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Brain and Body Working Together

The distress experienced by some of our top athletes shows that it is possible to be completely physically healthy and yet completely miserable from a mental health problem. But there really does seem to be a connection between mental and physical health.

Can physical health problems cause mental issues?

Yes! Of course, injuries and infections can mess with our brains directly, but sometimes the stress of being unwell can drag our mental well-being down as well. For example, painful conditions like shingles can lead to a person becoming depressed. Cancer patients often need a lot of psychological support as they go through anxieties and stresses of their illness. Just feeling rotten physically or limited, especially for a long period of time, drags our emotions down as well.

Can mental health problems cause physical health issues?

Again yes, sometimes in ways that are not well understood. For instance, people with schizophrenia have a much higher incidence of Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Schizophrenics are about five times as likely to be heavy smokers, and that has a big impact on their health and, sadly, tends to shorten their life. People with mental health problems sometimes lack the motivation to exercise, eat well and take care of themselves. Sometimes they also lack the money to buy themselves healthier food options.

Can mental health be improved by improving our physical health?

A much louder yes! We are a ‘whole package’ – mind and body interacting together. There can be huge benefits from counselling and medicines, but mental health workers know that sometimes the best improvements come when someone starts walking a few kilometres a day, or playing a sport, or getting on a bike or going to the gym. Do the benefits come from being active rather than just isolated at home? Do they come from the fact we are being socially active and mixing with people? Do they come from the wonderfully good feeling of making progress and taking control of our life? Could the benefits come from the ‘endorphins’ released as we experience the pleasure of physical activity? Or are they due to the fact that our body is stronger and fitter and somehow that makes our brain healthier too? Probably… all of the above!

You wouldn’t normally think of them as being ‘mental health strategies’ but maybe your mood would lift if you got your teeth fixed, or you walked past the burger place and into the veggie shop instead, or went for a walk, or asked your doctor for a ‘green prescription’ to go to a gym, or sold the Playstation and bought a Fit-bit instead, or got yourself the best exercise piece of exercise equipment ever… a dog!

Tuesday, October 29, 2019
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Here are some characteristics of families that provide the best support for people with mental health challenges.
Whānau supports mental health

When we are looking for solutions to mental health problems, we usually think of what medicine a doctor might prescribe or what psychotherapy we might get from a psychologist. These are valuable but families are also hugely important: a well-functioning family environment helps us to sustain good mental health, and can be a critical component in our recovery and coping if we do become unwell.

Here are some characteristics of families that provide the best support for people with mental health challenges.

1. They understand. Disappointment, embarrassment, distress and resentment might be natural responses to the challenging behaviour and moods of a family member who is mentally unwell, but education about mental health can make tough times much more tolerable. If you understand the underlying reasons, it is so much easier to extend grace and patience. Offence turns into sympathy. This is sometimes called a ‘disability perspective’: a clunky term but it means you see their challenging behaviour as symptoms of a health problem rather than as a moral failure or character flaw. Some maturity is required but even children can often grasp this notion when it is explained to them.

2. They stand firm.  A mental health challenge can dominate a family. Parents and partners can become exhausted and children can feel neglected.  Wider whānau can be brilliant in stepping in and providing care for the care-givers, ‘filling gaps’ and giving practical support.

3. Boundaries. All healthy relationships have boundaries – we cannot feel safe without them. Sometimes a person with a mental health problem loses their sensitivity around the normal boundaries that exist within family life, and make excessive demands on time and resources, or be intrusive in their behaviour or neglectful of their obligations. Even with a ‘disability perspective’, it is important for families to keep all their members safe with boundaries that are defined and defended in a firm, fair and friendly way.

4. They care. They keep us motivated, to keep working on recovering our health, and on-track with our therapy and medication. And they notice if our health is taking a dive and can get the help we need. 

5. They are staunch advocates. Family members are usually our most loyal supporters. A person with mental and emotional problems often has to navigate through financial and legal issues, and deal with multiple agencies and medical professionals: family can be so helpful in keeping us from getting lost and overwhelmed. We all know that sometimes to get the best help we need to persist and keep asking – family can do that for us even when we feel exhausted. 

6. The are resilient. Mental unwellness almost guarantees challenges for family life. Sometimes our mental unwellness takes us away from our families for a while; and sometimes families can become wounded.  But, just like bodies and minds, families can heal and recover. Relationships can heal.

7. They love and accept. Everyone needs to feel safe, loved and feel that they belong.   In that environment, most of us thrive and, if we have been unwell, it gives us a great place to recover.



 

Disclaimer

These blogs are offered with the sincere hope that they will be beneficial to people with mental health challenges, their families and the wider public. However, a big lesson from the history of science is that anyone can be wrong! Therefore, this disclaimer: though written in good faith, the authors and publishers cannot guarantee the accuracy of this content, or its applicability to a particular situation.  Any decisions or course of action taken as a consequence of this content must be entirely the reader’s responsibility.  In no way should this content be used as a basis to contradict or ignore the advice of a medical or mental health professional.

 

Tuesday, October 22, 2019
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There are lots of people who can help you when you are unwell. Here are some tips

Which Person Will Help Me Best?

Doctor/Support Worker/Psychiatrist/Psychologist – who and when?

There are lots of people who can help you when you are unwell.  Here are some tips.

  • In emergencies, dial  111, or call the Mental Health Crisis Team https://www.health.govt.nz/your-health/services-and-support/health-care-services/mental-health-services/crisis-assessment-teams. If you or someone you care for is very unwell or suicidal, you can also go to a hospital Accident and Emergency department.

  • If things are bad, a telephone helpline can really assist. There’s a list below, and even more on https://www.mentalhealth.org.nz/get-help/in-crisis/helplines

  • In general, it may not matter which professional you contact first with mental health problems, because if they cannot help you, they will know who will.

  • There are Citizens Advice Bureaus in most centres. They often have information of services and agencies that can help.

  • Your doctor is always a good person to see if you are worried about something. Even though they may not be a mental health specialist, about a third of a GP’s workload has a mental health component, so they will probably understand your mental health challenges quite well.    They can decide whether you need more specialist assistance, and usually have a good idea of agencies and services that you can access. They can also prescribe medicines; even if your medication is usually prescribed for you by a specialist, your GP may be able to help you with something urgent and can also help you get an appointment with your regular specialist doctor.

  • Psychiatrists are doctors who specialise in mental health. They study for many years on top of their regular medical training. They are especially useful in treating serious mental health problems like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. They often prescribe medicines and are involved in making sure medical treatments are working well.

  • Psychologists are not doctors and don’t prescribe medicines; instead, they provide various talking therapies to help with emotional and mental problems. (There are psychologists who don’t do therapy – for example, they may work in business or education; the ones who are especially trained to do therapy with people are called clinical psychologists.)  Psychologists are good at helping people with anxiety, depression, phobias and other mental and emotional problems.

  • Counsellors may or may not be psychologists. Most counsellors have done years of training in psychotherapy, but in New Zealand, anyone can call themselves a counsellor. If they belong to the New Zealand Association of Counsellors, then you can be assured they are professional and qualified (though you may find that the ones who are not part of that association are still very helpful). They help people talk through issues, solve problems, and work out plans of actions

  • Mental Health Nurses, or Psychiatric Nurses, have extensive training in caring for people with mental health problems. They sometimes work in hospitals and clinics, but are also part of mental health support teams in the community. They are qualified to administer some drugs.

  • Mental Health Support Workers are increasingly well trained. Mental health impacts jobs, families and relationships and support workers are particularly skilled at helping people ‘in their world’, helping people with mental health challenges to ‘get their life back’. As well, they ensure people are on-track with receiving the right services and care that they need, and helping people monitor and respond to their symptoms.


National helplines

Lifeline – 0800 543 354 (0800 LIFELINE) or free text 4357 (HELP)

Suicide Crisis Helpline – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)

Healthline – 0800 611 116

Samaritans – 0800 726 666 

Depression Helpline – 0800 111 757 or free text 4202

Youthline – 0800 376 633, free text 234 or email talk@youthline.co.nz or online chat

What's Up – 0800 942 8787 (for 5–18 year olds). Phone counselling is available Monday to Friday, 12noon–11pm and weekends, 3pm–11pm. Online chat is available from 3pm–10pm 7 days a week, including all public holidays. 

Kidsline – 0800 54 37 54 (0800 kidsline) for young people up to 18 years of age. Open 24/7.

Thursday, October 10, 2019
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Anxiety is very common in adults and children, in fact, it is probably the most common childhood mental health challenge – one figure puts the percentage of children with real anxiety issues at 11%. Of course, all children experience stress, frights and worries: starting school, making friends, coping with separation from parents, experiencing social challenges like bullying and teasing – all of these can shake a child’s peace of mind. These are periods of real anxiety but they are in reaction to real situations. The anxiety passes when the threat passes.

Of more concern is when the amount of fear and distress they feel is totally out of proportion to the threat of the situation, or the anxiety persists long after the actual threat, or maybe their anxiety doesn’t seem to have any cause at all. 

Many of us have a small advantage which can help our anxious child: we can empathize perfectly with what our child is going through because we, too, have struggled with anxiety. There is a very strong link – anxious parents often have anxious children. Their anxiety is probably the result of a few anxious genes we have passed on to them – we can’t do anything about that.

Possibly, too, their anxiety is partially the result of them observing and learning some of our anxious behaviours. We may be able to help them with that.  Children are very sensitive to our emotions. If they sense our fear in a situation – perhaps on public transport, or going to the doctor, or dealing with strangers or whatever triggers our own ill-ease – then they will be convinced there really is something genuinely dangerous to be scared of. So… let’s get the toughest bit of advice over-and-done-with: we often have to act brave for the sake of our children. If they learnt from our anxious habits then they can also learn from our coping skills. Very often, the best way to help our children cope with their anxiety is putting some real effort and energy into getting on top of our own anxiety.

By the way, no one is as brave and courageous as a person who has anxious ‘wiring’ and yet functions in spite of their emotions! Naturally calm people who feel no fear may win medals, but those of us who feel fear and act in spite of it deserve them more.  We may not be able to model calmness to our children, but can model courage.

 

Disclaimer

These blogs are offered with the sincere hope that they will be beneficial to people with mental health challenges, their families and the wider public. However, a big lesson from the history of science is that anyone can be wrong! Therefore, this disclaimer: though written in good faith, the authors and publishers cannot guarantee the accuracy of this content, or its applicability to a particular situation.  Any decisions or course of action taken as a consequence of this content must be entirely the reader’s responsibility.  In no way should this content be used as a basis to contradict or ignore the advice of a medical or mental health professional.

 

Thursday, September 19, 2019
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Fear creates physical sensations. We all know them: tense muscles, fast shallow breathing and an elevated heartbeat. Sometimes there might be feelings of being flushed, chilled or shaky.  When we feel those symptoms, it can make us even more tense and anxious, which of course, then makes the symptoms worse.  It can become a feedback loop: fear creates symptoms, and feeling the symptoms creates more fear. It can be very hard to tell ourselves there is nothing to worry about when our bodies are giving us feelings that scream “Danger! Danger!”  And we can spiral into anxiety that is out of proportion to any real threat.

Sometimes those initial sensations have some cause other than fear – caffeine, stress, some medications, or maybe they are symptoms of some physical health issue. Some people may be more inclined to have or notice these symptoms.  One of the most effective ways to help ourselves and our children get on top of anxiety is to consciously switch off some of those physical symptoms. Our body automatically knows the ‘anxiety response’; we may have to teach ourselves and our children the opposite ‘relaxation response’: instructing our body to switch off its alarms and relax. We consciously take control of things we usually leave on ‘autopilot’: taking control of our breathing and the amount of tension in our muscles.  You can download relaxation exercises from the internet which can be very helpful; Google around to find one that suits. Exercise, massage, rest and avoiding caffeine can all help relieve and prevent physical symptoms that trigger anxiety.

It is always wise to get professional advice, especially if our child’s anxiety is prolonged or really distressing. There are therapies, like CBT, that can be very effective, and counselling might help us process some underlying causes. For some children – and for many of us – anxiety is a recurring and persistent problem. Even so, getting insights, support and treatment can hugely help. Life can be enjoyed, and our fears need not hold us back!

Disclaimer

These blogs are offered with the sincere hope that they will be beneficial to people with mental health challenges, their families and the wider public. However, a big lesson from the history of science is that anyone can be wrong! Therefore, this disclaimer: though written in good faith, the authors and publishers cannot guarantee the accuracy of this content, or its applicability to a particular situation.  Any decisions or course of action taken as a consequence of this content must be entirely the reader’s responsibility.  In no way should this content be used as a basis to contradict or ignore the advice of a medical or mental health professional
Thursday, September 12, 2019
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It can be agony for parents watching our children suffering from anxiety: their tears at night, their paralysing shyness, their distress at facing common challenges. We feel their pain, and sometimes we are frustrated and embarrassed by their apparent lack of courage.  Telling them off for their anxiety is unkind, unfair and worse than ineffective. Adding shame and guilt on top of their anxiety is probably just going to make it worse.

We can sometimes see that our child is using techniques to control their own anxiety: retreating into games or fantasy, creating ‘rules’ in an OCD way, structuring their world to avoid their unpleasant emotions. We might see procrastination and avoidance.  Pick a time to speak with them. Often, ‘the best time to deal with a problem is when it is not a problem’. Explaining anxiety, and ways to cope with it, is best done at times when they are relaxed and calm, and not when they are in the middle of a brain-scrambling panic.

We can help our children know what anxiety is.  Fear can be a useful emotion: it gets our bodies ready for handling dangerous situations by pumping adrenaline into us, making us ready for ‘fight or flight’. Fear often leads to wise caution, too, keeping us safe by making us avoid real dangers. But anxiety is when that emotion of fear rises up in us without good reason and in an uncomfortable and unhelpful way. 

Why are they anxious? Maybe there was some trauma – the Canterbury earthquakes caused a lot of anxiety. Maybe some event or situation in their life might be obvious to you, maybe it may need the help of a counsellor to process. But it can also just be part of their ‘wiring’: genes make some kids more predisposed to anxiety. There can be anxious periods that only last a while, sometimes it can be a life-long battle.

