mental health · mental health blogger · mental illness · personal journey · Uncategorized

Mental Health Education: Should It Be Compulsory?

Mental health education is still not part of the UK curriculum despite consistently high rates of child and adolescent mental health issues. 1 in 10 children and young people aged 5 – 16 suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder – that is around three children in every class. There has been a big increase in the number of young people being admitted to hospital because of self harm. Over the last ten years this figure has increased by 68%.

 In the UK school system, we teach our children how to count, how to write, how to follow rules, how to work in communities. We repeatedly tell them to eat healthily, to exercise more and to look after their teeth. We tell them how to take care of their body physically. We educate them on what’s bad and what’s good about lifestyle and food. What we don’t teach them is how to look after their mental health. We don’t teach them what to do when they’re feeling anxious, or when they’re feeling sad. We don’t educate them on mental health problems or suicide, despite children as young as 5 years old seeking to end their life. We don’t talk about feeling suicidal or the warning signs that our mental health is decreasing. Why?

More than half of all adults with mental health problems were diagnosed in childhood. Less than half were treated appropriately at the time. Surely this means that mental health education should be considered compulsory both in primary and secondary schools.

There’s a reason why we have charities like Young Minds, an organisation set up to support children and young people experiencing mental health problems, and that reason is that there is a prevalence among children and young people. Keeping quiet about something isn’t going to protect people from experiencing mental illness – in fact, it’s likely to make things much worse.

By educating young people about mental health in schools, we can increase awareness and hope to encourage open and honest discussion among young people. In fact,  having some early conversations might enable the next generation to naturally place mental and physical illness on a par.

Please sign the following petition to help get mental health education on the UK curriculum:

https://www.change.org/p/petition-to-get-mental-health-education-on-the-curriculum

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mental health · mental health blogger · mental illness · personal journey · Uncategorized

Subtle Signs Someone You Love May Have An Eating Disorder

Some eating disorder signs are obvious: dramatic weight loss, a refusal to eat, retreating to the bathroom for long periods after meals. But anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder also reveal themselves in more subtle ways.

We’d like them to be easy to diagnose, but eating disorders are often much more complicated than that. Any given person may suffer from more than one at a time, and one list of symptoms doesn’t necessarily equal the same verdict for everyone. It’s important to keep in mind that many of the signals are less obvious than we might think. Not everyone suffering is skin and bones, haggard, and clearly starving. Because there are so many stereotypes around mental illnesses that deal with food, people who wrestle with them will do everything they can to keep it under wraps.

Changes in mood and behaviour, increased isolation and avoidance of social events and gatherings

Changes in mood and behaviour become noticeable quite early on. In an attempt to keep the eating disorder secret, the person may become more isolated and easily irritated; especially when questioned. Anxiety and Depression are very common among those with eating disorders. The person may avoid interaction with friends, especially if gatherings involve food. Hunger can make a person irritable and tired, which drastically impacts the person’s overall mood.

Increase in exercise or exercising excessively

Over-the-top workout habits—sometimes referred to as “exercise anorexia”—can go hand in hand with disordered eating and appear to be on the rise. The person may not participate in social events but will be seen running, walking or exercising. A person with an eating disorder who did not exercise before may now start to increase physical activity. A person who did partake in exercise beforehand may spend hours exercising or talking about it. Does the person panic if they miss a day of exercise? And does he or she work out even when injured or sick? These are indicators that things are going too far.

Obsession with food, diet talk, food or weight documentaries or forums about weight

This sign in adults can be tricky to spot, because internet usage is usually private. However, the person may talk about food and diet, or be the opposite and want to avoid all talk about it. Weight loss documentaries or documentaries about food can become an obsession as the person with an eating disorder becomes fixated.  The person’s internet use will often involve forums or videos related to weight and food, so keep a watchful eye out.

Not consuming food around other people

Many people with eating disorders do not like eating around other people. The anticipation of eating with a bunch of friends can be extremely anxiety-provoking for someone dealing with anorexia, BED, or any other related illness. They may not want others to watch what they’re eating or think that they are being judged on what they are eating. Does the person go out for food with you and consume very little, or order food and take it back home with them?

