+ communities face discrimination, stigma, bullying, hate crimes and social isolation.  Because of this, mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and substance abuse are more common.

It’s quite frightening to think that up until as recently as 1990 homosexuality was classed as a mental illness by the Word Health Organisation. So it’s not surprising that even now one in eight LGBTIQ+ people report feeling discriminated against when accessing health services.

Transsexualism has only just been removed from the ICD11 (international classification of diseases) which is good news for the transgendered community as it is no longer viewed as a mental health illness.

Mental Health and Gender

There are many differences in the way that men and women experience mental distress.

Men are more likely to die by suicide than women and women are more likely to experience depression. There are a variety of complex reasons for this so I’ve listed a few below.

Men are more likely to suffer from substance abuse which increases the risk for suicide.  They’re also less emotionally literate than women and will bottle things up.

Women are the largest single group of people affected by PTSD because of the massive amount of sexual violence they are victims of.

Women are also more likely to be diagnosed with depression because of patriarchal society but also because of gender bias in treatment. I.e. they are more likely to be diagnosed with depression even when scoring the same as men on standardised tests.

Mental Health, Race and Ethnicity

Institutional racism exists in society which negatively impacts the mental health of those from Black and Minority Ethnic backgrounds and the help that they receive.

Mental Health and Age

As people age, their role in society changes and so does their health.  Friends and relatives may pass away, children leave home, there may be money worries and they may feel isolated or not useful anymore.  

Suicide is more prevalent in men aged 44-49 and depression is more prevalent in older people.

Among younger people, self-harm and eating disorders are more common.  Schizophrenia is more common in young people aged 16-25.

Mental Health and Disability

Physical disability can have a negative impact on someone’s mental health. They may feel isolated because they cannot participate with other people in physical activities such as sport.  There may be problems accessing buildings or transport. And for those with learning disabilities, there may also be problems with communication and coping skills.  A person with a mental health condition that significantly impacts their life for 12 months or more is considered a disability and so that means they are protected from discrimination by law.

Mental Health and Religion or Belief

Having a religion, belief or spiritual practice is actually a protective factor for many. People who have a strong spiritual belief are less likely to die by suicide, suffer from depression or abuse substances.

There can be negative effects though, including feeling guilt and the need for forgiveness.  There can be stigma in expressing poor mental health in many religious communities.  A few religious groups have extreme ideologies and if you suffer from poor mental health, you’re more vulnerable to their extremism and more likely to become a victim of radicalisation.

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Mental Health

What is Schizophrenia?

National Schizophrenia Awareness Day on 25 July 2021 brings attention to this much misunderstood condition. But exactly what is it?

One of the most common misconceptions about schizophrenia is that it means having a split personality. But that is a completely different illness called dissociative identity disorder.  People also mistakenly think schizophrenics are violent. But again this is not true, as schizophrenics are more likely to harm themselves than others.

Psychosis is an umbrella term for a number of conditions including schizophrenia. The word schizophrenia actually means split mind.

It is a long term medical condition where the main symptoms are:

  • delusions (losing touch with reality),
  • thought disorders (muddled thinking & speech)
  • hallucinations (auditory, visual, taste, touch & smell)

The exact cause is unknown, but it could be a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Stressful events can be psychological triggers such as bereavement, losing a job, the end of a relationship, physical, sexual or emotional abuse.  Drug use is linked to schizophrenia and there is also some research to show that people who have had complications at birth may be more susceptible.

It is a debilitating condition affecting 1 in 100 people.  Worldwide it is ranked as one of the highest causes of disability. It is one of the most expensive illnesses through physical co-morbidities (related illnesses), social impairment, inability to work and hospital admissions.

Can Schizophrenia Be Treated?

The main treatment includes anti-psychotic drugs and cognitive behavioural therapy.  Eight out of ten areas in the UK have an Early Intervention in Psychosis (EIP) team whose aim is to get people in treatment within two weeks.  Early intervention is vital, as treatment outcomes are good when this is caught early on.

One in five people with schizophrenia recover completely with treatment. But others may have times when symptoms return and it is important to learn to recognise the signs and have support in place.

Living with Schizophrenia

Here Antonio speaks about his experience of living with schizophrenia

Find out more about schizophrenia.

And if you are worried for yourself or someone you know, please speak to your GP.

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Mental Health

Let’s talk about Men’s Mental Health

Three times as many men as women die by suicide and it is the biggest cause of death for men under 50.  Men report lower levels of life satisfaction than women but are less likely to discuss or seek help for their mental health concerns.  Often they don’t even recognise them.  

We live in a society that expects men to be strong and in control, making it difficult for men to reach out for support, instead turning to unhealthy coping mechanisms.  Men are three times more likely than women to become dependent on alcohol or drugs.