It helps to tell children that anxiety often does not tell us the truth. Our anxious feelings are not reliable guides to actual danger. It can help to learn the phrase, “The problem is not what I feel it is.” They might think the problem is having to speak in front of the class, but the real problem is their anxiety is creating dreadful emotions about it. They might think the problem is dangers hiding in the darkness in their bedroom, but the real problem is their anxious imagination. Another useful phrase is, “My anxiety doesn’t know any more than I do.” Their anxiety may tell them the bridge they are on is going to collapse, or that there are robbers outside the house. They need to know that anxiety is not reliable ‘danger radar’.  Adult reassurance will not always take away their anxious emotions but, hopefully, they will start to understand that their feelings and reality do not always line up.

Disclaimer

These blogs are offered with the sincere hope that they will be beneficial to people with mental health challenges, their families and the wider public. However, a big lesson from the history of science is that anyone can be wrong! Therefore, this disclaimer: though written in good faith, the authors and publishers cannot guarantee the accuracy of this content, or its applicability to a particular situation.  Any decisions or course of action taken as a consequence of this content must be entirely the reader’s responsibility.  In no way should this content be used as a basis to contradict or ignore the advice of a medical or mental health professional.

Thursday, September 05, 2019
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Avoiding anxiety is less helpful than learning to cope with anxiety. Many children (and adults) avoid situations, even though they may know, rationally, there is little real risk. What they really worry about is that they will feel anxious. It is phobophobia – a fear of feeling fear.   It is helpful when they know that anxiety is just a feeling; it’s not nice, but they can cope – they can even learn to enjoy the sense of triumph when they ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’!

Gently nudging your child towards the situations that create groundless fears, rather than always enabling them to avoid them, is often helpful.  Note: a ‘gentle nudge’ is not ‘throwing them in the deep end’. If your child is shy, you might get them to open the door to greet visitors but you wouldn’t sign them up for a national speech competition! We need patience and kindness.  Some childhood fears evaporate like mist as they discover confidence and insights, but more typically it will be a slower process.

We may need to instruct our children that the way to conquer our fears is to face them – one therapist tells children “…to put their boxing gloves on and fight those anxious feelings”. It gives them the insight that the emotions are just emotions, and not necessarily reflecting reality.   Again, our encouragement needs to be tempered with sympathy; we do not want to give the impression that they should be ashamed of their anxiety.

Social skills – knowing how to greet others and make requests, being able to say ‘No’ firmly but politely, and knowing how to behave with others can be hugely valuable. The set of skills they need sometimes has an old-fashioned name: manners. Rehearsing ‘scripts’ with children before social situations can give them massively increased confidence.

Do realize, trying to escape from anxiety may prolong it. Pretending it doesn’t exist, and developing complex strategies to avoid anxiety can consume immense energy and ultimately increase distress. Avoiding anxiety doesn’t work, coping with it is better, medication can provide short-term relief from it – but what many of us need to face up to  – for ourselves and children – is that counselling and psychotherapy may be needed  to get to the root cause of our anxiety.

Disclaimer

These blogs are offered with the sincere hope that they will be beneficial to people with mental health challenges, their families and the wider public. However, a big lesson from the history of science is that anyone can be wrong! Therefore, this disclaimer: though written in good faith, the authors and publishers cannot guarantee the accuracy of this content, or its applicability to a particular situation.  Any decisions or course of action taken as a consequence of this content must be entirely the reader’s responsibility.  In no way should this content be used as a basis to contradict or ignore the advice of a medical or mental health professional.

 

Friday, August 23, 2019
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Children are great observers, but they do not always put the right interpretation on the things they see. Yes, they probably have seen us affected by our mental health issues but we cannot automatically expect them to have a mature understanding without some coaching.  They will probably become hugely relieved to know that the moods or behaviour they have seen in us (or someone else in the family) have an explanation.  The relief is even greater when they understand that mental health issues are like physical health problems in the sense that it is no-one’s fault: a person who is mentally unwell is not a bad person.

Relief also comes when they understand that they – the children – are not the cause of any of the trouble that may have happened. If they see us anxious, agitated or sad, or acting in some other ‘odd’ way, it is very typical for children to think that they may be to blame for it. Lift that worry from them.

School-age children can learn the name of your diagnosis (at least a simple term for it) and the words to use to describe your symptoms. They have a growing understanding of health, so you can talk to them about the things that help you stay healthy and the things that help you get better again when you do have a bad patch, for example medicines, therapy and lifestyle. You can talk about how you sometimes feel and behave when you are unwell: you might be amazed at how matter-of-factly children will treat this once they know what the real nature of the problem is. It is amazing how ‘strange’ home life can be and yet many children find it quite normal!

We may need to warn our children that not everyone has a correct understanding of mental health problems.  They may be teased because of us. Tell them how much you understand the embarrassment and appreciate their loyalty. The people doing the teasing are wrong but they do not know they are wrong. If they knew the right information, they might not be so unkind.  Assure children they may not be able to do anything about the teasing, but they can always talk to us about it. 

You can mention that most things to do with health are private, including our issues with mental health, so instruct them to be careful about how they share your personal information with others.  You can give them some phrases and terms they can share with friends if they do get curious questions. But it is important that they do have someone, apart from us, that they can talk to. If our mental health challenges worry them, they need to know that it is okay to call someone – a friend or Kids line: 0800 54 37 54 Youthline: 0800 376 633, text 234, email talk@youthline.co.nz, Lifeline – 0800 543 354 (0800 LIFELINE) or free text 4357 (HELP) or Healthline – 0800 611 116. If the nature of our problem is that we have episodes of unwellness when we cannot care for our children they need to be reassured that there is a plan in place for their safe care. 

It is good to debrief our children as things settle down again, to reconnect and reassure them. Even though you may have explained to them that it is not our fault that we sometimes act and feel in an odd way, we can express to them our sorrow that it may have impacted them or frightened them.

Something to encourage you:  parents with mental health challenges can and do raise healthy, whole, happy children!  Parenting is always a demanding job, even without the extra challenges from mental health issues, but if your kids know they are safe and loved, you already have your pass-mark as a parent, so hang in there!

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Disclaimer:

These blogs are offered with the sincere hope that they will be beneficial to people with mental health challenges, their families and the wider public. However, a big lesson from the history of science is that anyone can be wrong! Therefore, this disclaimer: though written in good faith, the authors and publishers cannot guarantee the accuracy of this content, or its applicability to a particular situation.  Any decisions or course of action taken as a consequence of this content must be entirely the reader’s responsibility.  In no way should this content be used as a basis to contradict or ignore the advice of a medical or mental health professional.

Friday, August 16, 2019
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“I thought I was going to die”.  Panic attacks are feeling (almost) scared-to-death. Our body gets overtaken by fear responses:  heart pounding, trembling, feeling chilled or very hot. Sometimes we might feel like we are choking or going to be sick. And then our mind joins in and tells us that we are going crazy or that we are about to lose control, or even that we are going to die. All in all, a panic attack is very unpleasant and, even though they don’t usually last more than 10 to 20 minutes, we sometimes go to elaborate lengths to avoid having another one.  In fact, that can end up being the worst part of panic attacks: we live in dread of having another one. We can start avoiding people, places and situations just in case we get triggered into another attack. (In fact, panic attacks can happen without a ‘logical’ trigger anyway). It can reinforce phobias because we get scared that if we encounter our ‘trigger’ we will have a panic attack.  

·         Panic attacks and anxiety attacks may have some similar symptoms, but they are not the same – panic attacks are quicker, more extreme, and can come ‘out of the blue’, whereas anxiety attacks are physical symptoms after feeling a lot of stress and worry.

·         Chest pain can be a symptom of both anxiety and panic attacks… but of course it can also be the symptom of a heart attack! In fact, about a quarter of people coming into emergency departments with suspected heart attacks get diagnosed with anxiety or panic. The pain can be different – panic attack pain tends to be sharp, stay located in the chest, and fades after a few minutes, whereas a heart-attack tends to build more slowly, the pain often moves to the arm or jaw, and feels more like a crushing pressure rather than a stabbing pain. HOWEVER: don’t take risks! Even if we already have had a diagnosis of panic attacks in the past, if we suffer strong pain anywhere between our neck and belly-button, it is wise to get medical attention!  You might feel embarrassed getting a ‘false alarm’ diagnosis, but embarrassment is considerably better than risking serious illness or death. And, if the pain is anxiety-related (which is still a real medical issue), the medical staff will be able to help you with that as well.

If we get a panic attack:

·       •  It helps when we know what it is, and that we know that it will pass.

·        • We can reassure ourselves that our panic does not always tell us the truth about threats and dangers.

·         •Control your breathing. Slowly count your breath in: one, two, three, four, pause, out: one, two, three, four.  Even if your breathing is okay, counting up to ten       or twenty or whatever can steady your mind.

·        • Rate your panic attack, on a scale of 1 to 10. Strangely, observing yourself like this takes away some of the terror and gives you a feeling of control.

·         •If you have chest pain as well as other panic symptoms, note the time and make plans to get emergency medical help. If it doesn’t start fading within a few          minutes, treat it as a potential heart attack and get assistance. (Better safe than sorry).

·         •Use your imagination to go somewhere happy: a pleasant memory, thinking about a favourite place, imagining a loved person or pet.

·        • Reciting in your mind the lyrics of a favourite song, poem or prayer can help you rein in racing thoughts.

·        • Tell someone what is happening, preferably a trusted friend but, honestly, the world is full of lovely strangers who will respond with reassurance and       sympathy, and help you feel safe.

·       •  We can do a ‘tour of our body’: in our mind, we visit each part of our body and command it to relax. (It’s our body! We can tell it to do what we want!). “Arms,      hug me… and now go limp and relax. Feet, wriggle my toes, now stay still. Jaw, open wide in a yawn – not too wide! – now close gently without clenching.           Neck, rock my head slowly, now just settle. Hands, tighten in a fist, now spread out the fingers, now just relax”.

 

Of course, the last tip is a form of progressive relaxation. If we learn how to do this at times when we are not actually having an attack, and make it a habit, it is a proven way of lowering stress and reduces the tendency of our nervous system to be triggered into the flight-or-fight response. It will probably reduce the chances of panic or anxiety attacks and, if we do have one, we will be able to readily use the exercise to help ourselves ride it through.    If you Google ‘relaxation exercises’ you will find all sorts of recordings and videos that will lead you through. Some have far too many wind chimes and Tibetan bells for my liking, but I am sure you will find one that suits!

Panic attacks warrant the attention of your doctor, especially as they often accompany other mental health issues, and might also be linked to physical problems. Therapies, support and, sometimes, medication, can help de-throne panic attacks from being the master of your life!

Disclaimer

These blogs are offered with the sincere hope that they will be beneficial to people with mental health challenges, their families and the wider public. However, a big lesson from the history of science is that anyone can be wrong! Therefore, this disclaimer: though written in good faith, the authors and publishers cannot guarantee the accuracy of this content, or its applicability to a particular situation.  Any decisions or course of action taken as a consequence of this content must be entirely the reader’s responsibility.  In no way should this content be used as a basis to contradict or ignore the advice of a medical or mental health professional.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019
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To be honest, lots of people take recreational drugs and most of them are fine.  Their brains might definitely act in weird ways while the drugs are doing their thing, but after they wear off, they are completely normal. But,  while we are being honest, even fans of drugs have to admit there are risks, big risks.  Substance users sometimes experience ‘bad trips’ and other side effects, contaminated drugs, accidents, infections, reputation and employment hassles, trouble with the law and so on. And that’s even before we start on what it might be doing to a user’s mental health.

If we have mental health issues, here are some things to consider:

1.       Drug use usually makes mental health problems worse. It can trigger really bad episodes.

2.       It can interfere with the effectiveness of medication and therapies.

3.       Addiction and dependence are mental health issues in themselves. It can hijack a person’s life-story and ruin our relationships, career and health.

4.       No-one knows if their recreational drug use will turn into an addiction: it seems to depend on genetics more than character and will power. Other people might be fine with drugs but we might discover we have predisposition that locks us in to a terrible habit. You never know until it happens.

5.       Drugs can interfere with our ability to work, exercise and socialize – three things proven to improve mental health.

6.       Yes: some evidence suggests cannabis might relieve some mental health problems, but it would be best to get your advice from mental health professionals rather than from a drug dealer! There is probably more evidence pointing to dope having a negative impact, especially on young developing brains.

7.       We might be using drugs because we are lonely, bored and frustrated and we need a bit of fun in our life. Mental health problems do often make it more difficult to be involved in sports and social activities, but with bit of help, especially from support workers, we might be amazed at what we could do.

8.       Drugs cause their own problems (and haven’t you got enough problems already?)

9.       They often make us feel tired and depressed as we come off a high.

10.   They cost a huge amount of money

11.   Drug use often results in us interacting with other drug users and dealers.  Their influence might be antisocial, and they are sometimes violent and criminal.

12.   We might find quitting drugs really hard. Therapy, support groups and some prescribed medication can sometimes help us through the tougher stages.

If we are serious about getting a life worth living and rising above mental ill-health, we should do ourselves a favour and leave drugs behind.

 

Disclaimer

These blogs are offered with the sincere hope that they will be beneficial to people with mental health challenges, their families and the wider public. However, a big lesson from the history of science is that anyone can be wrong! Therefore, this disclaimer: though written in good faith, the authors and publishers cannot guarantee the accuracy of this content, or its applicability to a particular situation.  Any decisions or course of action taken as a consequence of this content must be entirely the reader’s responsibility.  In no way should this content be used as a basis to contradict or ignore the advice of a medical or mental health professional.