Always cold

People with eating disorders, especially those who restrict intake, will often experience a lowered body temperature. Frequently complaining about being cold or wearing sweaters and other heavy clothing even in mild weather are common tip-offs in people with eating disorders. This is usually a result of malnutrition and the breakdown of fat in the body. Is the person cold whilst everyone is warm? Common signs in those with eating disorders are cold hands and blue nails, a blue discoloration to the nose (cyanosis) and pale skin.

Strange eating rituals

Compulsive behaviours similar to those seen in obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) can also appear with eating disorders. These so-called rituals can take the form of cutting food into tiny morsels, or arranging food in certain patterns. They are mainly associated with anorexia (which often occurs alongside OCD), but they are sometimes an early sign of binge eating disorder as well. The person may revert back to ‘child like’ cutlery and plates to organise food, and food may be sectioned off so that it is not touching. When eating disorders are starting, people will try to make it look like they are eating by cutting things up and shifting food around on the plate so as not to draw attention to how little they are eating.

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eating disorder · journey to recovery · mental health · mental health blogger · mental illness · personal journey · Uncategorized

Struggling with Eating Disorder Relapse

Recovering from an eating disorder is difficult. It takes a lot of time, dedication, energy, support and willpower. Choosing recovery is difficult and sometimes our eating disorder mind beats the rational mind.

Lately, my eating disorder mind has been constantly reappearing to try and beat my rational mind. Some days I ignore it and just eat whatever I want. On the days it takes overs, I’ll lie in bed and refuse to give in to the hunger.

I believe that recovery is managing an eating disorder and not fully living without it. I don’t think an eating disorder ever goes away. Either way, its important to notice the warning signs of a relapse and put support systems into place.

Some signs that might indicate relapse:

  • Your thoughts keep turning to food, dieting and weight.
  • You have been dishonest with your eating disorder treatment professionals or if you feel compelled to hide information or behaviours.
  • You worry that you are losing control and may overcompensate with perfectionism.
  • You feel as if you have no outlet for your stress.
  • You feel hopeless and wonder what you’re going to do with your life.
  • With diet and exercise, your primary goal is to look good rather than to be healthy.
  • You believe that you’ll never be happy unless you’re thin.
  • You see yourself as overweight or obese.
  • Friends or family indicate to you that your self-image is inaccurate.
  • You look in the mirror frequently and weigh yourself often.
  • You skip meals or find ways to purify yourself after eating.
  • You get irritable around the issue of food.
  • You feel an overwhelming sense of guilt or shame after eating.
  • You avoid events that involve food.
  • You isolate yourself or engage in increasingly secretive behaviours.
  • You hold contempt for people who are overweight or don’t eat well according to your standards.

Relapse is a natural part of the recovery process. In the event that you feel that you may be in a situation where you have fallen back to eating disorder behaviour, there are some things to remember:

  1. Seek professional help immediately.
  2. Relapse does not mean failure.
  3. You have been through this before and you can get through it again.
  4. Be kind to yourself and give yourself time to recover.
  5. Refer often to your values and strive to live by them.
  6. Work on self-approval, which is not dependent on weight.
  7. Accept your personal limitations.
  8. Create an environment of respect, optimism, trust and honesty with yourself and others.
  9. Know that “failure” neither dooms nor defines you. You are just a person who is willing to take on challenges.
  10. Practice, practice, practice!

Steps to Help Prevent Relapse:

  1. Seek help from a professional.
  2. Develop self acceptance through practising compassion toward self.
  3. Develop a positive and self nurturing internal dialogue.
  4. Get treatment for co-occurring disorders such as anxiety and depression.
  5. Practice mindfulness and living in the moment.
  6. Listen to and honour your feelings.
  7. Eat well and listen to your body’s hunger and fullness signs.
  8. Accept your genetic makeup and appreciate your body.
  9. Have a relapse prevention or correction plan.

