Posted in Advocacy, autism

A Guide to Autism Awareness Month (By an Autistic Girl)

April is autism awareness month, so you might well come across information floating around about autism online. For many autistic people, especially autistic advocates, can find this month difficult or have mixed feelings around it – not all the information circulating will be correct or portray a positive narrative, and this can be frustrating, stigmatising, and exhausting to correct. So here is a short guide on how to navigate autism awareness month for autistics and neurotypicals (people who do not have autism and are not neurodivergent) alike:

The Ground Rules

Firstly, let’s lay some ground rules for autism awareness month – the stuff you really should know. When you read something about autism online, do not automatically assume it’s true. If it’s written by an autistic person, then it’s generally trustworthy. If it shows autism as a problem to be fixed, or a desperate life, then it’s not to be listened to. And if it comes from ‘Autism Speaks’ then completely ignore it (more on that later). Next, make sure you are not correcting autistic people on their own experience, or trying to speak over them. Instead, uplift autistic voices – and all autistic voices. We are as diverse as the world, and we all have value, so make sure you’re paying attention to LBGTQ autistics, Black autistics, non-verbal autistics, autistics with higher support needs… all of us! Finally, don’t use the #actuallyautistic hashtag if you’re not autistic, it’s a hashtag we use to find each other and to identify posts by autistic people.

Acceptance not Awareness

While becoming more aware of the diversity and lived experience of autistic people is amazing, and helps to de-stigmatise autism, it’s not enough. Furthermore, sometimes the idea of awareness can become a connotation of a problem that needs to be solved or cured, which autism is not. So during this month, you may see it called ‘autism acceptance month’ instead. That’s because what autistic people really need is acceptance. More than that we need to be accommodated and valued in society, because every single one of has worth no matter where our traits lie on the spectrum, and when accommodated to we can do so much. So please, make sure that this month you are also thinking about and working on your acceptance and accommodation of autistic people. If you want to read more about why I think autism is amazing, please read my post ‘Autism is My Superpower’ here.

All Year Round

The fact is that autistic people are always autistic – all year round. That means that you cannot only work on accepting autistic people during the month of April. Including us, accommodating us, appreciating us and loving us is a full time job. And it’s important, maybe even paramount, to note that accepting autistic people isn’t just about accepting those who have a diagnosis or are public about that diagnosis. Many of us can’t be open with our diagnosis, or are uncomfortable about being open with it (which is why we need your help to de-stigmatise autism). Many people don’t even know they are autistic. So what does that mean for you? It means accepting the weird kid who only talks about the same few topics or can’t make eye contact, and saying hello to them, regardless of what response you might get. It means not laughing at the way in which someone flaps their hand or the odd noises they make. It’s about being sensitive to the person who finds light and sound overstimulating. It means accommodating the quiet girl, even when she can’t talk at all. It means caring.

No Autism Speaks

You may have heard/ hear about Autism Speaks’ light it up blue campaign, supposedly in support of autistic people. However autism speaks have been hugely damaging to the autism community, portraying autism as a thing that destroys lives and families, and something that needs to be solved. They also do not help autistic people in a financial sense – only a tiny portion of their budget (I believe 4%) actually goes towards autistic people and their families, while their CEO receives an obnoxious amount. Furthermore, not one person on their board actually has autism, which is an outrageous sign that they do not listen to us. So instead of lighting it up blue, please light it up red, a way we are combating Autism Speaks, and use the rainbow infinity symbol instead of the blue puzzle piece of this organisation.

A Guide for The Autistics

This month might get overwhelming for you, especially if you are trying to correct information online or advocate a lot. So this is my reminder for us to check in with ourselves and allow ourselves time to rest and do what we enjoy as well. If you are feeling worn out maybe reach out to someone who knows you well also and ask them for a bit of extra support. You are under no obligation to do anything this month if you don’t want to. And maybe while everyone else is working on their acceptance of us, we can also try to accept ourselves. It’s something we can struggle with as autistic people. But we are so valid, and honestly really awesome.

Thank you so much for reading. If you have any questions please do drop them in the comments, and feel free to get in contact. Sending all my love and support!