 


Friday, July 19, 2019
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Good days. Bad days. High. Low. That is how we ride through life, with our moods going up and down for various reasons, or for no particular reason that we can see at all. All of us have days when we would like to give our emotions the day off but, in general, we don’t swing very high, nor do we plummet that low – our moods seem to stay within limits.   But if we have Bipolar Disorder, our moods go beyond those limits. The disorder has lots of variations but, typically, a person gets so high they are called ‘manic’. They might feel great: full of energy, often with plans and schemes and full of optimism. They would never say they are unwell, but people close to them can tell things are not right. Their behaviour is often rash and illogical, they can go on wild spending sprees or do reckless and impulsive things.  Sometimes they can become angry and argumentative, and at times they leave reality behind, believing great things about themselves, or imagining they have amazing abilities or special relationships with famous people, or other signs of psychosis. The flip side of this is that they drop into depression (which is why Bipolar Disorder used to be called Manic-Depression).

As mentioned above, there can be lots of variations: sometimes the manic phase is not very elevated, sometimes the person cycles rapidly between the moods, and so on.

It can be a very serious and scary mental illness. Fortunately, medication can help us both in the manic and depressive phases, and also help us to stay well between episodes.  Therapy helps us to avoid the triggers that tip us into unwellness.

Not uncommonly a person will recover from an episode but will be left with staggering debts and other consequences of their manic phase. It can put terrible stress on our relationships and family. Support services are very important for those of us with Bipolar Disorder. As well as helping us manage our medication (which often needs to be closely monitored to ensure the correct dose), support services help with accommodation, employment and rebuilding life skills that are needed for healthy, happy living.  

Some things that help:

·         Get a good diagnosis. Typically, there can be years between first symptoms and diagnosis

·         Educate yourselves and your family.  The more that family and friends are aware, the more they can help

·         Watch for triggers, especially stress.

·         Stay on meds. By all means, get your medication reviewed and finetuned, but it seems to be very risky to come off medication, especially rapidly.

·         Be optimistic. With a combination of good strategies, therapy, medication and support, a person with Bipolar Disorder can realistically expect to have a good and fulfilling life.

For more advice, check out

https://www.healthnavigator.org.nz/health-a-z/b/bipolar-disorder/

https://www.helpguide.org/articles/bipolar-disorder/living-with-bipolar-disorder.htm

Disclaimer

These blogs are offered with the sincere hope that they will be beneficial to people with mental health challenges, their families and the wider public. However, a big lesson from the history of science is that anyone can be wrong! Therefore, this disclaimer: though written in good faith, the authors and publishers cannot guarantee the accuracy of this content, or its applicability to a particular situation.  Any decisions or course of action taken as a consequence of this content must be entirely the reader’s responsibility.  In no way should this content be used as a basis to contradict or ignore the advice of a medical or mental health professional.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019
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Developing mental problems is not a normal part of getting older. The risk of dementia does increase with time but, even in our nineties, the vast majority of us can look forward to our brains still working pretty well.

For some people, though, their retirement years are harder and sadder than they should be because of depression. It may be as common as it is among young adults. It is often undiagnosed. Depression is more common in people who are widowed, have lost mobility and have other health problems.

That’s bad news; the good news is that depression in older people seems to respond very well to treatment. More than 80% will get significantly better. The problem can be actually getting them to seek the therapy they need.  Older people are often reluctant to seek help. They will go to a doctor for aches and pains in their bodies but not for the pain in their emotions. More people in the 50-64 age range report mental health problems than people older than 65 but is that just because the older they get the more likely they are to ‘suffer in silence’? Are they paralysed by old-fashioned ideas about mental health? Do family and carers just attribute their withdrawal and glum silence to  ‘old age’?

Here are some tips:

Depression is under-diagnosed in the elderly. Don’t just expect or accept persistent sad moods in yourself or the elders you care about. 

Just because older people get a lot of practice at going to funerals, it does not mean they are automatically better at coping with grief and loss. Losing partners and friends can result in deep and troubling pain that may take a long time to heal. It can be helped with support and counselling.

Social support and activity seems to be a key way to stave off depression. The more visitors, trips, groups and activities the better!

Older people deserve respect and should maintain control over their own lives as long as they wish; however, those who love them should be persistent in urging them to get the help they need. Their apparent stubbornness may actually be anxiety, so support and information may work better than just nagging.

Pay particular attention to an elder’s mental health after they lose mobility or if they are facing some other health challenge.

Modern technology offers wonderful opportunities for elders to socially interact. It takes patience to teach social media skills, but it sounds like an ideal task for grandchildren!

Check hearing aids. A survey of older people in rest homes showed that a large proportion couldn’t communicate easily because of hearing problems. This was often because of poorly maintained hearing aids or flat batteries or an inability to put them on.

Physical health and mental health are so connected. Treating one often helps the other. Both deserve prompt attention if something is amiss. Staying active, eating well, avoiding alcohol and smoking and engaging socially seem to be the best things for both our bodies and our minds.

Older people may need assistance in finding out about and accessing support services. Don’t assume that there isn’t more available. Check the websites below or Citizens Advice.

The huge majority of older people are actually happy with life and do not suffer from mental problems, and those who do have mental health problems should expect to recover. Old age may be tough at times, but let’s help ourselves and the elders we care about to enjoy the best mental health possible.

 

Some good information can be found on

www.ageconcern.org.nz 

superseniors.msd.govt.nz 

www.eldernet.co.nz 

 

Disclaimer

These blogs are offered with the sincere hope that they will be beneficial to people with mental health challenges, their families and the wider public. However, a big lesson from the history of science is that anyone can be wrong! Therefore, this disclaimer: though written in good faith, the authors and publishers cannot guarantee the accuracy of this content, or its applicability to a particular situation.  Any decisions or course of action taken as a consequence of this content must be entirely the reader’s responsibility.  In no way should this content be used as a basis to contradict or ignore the advice of a medical or mental health professional.

 

Friday, July 05, 2019
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Mental illness is not contagious in the normal sense. However, if we are carers for someone with mental health issues, we know it can be stressful. That stress can, in turn, lead to the carers becoming mentally unwell themselves.   Here are some tips to help caregivers care for themselves as well:

  1. 1.       Caring for yourself is caring for them. To handle the stress and to give top quality care, you need rest, recreation, friendship and support. This is not selfishness – this is doing your best to help provide the best care. No one has enough time or money, but budget at least some of it to get a break, get some exercise, eat good food and meet people outside your home. If you are a caregiver, the one you care for needs you in top shape. You are an important resource – you deserve maintenance.

  2. 2.       Spread the load. You may be willing to be the principle caregiver but you need others to step up as well. It may be that family members are taking advantage of your willingness to help and abdicating their responsibilities to provide some care as well. Time to swat up on your assertiveness skills! Maybe you will need to find someone who will be an advocate and help you make the requests
  3. 3.       Educate family and friends. Ignorance leads to fear. Many people are afraid of mental illness, and others fear they wouldn’t know what to do. And so they stay away and don’t help. With some insights and information, many more people could become willing and really helpful. However, protect privacy: it is usually necessary to get the permission of the person you are caring for  before you disclose anything about their health problems.
  4. 4.       Have Plan B. Huge amounts of stress come from worrying about whether you will be available or well enough to handle incidents. Having back-up people and support ‘ready-to-roll’ can be hugely helpful, even if you never call on them.
  5. 5.       Line up your own support. You need to know what agencies and emergency services are available if you need them, but you also need mates. Let friends know that occasionally (or regularly!) you are going to need them to take you out for coffee and give you time out with them to recharge.
  6. 6.       Get time out, and time away.  It’s amazing what we can cope with when we can see light at the end of tunnel and know that there is a break coming up.  The person you are caring for deserves a carer that is healthy and refreshed. They will benefit so much when you take care of yourself. Never feel guilty or neglectful for accessing respite services or arranging other carers so you can take a break.
  7. 7.       Act promptly about your own health needs.  Being strong for someone else doesn’t mean that you should endure mental or physical problems without getting help. Doctors and counsellors are not just for the people we are caring for!
  8. 8.       Beware of false comforts. If we feel trapped in our role, and we lack money for pastimes and other fun, it is so easy to turn to drinking, over-eating, smoking and maybe even doing drugs to provide a little comfort.  You do need comfort and recreation, but you need the ‘real thing’ and not health-robbing imitations.  
  9. 9.       Tap into resources. There are many websites with good ideas on how to care for someone with mental health problems, and also how to take care of yourself, such as www.thefamilycaregiver.org , www.caregiving.org, www.eldercare.com, www.Copmi.net.au, www.headspace.org.au and www.thelowdown.co.nz.
  10. 10.   Are you getting all the resources you are entitled to? It pays to check, and check, and recheck that you are receiving the benefits and support services you are entitled to.  Citizens Advice and your doctor can often help, but so can https://www.familyservices.govt.nz/directory/ (or phone 0800 211 211)
  11. 11.   Know that you are important! We may not get paid much for it, or even get paid at all, but the service we provide is vital. Caring like this can be so under-appreciated, but we know why we are doing it. Acting out of love, loyalty and a desire to do the right thing is genuinely rewarding, even if those rewards don’t make it into our wallet!



Disclaimer

These blogs are offered with the sincere hope that they will be beneficial to people with mental health challenges, their families and the wider public. However, a big lesson from the history of science is that anyone can be wrong! Therefore, this disclaimer: though written in good faith, the authors and publishers cannot guarantee the accuracy of this content, or its applicability to a particular situation.  Any decisions or course of action taken as a consequence of this content must be entirely the reader’s responsibility.  In no way should this content be used as a basis to contradict or ignore the advice of a medical or mental health professional.




Thursday, June 27, 2019
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How many different mental disorders are there?  The reference often used by mental health workers, the DSM-5*, has about 157, though some people spend a lot of time arguing about whether that is accurate or not. Some say that it could be as many as 600, and some say it is not nearly that high. Whatever the number, it is obvious that there are lot of different disorders we could choose from... not that we would choose to have any of them!

It really, really helps to get an accurate diagnosis of whatever is troubling us. Psychiatric medicine is improving, and being able to get the right diagnosis means that we can then be lined up with the best treatment. Even before the treatment has any effect, it is so helpful, and usually a relief, to finally know what is really going on.

Despite the kaleidoscope of conditions, and the huge range of pills and therapies used to treat them, there are several basic strategies that nearly always give a lot of relief, regardless of the underlying condition. Of course, always follow the advice of your doctor and other mental health professionals, but the following can be safely added to any treatment regime and can have great benefits.

1.       Positive self-talk.

We talk to ourselves all the time, and too often we criticise and discourage ourselves. “I couldn’t do that”. “I’m getting too old”.  “My mental health means I shouldn’t even dream about it”. Honestly, the rudest person most of us ever encounter is that person who stares at us out of our bathroom mirror as we brush our teeth! Catch yourself doing negative self-talk and, as soon as you notice that you are giving yourself another dreary sermon about your limitations or guilt or failure or whatever, challenge it. “No! The truth is I can change.” “There is always hope.” “That failure is stinging but it isn’t the end”. “I can get through this”. “I have strengths and abilities that I haven’t even discovered yet”. Become your own motivational speaker! It is amazing how your mood, energy and behaviour can lift as you deliberately alter your self-talk.

2.        Get more sleep.

It sounds so easy and yet is so hard. When we have the right amount of sleep, and sleep at the right time of the night, it heals and helps in so many ways.  A couple of tips:

1.       Set a bed time and a getting up time.  Be strict with yourself.  Resist the temptation to doze at other times during the day. “It’s the sleep before midnight that counts”.

2.       Make your bedroom exclusively a bedroom… not a TV lounge, not a dining room, not a gaming room, not a kennel, not your computer room.

3.       Limit technology, especially for the hour before bed time. Late-night social media too easily turns into all-night social media.

4.       Let your tummy rest when you do. Eat well before bed time

5.       Coffee, colas, energy drinks and alcohol all mess up your sleep.

6.       Listen to soothing sounds. Get some sleep apps on your phone (okay… THIS technology is all right at bed time!)

7.       A sleep measuring app like Sleep Cycle can help you track your progress.

 

3.        Initiate positive social contact

Being alone is fine. For many of us who are introverts, we get tired out and stressed by too much social contact, even with people we like. But we all benefit from friendly, caring people in our lives and, if we have mental health challenges, we need to guard against isolation. Isolation is when we feel we have no one we could turn to if we needed to. It’s when we can’t think of anyone who cares enough to listen to our problems. Most of all, we feel lonely.  Sometimes circumstance isolate us – the elderly and unwell can have great difficulty sustaining a social life – and sometimes the isolation is a side-effect of our mental health problems. Embarrassment, shyness, anxiety and depression can all make it very, very hard to get out and meet people.  If our social life has dried up, reviving it is part of our recovery plan.

1.       Structured and safe groups are an easy place to start

2.       Meeting with people who share similar problems can be a good start

3.       Your support worker can help get you to groups

4.       If you find it hard to meet people, realise it is not just you feeling like that: the people you are meeting are probably a bit shy too.

5.       Attending to grooming and self-care greatly increases confidence

6.       Citizens Advice, libraries, churches, local newspapers and community Facebook pages can help you locate suitable groups. 

*DSM-5 Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders

Disclaimer

These blogs are offered with the sincere hope that they will be beneficial to people with mental health challenges, their families and the wider public. However, a big lesson from the history of science is that anyone can be wrong! Therefore, this disclaimer: though written in good faith, the authors and publishers cannot guarantee the accuracy of this content, or its applicability to a particular situation.  Any decisions or course of action taken as a consequence of this content must be entirely the reader’s responsibility.  In no way should this content be used as a basis to contradict or ignore the advice of a medical or mental health professional.

Thursday, June 20, 2019
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Recovery, Mental Health, Achieve, Goals

Moving out of our teenage years and into early adult life should be a very exciting period. We have so many options for study and careers. We can travel and enjoy our new independence. Fun, adventures, progress, and romance – what a fantastic time of life! But for many of us that is exactly when we first received a diagnosis of mental illness. Schizophrenia and other mental illnesses frequently charge into our lives in the late teens and early twenties. Just when life should be so good, it suddenly seems so bad.  All our dreams for the future can evaporate away as we face the possibility of long-term mental health struggles. It feels so unfair.  But be encouraged: our plans may need to change, but we can still have a fantastic life. In fact, goals and dreams are an important part of our recovery.

