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

When Memories Come Back…

In 2014, I was completely submersed in the depths of Anorexia Nervosa. I bought, prepared, cooked and presented all my food. No one but me could do this for me. I had to do it. I sat each night and planned my meals for the entire next day. I see now it was a control thing – and that’s one of the key factors in an eating disorder. A lot of people – probably the majority of people – with eating disorders have perfectionist or obsessive personalities. I have both.

An hour ago, my grandma offered to make me a burger with fried onions. To this day, I still cook my own food. On a rare occasion, I hand the control over to somebody else. I was mulling over this idea of my grandma making me tea; feeling slightly out of control and anxious. Memories of 2014 came rushing back to me.

I remember coming home from college one day and having a complete breakdown on the kitchen floor because my mum had thrown away the salad I had leftover from the night before. She said the salad was going off, and it probably was. But in my state of mind, every leaf and crumb of that salad had been calculated and counted and written into my food journal. It had been planned into my head as my dinner for that Tuesday night, and then all of a sudden that control was ripped right from underneath me. It’s just a salad – I know that now – but back then it was so much to my mind and to my life.

Another time, my stepdad had added milk to mashed potatoes alongside the small blob of butter I’d already counted. I was screaming and crying for a good half hour; refusing to eat it.

It’s a strange thing: control. My whole life was based purely on control. Controlling my food allowed me to feel like I was controlling at least something when the whole world around me was falling apart…

I’m still obsessive. I’m a perfectionist. I like to be in control. Though, its a much different type of control to what it was back then.

This control allows me to let others take over sometimes and tonight I’ll eat that burger and onions knowing that I’m further than I was before.

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autism · eating disorder · journey to recovery · mental health · mental health blogger · mental illness · personal journey · savannah lloyd · Uncategorized · weight loss

Making it two decades!

Tomorrow is the day I turn 20 years old. I have officially survived and lived two decades. It’s crazy to think how fast time flies; how many birthdays I’ve celebrated; how many things have happened and changed. How much I’ve changed.

At 11 years old, I didn’t think I’d survive to be 12. Each year since then has been a battle. Each year since then has been an absolute roller coaster. Joy, change, hurt, sadness, depression, anxiety, happiness, fear, shame. At 15 years old, I cried myself to sleep because I didn’t want to celebrate my 16th birthday and become ‘grown up’. Now I’m sat here, the night before my 20th birthday and I won’t cry myself to sleep. Life isn’t a walk in the park. I’m far from where I want to be but much further than I have been.

Tomorrow I will wake up and celebrate that I have actually made it two decades in this crazy world. Two decades of life to which half has been filled with mental illness…

I will not give up.

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autism · journey to recovery · mental health · mental health blogger · mental illness · personal journey · Uncategorized

Is Autism Different in Girls?

Is Autism Different in Girls – Video

Gould and Ashton-Smith (2011) identified the different way in which girls and women present under the following headings: social understanding, social communication, social imagination which is highly associated with routines, rituals and special interests.

 Girls are more able to follow social actions by delayed imitation because they observe other children and copy them, perhaps masking the symptoms of Asperger syndrome.  Girls are often more aware of and feel a need to interact socially. They are involved in social play, but are often led by their peers rather than initiating social contact. Girls are more socially inclined and many have one special friend.

In our society, girls are expected to be social in their communication. Girls on the spectrum do not ‘do social chit chat’ or make ‘meaningless’ comments in order to facilitate social communication. The idea of a social hierarchy and how one communicates with people of different status can be problematic and get girls into trouble with teachers.

Evidence suggests that girls have more active imaginations and more pretend play. Many have a very rich and elaborate fantasy world with imaginary friends. Girls escape into fiction, and some live in another world with, for example, fairies and witches.

The interests of girls in the spectrum are very often similar to those of other girls – animals, horses, classical literature – and therefore are not seen as unusual. It is not the special interests that differentiate them from their peers but it is the quality and intensity of these interests. Many obsessively watch soap operas and have an intense interest in celebrities.

Signs of autism in girls

Social interaction:

  • boys with ASD tend not to appear motivated to be socially interactive, but girls on the spectrum do. However, girls have a history of failure in achieving and maintaining friendships
  • girls gravitate towards older girls, who tend to mother them and act as a form of social “protection”
  • girls may be socially immature and make a preference to play with much younger children who are not challenging and would allow the child with ASD to dominate play, giving them the predictability and control children with autism crave
  • girls with Asperger’s may “adopt” a less able peer, perhaps someone with a learning difficulty, who may themselves be marginalised so they are open to being dominated by the child with ASD
  • girls with Asperger’s may be unnecessarily dependent on their mother (or other primary carer) whom they regard as their best friend and confidante in a social world which they find challenging and frightening.