Posted in Advocacy, Mental Health

Overview on Eating Disorder Awareness

As someone who spent a long time struggling with disordered eating – and still continues to grapple with it – I know first hand that eating disorders, diet culture, body image and our relationship with food is so much more complicated than a few statistics. However I also know that de-stigmatisation of mental health starts with awareness, and that de-stigmatising mental illness saves lives and has the power to change communities. So for eating disorder awareness week here’s a short overview I put together on eating disorder awareness. Follow this blog for more in depth posts to come on this topic:

Eating Disorder Misconceptions:

Not everyone with an eating disorder;

… is skinny

… is underweight

… goes to hospital

… knows they have one

… gets diagnosed

… recovers

… is white

… is female

… has anorexia or bulimia

… is a teenager

… looks like they have one

… restricts or purges

… survives

… has body dysmorphia

Eating Disorder Facts:

⁃ Around 25% of those affected by an eating disorder are male

⁃ Only around 10% of people suffering with an eating disorder are anorexic

⁃ Eating disorders are not a choice or for attention – they are a mental illness

⁃ Research suggests that people that have a family member with an eating disorder are more likely to develop one

⁃ Black teenagers are 50% more likely to exhibit symptoms of bulimia than white teenagers

⁃ LGBTQ people are more likely to develop an eating disorder

⁃ Research suggests that up to 20% of autistic people exhibit traits of eating disorders, and while anorexia is the second least common eating disorder among non-autistic people it is the most common among autistic people

⁃ Approximately 1.25 million people in the U.K. have an eating disorder

⁃ Anorexia has the highest mentality rate of any psychiatric disorder

Types of Eating Disorders:

⁃ Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia (or anorexia nervosa) is a serious mental illness where people lose a lot of weight due to restricting how much they eat and drink. They may develop “rules” around what they feel they can and cannot eat, as well as things like when and where they’ll eat, and around exercise. Anorexia can affect anyone not matter their age, gender, ethnicity or background.

⁃ ARFID

Avoidant restrictive food intake disorder, more commonly known as ARFID, is a condition characterised by someone avoiding certain foods or types of food. They may restrict overall intake of intake of certain foods, and have foods that they deal as “safe”.

⁃ Binge Eating Disorder

Binge eating disorder (BED) is a serious mental illness where people eat very large quantities of food while feeling like they are not in control or what they are doing. Evidence suggests it is more common than other eating disorders, and is often misunderstood.

⁃ Bulimia

People with bulimia feel caught in a cycle of eating large quantities of food (called bingeing), and then trying to compensate for that overeating by purging in some way. That may be vomiting, taking laxatives or diuretics, fasting, or exercising excessively.

⁃ OSFED

Anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder are diagnosed using a list of expected behavioural, psychological, and physical symptoms, however sometimes a person’s symptoms don’t exactly fit the expected criteria for any of these three specific eating disorders. In that case, they might be diagnosed with an “other specified feeding or eating disorder” (OSFED).

Things not to say to someone with an eating disorder (or literally anyone for that matter)

⁃ Are you really going to eat all that?

⁃ That’s a meal not a snack!

⁃ You’re just attention seeking

⁃ You’re weak

⁃ Just eat more/less

⁃ Get over it

⁃ But you’re eating well, how can you have an eating disorder?

⁃ I could never starve myself, I wish I was as devoted as you

⁃ Why don’t you just stop throwing up?

⁃ What diet are you on?

⁃ You should just go on a diet

⁃ Pointing out their weight gain, weight loss, anything about their body or anyone else’s body; try to compliment people through things unrelated to appearance

Eating Disorder help

⁃ Recovery is completely possible; the worst day in recovery is better than a single day being ill

⁃ No one with an eating disorder has anything to be ashamed of; there are so many loving and supporting people out there ready to help

⁃ Asking for help is not weak; it is brave

⁃ If you are a family member or friend supporting someone with an eating disorder you deserve to be supported as well

⁃ You deserve to have a healthy, sustainable and accepting relationship with your body and food

-You are not alone

Goeree, Sovinsky, & Iorio, 2011; Beateatingdisorders.co.uk; Autism.org.uk; Health.com

Posted in Advocacy, autism, Personal Growth

Autism is My Superpower

I’m autistic. Having autism in a neurotypical world is not easy because generally the world isn’t built for us and proves to be confusing, but for anyone struggling with their diagnosis/ symptoms (and any neurotypicals unclear on the individual nature of autism) I want to make it clear that having autism isn’t a defect. Nor is it a mental illness. In fact, it can be a bonus in many situations, and when accommodated to autistic people can provide new perspectives and skills to the benefit of others. I, for one, like to think that my autism is my superpower, and this is my personal experience:

I learnt to ‘mask’ my autism – consciously learning how to act and react from other people’s behaviour; having to put effort into learning social rules that came naturally to others. Masking can be exhausting, so I know it’s essential that I take breaks and find time for myself, but like a superhero in a costume, it can also be powerful. How? Because my passion is theatre, and when I become the character I act out on stage, I am easily able to slip myself into their shoes – I know how they would behave and why. It comes effortless to me. The misconception is that autistic people are like robots and can only slot into certain careers. In reality we are varied like everyone else, and our uniqueness is incredible. We exist in every identity there is: every race, every gender, every sexuality, as parents and children. Our variety is often overlooked.