 

a.       Who we are now is not who we will always be. No one truly knows how much potential they have. True, mental health challenges might be having a huge impact on us but, even if that continues for a long time, we can still learn and grow. It may be that we will take a slower route but we should not limit our dreams because of how we see ourselves now. The ‘you’ you will become in one, two, five and ten years time is going to be so much wiser, more knowledgeable, mature and experienced. You will enjoy being that person! You will be proud to be you!  Your dreams might be out of reach of the current version of yourself but that future self will be able to nail it!  

b.       Yard by yard is very hard but inch by inch is a cinch. If you have grown up with metric measurements, you may be wondering what that means! Basically: big, overly ambitious steps might fail but small steps will succeed.  Keep moving forwards towards your goals, but do it in small steps. If I tried to run a marathon today I’d collapse in exhaustion!  I’d better start with  tiny ‘inch sized steps’, such as walking around the block.  If I do that three of four times this week, next week, I’ll walk two blocks a day. If I keep notching up that process, bit by bit, I’ll be running a marathon within a year! 

c.       Congratulations! Notice and praise yourself on your progress.  If we couldn’t get out of bed before midday last week, but this week we were up and dressed by 10:00a.m., that is huge progress we can be proud of. That is not the end goal, but it is a significant step in the right direction.  It reminds us that we are not stuck. We’re growing, moving on, getting better… and getting closer to those goals.  

d.       Bigger goals at a bigger distance. Motivational speakers always urge us to set huge audacious goals, to shoot for the moon and go for the mountain top. That is fine. But those speakers have no idea what that advice sounds like to someone with depression. Big goals motivate most people, but if we are depressed, they can actually demotivate us, if we don’t ‘handle’ those dreams properly.  Have the big goals, but stretch the time line and put more modest, but still significant intermediate goals, into your plans. Instead of the goal, “Graduate from Med School in five years”, change it to, “Enroll and pass some papers and let’s gradually master the stress of daily study and exams. Med School will keep. I’ll get there when I am ready.” Instead of, “I’m going to find someone and be married and have a family by thirty”, change it to, “I’m going to be healthy and whole for any future partner I might have. I deserve happiness, and so do they, so I am not going to rush ahead of my recovery.” The dreams are fine, but be prepared to adjust the timing.

e.       Dreams do change.  The reality is that some of us lose jobs and relationships because of our mental health problems.  I won’t disrespect your pain and grief by trying to put some rosy spin on this. It is really sad and hard.  By all means, grieve the loss of that job or relationship or plan – it’s healthy to. It’s an obstacle… but it is not the end of the road. It will be hard after a setback like this, and even harder if we are also impacted by an episode of poor mental health at the same time, but the nature of life is that as one door closes, others open.   And… new dreams. This is not magic or wishful thinking: if we don’t let set-backs drive us into frozen despair, we eventually move into new chapters of life, and they can be very good chapters.  A fantastic attitude to have: “I’m either up, or I’m getting up!”.   

  

Goal setting is a great therapeutic thing to do. It may even be something you would like to do with a friend or support worker.

o   What am I fascinated by and gives me pleasure?

o   What gives me a sense of accomplishment?

o   What do others say that I am good at?

o   Is there someone living the type of life I would like to live?

o   What are my values? (The best goals flow out of our core beliefs).

o   What would I like to achieve in life?

Let the big goals come and settle in your mind and, better still, settle on a page that you write out. Then, starting with the tiniest steps, “What do I have to start doing to reach those goals?”

Disclaimer

These blogs are offered with the sincere hope that they will be beneficial to people with mental health challenges, their families and the wider public. However, a big lesson from the history of science is that anyone can be wrong! Therefore, this disclaimer: though written in good faith, the authors and publishers cannot guarantee the accuracy of this content, or its applicability to a particular situation.  Any decisions or course of action taken as a consequence of this content must be entirely the reader’s responsibility.  In no way should this content be used as a basis to contradict or ignore the advice of a medical or mental health professional.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019
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Many people would call Winston Churchill the greatest man of the 20th century. He lead Britain to victory in the Second World War and won a Nobel Prize for literature to boot. Not many people, though, know that he suffered recurring depression throughout his life. He called it his “Black Dog” and he would sink into such despair he would spend weeks, sometimes months, in bed, with no energy, no appetite and unable to concentrate. He hated railway platforms or ship railings: he was desperately afraid he would throw himself off.

It is reassuring to know that people can have mental health issues and still have a great life.

The nature of most mental health problems is that they recur but there are things you can do to lessen the odds of a relapse.

Stick to your meds. With schizophrenia in particular, relapses tend to occur most often when people do not adhere to their prescribed medication.

Sleep. Regular, good sleep is so important, but it can be very hard. A few things that help with sleeping are a strict bedtime, avoiding screens (like phones, games and TV) for an hour before bed, no caffeine after midday, allow time for your meal to digest before bed time and keep pets off your bed at night.

Manage stress.   It’s good to be busy with things we enjoy, but monitor how you are feeling. We should be prepared to disappoint a few people by saying “No” to them. Their disappointment is better than our burnout. Exercise and fun are vital for giving us resilience and maintaining our mental health!

Skip the drugs. Drug abuse and relapse seem to go together. Sometimes it might be that people feel themselves becoming unwell so they take drugs to feel better, sometimes it might be the drug use that actually brings the episode on. Either way, the drugs make things much worse.

Support.  Support might be from professionals or just the social support that comes from family and friends.

Even when you actively do all you can to stay healthy, mental health problems can recur.  It can be really dispiriting to realize your own “Black Dog” is coming back for a visit, but here are some tips.

                You know the signs. Sometimes a full-blown relapse happens quite suddenly, but often there are signs that, if we spot them, can help us know what we are dealing with.  It might be irritability, tiredness, fears, or people becoming concerned about our behaviour, thinking or speech. This time around they are not mysteries, they are signposts that we know how to read. 

You know this Black Dog. One of the scariest aspects of becoming mentally unwell is wondering what is going on. It’s no fun getting sick again, but at least we know what we are dealing with. That can take a lot of terror out of the situation. We also know where to get help and what strategies we might need to take regarding work, the care of our children etc.

Remember, this is for a season. We’ve been here before, and we know it passes in time.  We have lots of times of wellness between episodes when life is really good.   

Remember the strategies that worked last time – they will probably work again.

Get on to it quickly. If we act as soon as we suspect we are sliding into unwellness, we may be able to prevent a full-blown relapse.

You have a crew. Unlike the first time we became unwell, we probably have  family, friends and workmates who know you need time, space, support and encouragement.


http://theconversation.com/winston-churchill-and-his-black-dog-of-greatness-36570 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3599855/

https://www.webmd.com/depression/depression-relapse#1

https://metro.co.uk/2017/09/23/how-an-anxiety-relapse-makes-you-feel-and-what-you-can-do-about-it-6923048/

https://www.bphope.com/ask-the-doctor-dealing-with-relapse/

Disclaimer

These blogs are offered with the sincere hope that they will be beneficial to people with mental health challenges, their families and the wider public. However, a big lesson from the history of science is that anyone can be wrong! Therefore, this disclaimer: though written in good faith, the authors and publishers cannot guarantee the accuracy of this content, or its applicability to a particular situation.  Any decisions or course of action taken as a consequence of this content must be entirely the reader’s responsibility.  In no way should this content be used as a basis to contradict or ignore the advice of a medical or mental health professional.

Wednesday, June 05, 2019
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Thank goodness: attitudes have changed in society towards people with mental health problems. Ignorant and unsympathetic opinions about mental illness are retreating in the face of public information campaigns. High profile people have bravely shared their stories about depression.  Language is changing. Even though many people are still too casual about using words like ‘insane’ and ‘crazy’, you will usually hear people speak more respectfully. In old movies and TV shows you used to see terrible portrayals of people with mental illness, making them out to be villains or objects for humour.  You don’t see that any more, though Hollywood still isn’t good at realistically portraying mental unwellness. 

As a culture, things are getting better but it is still far from perfect. Some employers can be very sympathetic about an employee who needs time off because they have the ‘flu or a broken leg, but they have not yet learnt to deal with their workers’ mental health problems in the same enlightened way. 

If you have a mental health disorder, the reality is that society’s attitudes may not be improving fast enough to spare you from experiencing embarrassment and discrimination. I wish that were not so. May be if this article is really old when you read it, I hope you can laugh and say, “Wow! It was tough back in 2019!” but, in this present time, it really can be tough.

What can you do to limit the stigma from hurting you?

1.      1. Know that you are okay.
Sure: our brains function differently at times, but we are still people of worth. If others can’t see that, they are mistaken. The important thing is that we don’t make the same mistake.

2.      2. Have some phrases ready.
We may need to educate people around us. There are ways to describe our mental health problems that will help people understand us better. “At times I struggle with my moods.” “I do have times when I get very low. Be patient: I’ll be getting better.”

3.      3. Not everyone has to know.
Just like any other health issue, our mental health is a private matter. Of course, sometimes our mood or behaviour does impact others and they may deserve an explanation but, in general, we can be as discrete as we want to be.

4.       4.Realize we are not that different.
One in four New Zealanders experience some mental health issue.

5.       5.We have rights.
We are protected from discrimination by all sorts of laws, as well as by the rules of common decency. If you are ever treated unfairly, your support person or health professional can help you because ‘right is on your side’.

6.       6.Have courage.
It is amazing how acting with confidence can help us feel better. And I know: it is an act! It can be so scary wondering what people think about us. There is no way to know, and little we can do about it, so the best strategy is pull out our courage and charge on with a smile.

Disclaimer

These blogs are offered with the sincere hope that they will be beneficial to people with mental health challenges, their families and the wider public. However, a big lesson from the history of science is that anyone can be wrong! Therefore, this disclaimer: though written in good faith, the authors and publishers cannot guarantee the accuracy of this content, or its applicability to a particular situation.  Any decisions or course of action taken as a consequence of this content must be entirely the reader’s responsibility.  In no way should this content be used as a basis to contradict or ignore the advice of a medical or mental health professional.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019
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It feels good to be with the ones we love, and we feel sadder when they are away from us. That’s perfectly normal. We might worry about their welfare and feel a little anxious without their company and support - that would be normal as well. But for some people that Separation Anxiety climbs right off the scale and it makes life an agony. A person with Separation Anxiety needs the constant reassurance of someone’s presence. It’s usually someone like their partner or child but the anxiety can also be related to a much-loved pet.

They intensely dread that that person will leave and will sometimes invest a lot of energy into preventing them from doing so. When the other person does leave, someone with Separation Anxiety can be distraught, wracked with fears about that person’s safety or their own safety, or with doubts about whether they will ever return.  Sometimes they need to know where someone is all the time that they are apart.  The anxiety can manifest itself in physical symptoms such as headaches, sore throats and nausea. It can be a truly tormenting and a genuine mental health problem.

As is true with many phobias, Separation Anxiety is resistant to logic: everyone around them can see the fear is irrational but, despite their reassurances, the emotions can still surge. Friends, family and others may not understand and may not be sympathetic. “This is silly!”  What seems silly to the onlooker is the sufferer’s reality. They will accuse them of being manipulative, clingy, mistrustful, controlling and overprotective. They will urge them to ‘cut the apron strings’ and not to be a ‘helicopter parent’. These people may be observing correctly but they are interpreting wrongly. They do not recognize that these behaviours stem from anxiety rather than from a need to control.

It was thought Separation Anxiety was just a childhood problem but it is now recognized as being a real issue for some adults as well.  Like many mental health issues, Separation Anxiety often arrives as part of a package: very frequently sufferers have other anxiety issues, OCD, phobias and other mental health challenges. It affects women more frequently than men, and commonly they have experienced trauma or abandonment in their childhood.    

Adult Separation Anxiety can be triggered by a divorce or a child leaving home, and typically lasts six months or longer.

Anti-anxiety medication does provide relief from the symptoms but, as is nearly always the case with this type of medication, it is best used only for a short period of time. That time though, can be a useful window of opportunity to start therapy to deal with the cause.   A person’s Separation Anxiety probably does not have much to do with the person or animal their anxiety has focused on. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy has been shown to be very effective in treating anxiety.

As well as being awful for the person with the anxiety, this problem can be very hard on the person being fixated on. Both of them need lots of sympathetic support.


Disclaimer

These blogs are offered with the sincere hope that they will be beneficial to people with mental health challenges, their families and the wider public. However, a big lesson from the history of science is that anyone can be wrong! Therefore, this disclaimer: though written in good faith, the authors and publishers cannot guarantee the accuracy of this content, or its applicability to a particular situation.  Any decisions or course of action taken as a consequence of this content must be entirely the reader’s responsibility.  In no way should this content be used as a basis to contradict or ignore the advice of a medical or mental health professional.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019
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When I am watching an action movie with car crashes, explosions, gun fights etc., I occasionally think, “Those people are going to need a lot of help to get over that!” Amazingly, Hollywood never shows James Bond sitting in a counsellor’s office talking about his persistent anxiety after all the stressful events he goes through. Real people, though, do get impacted by terrifying events like car accidents, robberies and assaults, medical emergencies and natural disasters. Nearly everyone will be ‘jittery’ for a while; after the initial surge of adrenaline fades it is normal to be upset, anxious, tearful and to have trouble sleeping.  Fortunately, most people recover steadily – the swirling thoughts and unpleasant feelings settle over days and weeks. However some people develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), an Anxiety Disorder that persists for months, even years, after the event. The person may find themselves really troubled by anything that reminds them of the event, and they will spend a lot of energy avoiding those cues. When they are triggered, they find themselves experiencing the terrifying emotions of the event all over again.

After the Vietnam War it was estimated that about 250,000 American military veterans had some PTSD. They might tremble at the sound of a helicopter, throw themselves on the ground when a car backfired, and feel terrible emotions if they heard a baby cry. Some became recluses living alone in remote areas; many sought relief from drugs and alcohol.

