Posted in Happy Notes, positivity

50 Compliments That Are Not Appearance Based

I know personally that it can feel a bit awkward to give or receive compliments, the protocol on when to compliment someone and how to react is a bit confusing to me. But I also like to imagine a society in which complimenting people was a more normal thing to do; where being open about how we feel (including our positive feelings towards others – complimenting them) was encouraged and normalised. However much of the time when we do compliment people it is appearance based. This is difficult because it can sometimes reduce someone to their appearance, which they don’t always have control over, and looks past who they are as a person and what they mean in our lives – especially when it’s to do with their body and not the way they dress (something they may use as a form of expression) for example. So I’ve put together a list of 50 compliments and open statements that are not appearance based. My challenge to you is to compliment at least one person a day for the next week on something other than their appearance. Let me know how it goes and any other ideas for compliments in the comments below!

  1. You make me smile 
  2. You’re funny 
  3. You make me happy 
  4. You’re kind 
  5. You make me feel safe 
  6. You glow 
  7. Your sensitivity is so strong 
  8. I appreciate you 
  9. You inspire me 
  10. You’re so strong 
  11. I admire your work ethic 
  12. You mean a lot to me 
  13. I love your honesty 
  14. You have a great mindset 
  15. You’re so brave
  16. You’re so loving 
  17. You’re are worthy 
  18. I am comfortable around you 
  19. You did great today 
  20. You are a warm person 
  21. You’re so understanding 
  22. You are a good listener 
  23. You are really insightful 
  24. You always care 
  25. You’re wonderfully unique 
  26. You are perfect exactly as you are 
  27. I wish more people were like you 
  28. I respect you 
  29. I trust you 
  30. I’m so happy you’re in my life 
  31. You’ve flourished as a person 
  32. You make a difference 
  33. You’re becoming even more amazing – and I didn’t think that was possible
  34. Your personality lights up the room 
  35. You deserve good things 
  36. You’re great at giving advice 
  37. I love how passionate you are about (blank)
  38. I love your imagination 
  39. You matter to me
  40. I love being around you 
  41. I love how confident you are 
  42. You make people feel important 
  43. I respect your integrity 
  44. You are a generous person
  45. You’re have an open heart 
  46. You are on your perfect path 
  47. I’m proud of you 
  48. Your ideas/ beliefs matter 
  49. Your happiness is infectious 
  50. You are a great leader
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 Happy Notes, Notes

Random Acts of Kindness

Kindness is something intangible, and yet it is very real and very powerful. In the Cambridge dictionary kindness is defined as ‘the quality of being generous, helpful, and caring about other people, or an act showing this quality’. If we think back on our lives I’m sure we can think on many moments where people have shown us kindness. Sometimes a seemingly small or insignificant act of kindness can have the greatest impact – for example someone helping someone else carry a bag on a particularly bad day could remind them that there is good in the world and prevent them from spiralling into a worse place mentally. And sometimes it’s the grand gestures of kindness over a long period of time that make an impact on us – for me the fact that my friends never gave up on me during the dark times is one the greatest acts of kindness that I have ever experienced. The point is, what we qualify as a kind act may be vary for each of us, but the underlying caring and generosity always helps to brighten up the world and our lives.

Back in November I posted on my Instagram about a 30 day random acts of kindness challenge. The idea behind it was to inspire myself and others to think about doing something small but kind once a day in order to be more mindful about how we can make a positive impact on the people and world around us. Why? I believe that when we put good energy out there, it spreads – a bit of a butterfly effect if you will – and it goes beyond the original act of kindness. Also, as someone who struggles with their mental health I know that being kind can have a profound effect on how I feel; it makes me feel better about myself and also helps to get me out of the cycle of my thoughts. But don’t forget you can also show yourself kindness, in many forms, and that is just as important. It helps us to be able to function better and feel better and do even more for others.

So here’s a list of 31 random acts of kindness. I would encourage you to try one out, or make it a challenge to do one a day for the next 31 days! Please comment below with any more ideas or stories of how someone else has helped you out:

  1. Tell someone you appreciate them
  2. Sign a petition for a cause you care about
  3. Say hello to someone and ask how they are
  4. Donate old clothes to a charity store
  5. Hold the door for someone
  6. Bake or cook something and give it to someone – a neighbour, family member, coworker
  7. Give three honest compliments
  8. Write a happy note and leave it for someone to find/ post it online (use #ourhappynotes)
  9. Comment something positive on a post
  10. Make/ hang some bird feeders
  11. Leave a thank you note for your mail carrier or another civil worker who does a lot for you
  12. Buy some food for a food bank
  13. Smile at someone
  14. When you’re going on an errand, ask a neighbour/ friend if they need you to do anything for them
  15. Share a post about an issue you care about
  16. Write some positive messages on the pavement with chalk
  17. Leave a bit of change in a vending machine
  18. Bring some food to a homeless person
  19. Wear your mask with vigilance if you can – this one should be some every day!
  20. Support a small local business, either with money or by leaving a positive review/ following them online
  21. Spend the day trying to be kind to yourself – listening to what you need, letting your emotions be, relaxing etc
  22. Do a chore that someone else would usually do
  23. Plant something
  24. Have a complaint free day
  25. Send a letter to an elderly person
  26. Read an article to educate yourself on an issue
  27. Encourage someone
  28. Check in on your friends
  29. Write to your MP/ representative about something you feel needs attention
  30. Let someone go ahead of you in line
  31. Brainstorm more ideas for kindness and how you can incorporate it into your everyday life

Let’s spread some sparkly, shiny, generous energy in the world! Sending all my love and support,

Millie 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 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 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 Notes

It Doesn’t Have to be a Merry Christmas

There is a lot of pressure put on the holidays of what they should be and feel like – they must be joyous and magical and a time for family. But the thing is, we can’t force happiness, and many people don’t have a traditional family setup. This year more than any other year the majority of people have had to adjust to a new way of doing the holidays, and that’s not easy. And for many people with mental health issues this is even harder, on top of the holidays often being a challenging time – for example with food relationships. So here’s a very short reminder that it doesn’t have to be a Merry Christmas, and a few affirmations to, hopefully, brighten up your day if you are struggling:

  • You deserve space if that’s what you need; your needs are worthy and important, even at Christmas
  • You are not alone, even if you feel it
  • Comparison can bring a lot of negative feelings to us, so remember that you don’t need to do it
  • You deserve to eat. Your body is an incredible thing, but you are so much more than it
  • It’s ok not to be ok
  • Your feelings are valid
  • This won’t last forever
  • You are so strong
  • You are so brave
  • You are magical
  • There is always good in the bad

I hope that all of you have the best time you can. Sending you all love and support this Christmas 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