My increased sensory input is a key feature of my superpower. I observe more, hear more, taste more. This translates to a benefit in so many situations. You don’t know your train time? Don’t worry, I glanced at the board quickly and noticed it. You’re lost and don’t know the way back? Don’t worry, I spotted landmarks along the way, I know where we’re going. You’re trying to remember where you put your glasses? Never fear, I spotted them. And if we’re thinking about sound and music, my greater sensory input comes to my aid once again – that along with my ability to spot patterns as part of my autism, and my synaesthesia (which is far more prevalent among autistic people than the general population). When I hear a piece of music, it is alive to me. It is full of colour, I hear every layer of the rich instruments, and I can see the patterns the notes are forming. If I want to then play that piece on piano, I need only translate the pattern onto the keys – give me a bit of time and I can paint the picture I hear all by myself. This is my superpower. 

Not to mention the fact that I am quite simply neurodivergent. I think experience the world in a way that is different to ‘the norm’, or rather the majority. Why is this a feature of my superpower? Because I can come up with new ideas and perspectives that may have been overlooked or not thought of at all. In certain situations this can become the way I overcome challenges or help others to do so; in the right combination my divergent thinking could be innovative. Us autistic people have a place in this society, no matter where our traits lie on the spectrum, and if we are accommodated we may even be able to offer solutions, certainly valuable contributions at the least. 

Like a superhero may have an emblem, sign, or symbol, I have my stims. By stims I mean self stimulatory behaviour. Why is this so amazing? Well, it indicates to me how I am feeling (different stims, like tapping my fingers on my palm or twirling my ankle, correspond to different moods). Not only this, but should I start to feel an uncomfortable emotion, stimming freely can help calm me down. There’s a lot of people out there that don’t have something so simple in their toolbox, so this is powerful to me. It’s also such a pure form of expression, and can even help me release my creativity, tapping into my flow. Furthermore, my stims evolve over time – hitting my head morphed into covering my head and now I need only put on a hat to feel at home. How awesome is that? 

This barely scratches the surface of my positive autistic experience, but I hope it has enlightened you. Autism is not a bad thing – quite the opposite. And the beautiful part of it is that no one autistic person’s experience is the same as another. We have a place in this world, and we’re not going anywhere, so the more that neurotypicals begin to understand and help us meet our needs, the more we can give.

Posted in Advocacy, Mental Health

Reducing Mental Health Stigma

I have been fortunate that I have not personally come up against too much explicit stigma throughout my mental health journey so far – and when I have, there has been an incredible amount of supportive people surrounding me. However just a quick trip online reveals how much stigma still exists around mental health, and backhanded comments such as ‘just snap out of it’ or ‘you don’t look mentally ill’ are far too common. Sometimes I am afraid that I will be left out from job opportunities or educational experiences in the future because of my struggles. And so it is important to me, for my benefit and the benefit others, that I do what I can to reduce stigma in my advocacy. For me that means sharing my story, educating myself (especially on the intersectionality of mental health in society), and being open in conversation. Here is my quick guide on what anyone can do to reduce mental health stigma.

  1. Change your language

It might insignificant, but language holds power. What I mean by this is avoiding calling someone who is mentally ill ‘crazy’, and instead validating their experience. Another way to adapt our language is to avoiding using conditions as adjectives. For example instead of saying ‘I’m a bit OCD’ say ‘I like things to be tidy’, and instead of saying ‘She’s so bipolar’ say ‘she’s a bit moody today’. Changing our language can signify a shift in how we approach topics, and encourages us to be more mindful of how what we say can impact someone.

2. Educate yourself

Education is a powerful tool. Educate yourself on the warning signs of mental health issues, different conditions, and the reality of the lived experience of those struggling with their mental health (they’re not the dangerous, horrible people that some media may lead us to believe they are). And educate yourself on the fact that everyone has mental health, and everyone deserves to look after it. Furthermore, educate yourself on how mental health is intersectional with identity and social issues. Here is a post from my instagram that has some basic statistics on this.

3. Listen

When someone speaks up about their mental health, listen. Actively listen. Do not try to shut them down or tell them to toughen up. Listen to what they need and what they are experiencing.