Sexual assaults, kidnappings and warfare are particularly likely to precipitate PTSD, but it can also occur well away from battle fields and crime scenes. Heart attacks, operations, child-birth and miscarriages traumatise some people. Even events happening to loved-ones can cause PTSD; for example, parents of children diagnosed with cancer can develop PTSD. It seems psychological stress, and not just physical threats, can trigger it as well.

Sympathetic support for people after a trauma seems to help prevent PTSD, and counselling as soon as symptoms occur can help a lot. Some drugs have proved to be very helpful in relieving PTSD, though excessive benzodiazepines (like Valium) tend to make it worse. Understandably, many people seek relief from their painful emotions by self-medicating with alcohol and other drugs; sadly that tends to just create additional addiction and psychological problems.   That does tend to be a thing with PTSD: it is often part of a ‘mix’ of complex psychological issues – about half of people with PTSD also meet the criteria for major depression.  The only good side of that is counselling that helps people with their PTSD often seems to alleviate their other problems as well.

Good therapy, the right drugs and sympathetic support make a huge difference for people with PTSD.  It can be treated. We never chose the trauma that caused it, but we can choose to actively get through it!


Disclaimer

These blogs are offered with the sincere hope that they will be beneficial to people with mental health challenges, their families and the wider public. However, a big lesson from the history of science is that anyone can be wrong! Therefore, this disclaimer: though written in good faith, the authors and publishers cannot guarantee the accuracy of this content, or its applicability to a particular situation.  Any decisions or course of action taken as a consequence of this content must be entirely the reader’s responsibility.  In no way should this content be used as a basis to contradict or ignore the advice of a medical or mental health professional.


Wednesday, May 08, 2019
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Phobia, Social Anxiety,

A lot of us are shy. We get anxious meeting people at functions, stammer when asking someone out on a date and we dream of a convenient illness that would get us out of doing a presentation at work. That is quite normal.  The thing that distinguishes regular, common-or-garden shyness from true Social Phobia (or Social Anxiety Disorder) is that we don’t normally let our shyness stop us doing important things in our life. A shy person might not put their hand up for karaoke, but they wouldn’t let their shyness stop them taking up a good job.   Someone with social phobia fears being judged or rejected far more intensely. It stops them expressing themselves, robs them of romantic relationships and even interferes with things like shopping.  It is actually one of the most common phobias around but you might not notice it: the nature of the phobia literally keeps sufferers out of sight.

Like all phobias, the distressing emotions of terror are almost completely unjustified and, just like all phobias, knowing that doesn’t seem to help very much!  A socially phobic person sometimes gets trapped in a double bind – as well as fearing the actual social situation, they become intensely afraid of their phobia ‘turning up’ and embarrassing them by causing blushing, stuttering, freezing or a panic attack.

Sometimes this phobia has arisen from a trauma – abuse or some intense public humiliation. There can be a tendency for it to run in families, and it is quite often associated with other mental health issues.   Social phobia can lead people to ‘hit the bottle’ or self-medicate with other drugs to ease their anxiety. Very often the phobia leads to intense loneliness and depression as well. Despite it being a very serious, debilitating and uncomfortable phobia, socially phobic people are typically very reluctant and slow to seek help. The very nature of the phobia makes us too afraid to seek help. If you, or someone you care about, possibly has social phobia, here are a few things you need to know:

1.       Help helps! Therapies like CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) can make a huge improvement.

2.       Therapy will not be as scary as the phobia. Social phobia will make the idea of going to a counsellor or doctor seem terrifying! Realise that beyond the hurdle of that appointment lies the hope of relief from that phobic fear that distresses you so often.   A phobic person knows that they need amazing courage every day just to function; here is just one more situation where you need to be a hero!

3.       Therapy is not traumatic.   Some people with phobia fear that a therapist will push them straight into terrifying situations. Yes, some therapies do gradually expose a person to the threatening stimulus but it is always done gradually, gently, and with the client in control.  Any therapist who thinks “throwing them in the deep end” is a good cure would not be in business long!

4.       Drugs can be useful.  There are no magic wands, but there are very useful medicines that can ease anxiety.

5.       Support and education.  People with Social phobia really benefit from support as they gain confidence in a widening range of situations. With good strategies plus an empathetic support person, we can astound ourselves!

Disclaimer

These blogs are offered with the sincere hope that they will be beneficial to people with mental health challenges, their families and the wider public. However, a big lesson from the history of science is that anyone can be wrong! Therefore, this disclaimer: though written in good faith, the authors and publishers cannot guarantee the accuracy of this content, or its applicability to a particular situation.  Any decisions or course of action taken as a consequence of this content must be entirely the reader’s responsibility.  In no way should this content be used as a basis to contradict or ignore the advice of a medical or mental health professional.


Wednesday, May 01, 2019
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Does social media like Facebook make you mentally unwell? A quick scan of opinions on the net (including Facebook!)  would have you believing that social media causes everything from bad breath to meteor strikes! The good news is that much of the panic you might hear isn’t actually justified. For example, some big studies of both teenagers and young adults show that using social media probably does not cause depression[1]. However, social media is such a new thing in our society that some of the long-term effects are not clear yet. Here are few thoughts about social media and mental health.

  1. 1. Social media is wonderful! 
  2. It is now the top form of entertainment for masses of people of all ages. It connects us, helps us communicate and often makes us smile. It can help us access help and to join communities. That’s got to be good for our well-being.
  3. 2. Like a lot of wonderful things, we can have too much of a good thing.
  4.  Just as people get hooked to the point of addiction on good things like food, sex, exercise, study, etc., some people become obsessed with social media[2]. That’s NOT good for our mental health.
  5. 3.If  I am looking at Facebook, I am not asleep.
  6.  One the (many) downsides of mental illnesses is that our sleep is already disturbed, and social media like Facebook might seem like a great way to pass our wakeful hours in the middle of the night.  However, the stimulation and the bright day-light coloured light can make our already poor sleep even worse[3]. It switches our brain on so that we don’t feel sleepy. A lack of sleep not only makes us tired, it can tip us into an episode of worse mental health or delay our recovery from it.
  7. 4. It can make people feel lonely.
  8.  This is surprising when, for most of us, social media is the way we stay in touch with friends, but for some people it actually heightens their sense of loneliness[4].
  9. 5. It distorts our view of the world.
  10.  People post on Instagram and Facebook pictures of their parties, their holidays, their new cars and happy family gatherings. People usually only post the ‘peaks’ of their lives, not their valleys. If I am sitting in the middle of my own bleak valley, looking at all those pictures, I could get the idea that everyone is happy and successful except me. In actual fact, everyone has their problems, including a surprisingly large number of people privately battling mental health problems. I am not going to feel glad about their trouble, but it does rescue me from thinking my misery is unique.
  11. 6.‘Active on-line’ means ‘Inactive on-couch’. 
  12. Studies show that heavy users of the internet are, really, ‘heavy’ users. They are far more likely to be over-weight and not getting exercise. Very few things are as good for mental health as being active.
  13. 7. Social media is like a megaphone – it can amplify and broadcast what’s going on in my mind.
  14.   Facebook etc., is a great way to share what we are thinking; if that thinking is a bit ‘crinkly’ at the moment, those crinkles come across loud and clear. Sometimes, I can tell when some of my friends with mental health challenges are starting to slide into a bad patch because of the number of their posts and the things they are posting about.

A final thought: if we are wondering if we are spending too much time on-line or gaming, a good question to ask ourselves is, “What else am I doing?”. If we are exercising, sleeping, mixing with family and friends, doing some chores, being creative, learning, actively relaxing and doing useful things… then we probably deserve some time on the net

[1] The Longitudinal Association Between Social-Media Use and Depressive Symptoms Among Adolescents and Young Adults. T Heffer et al, Clinical Psychological Science , 2019

 [2] Teens, Social Media, and Technology 2018 (2018). Available online at: http://www.pewinternet.org/2018/05/31/teens-social-media-technology-2018/50/ 

[3] https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/1541931213601814

[4] www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/modern-mentality/201810/is-social-media-making-you-lonely

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Disclaimer

These blogs are offered with the sincere hope that they will be beneficial to people with mental health challenges, their families and the wider public. However, a big lesson from the history of science is that anyone can be wrong! Therefore, this disclaimer: though written in good faith, the authors and publishers cannot guarantee the accuracy of this content, or its applicability to a particular situation.  Any decisions or course of action taken as a consequence of this content must be entirely the reader’s responsibility.  In no way should this content be used as a basis to contradict or ignore the advice of a medical or mental health professional.

 


Wednesday, April 17, 2019
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All children will occasionally misbehave. It is part of their job-description! They are learning:

·        • what is appropriate

·       •  assertiveness

·         •sharing and turn-taking

·        • how to get along with others

·        • ways to get what they want and need

·       •  how to get attention

·        • how to handle their emotions and drives

…and all that learning takes time, and they make lots of mistakes on the way. Those mistakes sometimes strike us as ‘naughtiness’ but it is far more helpful to think of it in terms of immaturity.  Good parenting techniques help a lot but sometimes parents have to deal with something more than just immature impulse control. One of the most frequent reasons parents need the services of a child psychologist is ‘Conduct Disorder’.  Children with a conduct disorder don’t just have an occasional slip up in their behaviour, they actually seem completely unable to grasp or follow the rules at home, school or in society.

Conduct disorders, as opposed to ‘normal’ behavioural issues are:

·         •Long lasting

·         •Disruptive to family or school life

·        • Impacts others negatively

Their behaviour is often violent and destructive, and often they have very little empathy for those they hurt. There is no simple answer to why children get like this – brain damage, genes, a disturbed childhood… any and all of these might be the cause. There are various types of conduct disorders so getting a good diagnosis from a specialist helps immensely, for three main reasons

1.      1. You can start the proper therapy. Both drugs and psychotherapy can have good results

2.      2. Schools and agencies can roll out the extra support that both the child and parents are going to need

3.       3.Dealing with conduct disorder as a medical issue instead of just treating them as a ‘naughty kid’ gives you so much more compassion and energy to  persevere. Treating it this way seems to reduce the impact and distress of their behaviour.

‘Bad’ parenting doesn’t cause a conduct disorder but good parenting can certainly help reduce its effects.  A child will be safer from the drugs, dangerous sexual behaviour and self-harm. Good close parenting can also help insulate a child from the one thing that can really cause the disturbing behaviour to skyrocket, and that is falling in with other kids who are already ‘trouble’. So, along with whatever else the specialist might prescribe, give a child with conduct disorder lots and lots of consistency, nurture, good supervision, clear boundaries, love and wise discipline. It all helps nudge the troubled child in the right direction and really reduces symptoms and disturbing behaviour. 

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Disclaimer

These blogs are offered with the sincere hope that they will be beneficial to people with mental health challenges, their families and the wider public. However, a big lesson from the history of science is that anyone can be wrong! Therefore, this disclaimer: though written in good faith, the authors and publishers cannot guarantee the accuracy of this content, or its applicability to a particular situation.  Any decisions or course of action taken as a consequence of this content must be entirely the reader’s responsibility.  In no way should this content be used as a basis to contradict or ignore the advice of a medical or mental health professional. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2019
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In 1943, General Patton visited hospitals in war-time Sicily and saw soldiers suffering from a common form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that was sometimes called ‘Shell Shock’ or ‘Battle Fatigue’.  The general slapped the patients. “I’m not going to have cowards in my army!”  Like many people at the time, he thought mental illness was due to a ‘lack of moral fibre’ and that it was a character flaw. In World War I, such men were sometimes shot as deserters. Thank goodness our culture is starting to show the same sort of compassion to people with mental health problems as it does to people with physical health problems. It is far from perfect, but a lot less people today would consider mental illness to be a moral failure. It is a medical issue and so mocking and condemnation is certainly not appropriate.

But men, themselves, still cling to some ideas that are well past their sell-by date. The most dangerous misbelief is that any emotional weakness is embarrassing and must be concealed. “Harden up! Pull yourself together!” They still believe the old myth that somehow their depression or anxiety is a sign of unmanly failure. As a result, men are much slower to seek help for their mental issues, often suffering far more and for far longer than they need to, because they are ashamed. Men are far more likely to withdraw, or self-medicate with alcohol or drugs (often making things far worse), and men are much more likely to take their own lives. Some men literally die rather than seek help for something that can usually be helped.

Some other aspects of male culture that work against good mental health are:

·         Men measure their self-worth in terms of achievement so they often work too hard, failing to rest and relax

·      • Men drink more alcohol. Mental and physical health both decline as alcohol intake increases

·      •Men can be more isolated. A circle of ‘mates’ is great, but it is much more valuable to have a few deeply trusted close friends.

·      •They have a fear and mistrust of doctors.

·      •Men are private: they seldom talk to each other about any health issues, let alone mental health.

What can we do to help the men in our lives? Here are some tips:

·       •Share stories about mental health, especially good stories of recovery.

·       •  Let’s watch our attitudes and language. If someone hears a hint of mocking or derision when we talk about others with mental health problems, it could make      them even more determined to conceal their own struggles.

·       •  Celebrate and support the campaigns that urge men to seek help.

·       •Ask in a caring way how our friends are doing, and then don’t retreat if they share some pain.

·        •Be supportive of our mates if we know they have been going through a tough time.

·        • Make it easy as possible for people to make the changes and to get the help they need to recover.

·        •Watch each other: are signs of poor mental health becoming evident even though they are trying to conceal it? Gently but firmly nudge men towards the help        that is available. (And this applies to getting help for ourselves as well!)

Some time ago I was helping with the clean-up after hurricane flooding in Australia. Amidst the destruction and mess, it was truly heart-warming to hear muddy, exhausted men checking on each other. “Are you alright, mate?” I heard men were sharing with each other in a very unguarded way about their loss, stress, sadness and sleep problems. And I heard them being grateful that someone asked. I thought, “This is new, and this is healthy. They will get through this with their mates.”   Times are changing for men. They are getting better. 