Social communication:

  • boys engage in disruptive behaviours, whereas girls may be persistently “ill” to gain what they want or control their situation
  • girls with ASD tend to act passively and ignore daily demands, while boys become disruptive in response
  • girls appear more able to concentrate than boys, who become distracted more easily and can be disruptive
  • girls tend to learn social behaviours by observation and copying, which can disguise their social deficits
  • girls may find the idea of social hierarchy difficult, so they can respond inappropriately to people in authority, such as teachers
  • children with ASD of both sexes need to learn the rules of “small talk” which they often find incomprehensible as a pastime. Girls’ difficulties tend to be masked by their passive behaviours and ability to mimic without understanding.

Social imagination:

  • parents may perceive their daughter as being non-specifically “odd”, but without being able to pinpoint the cause
  • imaginative play does exist, but it is intense in nature, often focused on stereotypical female interests, such as dolls, make-up, animals and celebrities – which is why girls with ASD may not seem that different to females not on the spectrum. The key is the intensity and quality of these special interests, which are exclusive, all-consuming and experienced in detail
  • children with ASD can engage in repetitive questioning well beyond the age that those who are not on the spectrum would normally do. They can exhibit poor empathic skills and a lack of social interest. They can also seem disinterested in the classroom and exhibit immature, impulsive and unusual behaviours. An inability to “move on”, even with basic matters, can be common – for example, not being happy to throw away old toys or clothes which the child has long since grown out of. This “cluttering” behaviour can outline their difficulties with change. While such types of behaviour may be common to both sexes, the ways in which they present can be different for boys and girls.

It seems that girls on the autistic spectrum may be less noticeable than boys because they are less disruptive and have an ability to mimic behaviours. However, they lack social understanding and any deep knowledge of language. This becomes increasingly obvious at secondary school level, when there are no younger children to associate with, when peer groups are more mixed and any “protection” may have dissolved. Additionally, multiple stimuli (such as crowds in corridors or screams in playgrounds) and changes to routines which occur at secondary education can increase individual anxiety greatly. Adolescence, involving unstoppable changes, such as menstruation and the growth of breasts and body hair, can profoundly affect girls with ASD, heightening anxieties due to lack of control over what is happening.

Mental health issues for girls

Anorexia nervosa has been called “female Asperger’s” because around one fifth of girls who present with anorexia have traits which are peculiar to the autistic spectrum; around 20 to 30 per cent of anorexic patients are perfectionists and demonstrate rigid modes of thinking and behaviour, which are common autistic traits. Anorexia offers girls with ASD what they perceive to be a positive outcome because lack of nutrition prevents menstruation and physical development.

It is not until puberty that girls’ social difficulties become more obvious, particularly as they enter secondary school when they can become the subject of bullying or can be generally marginalised and perceived as strange. Unlike boys, they become withdrawn, depressed and quiet, rather than aggressive.

Profound anxieties may be demonstrated in altered behaviours, lower grades at school, poor sleep patterns, low mood/depression and obsessive behaviour.

Research from 2011 found that many women who were later diagnosed as being on the autistic spectrum initially were thought to have learning difficulties, personality disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder or eating disorders. This differential diagnosis could be related to lack of awareness of how ASD present in females.

All research suggests that an early diagnosis of ASD, followed by appropriate interventions, will optimise the person’s life chances by increasing independence, understanding and accumulation of language and social abilities. To date, the ways in which females present with Asperger’s have not been thoroughly examined or used as the basis for diagnostic tools, which continue to be male dominated.

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

Mental Health Awareness Week 2017

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.

Some people think that there is an automatic link between mental health problems and being a danger to others. This is an idea that is largely reinforced by sensationalised stories in the media. However, the most common mental health problems have no significant link to violent behaviour. The proportion of people living with a mental health problem who commit a violent crime is extremely small. There are lots of reasons someone might commit a violent crime, and factors like drug and alcohol misuse are far more likely to be the cause of violent behaviour than mental health problems.


Warning Signs

There are over 200 classified forms of mental illness so its clearly very important to be aware of the warning signs. Mental Illness has no clear victim. It affects people of all ages, young and old, of all races and cultures and from all walks of life. Mental illness, like physical illnesses, is on a continuum of severity ranging from mild to moderate to severe.  More than 7 million people from the UK have a mental illness in any given year.  Mental illness affects one in four adults and one in five children. Very few people, however actually seek treatment for mental illness. Many aren’t even aware of the different types of mental health problems and struggle to spot the signs.