4. Speak up

If someone says something ignorant in a conversation about mental health, try to gently educate them. If you are able to, speak up in your workplace or school to ask for better training for employees on mental health, and policies to support employees/ students.

5. Speak to power

Sign petitions that lobby for better and more inclusive mental health support nationwide and in our communities. Write an email to your MP (or other political representative) about improving mental health systems.

8. Support mental health charities

Whether this is by donating, sharing their campaigns, or engaging with their programmes, their work is so important.

7. Carry openness in your life

Include people in your workplace; continue to invite friends with mental health issues even if they don’t always come along. Treat everyone with dignity and respect, and offer them encouragement in their day to day life and when seeking professional support. Never blame anyone for their struggles. Be kind.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post. All of my love and support to you today,

Millie xx

Posted in Advocacy, Mental Health

Letters to my MP

This is the first of five letters to my MP regarding the mental health system, sent originally in May – it is not even worth me posting the others because they are all very repetitive following evasive responses. However I thought I would post this one as it gives a comprehensive overview of how I regard the mental health system in the U.K. and I’d like to say is a reasonably interesting read. If you’d like to read any of the others or responses please do get in touch.

Dear Mr ****,

My name is Millicent ****, I am 15 years old, and I am a resident of the **** district. I am writing to you today concerning the topic of the mental health system in the UK, particularly regarding young people. This is of great personal and nationwide importance since the mental health of citizens is an intersectional issue impacted by and impacting most aspects of society. You may be aware of many of my concerns already, however there is so much still to be done and these issues need highlighting, especially in the light of the Coronavirus pandemic which will no doubt influence the mental wellbeing of the population. I firmly believe that investment into the improvement of support in the UK will aid the return to life following this pandemic. I will also send a copy of this to you handwritten. It is my hope that you will take the time to read this email in full, as it is a comprehensive display of the complex problems within the system, and that it may open a discourse with you about what can be done to improve the system, and therefore society. Essentially – how will you, as an MP, push for change?

In this email I will cover:

– Personal experience

– Statistics and widespread perceptions of the system 

– The intersectionality of mental health 

– Issues with the diagnostic process 

– My questions about the system, what can be done, and ideas for what could be improved 

– Summary for your convenience 

In the last three years I have been diagnosed with high functioning autism, anxiety disorder, cyclothymia (a subtype of bipolar disorder) and disordered eating. To say I have struggled would be an understatement, and in terms of intervention from mental health services I have struggled alone. I only received these diagnoses after reaching breaking point, and through the private system funded by charity money after being consistently failed by CAHMS. Even then I faced long waiting lists and inadequate support. I will raise my concerns within the context of my own experience. 

When I was first referred to CAHMS I saw a counselor who I did not connect with; when I asked for a change of treatment, I was denied such. A year later – after a sharp downward turn in my mental health which meant I could no longer partake in a full school timetable – I was referred to the service once again. I had an initial assessment which left me confused, and they brushed aside my difficulties with my moods. I was offered group therapy, which intimidated me, and a check in with the eating disorders unit. I was not consulted about my treatment. After a panic attack in the office and a month of complaints I was offered CBT – but only 3 sessions; this is completely inadequate by any standards, including the NHS NICE guidelines, to make any change. When I raised concerns unrelated to my anxiety in these sessions, they were brushed aside as unimportant or not relevant to their unit. I was told by the eating disorder unit that I was ‘not light enough’ to qualify for in depth treatment – despite having lost a stone in the space of three weeks and being unable to eat more than five-hundred calories a day at the time. At the end of my CBT I was let go of by the service as they felt they had nothing more to offer me. I was told an ASD assessment would take eighteen months. Four months later I was struggling with suicidal tendencies, self harm, bulimia, and other issues. The overarching theme here is that I was continually told I was not ‘bad enough’ and by the time I was ‘bad enough’ I had no support systems in place. 

So my first questions are these: how can we change the system so that the needs of individuals are taken into consideration? How can we improve communication across units within the system so that the individual’s struggles are dealt with at all levels? How can we ensure that all the patient’s concerns are being taken into account, without ridicule? How can we create better measures to support people at all levels of the system, so that they always feel valid and the preventable outcomes do not occur, which often leaves people alone or the system overwhelmed? A simple answer would be funding – the system needs better funding to be able to cope with the influx of patients coming through, and approach each one with compassion. However this is not the singular solution, which I will come to later, and would require a shift in the focus of government by essentially making clear that it puts the wellbeing of its citizens first, and is not afraid to invest in long term solutions and improvements. 

