All posts by Frances Coleman-Williams

Young lady hiding behind her hair

Eating disorder waiting lists are completely overwhelmed

The viral pandemic has caused a secondary pandemic. A mental health pandemic is worryingly out of control and record numbers are needing support.

Young people in particular are at risk of eating disorders and psychiatrists believe they’ve been struggling with the following this year:

  • Fear about the virus
  • Worries about family finances
  • Isolation from friends during school closures
  • Exam cancellations leading to uncertainty
  • Loss of extra-curricular activities
  • Quarantining
  • Increased use of social media
Child hiding under cushions on the sofa

When young people are referred to services for help, lack of face-to-face consultations are leading to patients being severely unwell by the time they’re seen.

England, Scotland and Wales have seen an increase in referrals. There were 16,547 admission in 2017/18, compared to 2019/20 there were 21,794 admissions. London hospitals have seen a tripling in referrals since March 2020.

I’ve worked in eating disorders for 40 years and I’ve never known us to be so busy…

Dr Simon Chapman, King’s College Hospital and South London and the Maudsley

An eating disorder is often a coping mechanism when the world around us is out of control. If you notice your child or anyone around you starting to behave differently with food or exercise, it could be a sign of an underlying eating disorder. It’s important people get help earlier as full recovery is more likely the earlier treatment is started.

For years, mental health has been fighting for equality of funding with physical health but in reality this just doesn’t make sense. How do you compare the following funding?

Physical HealthMental Health
An 8 day course of antibiotics for a urinary tract infection4 psycho-educational sessions in Improving Access to Psychological Therapies for mild depression or anxiety
Diagnostic investigations e.g. gastroscopy followed by 4-8 week course of proton pump inhibitors e.g. omeprazole, to treat gastric reflux6-12 session of individual Cognitive Behaviour Therapy for common mental health conditions +/- medications such as anxiolytics or SSRIs
Surgery for fractured spine followed by physiotherapy, occupational therapy and house adaptationsOngoing specialist support from psychiatrist, community nurse, psychologist and recovery worker to adjust medication, social support and therapeutic input
Surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy for patient with malignant melanomaGroup and individual therapy in a therapeutic community for patient with personality disorder
Life long treatments and surgeries required for a patient with osteogenesis imperfecta Multiple inpatient stays including sectioning under the Mental Health Act and lifelong medications for a patient with schizophrenia
Table showing mental and physical health are beyond compare
Vintage scales weighing apples

The latest statistic show that each cancer patient has £1,571 spent on them in research while each mental health patient has £9.75. I cannot begin to comment on how that makes me feel. Perhaps, next time you’re thinking about which charity you’re going to support, will it be a cancer research charity who can afford to spend money on a lot of marketing in order to attract your attention, or could you consider a mental health charity such as MQ Mental Health, a charity dedicated to mental health research?

Research into mental illnesses will show us:

  • How to prevent mental illnesses
  • How to treat mental illnesses – what treatments work and how
  • How to reduce the impact when someone is chronically unwell
  • How to reduce suicide rates
  • Understanding co-morbidities of mental illnesses

We all have a responsibility to look after those around us. We need to look out for signs of them needing support, enable them to talk if they want to and/or advise them to seek help. There’s all sorts of support out there:

  • Mind (UK) offer information about all sorts of mental health related topics including legal matters and help and support including Side by side, their online community.
  • Beat the UK’s leading eating disorder’s charity offer information about eating disorders and have helplines dedicated to supporting sufferers and carers on the phone, via web-chat or by email.
  • Samaritans (UK) available 24/7 on the phone or via email.Female speaking anonymously on mobile phone
  • National Suicide Prevention Helpline (USA) available in various forms: English, Spanish and relay. Specialist veterans and disaster distress lines available.
  • Get Self Help is a great resource for helping yourself. There are all sorts of ideas for helping yourself, for example mindful breathing and sleep self help.

All mental health charities are under tremendous strain at the moment, please support them if you can.

None of these replace professional support, please speak to your primary care physician (GP) if you or someone you care about is unwell, it’s really important to seek help early.

Partially empty Christmas table

It’s ok–Christmas hasn’t been cancelled!

Across the world many will be experiencing a different kind of Christmas this year. The Covid-19 pandemic has shocked the world. In the UK, it’s been announced that many cannot spend it with anyone outside their household. I’ve heard people say “Christmas is cancelled” so I’ve felt moved to respond.

This year, people have been hit with loss beyond anything anyone expected, we’re beginning to try and pick up the pieces, hoping Christmas will help, then we’ve been told, a week before Christmas that we need to change our plans. Some will be feeling frustrated about the guidelines “constantly changing” or anxiety about spending Christmas in an unplanned way, some will be annoyed at the Big Brother treatment or overwhelmed with managing last minute changes. Personally, I’m angry and sad at people who’re incapable at following simple guidance, it’s the small minority spoiling it for the majority who’re now having to follow more stringent rules.

What’s important is, whatever you’re feeling, it’s valid and you give yourself space to feel what you’re feeling, while also understanding what you can and can’t control.

Let me explain

Your feelings are your feelings and no one can tell you what you’re feeling. You might even be feeling relieved—sometimes it can help to write down how you’re feeling or talk about them with a trusted friend.

