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

An Anxious Experience

Today’s post is a guest post written by Eya, a follower of Our Happy Notes on Instagram (their username: @the_dangerous_me). It was edited by Millie Bevan, founder of Our Happy Notes. If you would like to collaborate please email ourhappynotes@gmail.com or fill out the contact form on the website.

Anxiety can be a very physical experience where you can’t understand what’s happening to your body.  It’s hard to rationalise; it feels like your hormones have gone into overdrive. And really they have – being afraid or nervous is your body and brain’s way of telling you that there is danger nearby, so you may think at first that the feeling will pass, but anxiety means your brain sees danger everywhere. It doesn’t pass so easily. 

Anxiety is a silent killer. It kills your soul, it cuts you to pieces. Consider yourself as a game to anxiety because it makes you feel like a doll which it plays with. You can’t sleep at night and you constantly question what the people around you might be thinking, getting stuck in a loop with these thoughts going round and round in your head, replaying everything you’ve said and done. I have experienced anxiety since I was 13 years old when I started to lose sleep andi cried at night and i suffered. I felt so alone and it was a dark time in my life. I lost friends, became isolated, and soon started to experience depression as well. But there is  hope. I went to a therapist and day by day I felt better. Anxiety is not a topic to be taken lightly. It can make life so difficult. But you are not alone and you can look after your mental health. Eventually, with patience, it gets better.

There’s a lot of love out there and people that care. You can learn to love yourself again; know that there’s nothing that could stop you from your dreams and achievements. Nowadays I feel so much better, so I want to pass that hope onto you so you can enjoy everyday for yourself. 

Posted in Managing Mental Health, Mental Health

How to Support Someone With Mental Health Issues

It can be extremely hard to watch someone you love and care about going through a tough time regarding their mental health. It can also be painful if someone close to you discloses their mental illness or mental health struggles and you had no idea about it. You may feel like a failure yourself, like there’s nothing you can do, like you are useless. Essentially it may start to impact your mental health as well. That’s why the most important thing to remember when supporting someone with mental health issues is that you need to look after yourself as well. You have to.

1. Look after yourself

Sometimes we want to rush in and save the whole world – fix everything – but this simply isn’t possible. Perhaps at first it may seem like a good idea to try and take on the other person’s issues entirely as your own, without giving yourself the space needed to process your own emotions. In fact for a short while this may actually help the other person – but that’s not sustainable; long term it will lead to you burning out, struggling yourself or becoming resentful, likely making the entire situation worse. That’s why it’s so important to look after yourself, even if this is just journaling at the end of the day to help you sort out the feelings of the day, or doing a hobby once a week, the possibilities are limitless and you have to find what works for you. The important thing is that you do find it. And putting in boundaries with the person you are supporting can also help this, and most likely will help them in the long run too.

2. Listen to them

Many people with mental health issues, especially when they are first opening up about them, doubt themselves, feel ashamed or invalidated. By listening to them with an open mind you can help lessen these feelings. And by listening, I mean just that. Not everyone wants (nor even needs) advice or solutions all the time, sometimes they just need to be heard so they feel a little less alone. When having a conversation about their emotions/ experience it can be really helpful to ask the question ‘would you like me to offer advice or just listen to you?’. Validating their experience through listening to them can have a huge impact for someone struggling and give them confidence and reassurance. Remember that they are the one that lives in their brain, and they know what they are going through better than anyone else; it’s not your job to dictate to them what they are undergoing. However, linking to my last point, it is important that you don’t take on all of their feelings for yourself, so placing boundaries can be really helpful – for example requesting that before they talk to you, they ask you if you are in a place to have that conversation.

3. Involve them

Going through a tough time mentally can feel very isolating, and our brains can make us feel very lonely and rejected. That’s why it’s important to continue to involve someone who is struggling mentally. This could mean continuing to invite them to social events while making clear there is no pressure or expectations placed upon them to attend. If they accept and invitation, it might then mean making some accommodations for them, like helping them order food if that’s a point of anxiety for them or giving them some space if they need it for example. It might also mean offering to meet them one on one for a while if that’s easier for them, or talking with them about plans to keep them safe and checking in with them regularly. To relate to my last point, if you’re unsure of what to do, you can always ask them if they have any ideas or if there’s a way you can accommodate them better. This is a huge sign that you care for and accept them still.