I am not alone in my experience – a quick survey on my Instagram provided me with several answers, all of which backed up my perceptions of the system; I have heard conversations about the same problems repeated over and over again. Here are just a handful of responses from my Instagram: 

‘I’m sure mental health problems could be caught and helped earlier with better funding’ 

‘Mental health services for young people are woefully underfunded’ 

‘I’d say more funding for counselor programmes as there are massive waiting lists for them’ 

‘Private services are so dear, and many slip through the net because they can’t access help in time’  

‘Not enough work is done to prevent mental health problems and when there is a crisis, the systems are not properly equipped to deal with them’ 

In terms of statistics, the Community Mental Health survey 2019 by the Quality Care Commission reports ‘many of those areas identified as in need of improvement in 2018 have declined further, continuing the negative trend of results consistently declining over the 2014 – 2019 period’. This follows the publication of the government’s ambitions in the Next Steps on the Five Year Forward View (2017) and the NHS Long Term Plan (2019). As reported by the charity Mind, this weekend also marked 18 months since the Mental Health Act review – and we are still waiting for the government to make vital changes. Some key statistics from the survey are: 

– 31% of all respondents said they did not know who to contact out of office hours within the NHS if they had a crisis 

– One in five respondents that did know who to contact, and had done so in the last twelve months, reported they did not receive the help they needed during a crisis 

– Less than half (42%) of respondents said they had ‘definitely’ seen NHS mental health services enough for their needs. This is five percentage points lower than 2014 

– Almost a quarter of people (23%) were not involved in agreeing their care with NHS mental health services.

– Only 52%, of those who agreed their care, felt they were involved as much as they wanted to be in that process

– 29% of people had not had a formal meeting with anyone from the NHS mental health services to discuss how their care is working in the last year 

This barely scratches the surface of the 92 page report, which shows quality of care throughout to be below expectations and satisfaction, and many of these issues may also be exaggerated further within CAHMS which presents the challenge of dealing with those under 18. I think you can agree this is simply not good enough. 

While I am on statistics, here is an introduction to why the mental health of the country is important: 

– Approximately one in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year (Mental Health Network, NHS confederation, 2016) 

– In the UK and the Republic of Ireland there were 6895 suicides in 2018, a 10.9% increase (Samaritans). That is 6895 lives lost, futures lost, family and friends in mourning 

– The rate of suicide among under 25s increased by 23.7% in 2018 (Samaritans) 

– The rate of suicide in the last quarter of 2019 hit a 19-year high, at 11.4 deaths per 100,000 people (ONS)

– Mental ill health is responsible for 72 million working days lost each year and costs £34.9 billion each year (Thriving at work: The independent review of Mental Health and Employers, 2017, Stephen D, Farmerson P), although some other reputable studies reckon this to be as high at £74-99 billion (Business in the community, Mental Health at Work 2019: Time to Take Ownership)

– One in eight 5 to 19 year olds had a mental disorder in 2017 (Government Statistical Service) 

The figures above are just that – numbers. However they represent the pain of millions of people each year, the tragic loss of life; the prevalence and therefore importance of mental health issues. We all have mental health; at any time we could be forced to rely on the system, therefore we must ensure it is properly equipped to support us, and allow us to return as functioning and contributing members of society. In the last three months three of my friends have attempted suicide. Thankfully they are all still alive today, but as they were all already involved in the system before this and had been failed by it invariably, I also live in fear for them, and others – like myself – grappling with mental health issues. This affects all of us. 

The main support I received for my mental health came from my school, simply because I was lucky enough to have understanding and empathetic teachers who always looked out for me. They kept me safe during manic episodes, kept me going during depressive episodes, and constantly took it upon themselves to educate themselves and offer me suggestions. However the level of care which they gave to me was not required of them, nor should it have been, and they are not professionals in the field. As the majority of young people spend most of their time in schools, however, it has highlighted to me the important role that schools play in supporting students’ mental wellbeing.  Furthermore, stress is well known to have a negative effect on mental health, and the stress placed on students in competitive atmospheres only increases as they move up the educational system: how can we alleviate some of the pressure on students and make it part of the curriculum to provide them with coping skills? This is one example of how in improving the NHS system, we must also involve coordination across other aspects of society that support the wellbeing of our citizens.