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Disclaimer

These blogs are offered with the sincere hope that they will be beneficial to people with mental health challenges, their families and the wider public. However, a big lesson from the history of science is that anyone can be wrong! Therefore, this disclaimer: though written in good faith, the authors and publishers cannot guarantee the accuracy of this content, or its applicability to a particular situation.  Any decisions or course of action taken as a consequence of this content must be entirely the reader’s responsibility.  In no way should this content be used as a basis to contradict or ignore the advice of a medical or mental health professional. 


Thursday, April 04, 2019
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Postpartum Depression, Postnatal Depression,

“A baby! How wonderful! How lucky to be the parent of a little bundle of joy!”

“True… I suppose… but why do I feel so awful?”

Most mothers experience a mood dip in the first few days after having a baby. The exhaustion, the drama and a new cocktail of hormones in her body all conspire together to make many mums feel sad and worried.  Fortunately, it usually lifts within two weeks. If it lasts longer than that, or if it commences later than a fortnight after birth, she may be dealing with something more than just the normal ‘Baby Blues’.  For about one woman in ten, Postpartum (or Postnatal) Depression crushes the pleasure out of what should be a wonderful stage of life.  Sadness or anxiety move in and seem in no rush to move out. Sometimes PPD makes the mother feel empty, hopeless and exhausted; at other times she feels filled with anger and frustration.  Sleep and the ability to make decisions can become very disturbed. It sometimes impacts the way she cares for her baby and, very often, she neglects herself as well. Just to make things even worse, one study showed that 50% of the partners of women with PPD get depressed as well!  Male Postpartum Depression is real and surprisingly common.

How severe the PPD is, and how long it lasts, vary a lot. It could last for months, it might last a year.

Here are some things that help:

Get a good diagnosis.  Prescribed medication may provide a lot of relief. A doctor will also be particularly keen to rule out the rarer, but more serious, Postpartum Psychosis, or some other mental or emotional problem. 

Breast Feeding. Along with all the benefits for the baby, breast feeding seems to ease PPD.

Counselling. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is known to help many people with PPD, and other counselling strategies may help as well.

Support. Every parent with a baby benefits from support, especially if the parent is struggling with depression.  Practical assistance plus social interaction is wonderfully therapeutic.

Googling the topic brings up lots of information, resources and contacts. A good number to keep handy is Plunketline, 0800 933 922.

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Disclaimer

These blogs are offered with the sincere hope that they will be beneficial to people with mental health challenges, their families and the wider public. However, a big lesson from the history of science is that anyone can be wrong! Therefore, this disclaimer: though written in good faith, the authors and publishers cannot guarantee the accuracy of this content, or its applicability to a particular situation.  Any decisions or course of action taken as a consequence of this content must be entirely the reader’s responsibility.  In no way should this content be used as a basis to contradict or ignore the advice of a medical or mental health professional. 


Wednesday, March 27, 2019
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early diagnose, early signs

You probably have some understanding of autism. Delayed language, odd social behaviour and getting fixated on topics or objects are symptoms most people would think of as typical but there is a whole range of conditions. Some forms are so mild that person can live a full life with very few problems but, for others, autism is a serious disability.

It’s a big topic, but here are just a few points.

·        • There is no autism epidemic. Children on the autistic spectrum do seem to be everywhere, but no: autism is diagnosed more often nowadays because a wider range of conditions are now included under that label, and parents, teachers and doctors are much more aware and vigilant about autism. (I know two men in their sixties who have recently been diagnosed with autism; as children they were considered ‘just odd’ but, today, their condition would have been diagnosed much earlier).

·         •The assertion that vaccination causes autism has been thoroughly debunked.  If you want to learn about this persistent bit of misinformation, see https://sciencebasedmedicine.org/reference/vaccines-and-autism/ .

·         Early diagnosis really helps. Some parents wonder if they should bother, as autism cannot be cured. However, there are therapies and even drugs that can really help, especially if the diagnosis is made early. More than that, parents and teachers can handle a child’s challenges more readily when they understand what they are dealing with.

·        • Autistic children usually show signs even when babies. If you are worried your child is unresponsive, not acquiring language and not reacting to people in the usual way, then do get them checked by your doctor. If you or your partner are on the autistic spectrum, or you have other autistic children, then the odds will be higher that your child will be on the spectrum.  For good information on autism, including signs and symptoms, check out www.mentalhealth.org.nz/get-help/a-z/resource/8/autism-spectrum-disorders

·         Are you on the spectrum yourself? Many people have problems communicating or learning or getting on socially who do not have autism. But many adults are on the autistic spectrum and they benefit from getting a diagnosis. Though your doctor is a good person to start with, someone with expertise in autism can assess you more reliably, especially if you are female. (Women seem to have different symptoms).  

·         •Autism and mental health. The challenges of autism can be stressful, and so it is not surprising that some people with autism also have anxiety, depression or other mental and emotional difficulties.  That is tough, but good support, therapy and maybe medication can really help get people back to better mental health.

·         Autism is considered a disability. Funding can be available to help with the challenges. Check out the  Needs Assessment and Service Coordination provider (NASC).

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Disclaimer

These blogs are offered with the sincere hope that they will be beneficial to people with mental health challenges, their families and the wider public. However, a big lesson from the history of science is that anyone can be wrong! Therefore, this disclaimer: though written in good faith, the authors and publishers cannot guarantee the accuracy of this content, or its applicability to a particular situation.  Any decisions or course of action taken as a consequence of this content must be entirely the reader’s responsibility.  In no way should this content be used as a basis to contradict or ignore the advice of a medical or mental health professional.

 

Thursday, March 21, 2019
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A simple question: Is mental illness inherited? And the simple answer is, yes, it can be.  And that’s where the simplicity stops. It is a very complex issue, and it leads on to one of the most agonizing dilemmas a person can face: “Should I be a parent?”

Let’s look at a few of the complicating issues.

1.       1. The causes of mental illness are not fully understood, but some problems are known to be caused by injury, illness, infections, trauma and stress.

2.       2. It’s also clear that some mental health problems run in families. What is inherited is often a ‘susceptibility’: mental illness won’t show up until it is          triggered by some trauma or stress. Without the trauma, maybe they would be symptom-free for life.

3.          3.It’s all a matter of odds. If we do have an inheritable mental health problem, we increase the odds that our kids will also have them but nothing is certain.        Mentally unwell parents can have perfectly healthy children, and neurotypical (i.e. ‘normal’) parents can have children with mental health problems. It is                a lottery,but your genes do shift the odds.

This is a huge topic, especially if you are wondering whether or not to have a family. A short piece like this can’t hope to do any more than just raise the flag: “Think about it. Get advice.” Your doctor, psychiatrist or a genetic counsellor (yes, there are people who specialise in this) can help you sort through the issues.

And what if we already have children? Here’s the good news: people with mental illness can and do raise perfectly healthy, whole children.  It might be harder, we might need a bit more support, but be optimistic. Also, our insights gained from our own mental health journey can help us be more intentional about our child’s ‘mental hygiene’:  caring for the emotional and psychological well-being in such a way as to give them the best chance of a happy, healthy mental health.
An extra load we may find we are carrying is the vigilance: every flare of temper or odd bit of behaviour will probably trigger at least a small bit of anxiety, “Is this the start of some mental issue?” And, of course, it might be. Sigh, expect the best but, as things get clearer, get some advice.  Early diagnosis and treatment can make a huge difference to how the road ahead is going to go for us and our child. 

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Disclaimer

These blogs are offered with the sincere hope that they will be beneficial to people with mental health challenges, their families and the wider public. However, a big lesson from the history of science is that anyone can be wrong! Therefore, this disclaimer: though written in good faith, the authors and publishers cannot guarantee the accuracy of this content, or its applicability to a particular situation.  Any decisions or course of action taken as a consequence of this content must be entirely the reader’s responsibility.  In no way should this content be used as a basis to contradict or ignore the advice of a medical or mental health professional.

 


Wednesday, March 13, 2019
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Identify the early warning signs for Mental Health related issues

It’s a drag: episodes of poor mental health have a tendency to recur from time to time.  The only good side of this is that we can learn to recognise the early warning signs, which has lots of benefits.  No one is delighted to feel themselves sliding into another ‘dark patch’, but at least we know what it is. “Why am I feeling and acting like this? Of course! This happened the last time I was unwell!” Part of the distress of poor mental health is anxiety from wondering what is happening to us; if we recognize the early symptoms, that myster at least, is solved. We know what we are dealing with. 

Earlier treatment usually means we can reduce the severity and duration of an episode. With prompt attention to early warning signs we can sometimes ‘head it off at the pass’, and halt the slide into a full-blown bout of poor mental health. Maybe reducing stress, increasing social support, and paying attention to sleep and other routines will be enough to get our life back on to an even keel.

If you or a loved one has mental health issues, it is a brilliant idea to have a strategy already worked out and ready to go at the first signs of a relapse.  Support workers are usually very keen to help you work one out. If we bring family, friends and employers in on our plans ahead of time then they will be prepared to play their part if needed. Childcare, extra support, a safe environment and the help we need to best recover can all be primed and ready. It makes it much easier for the helpers, and it will be much less stressful for us at a time when we definitely don’t need extra stress.

Early warning signs differ from person to person but a few typical ones are:

 •Trying to think, or solving problems, feels confusing and hard work
 •Suspicious, nervous and ‘twitchy’ about people
 •Poor personal hygiene and grooming
 •Isolation from others
 •Work performance takes a dive
 •Feeling depressed
 •Emotions that are ‘over the top’ … or no emotions at all.
 •Sleeping and eating change a lot; maybe too much, maybe too little
 •Memory problems
 •Unusual behaviour
 •Moods that change dramatically
 •Strangely sensitive to smells, sights, sounds or touch
 •Apathy
 •A feeling of being disconnected from the world
 •Ideas and beliefs about oneself or the world that just don’t line up with what others think is real

This list is just for your interest – your own early warning signs might be completely different. Do make a list of your own early warning signs, and take the time to make a plan to activate if those signs happen. At the very least, have a clear idea of whom to call if that ‘unwelcome visitor’ of poor mental health turns up at your place again. 

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Disclaimer

These blogs are offered with the sincere hope that they will be beneficial to people with mental health challenges, their families and the wider public. However, a big lesson from the history of science is that anyone can be wrong! Therefore, this disclaimer: though written in good faith, the authors and publishers cannot guarantee the accuracy of this content, or its applicability to a particular situation.  Any decisions or course of action taken as a consequence of this content must be entirely the reader’s responsibility.  In no way should this content be used as a basis to contradict or ignore the advice of a medical or mental health professional. 

Wednesday, March 06, 2019
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Stress can be awful. It can wear down our health, exhaust us, fray our nerves and, sometimes, tip us into a bout of really bad mental health. But not all stress is bad for us. Work can certainly be stressful but often we actually enjoy the challenge of work and projects, the buzz of working in a team, the sense of progress and, of course, making money. It can be wonderful for our self-esteem and sense of well-being. Sometimes we collapse into bed at the end of busy patch and go, “I’m tired out but it’s a GOOD tiredness.”  Given the choice, most people prefer to work.

Here are a few tips to help you handle the stress of working life.

How much OTHER stress is there in my life? Stress adds up and it takes time to get over. If you have had a recent loss in your family, some big bills arrived yesterday and you got a traffic ticket on the way to work this morning, then you might find that something as minor as running out of staples pushes you to tears.  You might not be thinking of those other things but they have worn down your resilience and so that little problem with the stapler seems huge. If you feel stressed, you are stressed… but it might not be work itself that is the problem.

Different people handle stress differently. Some people seem to love stress! The fact that your workmate can work long hours without a break doesn’t mean that you should. Learning what your body and emotions are telling you about how much you can handle is an excellent mental health skill. If you have, or have had, anxiety or depression or some other mental or physical health issue, that may make you less able to handle stress (at least at the moment – your resilience can rebuild).

You can work harder and produce less.  It is obvious that if we work harder, we produce more… but only up to a point. If we push ourselves too hard, the stress makes us less efficient. People who don’t take breaks or holidays have been proven to be less productive. If you want to be a good worker and employee, aim to work efficiently, and that doesn’t mean knocking yourself out.

Get enough sleep.   Nearly everyone could do with more and better sleep! Our whole society staggers on with too little sleep. “I can’t sleep because I worry about work!” Hmmm… then that lack of sleep is going to make you even more vulnerable to stress – it’s a vicious circle.   Sleep is so important in helping us handle stress that we should make conquering our sleep problems a real project. Three tips: have a fixed bed time, don’t eat a lot before turning in and resist looking at your phone. Fourth tip – Google, “Getting enough sleep,” but don’t stay up too late reading all the advice!

Prioritize and organize.  You probably do a lot of clever things for your boss… now it’s time to do some clever things for yourself! One of the best defences against stress is a pencil and paper. Make lists. Plan your day, including planning when you are going to take breaks. Take the big scary things on your to do list and break them down into smaller and smaller steps.  “Yard by yard is very hard but inch by inch is a cinch.”  And get everywhere early! Running late, or running to be on time, runs you down. So much better to have a few minutes to spare to take some breaths, stare out the window, and feel the stress sliding off you. 

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Disclaimer

These blogs are offered with the sincere hope that they will be beneficial to people with mental health challenges, their families and the wider public. However, a big lesson from the history of science is that anyone can be wrong! Therefore, this disclaimer: though written in good faith, the authors and publishers cannot guarantee the accuracy of this content, or its applicability to a particular situation.  Any decisions or course of action taken as a consequence of this content must be entirely the reader’s responsibility.  In no way should this content be used as a basis to contradict or ignore the advice of a medical or mental health professional. 

Tuesday, February 26, 2019
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tips for keeping Children safe from abuse, protecting children

All kids deserve a happy, safe, carefree childhood, free from any abuse that will haunt their memories on into their adult lives. With the knowledge that child abuse is a factor in later emotional and psychological problems, keeping our children safe from abuse is a top priority.

Here are some tips.

  •           • Be cautious about who is allowed access to your children. Statistically, family members and partners of the parent are more likely to harm children than strangers.

  Take care with choosing baby-sitters. Better to pay someone with training and references than to take risks with someone even slightly ‘dodgy’ or a sitter who is too young with immature impulse control.