4. Research their experience

If the person you are supporting has a diagnosis or has disclosed to you specific symptoms, it can be helpful for your own knowledge to research this. A quick google search will bring up symptoms lists and examples of how these might affect them, but I would also encourage you to look beyond this and read up on the personal experience of different people from different walks of life to get a clearer picture. This can help you understand the person you are supporting better without the worry that you are prying to much, and it can help them to feel seen as this informs how you support them.

5. Make them a happy kit

I’ve made a previous post on this, which you can read here. A happy kit is essentially a little collection of things that can help someone process their emotions, get through a crisis moment, or just generally cheer them up. It can include some things that they find calming or cheering, and maybe a list of distractions and mini coping exercises to try. Distractions are also a really great way to help someone with a mental health issue – it’s not a long term fix but it can help them escape their brain for a minute and feel more ready to face the day. If a distraction is creative it could also be a way of helping them to express themselves, and feel less alone if you’re doing it together.

6. Help with small tasks

Small tasks such as cleaning, ordering food, or remembering deadlines can become seemingly impossible for someone experiencing a mental health struggle. If you feel up to it you can offer to help them with these small tasks, even if that’s just by doing it with them (for example cleaning together one afternoon, or going food shopping together). As always, asking them how best to help is always a good idea, and if they’re not sure offering something specific – such as sending them a reminder text – might appeal to them.

7. Show them you care

It’s simple, but one of the most helpful and meaningful things anyone has ever done for me during my own struggles has been showing me they cared. This could mean writing someone a supportive letter, or making them a playlist. Just something simple that lets them know you care.

7. Be patient

We all have mental health and it can be a long term challenge to face for many. Someone in the midsts of a struggle isn’t going to overcome it overnight, but with amazing people like you willing to support them, they can find their way through. Keep in mind that you need to be patient – one of the reasons why looking after yourself is so important – and that their struggles are not a comment on you, ever. Eventually the sun will come shining through!

Posted in autism, Managing Mental Health, Mental Health, Personal Growth

How to Make a Happy Kit

I still struggle greatly everyday with my mental health, and that can be enormously frustrating. It can also make it feel like the smaller things I can do to help myself are useless in the long run. However, I know this isn’t true. I know that when I add up all these little bits and pieces (like writing and walking for example) they do make an impact. And, yes, sometimes it’s a very small impact – but I know how much more hopeless and desperate it would make me feel if it wasn’t there. One of my favourite things I ever did to help myself manage my mental health was to make a ‘Happy Kit’ (as I call it). The great thing is that it’s totally unique to me and my needs, so I thought I’d share a little guide on how to make your own Happy Kit to suit you. I really love mine and I would recommend that everyone make something like this, because we all have mental health and challenging days – or simply just bored days. In my case it has loads of stuff in it to help me manage my anxiety, depressive episodes, sensory overload, and boredom; I keep it in my school bag at all times. So here’s how I made it:

My ‘Happy Kit’ is almost like a summary of all the tools I’ve gathered over the years to help myself. However, before you decide on the specifics of what will be in your kit, decide how you want to use it. Do you want it to be a box full of stuff that will keep you entertained when you’re bored at home? Or something you can always keep in your bag? Or maybe it’s something you use to help you wind down in the evenings? Once you’ve decided this, you can then choose what container you’re going to keep it in. I keep mine in a black makeup bag with sparkles sewn into it – I like the texture and the way it catches the light. You might choose to keep yours in a box or on a shelf in your bathroom cupboard for example.

Before I go further, here’s an overview of the contents in my own Happy Kit to give you an idea of what to keep in mind when making yours:

Me and My Happy Kit
  1. Fiddle toys – they help me focus in lessons, ease anxiety, and remain grounded during sensory overload. I have several different kinds with different textures
  2. A list of distractions – I have so many different activities on this list! And they range from things that are easier for me to do when I’m feeling low, more creative for when I’m hyper, and calming for when I’m anxious. I have this list because I’m learning that if I can direct myself towards an activity, it eases how I feel, but sometimes I can’t think of anything to do, so I refer to the list. And if I still can’t decide, I can always just pick a random number and do that activity!
  3. Gemstones – I’m not entirely sure if I believe gemstones work, but I do believe they can act as a placebo at least, and I find it very calming to hold them, if only as a way to remind me to try and bring myself back into a more neutral place mentally
  4. Items with sentimental value – To remind me of good times and the love of people in my life
  5. A toolkit list – This is a list with easy to follow steps that summarise particular tools I’ve learnt to help me manage and think more clearly, like how to accept emotions and reduce judgements
  6. Sweets/ mints – Sometimes I have Rescue Remedy sweets in my kit and sometimes I just have normal sweets, but something that tastes nice and I can suck on is just pleasant and calming for me
  7. Something smelly – not smelly in a bad way! Just something that smells pleasing to me, like lavender or essential oils or a mini perfume. Sometimes because they’re calming scents, and sometimes just because they make me feel fancy. As someone who’s autistic smells can also help when I am sensory seeking (kind of the opposite to sensory overload/ avoiding such) in a really simple way
Some of the things in my happy kit

Obviously all of that is specific to what helps me, but it might give you some ideas. If you like fiddle toys or nice textures then put something like that into your kit. For me they represent something calming and soothing to me that I can also use to engage my brain. I’d definitely recommend you to make a list of distractions/ activities regardless of what you’re using your Happy Kit for – you can tailor it to yourself but it comes in really useful in lots of situations. For example if you are making your kit to help you relax in the evening it could have a a list of ten things that you can do to help you relax and you could pick one each evening. If it’s to calm anxiety, then put down a few distractions and a few activities that might calm your anxiety – like breathing exercises, colouring, or reading a book perhaps. And if you’re making your kit for when you are bored then throw down a load of different activities, and make sure to include some you might not usually do (for example, writing a song even if you’re not musical). My list includes a mixture of all these different things! Here’s some of the things on my list:

A picture of some of the activities on my distractions list

I hope this has inspired you to think about making a little toolkit for yourself (or even for someone else). Please feel free to ask for any advice or share your ideas for your own happy kit. Sending all my love and support. Xx

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 Mental Health, Uncategorized

Anxiety Affirmations

Hey everyone! Today’s post is a short one about anxiety affirmations. For a few months I wrote affirmations like these, with a few others, in my diary at the start of everyday. Like everything that helps us look after and heal our mental health, these aren’t a silver bullet, but what they did for me (and I hope they can do for you) is create a hopeful mindset for the day and minimise my experience of anxiety just a little bit which really helps in the long run. Note: I am not a mental health professional, just someone sharing my own experience. Sometimes I read over affirmations like this or copy them out a few times to help me cope when my emotions get a bit overwhelming. My wish is that this might aid someone out there in the tiniest way and remind you that you are not alone. So without further adieu, here are some anxiety affirmations:

  • I can’t predict the future so I don’t need to guess about it
  • The future is not the past
  • I don’t have to believe everything I think
  • Thoughts, emotions, and behaviours are not the same thing
  • Even if bad things happen, I can handle it
  • I am loved, loving, and loveable
  • I don’t have to deal with everything alone
  • Don’t assume the worst, it usually doesn’t happen anyway
  • Instead of worrying about problems, I can take actions to solve them
  • When my mind goes to the future, I can bring it back to the present
  • I can’t control everything; I don’t have to try so hard
  • A panic attack can’t kill me – they are horrible and uncomfortable but not physically dangerous
  • This too shall pass
  • Everyone makes mistakes; no one is perfect. I am so much more than my mistakes
  • I can’t know what others are thinking, so I don’t need to try and guess
  • I don’t have to be perfect to be liked and loved
  • I am enough just the way I am
  • Even if people notice I am anxious it does not mean they will think less of me
  • One step at a time
  • My mental illness is a part of me, but it does not define me

Obviously these affirmations will be more effective alongside other tools, but there is value in just allowing these words to sink in – even for a second. You are so strong and have so much value. Try to write or read these anxiety affirmations without any judgement if you can, and if judgement does arise just notice it and let it be. Sending all my love and support to you today,

Millie 🙂

Posted in Mental Health, Personal Growth

Letter to Anyone With Disordered Eating

Dear you,

I’ll start by saying hello and that I care, in case no one has said that to you today. Where you are right now, I’ve been there. Maybe not physically, but in some way mentally, and certainly in empathy with you. Some days you’ve probably told yourself you’re not struggling, it’s not hard, it’s worth it – I know I did. And deep down I also know that you know it’s not. It never will be. So here’s my letter to you. Not to say stop or that the pain goes away overnight, just to speak to you as someone who cares, and let you be.