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When One Eating Disorder Turns Into Another

3 years ago I was diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa after a 14 month battle with EDNOS because my weight had finally fallen into the underweight category. I was forced to recover because my heart was so weak I was close to death. For months I cried at every single meal time and hated my changing body. I was held down and fed; had no choice in meals or when I was going to eat. I wasn’t able to exercise. Eventually, I gained weight back and started to enjoy eating. After all, I’d spent months willing myself not to eat even though it was all I wanted. I worshipped food.

See, the thing with Anorexia recovery is that it’s not explained realistically. A person becomes underweight, gets diagnosed with Anorexia and begins a journey to a healthy weight and healthy eating patterns. What they don’t tell you is that 20% people remain chronically ill after developing Anorexia, with a few of these going on to develop another eating disorder such as Bulimia or binge eating disorder.

I was unfortunately one of these people. Going from restricting every single day to suddenly eating everything I could find. It’s a huge blow to your mental well-being. I gained weight rapidly – much more rapidly than I should have done in recovery. I gained all I had lost during my Anorexia and more. The reason for this? the lack of treatment and support available for those with eating disorder.

Currently, only 1 in 10 adults with Anorexia will receive treatment.

Without a nutritional meal plan and support from someone who knew what was best, I was left to my own devices an swapped out my restrictive eating for another devastating disorder; binge eating.

3 years on, my relationship with food is still abnormal. It’s either restrict and starve or eat as much as possible. There is no healthy, no black or white, just grey.

Recovery from an eating disorder is tough but trading in your eating disorder for another is a complete emotional roller-coaster.

I wish there were a way to give every single person with an eating disorder the help they need, but currently as it stands there isn’t.

If you or someone you know is affected by an eating disorder, or are not getting the right support in recovery, please, please, please do not give up hope. Keep going until you find someone who listens.

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Autism and Seizures

A 1/3 of people with autism also experience seizures, sometimes related to epilepsy. I experience a type of seizure known as a focal (partial) seizure. This type of seizure causes my eyes to flicker and roll as well as causing spasms and rapid breathing.

It can be difficult to spot a seizure – especially when a person has autism as the symptoms can be passed off as a sensory overload or an autism trait.

The link between autism and seizures is still being explored. Like autism, seizures exists on a spectrum. Severity varies widely among people. There are several types of seizures, each with somewhat different symptoms:

  • Tonic-clonic seizures are the most common. Also known as gran mal seizures, they produce muscle stiffening followed by jerking. Gran mal seizures also produce loss of consciousness.
  • Absence seizures can be difficult to recognise. Also known as petit mal seizures, they are marked by periods of unresponsiveness. The person may stare into space. He or she may or may not exhibit jerking or twitching.
  • Tonic seizures involve muscle stiffening alone.
  • Clonic seizures involve repeated jerking movements on both sides of the body.
  • Myoclonic seizures involve jerking or twitching of the upper body, arms or legs.
  • Atonic seizures involve sudden limpness, or loss of muscle tone. The person may fall or drop his or her head involuntarily.

What should I do if someone is having a focal seizure?

Simple partial seizures rarely require first aid. Since consciousness is preserved, the person is almost always aware of the seizure and the surroundings. When care or help is needed, what to do would depend on the specific seizure symptoms.

Examples of what to do:

  • Stop any activity in which you could get hurt when symptoms that affect vision, thinking, emotions, or affects your sensation or movement. This would include hallucinations too – what you may be hearing, seeing, or thinking may not be clear during this type of seizure.
  • If you are walking, sit down to avoid falling.
  • Remove harmful objects if an arm or leg movement could bump into them.
  • Stay away from open flames, bodies of water, or other unsafe areas.
  • Sometimes relaxing activities such as deep breathing or imagery can help slow down or abort symptoms in some people. Others may find that focusing on a specific activity can help.
  • If the person has a vagus nerve stimular, use the magnet to help stop the event.
  • Get the person levels, look them in the eyes and try to reassure them that you’re there and present.

Usually further help isn’t needed after simple partial seizures. Yet if the seizure occurs in clusters or goes into a complex partial or generalise seizure, more help may be needed.

call 111 in the U.K. for advice if you are unsure and in emergencies or where the person is not recovering call 999.