  Stay sober and drug-free around your children so you can be alert to protect them, and keep your children away from people who are drunk or stoned.

  • Be alert for any signs that your child might have been abused: physical signs, age-inappropriate behaviour and knowledge, and emotional distress.

  • Set firm boundaries around the behaviour of other people around your children: pornography, bad language, lewd behaviour etc.

  • Establish regular opportunities where the child can debrief and talk to you about anything.

  • Take seriously anything a child might say about an adult doing something to them.


It is horrible to think our children are being abused, but it can also be horrible to think that the abuser is a family member or someone we love. That freezes some parents into inaction and the abuse continues. A real cause of life-long pain for some victims is that they did seek help but they weren’t believed or protected. Our priority has to be our child’s safety. Their life-long mental health and happiness may be at stake.  Get advice from your doctor or mental health professional to help you do the right thing.  Bring on board a trusted friend to support you. Yes: there may be terrible pain as a result of what you  have to do – family trouble, relationship break-ups and legal consequences – but realise this:

  • You did not cause this trouble, the abuser did.

  • Your loyalty to your children has to be greater than even your loyalty to your partner or family.

  • The consequences of not acting will be worse than any trouble your actions stir up.

These are hard things. Let two things be your guide: love, and doing the right thing.  Those two compass needles usually point the same way and, when they do, you can be pretty confident that your actions will result in the best outcomes. 

If you suspect your child has been abused, do get them some help. Again, your doctor can advise you. Gentle, sensitive counselling can greatly reduce the harm that abuse causes.

Finally, don’t let this blog make you depressed or sour! The world is full of lovely, safe men and women who are on side with you and your children. Yes, we need to be vigilant and wise, but your children will be far better off with interactions with other good adults.

Disclaimer

These blogs are offered with the sincere hope that they will be beneficial to people with mental health challenges, their families and the wider public. However, a big lesson from the history of science is that anyone can be wrong! Therefore, this disclaimer: though written in good faith, the authors and publishers cannot guarantee the accuracy of this content, or its applicability to a particular situation.  Any decisions or course of action taken as a consequence of this content must be entirely the reader’s responsibility.  In no way should this content be used as a basis to contradict or ignore the advice of a medical or mental health professional.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019
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We can help our children grow up to enjoy good mental health. Yes, there is a genetic component to mental health and so if we, ourselves, have had mental health challenges, then our children may be at more risk of developing problems as well. However, there are things we can do that will improve their resilience and greatly improve their chances of happy emotional and mental well-being.

In the early years, a huge issue is attachment, which is when a child feels ‘plugged in’ to a reliable, caring, affectionate adult. Another important thing is that they are shielded from adult anger and violence. A safe, peaceful, loving home is the foundation for a life-time of well-being. Parenting courses are ideal for adding to our skill base to help this to happen.

Later on, a child’s good mental health is fertilised by

·         Friendships with peers

·         Trusting interaction with other adults

·         Fun

·         A sense of connection with family and a wider community

·         Opportunities to learn and express themselves

·         Good rest

·         Protection from, and processing of, stress and trauma.

We don’t like to think of our child’s world having stress and trauma but it is there, and one of the most stressful things that can happen is bullying. It has been linked to depression and anxiety in young people. It’s a big topic, one worth researching more fully if it is an issue, but here are few points.

·         Victims agree with the bully. They believe the put-downs and insults. Gently reassure your child and rescue their self-esteem.

·         Alternative groups help your child recover. A youth or sport group away from the school or wherever the bullying takes place is a wonderful tonic, to help a child experience themselves as something other than a ‘victim’.

·         Debrief. Provide a safe quiet space where your child can talk. Wind down the advice and wind up the listening. Nothing helps a child process their stress better than a non-judgemental adult with a sympathetic ear.

·         Enlist the school. Schools are not perfect but much better now at handling bullying.

·         Upskill your child. Child-appropriate assertiveness involves things like being able to say ‘no’, to walk away from conflict and to deflect other’s unwanted attention with humour.

 

Avoiding stress and managing it better are key skills in moving towards better emotional and mental health.  Those skills work amazingly well for us and, if we can pass them on, they can also be incredibly useful for our children as well. 

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Disclaimer

These blogs are offered with the sincere hope that they will be beneficial to people with mental health challenges, their families and the wider public. However, a big lesson from the history of science is that anyone can be wrong! Therefore, this disclaimer: though written in good faith, the authors and publishers cannot guarantee the accuracy of this content, or its applicability to a particular situation.  Any decisions or course of action taken as a consequence of this content must be entirely the reader’s responsibility.  In no way should this content be used as a basis to contradict or ignore the advice of a medical or mental health professional. 

Monday, January 21, 2019
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 If you ever want to scare yourself, look up on the internet how mental health issues were treated in the past. Often the treatments were bizarre, verging on cruel. Frequently the only “therapy” was confinement. All over New Zealand, and most other countries, you can still see the remnants of huge rambling mental hospitals that used to be full but are now abandoned or used for other purposes. The main reason they are now empty is that modern drugs mean that far more people are able to have their symptoms treated while still living at home and in the community.

As you know, it is still a drag having mental health problems.   The good news is that most psychological and psychotic issues can now be helped with good therapies; the bad news is that the drugs are not perfect, and the process of diagnosis and prescribing the right medication is still far from perfect as well. We are all different and a drug that really helps one person might not do anything for another except give them side effects. It can be upsetting and make us wonder if we might not be better off without any treatment at all. However, we have to at least admit that things are so much better than they used to be. When medication gets tweaked and fine-tuned to suit us, our life is usually so much better than when we are trying to cope with untreated symptoms. Hang in there – that ‘tweaking and tuning’ can take a while. Here are a few tips and insights to help you get there.

1.       1.Become an expert on yourself. Diary your experiences, noting anything about your mood or behaviour that might be a bit different. Look up some of the possible side-effects that can occur with your medication and make a note if any of them occur. Discuss your findings with your doctor – your diary can be very useful.

2.       2.You might become the expert on yourself, but your doctor is still the expert on the drugs. Resist the temptation to alter your dose or try some non-prescribed drugs without talking to a medical professional.

3.       3. Don’t be afraid of annoying your doctor by asking lots of questions and requesting changes if things are not working well.  Your doctor understands the ‘tweaking and tuning’ process, and will not be insulted if you say a medication doesn’t work as well as hoped. (Sometimes, though, drugs do take a while to work well: your doctor might be quite right to ask you to be patient and persevere a bit longer).

4.       4. Treatment with drugs is only part of getting your mental health back. Counselling, life-style changes and social support can all have brilliant benefits.

5.      5. Many of the more common side effects – such as constipation, weight gain and insomnia – can be treated to make the anti-psychotic drugs more tolerable. Many side-effects also decrease as your body gets used to the drug.

6.      6. Keep an eye on your overall health – antipsychotic drugs are ‘relatively’ safe but, for some people, they can affect their cholesterol and heart and cause other problems. If in any doubt, at least call your doctor’s nurse.

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 Di   Disclaimer

These blogs are offered with the sincere hope that they will be beneficial to people with mental health challenges, their families and the wider public. However, a big lesson from the history of science is that anyone can be wrong! Therefore, this disclaimer: though written in good faith, the authors and publishers cannot guarantee the accuracy of this content, or its applicability to a particular situation.  Any decisions or course of action taken as a consequence of this content must be entirely the reader’s responsibility.  In no way should this content be used as a basis to contradict or ignore the advice of a medical or mental health professional. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2019
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Mental Illness and Suicide

Did you feel a little scared just looking at the title of this article? Almost everyone is at least a little afraid of this topic, as if even reading about suicide will nudge us towards doing it. A little reassurance: the next few paragraphs will help you pull the handbrake on those self-destructive thoughts. It will actually pull you back from the brink, not tempt you to edge closer.

As you probably know, mentally unwell people tend to be more likely to attempt suicide. In fact, a New Zealand study interviewed people who had survived a serious attempt at suicide and it revealed that almost all of them were struggling with some identifiable mental health problem. Is there any good news in that for us if we have mental health issues? Yes! It means that if you find your mind urging you towards taking your life, you can be absolutely certain it is your illness talking and it is NOT the result of rational, reasonable, logical thinking. Here is the fact to cling on to:  mentally well people do NOT escape problems through suicide. When brains work well, they know there are always better options than suicide. Yes, awful things can happen and painful emotions can rip our hearts but, even so, a healthy mind always concludes, “This will pass”, “This is survivable”, “I cannot see a solution yet but a solution is there”. 

Depression ‘dims our headlights’. Our dim lights show the problem in front of us – the pain, guilt, rejection, whatever – but they don’t give us enough light to see a solution that is any good.  Imagine you are driving on a mountain road, and a land-slide blocks your way. With your dim lights you conclude, “I can either smash into the cliff on one side or plummet over the edge on the other”. Two solutions… but both of them are terrible! You need to borrow brighter lights – the lights from friends, family and professionals who will see things so differently. I guarantee that, when they hear of your pain and problems, they will NOT say, “Yes, I completely agree. The only thing to do is to end it all.” It may surprise you, even slightly annoy you, that they see exits and bypasses and solutions all over the place when all you can see is darkness, cliffs and ravines.  Depression also can make us feel so weak and tired that we just want to give up; so, as well as borrowing their light, accept their care, love and support as well: their strength can become your strength.  And, most of all, borrow their hope! Depression may have (temporarily) stolen your bright future… ask them to help you build a new one.

The takeaways from this:

  • Suicide is never a good solution to any problem.

  • When suicidal thoughts trouble you, tell yourself (over and over if necessary) that this thinking is a symptom of mental unwellness. As your health returns, the thoughts will ease.

  • Even though you might fear embarrassment, get support from someone you trust. It will help you be steadier and feel connected, and you can borrow their cooler, clearer perspective on your problems.

  • Definitely share your suicidal inclinations with your mental health professional or doctor. Extra support is usually available for people with acute needs, and medication may help.

  • Always take your prescribed medication. Coming off anti-psychotic medication is especially dangerous as distressing and confusing symptoms can come flooding back.

  • Have an action plan ready-to-roll. If you ever feel at real risk, you will have at hand the numbers to call a Crisis Team or Helpline. Your plan might also include care for your kids if you need a break.


Are you really troubled right now? Call a help line (below) straight away.  You do not need to die. There are better solutions. There is hope.

WHERE TO GET HELP:

1737, Need to talk? Free call or text 1737 any time for support from a trained counsellor

Lifeline – 0800 543 354 or (09) 5222 999 within Auckland

Youthline – 0800 376 633, free text 234 or email talk@youthline.co.nz or online chat

Samaritans – 0800 726 666

Suicide Crisis Helpline – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)

What's Up – 0800 942 8787 (for 5–18 year olds). Phone counselling is available Monday to Friday, midday–11pm and weekends, 3pm–11pm. Online chat is available 7pm–10pm daily.

Kidsline – 0800 54 37 54 (0800 kidsline) for young people up to 18 years of age. Open 24/7.

thelowdown.co.nz – or email team@thelowdown.co.nz or free text 5626

Anxiety New Zealand - 0800 ANXIETY (0800 269 4389)

Supporting Families in Mental Illness - 0800 732 825.

If it is an emergency, or you, or someone you know, is at risk, call 111.

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Disclaimer

These blogs are offered with the sincere hope that they will be beneficial to people with mental health challenges, their families and the wider public. However, a big lesson from the history of science is that anyone can be wrong! Therefore, this disclaimer: though written in good faith, the authors and publishers cannot guarantee the accuracy of this content, or its applicability to a particular situation.  Any decisions or course of action taken as a consequence of this content must be entirely the reader’s responsibility.  In no way should this content be used as a basis to contradict or ignore the advice of a medical or mental health professional. 

Tuesday, January 08, 2019
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Mental Health and Parenting


Does our poor mental health impact our children? It certainly can. We are a huge part of our children’s world. If our emotions, thinking and behaviour start to skew, then they will probably be able to see it and will be impacted by it.  But here is the good news: children can be amazingly resilient and sympathetic about a parent’s struggles. From school age on, with a little help, many of them develop surprisingly mature insights into our ‘ups and downs’.  More good news: if children feel loved and safe, then you already have your ‘pass-mark’ as a parent! It is amazing what else can be ‘wrong’ in their upbringing but, if they feel loved and safe, they will still grow up to be healthy, whole adults… and they will most likely still love you to bits! 

Here are a few tips:

  1. Let kids know that there is always a plan B.  If our children have experienced episodes of our poor mental health in the past, they may be really scared about who will look after them if we get unwell again. Ahead of time, line up your back-ups. “You know if I am getting unwell, Mrs Green next door says you can pop in there any time and stay. And Aunty Tina will take you home if it looks like I need a bit of a break. So you never need to worry: there are always people who can look after you if I get sick.” Our priority will always be our children’s safety. If we honestly have to concede that our children might be in some risk, it is great to have a plan ready-to-roll to get them quickly to a safer situation.

  2. Debrief with them. Our children will gain better insights into what is happening if we actually talk with them about issues that have arisen.  Maybe that won’t be possible in the midst of a difficult time; we might need to wait until we recover, or our partner could step in and speak with them. Rather than just telling them information, it is more important to listen.  Ask questions and don’t be too quick to contradict their fears or distress. Sympathise. If it is appropriate, apologize.

  3. Patience. Patience with them, patience with yourself. A huge skill is to pause before reacting. Even if we were not experiencing mental health challenges, parenting can be very hard work. Their immaturity and poor impulse control create all sorts of scenarios that would try the patience of a saint! Of course, we are going to need to get on top of poor behaviour but take your time. Allow anger (theirs and yours) to settle. Get some extra skills from online, books or parenting courses (e.g. Toolbox courses and family coaching from ParentingPlace.nz). Our motto during the tough times: “This, too, shall pass!”

  4. Reducing stress helps them and us.  Routines are wonderful for giving children a sense of security. Patterns and rituals around getting up and getting ready for school, mealtimes, chores, homework and bedtime keep them feeling safe and secure. Even though establishing routines can be hard work at the start, after they are running well they require very little input to keep going. Good routines can reduce our stress wonderfully as well. They can keep family life ticking along even when we are tired or not very well.