I know that my teachers were unsure who to contact when I had a mixed episode (undiagnosed at the time) which left them bewildered and in fear for my safety. In improving the system we must raise awareness, and education is key to this as it allows us to reach so many young people. How can we ensure that teachers – all teachers – are trained to recognise early warning signs, and create a structure that would mean they are aware how to approach with empathy, knowing what their next steps would be? Within schools, how can we promote the tolerance and awareness of mental wellbeing in a dynamic, informed manner that fosters compassion? Perhaps required teacher training and reforms in PSHE would be a good place to start, alongside establishing schemes of referral and counselling in educational settings. However, we must also recognise the impact that a teacher’s role may be having on their mental health, and therefore I suggest that it should be the norm that educators are offered easily accessible support to help them, which would not only allow them to offer better assistance, but would also make them better teachers. Mental health is an intersectional issue that requires a multifaceted approach; I hope you will appreciate this, and start formulating ideas on how we can put this into practice. 

Again I reference some quotes from my Instagram survey:

– ‘More investment in mental health training for teachers’ 

– ‘Talks for young people. They feel too’

– ‘Primary schools need to be more aware of mental health in my opinion’ 

– ‘Education beyond anxiety and depression because nothing else is talked about’

In terms of intersectionality, there are also clear trends among different demographics which should be addressed in formulating a plan for improvement. For example, the current protests have brought to my attention the disparities faced by BME communities in receiving mental health treatment: 

– Risk of psychosis in Black Caribbean groups is estimated to be nearly seven times higher than in the White population (Mental Health statistics for England, Briefing paper 6988, Baker C., 2018)

– Detention rates under the Mental Health act during 2017/2018 were four times higher for people in the ‘Black’ or ‘Black British’ groups than those in the ‘White’ group (NHS, Mental Health Act Statistics, Annual report 2017-2018)

– 29% of Black/ Black British women experienced a common mental disorder in the past week, higher than for White British women or Other White women (NHS, Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey) 

Once again this only scratches the surface, but the trend is clear. Research suggests that racism can have a very negative effect on overall health and mental health, and as BME communities are often more likely to be economically disadvantaged – and mental health issues more prevalent among lower income communities –  this is sure to have an effect on these figures. Therefore in facing the problems with the system, we must also look to where we can alleviate stress elsewhere, by educating young people through schools and the wider population through schemes about racism and how to be anti-racist; by aiding those economically disadvantaged and perhaps putting further funding into the services in areas with lower average income; by actively reversing racism and increasing understanding of issues faced by BME people within the service. However, it matters what is then done with this funding as well – there should be clear cut structures that direct where the funding should be applied. For example – community programmes, hiring more nurses and psychologists, further research into the effects of medication and disorders, training/ encouraging the training of the next generation of mental health workers, improving training structures to implement the values of NICE that should already be put in place. We need to not only pledge to look into it, fund it, but also how the process should be guided, surely? 

I could delve further into the intersectionality of mental health among LGBT+ communities (more susceptible), disabled people and their access needs, the workplace – but I feel by now you have gotten the picture. To finish I will cover the topic of diagnostic issues. 

The process of my autism diagnosis was fraught since I was being assessed under a criteria developed based upon the experience of white males of a certain economic background. This is the case for the diagnosis of many disorders, for which the criteria is based upon outdated research of particular demographics. How can we work to reverse this and therefore provide a smoother process for all by being represented in research? Not only that, but I found that without a diagnosis, my concerns were brushed aside as ‘just a teenager thing’. Yet the diagnostic system is not clear on what should or should not be diagnosed in teens, so my diagnoses were almost impossible to achieve, and still I was left feeling that regardless of labels I should have been validated anyway. I then found that after each diagnosis, there was a definite lack of explanation to me and guidance on my next steps. 

The end goal of psychiatry shouldn’t be diagnosis; all aspects of a person should be taken into account; those receiving such should be provided with clear understanding and guidance. Diagnosis also raises the issue of stigma in society – we are still afraid of labels, and yet invalidated without them. As already shown, mental health problems are so prevalent in our society that the very idea of them being a ‘disorder’ is arguably wrong and very damaging, causing divides where there needs to be acceptance and compassion. What can we do about this? There is a clear gap in the understanding around mental health that needs to be closed, which again brings me to the topic of education, and a supportive system at all levels so that the patient feels their individual needs are being heard and the preventable outcomes do not occur. Could research and community schemes help to bridge this gap? 

From my Instagram survey:

-’They don’t do enough for people who have only recently been diagnosed with mental health and therefore it allows their mental health to get worse’

-’It’s important because young people’s lives are being ruined by lack of access and explanations’

– ‘STOP TELLING PEOPLE IT’S JUST HORMONES/ A TEEN THING it’s not helping anyone!’