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World Mental Health Day 2017

This post is a day late, frankly because yesterday I spent the day travelling to London. A few weeks ago I got invited to a reception at Buckingham Palace for those who work in the mental health sector. The reception was held in the presence of Their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and His Royal Highness Prince Henry of Wales.

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i have been advocating for change in the mental health sector for 5 years now. The overall objective of world mental health day is raising awareness of mental health issues around the world and mobilising efforts in support of mental health, so this blog post will do just that.

What is a mental health problem?

Mental health problems can affect the way you think, feel and behave. They affect around one in four people in Britain, and range from common mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety, to more rare problems such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. A mental health problem can feel just as bad, or worse, as any other physical illness – only you cannot see it.

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of a mental health problem can vary, depending on the disorder, circumstances and other factors. Mental illness symptoms can affect emotions, thoughts and behaviours.

Examples of signs and symptoms include:

  • Feeling sad or down
  • Confused thinking or reduced ability to concentrate
  • Excessive fears or worries, or extreme feelings of guilt
  • Extreme mood changes of highs and lows
  • Withdrawal from friends and activities
  • Significant tiredness, low energy or problems sleeping
  • Detachment from reality (delusions), paranoia or hallucinations
  • Inability to cope with daily problems or stress
  • Trouble understanding and relating to situations and to people
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Major changes in eating habits
  • Sex drive changes
  • Excessive anger, hostility or violence
  • Suicidal thinking

Sometimes symptoms of a mental health disorder appear as physical problems, such as stomach pain, back pain, headache, or other unexplained aches and pains.

Where to go for help

The best way to start is normally by talking to a health care professional, such as your doctor (also known as your General Practitioner or GP).

Your GP can:

  • make a diagnosis
  • offer you support and treatments
  • refer you to a specialist service

What should I say to my GP?

It can be hard to know how to talk to your doctor about your mental health – especially when you’re not feeling well. But it’s important to remember that there is no wrong way to tell someone how you’re feeling.

Here are some things to consider:

  • Be honest and open.
  • Focus on how you feel, rather than what diagnosis you might meet.
  • Try to explain how you’ve been feeling over the past few months or weeks, and anything that has changed.
  • Use words and descriptions that feel natural to you – you don’t have to say specific things to get help.
  • Try not to worry that your problem is too small or unimportant – everyone deserves help and your doctor is there to support you.

click here to learn about other support services

Some pictures from last night

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William and Kate entering
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Me standing near Kate
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young people campaigners
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Welcoming William and Kate 
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meeting Professor Green
autism · autism sensory bag · mental health · mental health blogger · mental illness · personal journey · Uncategorized

Myths about Autism

Although over 700,000 people in the UK are autistic (more than 1 in 100 people), false and often negative perceptions about the condition are common.

This lack of understanding can make it difficult for people on the autism spectrum to have their condition recognised and to access the support they need. Misconceptions can lead to some autistic people feeling isolated and alone. In extreme cases, it can also lead to abuse and bullying.

Autism affects more than 1 in 100 people – fact. Over 700,000 people in UK are autistic, which means that 2.8m people have a relative on the autism spectrum.

People tend to ‘grow out’ of autism in adulthood – myth. It’s a lifelong condition – autistic children become autistic adults.

Autism affects both boys and girls – fact. There is a popular misconception that autism is simply a male condition. This is false.

Some autistic people don’t speak – fact. Some autistic people are non-verbal and communicate through other means. However, autism is a spectrum condition, so everyone’s autism is different.

Autism is a mental health problem – myth. Autism is a developmental disability. It’s a difference in how your brain works. Autistic people can have good mental health, or experience mental health problems, just like anyone else.

All autistic people are geniuses – myth. Just under half of all people with an autism diagnosis also have a learning disability. Others have an IQ in the average to above average range. ‘Savant’ abilities like extraordinary memory are rare.

Everyone is a bit autistic – myth. While everyone might recognise some autistic traits or behaviours in people they know, to be diagnosed with autism, a person must consistently display behaviours across all the different areas of the condition. Just having a fondness for routines, a good memory or being shy doesn’t make a person ‘a bit autistic’.

[Credit: NAS]

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