It’s important that we have safe spaces where men can share their health concerns.  In my own journey, a weekly men’s group was fundamental in helping me to turn my life around. I was an angry young man with physical and mental health problems.  I was off sick from work and struggling with life.  And like many men, anger was an emotion that was both familiar and something I found easy to access and express.

But what was behind the anger?

In my men’s group one day, the facilitator challenged me on my anger.  He asked me to close my eyes and said that he would say things that would make me angry but that I should not react, just stay with the emotions.  He began to speak and I found the anger building, my knuckles clenched and my jaw tightened.  He continued and I began to shake.  After a few minutes (and it may have been much less than that) I started to cry and it wasn’t just a few tears, it was uncontrollable as the years of sadness that I’d been hiding behind my anger came out.

This couldn’t have happened had there been women present for two good reasons.  Number one, and the main reason, is that I wouldn’t have let my guard down in front of females.  And number two is safety. The facilitator probably wouldn’t have tried this just in case I lashed out. So this is one example but there are many subjects that men need a safe space to talk in.

Reach out if you are worried about your mental health.  Connect with friends and talk about your concerns.  Don’t let it build up until it becomes unmanageable.  There is help out there.

And if you are worried about someone else
  • Let them know you are there for them and keep in touch, listen without judgement.
  • Encourage them to get help from their GP or find a men’s group in your area
  • Learn more about the signs and symptoms of mental ill health and how to support someone in distress by taking a mental health first aid course.
  • Check out Men’s Health Forum for more information on men’s health

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Mental Health

Why do negative thoughts stick in our heads?

Have you ever had a really good day, when everything seems to go right?  Maybe you gave a presentation at work and got lots of great feedback.  But what if among the great feedback you got one bad comment?  Do you focus on the overwhelmingly positive feedback?  Or do you dwell on that one negative comment?  If it’s the latter, you’re not alone.  Most people do.

The brain sees negative information as three times more interesting than positive information.  This means we spend more time thinking about negative experiences and the memories of them last longer and are more detailed than positive ones.

From an evolutionary perspective, this helped our ancestors to survive the daily physical dangers that they lived with.  If you remember the noise of a wild animal, you know what to do next time you hear it.

But focussing too much on negative thoughts is not great for our mental health.

What can we do about negative thoughts?

The brain is designed for survival and naturally focuses on the negative so it takes effort to give equal attention to the positive.  But the more time we spend thinking positively the less we dwell on negative thoughts.

Recognise and reframe negative thoughts. If after an event, you catch yourself automatically thinking negatively (“everything went wrong, I shouldn’t have done…”), stop, and think about some of the things that went right.  Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can help with this.

Celebrate the good things, no matter how small.  Share them with friends, write them down, spend time thinking about them, savour them.  It’s easy to have a moan about a bad day, but don’t forget the good bits.

Practice mindfulness.  Bringing your awareness to the present moment can help to break a negative thought cycle.  Regular practice can help to change the way you respond to your thoughts.  Watching your breath is a simple practice that can be done anytime. 

Practice gratitude. Keeping a gratitude journal or just thinking of three or four things you’re grateful for at the end the day can promote positive thinking and balance out any negatives.

Distract yourself.  Sometimes the best way to reduce the power of nagging thoughts is to distract yourself.  Do something you enjoy – listen to music, read a book, go for a walk, laugh.

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Mental Health

Racism and Mental Health

The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is observed annually on the day the police in Sharpeville, South Africa, opened fire and killed 69 people at a peaceful demonstration against apartheid “pass laws” in 1960.

Racism has had a huge impact on my life, from the age of 7 to 17 I suffered direct racial abuse from people in the streets and systemic racism from school, the police, and also the mental health system.

Even  though I struggled with poor mental health, and racism was a clear factor in this, it was never brought up by social workers or medical professionals. It seemed that my reaction to racism was the problem rather than the racism itself. And when I questioned it, I was deemed a troublemaker or I “had a chip on my shoulder”. I remember one psychotherapist who was keen to know about my experiences growing up as a mixed ethnicity child adopted into a white family. He was convinced this was the cause of my problems but was unconcerned when I told him “my family are great, they weren’t the ones abusing me”. He had no interest in hearing about me being regularly attacked by skinheads and squaddies (I grew up in a barrack town) or about being held back in schools, in sports or later in my career.

After the death of George Floyd, and because of the blatant racism I have experienced over the years and the racism I was now seeing online from the yoga and wellness communities, I was inspired to create my own anti-racism training. I am on the faculty teaching this for the leading yoga training provider in the UK, Yogacampus, and other large yoga training providers.

So what do we know about racism and mental health?

Your Race and Ethnicity have a clear link to mental health from exposure to more risk factors, access to services, how you are referred, diagnosis given and treatment outcomes.