Mr Holloway I thank you deeply for taking the time to read this email. I hope that you will understand the importance of what I am writing about and receive these points with an open mind. I look forward to receiving your reply. You are a leader, and I trust that there is the possibility for tangible change in opening discourse with you. In conclusion:

  • How can we improve communication across the mental health system and other sectors? 
  • How can we use funding to improve the system?
  • How can we address individual needs?
  • How can we address the intersections of this issue to create a better society?
  • How can we improve the mental health system in conjunction with improving the educational system?
  • How can research help to overcome issues, and how do we ensure action is taken from it?
  • How do we overcome issues with diagnosis and stigma?
  • What can you do to lead this change?

If you would like me to clarify any points or forward my sources please do not hesitate to ask, 

Kind Regards, 

Millicent

Posted in Advocacy, Happy Notes, Mental Health, Notes, Personal Growth

What is positivity?

This post is inspired by I note I made for my Instagram – @our.happy.notes – which read: ‘For me being positive doesn’t mean being happy or positive all the time, it means allowing myself to appreciate the moments that I do feel positive, and allowing the possibility of hope to exist’. I wrote it because being the inquisitive person I am and being active on social media brought the thought into my mind – what is positivity? What does positivity mean to me?

I’m a person that tends to find myself living in extremes. There either is or there isn’t. I am all or nothing. So with positivity and a mood disorder, I found that I either lived in a state of overwhelming optimist or complete lack of any positive thought at all. What I have found interesting, and beneficial to my mental health, is exploring the space in between. The idea that even in positive moments I can accept that it won’t last forever, and in the times where I lack such I can acknowledge that it doesn’t mean that positivity has disappeared.

I think sometimes even in well meaning spaces, there can be such a pressure to be positive and see the good in life. Unfortunately this simply isn’t possible all of the time, and when we put pressure on ourselves to feel one way or the other it can lead to us feeling even worse. The reality of the situation is that all emotions on the spectrum are valid. Yet the lack of positivity or hope in one moment does not mean it will never return; that it has ceased to exist. Nowadays this is something I like to remind myself – writing it out helps me to absorb it.

So, what is positivity to me? Positivity is not the blind belief in a bright future, but the acceptance of the fact that a bright future could exist. It is allowing the possibility of a good day for someone else happening, even if it isn’t for me. It is embracing the small, joyful things in life – the most minute parts of the world that make me a little less down, even if only for a moment. It is an intangible thing, an emotion, an idea – a beautiful prospect.

However I recognise that in moments we really can want to increase our positive thoughts and feelings in life. I am no expert on this, though I do have some tools that have helped me. In the morning I write down affirmations for the day – ‘Today can be a good day’, ‘I am enough’, etc. In the evening I write a gratitude list – ‘I have a roof over my head’, ‘someone smiled at me in the street’. I list the small things in life that bring me joy. I allow myself to dream wildly, but remind myself that whether or not these dreams materialise, I will be ok. I smile; sometimes I simply sit there and I smile. And when I feel that positivity is disappearing, that hope is waning, I repeat aloud and write on paper that they are not gone forever. These might seem a little silly, but they are some of the most healing things toward my mental health.

Sending love and support to anyone who needs it today!

Love, Millie x

Posted in Advocacy, Mental Health

Funding Mental Health – An Introductory Question

Today’s post is inspired by @jcss.c (insta)

I’ve spoken about funding for mental health systems here before, but I wanted to write a bit about what we want to fund. The mental health system as it is is flawed – I am certain of this – and while extra funding is needed and would help, it won’t fix everything. That is whey when I talk about improving the mental health system I use the word reform.

When we talk about funding the system we need to consider what we are funding. Do we want to pump money into a fundamentally broken system (because it’s been getting worse for quite a while) or do we want to use that money to reform the way the system works, promote independent person led treatment, and then provide resources to help make that happen? 