So what ARE the warning signs of mental illness?

In an adult:

  • Marked personality change
  • Inability to cope with problems and daily activities
  • Drop in functioning – an unusual drop in functioning, at school, work or social activities, such as quitting sports, failing in school or difficulty performing familiar tasks
  • Strange or grandiose ideas (impulsive, boastful, exaggerated, dreams and fantasies)
  • Excessive anxieties
  • Neurotic or repetitive behaviour (rocking, biting, hitting, head banging, pinching)
  • Prolonged depression and apathy
  • Marked changes in eating or sleeping patterns
  • Extreme highs and lows
  • Heightened sensitivity to sights, sounds, smells or touch; avoidance of over-stimulating situations
  • jumpy/nervous behaviour, easily startled
  • problems with concentration, memory and speech
  • disconnected from self or surroundings
  • withdrawal and a lack of interaction with others
  • Abuse of alcohol or drugs
  • Excessive anger, hostility, or violent behaviour

A person who is thinking or talking about suicide or homicide should seek help immediately.

In a child:

Having only one or two of the problems listed below is not necessarily cause for alarm. They may simply indicate that a practical solution is called for, such as more consistent discipline or a visit with the child’s teachers to see whether there is anything out of the ordinary going on at school. A combination of symptoms, however, is a signal for professional intervention.

  • The child seems overwhelmed and troubled by his or her feelings, unable to cope with them
  • The child cries a lot
  • The child frequently asks or hints for help
  • The child seems constantly preoccupied, worried, anxious, and intense. Some children develop a fear of a variety of things–rain, barking dogs, burglars, their parents’ getting killed when out of sight, and so on–while other children simply wear their anxiety on their faces.
  • The child has fears or phobias that are unreasonable or interfere with normal activities.
  • The child can’t seem to concentrate on school work and other age-appropriate tasks.
  • The child’s school performance declines and doesn’t pick up again.
  • The child loses interest in playing.
  • The child tries to stimulate himself or herself in various ways. Examples of this kind of behaviour include excessive thumb sucking or hair pulling, rocking of the body, head banging to the point of hurting himself, and masturbating often or in public.
  • The child isolates himself or herself from other people.
  • The child regularly talks about death and dying.
  • The child appears to have low self-esteem and little self-confidence. Over and over the child may make such comments as: “I can’t do anything right.” “I’m so stupid.” “I don’t see why anyone would love me.” “I know you [or someone else] hates me.” “Nobody likes me.” “I’m ugly. . . too big. . . too small. . . too fat. . . too skinny. . . too tall. . . too short, etc.”
  • Sleep difficulties don’t appear to be resolving. They include refusing to be separated from one or both parents at bedtime, inability to sleep, sleeping too much, sleeping on the parent’s or parents’ bed, nightmares, and night terrors.

If you spot any of these warning signs in yourself or in another person please speak concerns to a health professional such as a GP or a charity that can help with advice such as childline or samaritans.

For more information on mental illness:

Mind

Rethink

NHS

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

What’s It Like to Live with Autism?

Living with Autism can be a struggle sometimes, but theres not much that sets us apart from everyone else.

We are all different. Some differences are easy to see – height, gender, hair style, eye colour and so on. Some differences can’t be seen – our favourite foods, fears or special skills. Interestingly, the way we see the world is also different.

All brains work differently. The brain is the body’s computer and works differently for all of us. It controls how we learn which is why we are all good at different things. It also controls how we feel which is why we all feel different emotions. It also controls how we communicate. Sometimes the brain is connected in a way that it affects senses, and how we perceive and read situations and interactions. This is known as Autism.

Many people have autism, so its likely you know someone who is autistic and for this reason its useful to know a little bit about autism. The special wiring inside an autistic brain can sometimes make us good at tasks you find difficult such as maths, drawing or music. It can also do the opposite and activities ‘normal’ people find easy are incredibly difficult to us, such as making friends. The senses constantly send information to the brain about our surroundings and other people, however when the brain and senses don’t communicate well, the brain can become overwhelmed and confused, affecting how we see the world.

We all develop behaviours to help us feel calm and comfortable. ‘Normal’ people may look away, fidget, bite your nails and so on. Equally, autistic people develop behaviours that help us cope with intense moments. These actions may seem unusual but its our way of feeling calm. It’s known as stimming. When it happens, it means we’re having a hard time. The kind thing to do is not to give us a harder time by getting cross, ignoring us or mocking us.

People with autism are not ill or broken, we simply have a unique view of the world, and with a little support from our friends we might just be able to share that feeling with you!

Autism can make amazing things happen!

Amazing Things Happen – Autism Video