  5. Reassure your children you love them. Children can misread our low moods or agitation. They might conclude we do not love them, or even that they are the cause of the problems they are seeing. Leave your kids in no doubt: you really do love them! Say it with words, with your kindness, with your gentle touch and hugs, with your care and attention and with the fact that your eyes light up and smile when you see them.

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    Disclaimer

    These blogs are offered with the sincere hope that they will be beneficial to people with mental health challenges, their families and the wider public. However, a big lesson from the history of science is that anyone can be wrong! Therefore, this disclaimer: though written in good faith, the authors and publishers cannot guarantee the accuracy of this content, or its applicability to a particular situation.  Any decisions or course of action taken as a consequence of this content must be entirely the reader’s responsibility.  In no way should this content be used as a basis to contradict or ignore the advice of a medical or mental health professional. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2018
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Mental Health and Relationships

One of the best ‘assets’ for getting through a challenging mental health issue is to have the support of a close friend, especially a loving partner. The dilemma is that poor mental health sometimes erodes those relationships. Here are a few tips for enriching your relationships.

  1. Perspective. 

  2. If feelings get hurt, it really helps to step back and get a bigger picture. Both the person with the mental health challenges and their partner would benefit from asking themselves questions like, “Is this the way we normally get on? Do we usually have these problems during periods of better mental and emotional health?” Remember that depression, in particular, can distort perspective, making issues seem much more massive than they really are: so, borrow someone else’s perspective. Talking your issues out, with your partner or maybe a friend or counselor, might help you see problems in a different way.

  3. Investment. 

  4. A relationship is like a bank account. During better times, make lots of ‘deposits’: good times together, sharing meals, expressing your love to each other. Dates are important but they don’t have to be expensive: going for a stroll, having a picnic, even together dancing in your lounge. The accumulated wealth of memories and intimacy will create extra resilience for when times are more difficult.

  5. Kindness.

  6. A secret of happy, loving relationships is simple habits of kindness. Courtesy, thinking ahead about what your partner might want, and speaking gently with each other can make life together remarkably good, even when mental health is at a low ebb. That kindness extends to grace and forgiveness: putting grievances behind you, not holding grudges, and seeking to love your partner even though (at the moment) not a lot of love might be coming back to you.

  7. Support. 

  8. Friends, sports clubs, wider family, church, and other groups provide valuable sources of strength and encouragement. Engaging with others, both with your partner and on your own, can help both of you recharge and take on board some therapeutic fun. Other support might be from agencies and professionals. It’s likely that a person experiencing mental health problems already has input from a doctor or counselor (and if you don’t, please do!) but don’t forget there are skilled professionals who can help improve the health of your relationship as well. Guidance counselors do not have magic wands, but they do have insights and advice that helped lots of couples get through problems and recover closeness and intimacy.  The big thing: don’t leave seeking help until it is too late.

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    Disclaimer

    These blogs are offered with the sincere hope that they will be beneficial to people with mental health challenges, their families and the wider public. However, a big lesson from the history of science is that anyone can be wrong! Therefore, this disclaimer: though written in good faith, the authors and publishers cannot guarantee the accuracy of this content, or its applicability to a particular situation.  Any decisions or course of action taken as a consequence of this content must be entirely the reader’s responsibility.  In no way should this content be used as a basis to contradict or ignore the advice of a medical or mental health professional. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2018
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The Top Life Skill – Self-Discipline

There is a life skill that helps us to be successful in nearly every area of life – in our careers, in our relationships and, very importantly, in our mental health. Despite its huge value, it’s a skill that is never actually taught as a subject at school or university. It is self-discipline.

Self-discipline has been called the master life skill. You may have heard of the famous Marshmallow Experiment*. An experimenter put a marshmallow in front of young children and told them they could eat it straightaway but, if they could wait for a while, then they would be given two marshmallows.  The researcher then left the room for some minutes. Some children just gulped the marshmallow immediately, others battled with the temptation but eventually gave in, and some of the children didn’t touch the sweet at all and were rewarded with the extra marshmallow.  The dramatic part of this experiment is what they discovered when they followed up on those same children years later. The children with self-discipline – those who did not eat the marshmallow straight away were more successful in their studies, had lower levels of substance abuse, were less likely to be obese (despite the extra marshmallow!), handled stress better, were more likely to be student leaders and  were just generally better at ‘doing life’ than the kids who had not been able to hold out  for the extra sweet.

Obviously, self-discipline is hugely important, and it is also obvious that habits of self-control are learnt at a very young age, probably from our parents. That’s great… except I am sure that many of us would have been eating that first marshmallow even before the experimenter got to the door! Is there any hope for us? Yes!  Skills and habits can be learnt right through life. Setting goals, pumping up our motivation and getting people to ‘cheer us on’ are often the ways people build self-discipline. And here are two other strategies** that really work, especially when it comes to making the lifestyle changes that are so linked to good mental health:

‘How’ and ‘Why’.    The ‘Why’ is the desirable outcome we want; it is a vision of a ‘better self’ that self-discipline will give us. It might be a vision of a fitter self, or a sober self, or a self that will engage in therapy, or a self that saves money. That inspiring vision of our future self is our ‘Why’,  but self-discipline often breaks down on the ‘How’: the ‘devil is in the details’. E.g. we want to diet but we don’t plan what we will eat for lunch at work; we intend to study but we don’t factor in that our partner will want the sound up on the television; we want to go to the gym but the traffic after work robs us of all the available time. The ‘Why’ gave us the desire, but it is the ‘How’ that defeats us… except… you are clever! Most of us CAN actually think out a decent ‘How’. The trick is to have the ‘How’ ready when we need it. Whenever we have a good ‘Why’, straightaway work on the ‘How’.

Self Control Works on Patterns.  “I want to give up smoking, but just one more cigarette won’t hurt.” “I’ll go to that therapy course, but missing one session can’t be that important”. One cigarette, one session, one doughnut… of course, on there own, they are insignificant,  but self-control comes from choosing ‘patterns’ of behaviour rather than individual acts. That single little cigarette tonight is part of the pattern, and so it impacts how hard it will be to resist the cigarette tomorrow. Are we stopping that single cigarette, or are we stopping the pattern? Likewise,  that one little doughnut is connected to the kilos and kilos of other doughnuts that are lining up to be eaten in the weeks ahead. Self-discipline is not just one action after another, it’s grabbing hold of the whole pattern.

It would have been so much easier if we had had self-discipline drilled into us as little kids, or been gifted with ‘self-discipline gene’ (is there such a thing?) the but we can all practice and improve self-discipline. And the result? Change and progress!  It really makes us happy.  It gives us a sense of accomplishment. It banishes feeling powerless. It gives us hope that we can change and change and keep growing and improving. And what could be better for mental health than that?

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Disclaimer

These blogs are offered with the sincere hope that they will be beneficial to people with mental health challenges, their families and the wider public. However, a big lesson from the history of science is that anyone can be wrong! Therefore, this disclaimer: though written in good faith, the authors and publishers cannot guarantee the accuracy of this content, or its applicability to a particular situation.  Any decisions or course of action taken as a consequence of this content must be entirely the reader’s responsibility.  In no way should this content be used as a basis to contradict or ignore the advice of a medical or mental health professional. 

* Mischel, Walter; (1972). "Cognitive and attentional mechanisms in delay of gratificatio.". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 21 (2): 204–218
**Adapted from  Heshmat, Shahram (2017).  “10 Strategies for Developing Self-Control” . PsychologyToday.com

Friday, November 23, 2018
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Lifting Depression

 

Depressed? Welcome to the club! It’s huge club – millions join every year – and it’s a rotten club!  Medication helps a lot of people feel better but there are also lots of things we can do to help ease depression. They also help to prevent us from sliding back into it.  Here are four simple things that have helped lots of people – they may help you as well.

1) Sleep when the clock says you should. Get a good night’s sleep but then get up and stay away from bed until bed time again.   When you have little energy and not much interest in activity, it is so tempting to snooze and nap throughout the day but research shows this makes depression worse.  Bed is not for snacking, not for gaming, not for watching TV, not for reading during the day. Farewell your bed in the morning and greet it again at bedtime.   It will take a while before this becomes a routine, but there is so much benefit from a fixed bed time and fixed waking time.  One final tip: put your radio alarm clock slightly off station, turn it up loud and put it out of reach!

2) Don’t have a depressed pantry.  Eat like a healthy person would! If you eat healthy, balanced meals, full of vitamins and light on sugars, it will not be long before your body starts to reward you by feeling more energetic and healthier. And even before the physical changes happen you will feel better just by taking control of what you put on the plate. Make it easier by filling your fridge and cupboards with quality, varied and healthy food… and maybe dumping the junk food in the bin.  

3) Treat yourself well. What makes you feel better? Then do it. (My apologies to those of you who immediately thought of ‘Having a nap’ and ‘Eating some junk food’. What else could you do?).  Especially do those things that calm you and make you feel good. It might be playing with the dog, putting on some music, doing some relaxation exercises, lighting scented candles, working in the garden, reading a book, doing some stretches, having a bath, taking a stroll or playing the guitar. Slumping in front of the TV has it’s place, but these treats I am talking about are a bit more intentional. You will be amazed how a couple of ‘fifteen-minute holidays’ each day can lift your whole mood.

 

4) Accept Yourself.  So you are not perfect… that is okay.  You have your faults and weaknesses  – everyone does – but don’t let those block you from seeing  that there is actually a lot of good in you, a stack of potential, a ton of talent and you are beautiful as well. Of course, if you are depressed, you might have difficulty believing any of that. But it is true because it is true of every single human on the planet.  You are a wonderful individual. Take that from me… but it will be lot more powerful when you can say it to yourself!  Everyone would like more friends. Add to your friend-count straight away by including yourself in the list of people you really like.

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Disclaimer

These blogs are offered with the sincere hope that they will be beneficial to people with mental health challenges, their families and the wider public. However, a big lesson from the history of science is that anyone can be wrong! Therefore, this disclaimer: though written in good faith, the authors and publishers cannot guarantee the accuracy of this content, or its applicability to a particular situation.  Any decisions or course of action taken as a consequence of this content must be entirely the reader’s responsibility.  In no way should this content be used as a basis to contradict or ignore the advice of a medical or mental health professional. 

Friday, November 23, 2018
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“Really, how are you doing?” 

Mental Health Awareness

“How are you?” “How on earth would I know!?” Knowing how we really are and what we are actually feeling is a skill called self-awareness. Sadly, many of us actually work harder on developing the opposite skill of ignoring what we are feeling. We keep the cupboard door of our emotions firmly locked shut.  

Ever lived in a place for a while and then, ‘suddenly’, everything seems to need a lot of maintenance?  Ever been surprised that jeans that used to fit ‘suddenly’ have to be forced up and over a bulge? In the same way that we fail to notice small changes in our environment or body until they become quite marked, some people miss the signs that their mental well-being is taking a dip until they are really struggling.   Perhaps they ignore the fact that their sleep patterns have become more and more erratic, or that the occasional drink they used to have has become a nightly habit; maybe the little anxieties and once-infrequent glum patches are starting to blend into a constant state of uncomfortable tension or dragging depression. Some people never notice – or, take seriously – the little signs that their mental health is declining until they are overwhelmed by burnout or some other crisis.

Good mental and emotional health requires vigilance. A good way to sharpen our self-awareness is to compare ourselves now with some point in the past. Compared with, say, this time a year ago, are you…

… having as much fun?

… mixing with family and friends as often?

… sleeping as well?

… as fit and well nourished?

… being as helpful to others?

… enjoying life with your partner as much?

… keeping on top of your work load?

… feeling as appreciated and respected?

… able to relax as well?

… keeping alcohol use under control?

… finding time for hobbies, sport and creativity?

When you look at your own Facebook posts from a year ago, do you think your life then looked a lot better than it is now? Has a friend or family member expressed concerns about changes in your lifestyle or mood or appearance or health? We all have stress, but do you find that stressful events rock you more now than they used to, and do you get the idea that stress is piling up in your life?

All these questions are just a warm up… now the big one: how are you feeling?  What’s in your emotional cupboard? Is it mostly contentment and happiness? That’s really great. How about if you have a few anxieties, phobias, regrets and sadnesses? That can be little tough but it is also very normal most of us have a bit of ‘untidiness’ in our mental health from time to time and most of us cope pretty well. The good news is that there are proven ways to really make our mental health better and better. The really good news is that a lot of those ‘therapies’ are simple and actually very enjoyable: eating well, relaxing, time with friends, being active, music, hobbies, getting into nature etc etc.

But what if our emotional cupboard is bursting with anxiety, troubling thoughts, guilt, thinking that runs around and around in circles or energy-draining depression? It would be desperately unkind to ask you to pry open that cupboard if there were not some real solutions to those issues. That’s the first thing you really need to hear is: help helps!  You will feel better! It is often amazing the progress people make back towards health once they recognise there are issues that addressing.  Help comes in all sorts of forms,  and you will find out how to access it [on this page? In a box? ]  ( If you need help urgently then jump straight to [on this page? In a box? ]   )

For most of us, the takeaway from this is: know yourself. In the same way that good caring people will sometimes eyeball their friends and ask them how they are really doing, we can confront and check up on ourselves. Self-awareness and some simple ‘self-maintenance’  can help prevent a sag in mental health becoming a land-slide. 

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Disclaimer

These blogs are offered with the sincere hope that they will be beneficial to people with mental health challenges, their families and the wider public. However, a big lesson from the history of science is that anyone can be wrong! Therefore, this disclaimer: though written in good faith, the authors and publishers cannot guarantee the accuracy of this content, or its applicability to a particular situation.  Any decisions or course of action taken as a consequence of this content must be entirely the reader’s responsibility.  In no way should this content be used as a basis to contradict or ignore the advice of a medical or mental health professional. 

Friday, November 23, 2018
/documents/Really, how are you doing.jpg
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