Here’s some examples of areas that need to be changed: 

  • fatphobia within ED (eating disorder) treatment. That means not having to be under a certain weight to be validated, the mental side of an eating disorder taking precedent, and providing space for people who don’t fit the ‘typical’ ED profile you might expect 
  • Medical racism. This needs to be tackled at all levels and in all areas of society – they all influence each other
  • Inability for medical practitioners to see individuals rather than symptoms. The individual patient matters; they should have a say in their own treatment; all of who they are should be recognised and celebrated. There’s a difference between having to tick boxes and refusing to see anything outside of those boxes 
  • Inappropriate medication/ sedation in inpatient. There should be more resources and a better system of action that doesn’t lead to drugs so quickly, especially if that is against the patient’s wishes 
  • Criminalisation & lack of human respect for people with substance use issues. 
  • Staff who always validate the experience of the patient, don’t rush patients through, tell them they’re not ‘bad enough’, aren’t rude, aren’t tired etc etc etc 
  • Voluntary treatment truly being voluntary. Rather than ‘admit yourself or we’ll section you’ (which happens far too much) 
  • Language changes. Being labelled as compliant or non-compliant, for example, and threatened with no help at all or penalties on freedom in inpatient, when in reality the reasons behind each person’s choice should be explored and respected. They should be helped to be motivated, and if the treatment isn’t working for them, there should be other options 
  • Space for alternative treatments. For example art therapy, drama therapy, animal therapy – just using other methods to get through to patients can be pivotal in their treatment. There should be the ability for this to happen on a wide scale 
  • Recognition of the wider factors impacting and maintaining mental health. Such as money, identity etc

There’s so much more I could discuss and it’s not like I’ve studied this for years, so this is just the opinion I have developed, but I know I am not alone in this. I’d also like to say that I respect any professionals that want to make a difference for someone struggling with their mental health, but I recognise that in such a strange system, it’s often hard for them to do so, and after time that motivation may just disappear. 

If anyone wants to add anything, please comment below, would love to have a discussion on this topic.

Posted in Advocacy, Mental Health

I Want Change.

This was originally written as a post for Mental Health Awareness week on Instagram. It serves as an introduction to my Mental Health advocacy here at Our Happy Notes:

I’m an advocate for mental health awareness, but sometimes I feel as though I don’t know what to say or do. But I know what I want and I will build from there through myself, my community, and reaching out. 

Positivity and compassion are important, but so is speaking up for change and against the romanticism of mental illness. 

I’m fed up with all these ‘the true side of mental illness’ posts – no, it’s not the ‘truth’, it’s your experience; it’s just as damaging to say it is the only one. Fed up with toxic positivity telling us mental health can be fixed by self care. It will never be ‘fixed’. It will always be a part of us. All of us. Self care is not a singular solution, and we are not failures when it doesn’t take it all away or we can’t commit because brushing our teeth is hard enough. 

Speaking about our experiences is valuable, because there needs to be a tolerance and dialogue, but more than anything there needs to be a system change. I want change. I would never choose to take my illnesses away because they shaped me, and they give me creativity and kindness, but I shouldn’t have had to arrive at that conclusion on my own. 

It shouldn’t be down to a teacher to hand out all the real advice I’m getting – and only then because she’d experienced what I was going through herself. It shouldn’t be a system where we come away from each meeting feeling worse than when we went in, a three month check in from a psychiatrist you had to pay for with charity money otherwise it was an eighteen month wait and quite simply you would be dead by then, but all they did was make sure that you weren’t dead already anyway. Mothers shouldn’t be burdened with such worry when this is something that happens and can be supported. There should be research to prevent the endless trial and error of medications that messes around with yet another patient’s brain. For the kids who need understanding there should be explanations. 

There should be staff for CAMHS and inpatient. When the teachers are so worried, you’re wondering what it might be like to fly, they’re talking about phone calls to parents and police – you shouldn’t be more afraid of hospitals than you are of dying. It shouldn’t have gotten to that point where you weren’t light enough, bad enough, clear enough, strong enough – teenagers shouldn’t have to be strong and blamed for their reluctance when all they’ve known is that they’re not enough. There shouldn’t be so many inequalities – any inequalities – in the system; so much lack of understanding of the challenges that Black people, LGBTQ+ people, disabled people face. 

I want staff. I want research. I want money for the service and societal change led by a government that actually gives a sh*t and we need that now more than ever. I don’t want to see another friend grappling with a mental illness all alone. I don’t want the statistics for suicide and self harm to climb. I don’t want another overdose that could’ve been prevented if only they’d learnt how to cope. I don’t want them to be blamed anymore. I don’t want anyone to feel alone when they are not. To feel unsupported simply because of their identity. 

I want change, and it starts with us. With our dialogue – led by love and compassion and a willingness to learn. I want us to be validated without labels, and yet unafraid if a diagnosis is present. I want the criteria for diagnosis to reflect the diversity of the people who might be diagnosed. I want understanding and support of mental health built into every facet of our lives, including where we are fighting for justice elsewhere, because these are not stand alone issues. The ‘mad’ people are getting mad, and they don’t want that. I want change.

– Millie