Harassment, discrimination, bullying, social isolation, poverty, migration, trauma, unemployment, poor housing, homelessness, family history, stress and in particular social stressors and inner city life are all risk factors for mental ill health ill. And if you’re from a Black or minority ethnic background, guess what? You’re more likely to be affected by them.

What does the science say?

Leading researcher in this field, Dr Robert Carter, showed that many individuals who have suffered racial discrimination experienced it as a form of trauma similar to post traumatic stress disorder (Carter et al. 2009).

A more recent study examined this further and showed a relationship between racial discrimination and dissociation, which is disconnection from thoughts, feelings, memories, identity, surroundings and time.

Thankfully there is now a growing body of high quality research studying the effects of racism on mental health and even though there were clear links shown in previous research for some reason this was ignored.

What do the stats say?

  • People from Black and minority ethnic backgrounds felt the possible financial costs of therapeutic interventions were too expensive since the majority of Black and minority ethnic people were from poor socio-economic backgrounds.
  • Historically, ethnic minorities have been more likely to be prescribed antidepressants and other forms of medication rather than psychological and cognitive behavioural interventions which eliminate the need for dependency on drugs.
  • Out of 16 specific ethnic groups, Black Caribbean people had the highest rates of detention under the mental health act 2020.

I could go on with shocking statistics but let’s look at the impact of these three. 

The cost of counselling and talking therapies are seen to be out of reach for minority ethnic people and so the private route is seen as inaccessible.

Due to systemic racism suffered by Black and minority ethnic populations there may be a deep distrust of authority which causes fear of accessing free NHS medical services.

We know that early intervention is vital when treating mental health conditions.

If Black people are more likely to be given drugs than talking therapies this means that the symptoms are being treated rather than the root of the problem, which talking therapies seek to do. So the problem is still there and all that happens is the person becomes dependent on drugs.

And so if that early intervention and follow up treatment is not there, then it’s more likely that intervention will come at crisis level and the stats back this up as White people are more likely to be sectioned/referred by their GP or CMHT (community mental health team) and Black people by the police.

What can we do about it?

Real change is happening within mental health services but a deep distrust of authority is a very real thing and will take time to heal. If you haven’t experienced racism yourself this may be a hard, or even impossible, thing to understand.

To make active change now, we as individuals must not only become actively anti-racist we must empower ourselves and each other to learn about mental health and how we can support each other.

There are specialist mental health services available specifically for Black & minority ethnic people like Black Minds Matter who connect Black individuals and their families to free mental health services and Nafsiyat the intercultural therapy centre  which offers talking therapies in over 20 languages.

Mental Health First Aid England has an excellent downloadable PDF on supporting the wellbeing and mental health of People of Colour and Black people in the workplace.

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Mental Health

Sleep and Mental Health

Good sleep is vital to good mental and physical health

Sleep is essential for maintaining good health.  The odd sleepless night may affect your whole day, but consistently not getting enough sleep can have a serious impact on your mental health.  It can affect your ability to concentrate and make good decisions.  It can make you irritable and impatient.  It can cause anxiety and depression and increase your chances of other mental health conditions.  Conversely, having poor mental health can lead to problems with sleep.  It can become a never ending cycle.

In my work as a yoga teacher and yoga therapist, one of the main ways I’ve been able to help people is by helping them to sleep and to sleep properly.

What do I mean by sleep properly?

It’s not just how much sleep we get, but the quality of that sleep.  Some of us need more sleep than others but generally most people need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per day.  It’s normal to wake in the night, maybe to go to the loo, but if you can’t get back to sleep quickly, then you may not get enough rest.  The golden rule is that you should awake feeling refreshed and ready for the day.

Many people, however, fall asleep exhausted and wake up feeling tired.  This means that they’re not nourished from their sleep and they may rely on coffee or other stimulants to get through the day.  Others may find it hard to get to sleep in the first place because of worry.  Then if they do sleep it may only be for a couple of hours and they wake unable to fall asleep again.  Some complain of grinding teeth, dental problems, headaches and pain in their jaw when they wake.

So how can you improve the quality of your sleep?

With my clients, I often use movement synchronised with the breath, most likely in a supine position.  I might combine this with long held (gentle) stretches.  After this I may use relaxation techniques such PMR (progressive muscle relaxation), conscious breathing (pranayama) and restorative yoga postures, followed by a long savasana (yoga relaxation pose) where I will give a guided relaxation technique called yoga nidra (sleep of the yogis).

Many people have never experienced such deep relaxation and when they do they want more of it.  It’s like they finally have permission to relax.

Try my yoga nidra for sleep. Do it for five consecutive days and see what difference it makes to your happiness, health and wellbeing.

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Mental Health

What is Self Harm?

The image that often comes to mind is of someone cutting themselves. But self harm can be any action that causes injury or pain to yourself. Over-eating, over-exercising, participating in unsafe activities, drinking too much are all just harmful to yourself as causing immediate physical injuries.