You may think this is all about ‘skinny’; that this is all about achieving the version of yourself that you ‘should’ be. You might think you’re in control. It feels good to be in control right? To know your goals, your focus for the day or the month. I get that. The problem is that in the end, you’re not. And, wow, that is painful to realise. It crushed me when I did. It brought back the struggle of every step I’d been through. But it was necessary. In the end it controls you – whether that is your thoughts or this system telling you that you will never be enough until you fit into that dress, it controls you. And all of a sudden what you were fighting for becomes the thing you are fighting to get away from. In a way, if you really look, you can see this all along. I don’t want you to feel that terror or that hurt, but I want you to know you are not alone in that and the sooner you can get away from it the better.

The good news is that you can. I’m not forcing you to – I’m not another voice telling you to eat more or eat less or do this or that because they can be annoying right? And they can fuel us, I know they did for me. I lived for the finger on my spine telling me how skinny I’d gotten; I lived for the voice telling me how healthy I looked, thinking I’d failed. You’ve never failed. There’s never anything you should be. All I want to do is remind you of your power and your strength because my goodness have you got a lot of it. Think I’m wrong? Well let’s have a look at it, logically – maybe you’ve been restricting for months, purging for years, feeling unworthy for what seems like a lifetime, binging every night? That takes effort. That is blood and sweat and tears, often literally. But the effort it took just to put into that system shows you just how much power you have in you to reverse it. That strength can be turned around to go the other way and to learn, or relearn perhaps, that you are enough just the way you are. What makes you who you are is not your body.

Words like that seem futile though sometimes, don’t they? Well, I’ll let you in on a secret, I don’t love my body. Most people don’t love their bodies, at least not everyday. But what I do have now is a deep appreciation for how incredible the inner workings of my body are. They’re insane! And most days – I have acceptance. That’s all I need. Acceptance that this food fuels my brain, and that I am enough in this moment. Just enough. Not to say I don’t still struggle, because I do, I really do, but I look back on the pain I was in and I wonder how I ever survived. I didn’t even realise it at the time. It took someone reaching out and telling me they’d been there too for me to even comprehend the idea that this wasn’t healthy for me to be under such mental stress, let alone physical. You are not alone.

Most likely you know all the issues that await if you head down this road further, so I’m not here to preach that to you, but to give you hope of a life outside of this. Of an acceptance and tolerance I for one could not even dream of at one point. My dear you are doing alright – whatever has brought you to this point does not deserve your magnificence or your power. I want to remind you that help is a brave word and there are so many people out there ready and willing to help you in so many different capacities no matter what your struggle may be. I love you, and you are worthy of a life outside of a fixation on your looks. We all are.

Your friend,

Millie

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 Mental Health, Personal Growth

Small Steps

Hey there! 

I’ve been thinking recently on how I can help myself to maintain a better state of mental health, when I’m already feeling a bit better in myself, but also how I can make it easier to lift out of those darker moments. Through some conversations, therapy, and self reflection I have come to appreciate how important the small steps we take to support our mental health are.

However, when you’re feeling particularly blue it can be difficult to even begin to do the smallest things; people can often get annoyed at us for this as well. For me one way of overcoming this is by breaking them down into even smaller steps. For example if my aim is to take my meds, then I’ll start by walking to the drawer, then opening the draw, taking them out, laying them out etc etc. It may seem silly at first – I know for me it almost felt like I was patronising myself – but it might just be of use to try this, and it is a huge thing to take any of these steps so you deserve congratulating for that! 

So what are some of the small steps I’ve come up with to help maintain my mental health? Writing my diary; gratitude and affirmation lists; meds and vits; drinking enough water; walking; allowing myself downtime; using planners to keep on top of work; reading (to make learning fun); making my happy notes; doodling and using fiddle toys; playing piano; meditating and more…

I hope you can find some small steps that will help you maintain your mental health! We all have it and we all need to look after it 

See ya later 🙂