Many people think those that self harm are just attention seeking. If they were serious, they would attempt suicide, right? But in reality they will often do their best to keep their behaviour a secret. It is a coping strategy, a way of dealing with extremely difficult emotions and feeling some control over unmanageable emotions.

MHFA plenary speaker and self harm awareness trainer Satveer Nijjar discusses and explains more in this video.

According to a report published in the British Medical Journal, non-suicidal self harm has tripled in the UK in the last 10 years though people aren’t accessing services.

The co-author of the report Louis Appleby, from the University of Manchester, commented: “An increase in the prevalence of using self harm to cope with emotional stress could have serious long term implications. There is a risk that self harm will become normalised for young people, and individuals who start to self harm when young might adopt the behaviour as a long term coping strategy.”

Appleby warned, “Non-suicidal self harm may be associated with later suicide. As young people get older, reaching age groups that already have higher suicide rates, the self harm they have learned may become more serious and more likely to have a fatal outcome.”

Where to go for help

Self harm can be successfully treated when caught early and it’s important to get help as soon as possible.

Self Harm UK have launched a free online support group for 14-19 year olds called Alumina.

Young Minds are always an excellent resource for all mental health matters for younger people and they have some great pages around self harm. They also support parents of young people too.

The mental health charity Mind have useful contacts if self harm affects you or someone you know.If you’re in crisis contact The Samaritans on 116 123. In 2019, people discussed self-harm in calls with Samaritans once every two minutes.

In the Adult MHFA courses we learn about crisis first aid for self harm and positive coping strategies to help reduce stress.

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Uncategorized

2020: What a Year!

rollercoaster

A tremendously difficult year

What a rollercoaster the year has been. The number of people reporting poor mental health increased massively due to the coronavirus pandemic. The murder of George Floyd sparked protests around the world, causing many people to question their own biases. And Brexit is finally upon us!

the world is closed

Coronavirus and mental health

There have been so many extra reasons to stress this year. Concerns about health. Uncertainty about money, jobs and housing. Families juggling working from home with home schooling and entertaining children. The loneliness of people living on their own or shielding. The enormous strain on NHS staff and other key workers. Constantly changing lockdown rules and tier systems causing confusion about what you’re allowed to do or not. Gyms, leisure facilities and hospitality (and sadly some mental health support services) closing and being unable to meet with friends and family. A loss of freedom and, for many, a loss of loved ones. It’s no wonder that almost half of the UK population have felt anxious or worried.

Public Health England (PHE) have developed a new Covid-19 mental health and wellbeing surveillance report (HMW) which gathers data from academia and public and voluntary sector reports. Their aim is to have ‘near to real time’ data on the mental health and wellbeing of people and communities across the country.

It’s emerging findings are that some groups have been disproportionally including adults those with pre-existing mental health conditions and those out of work.

food bank

We need more help

At a time when people need more mental health support, it’s sad to see services cut. This is the activity room at The Bridge in Harrow, a purpose built centre for mental health run by Rethink. Up until the beginning of lockdown it was used for yoga and other activities to support the mental health of some of the most vulnerable in the community. As the pandemic took it’s toll on people’s jobs and finances, it is now used a food bank. There are regularly queues of over 100 people there.

For almost 8 years, I taught a restorative yoga for mental health class for CNWL NHS trust and Harrow council. For a long time the class was packed and I had a waiting list but over the years due to central government cuts and changes in the way those with mental health access services, I saw the numbers dwindle. The NHS didn’t have the staff to process the funding applications for service users. It’s a truly shocking state of affairs.

black lives matter

Black Lives Matter

The Black Lives Matter movement has highlighted how very far we still are from being an equal society. This is particularly true in regards to mental health. Black people are twice as likely to be admitted to mental health inpatient wards than White. And they are more likely to be referred by the criminal justice system than by a GP.

I am very proud to have been asked by Mental Health First Aid England to become a plenary speaker on racism and it’s effect on mental health. I have much personal experience on this subject.

I have joined the faculty at Yogacampus to lecture on Race, Ethnicity & Yoga on their Yoga Therapy diploma. I have taught this module for YogaHub Dublin and London’s MoreYoga and will be teaching on several other yoga teacher trainings next year.

If you would like help in becoming an anti-racist organisation, please contact me.

goodbye 2020

Supporting your mental health in 2021

If you’re experiencing poor mental health, take a moment from your day to look at the NHS every mind matters campaign for some simple but useful tips and tools to help you manage your mental health.

Look for your local Mind or Rethink for services in your area. And Samaritans are always there if you’re in crisis.

A Mental Health First Aid course can teach you how to spot the signs of mental ill health and provide support, as well as looking after your own wellbeing. We offer both online and in person courses (covid19 restrictions permitting). Find out more and view our upcoming courses.

We wish you a happy, healthy and safe new year!

James & Sital.