Problems come when you deny your feelings, push them down or try to swallow them, they’ll come out eventually; you or those around you will suffer. We can’t control the virus or the guidelines set out by the government. What we can control is how we respond and keeping a positive attitude helps makes it easier to cope. A positive attitude doesn’t mean, pretending everything is fine!

Perhaps this year, we can learn from the first Christ-mas…

During her last trimester, the government ordered Jesus’ mum to take a long journey. How unsettling would this have felt?! But she didn’t complain, she just did as she was told. Does this remind you of anything?

Joseph considers leaving Mary as he thought she’d been unfaithful but he didn’t, he trusted God. How many people are angry at God, just now? Blaming him and asking “how”? Or “why”? Perhaps, instead, we can say, “please be with us in our troubles”? For he will be there in a heart beat, as soon as we reach out.

There was no room for Mary and Joseph but an inn keeper let them stay in his cattle shed. This year, how will you help the homeless or those less fortunate?

Jesus was born and laid in an animal’s feeding trough. At this time of year, it’s usually a time of plenty where food and materialism takes centre stage. Some people, this year won’t have enough food, How great would it be if our children grew up appreciating the smaller things in life instead of ‘needing’ the lasting gadget due to FOMO?

Mug of hot chocolate with marshmallows and ginger bread biscuit

Christmas isn’t about presents, decorations or even about friends and family. This year, some people won’t be able to afford presents, may have lost their home and may not be spending it with anyone they choose but Christmas can be what you make it. Perhaps a lie-in, a spot of yoga, a walk and a Christmas movie while enjoying a some cheese and crackers will be what works this year? Perhaps you’d rather play an album of heavy rock a full volume while head banging and playing air guitar is your thing? This year is about doing what works!

It may not be possible to be with our loved ones this year but technology may bring us together. A short zoom call could bring some important connectivity.

Some thing good that occurred when the church building doors shut in March this year. Many churches are continuing the live stream all of the services. Perhaps this Christmas you could check out one of these? You’ll be able to find the Arch Bishop of Canterbury Justin Welby on Facebook by using this link. My local church St Mark’s will be live on YouTube with all the links accessible from the website.

Family decorating Christmas tree

But what about all those traditions?! Maybe this is the year you re-evaluate whether you really want to continue all those traditions, is it time for new traditions? This is a great time to have a good think about what’s really important, have you been doing things the same every year just because that’s what you’ve always done? If you come to the conclusion that you really want to stick with everything you’ve always done, there’s always next year; but maybe you’ll see things with fresh eyes and realise that you don’t have to do things the same every year!

Remember this is just one year, one day, don’t put so much pressure on it that it’s spoilt. Be honest with yourself and those around you about how you’re feeling but don’t let those feelings control you. You can chose how you respond.

What is lockdown brain? And what to do about it!

A survey conducted by the Alzheimer’s Society showed that since being forced to stay isolated and inside their homes, 82% of people with dementia saw a deterioration in symptoms.

Knot on finger "Just a reminder"

But it’s not just those already showing memory problems who’re struggling. Many of us are forgetting to buy milk, to write that email (again…) or that word that’s on the tip of your tongue!

There are different types of memory, research is helping us to understand how the constraint have impacted us.

  • Loneliness has had the biggest impact on people’s mood—feeling depressed is known to have an impact on memory
  • Lack of social interactions—repetition of stories helps consolidate memories of events (episodic memories). Watercooler moments can mean we talk to dozens of people in day, these aren’t happening with people furloughed or working from home. As big events have been cancelled, even when we have chatted with friends and family we’ve had fewer stories to tell meaning we’re not exercising out episodic memory.
  • People have been feeling generally more anxious and there’s more uncertainty. This has been worst for young people, people living on low incomes, people in urban areas and those with children.
  • When there’s less variety in our lives and lack of memory cues—it’s hard to differentiate one day from the next and we simply can’t remember what we’ve done! When all your meetings are in front of the same screen, they’re all the same, there’s no way to tag your memory. In the office you might walk passed the lift where you had a conversation and it reminds you to email someone or you’ll drive by the petrol station on your commute home and it’ll remind you of the milk you need to buy.mum using computer looking tired with children in the background running riot
  • Disturbed sleep due to lack of stimulation and worrying about the pandemic is causing fatigue. The brain, like any organ needs us to be fit and healthy, poor sleep, lack or exercise and poor sleep, and it’s functioning less well.
  • Not going out and about and finding our way around means the size of our hippocampus is decreasing (the seahorse shaped structure in the brain involved in learning and memory)—it’s a use it or lose it scenario! Research has found London cab drivers have an incredibly large hippocampus!

But there is good news—there are things we can do to stimulate our brains again!

  • Go for a walk each day, especially along unfamiliar streets.
  • Turn the videocall into a phone call and go for a walk instead of sitting in front of the computer.
  • Make sure the weekend is different from the weekdays or make sure you have specified rest days that are noticeably different.
  • Do something creative and new and tell someone about it afterwards.
  • Deliberately reflect on your day, even in a diary can help. Remembering what you did and recounting it exercises your brain.
  • Don’t be ashamed of using alarms and alerts on your phone, these are helpful cues for your brain.walking in the countryside
  • If trying to remember a list of items, for example a shopping list, imagine yourself in the aisle in the shop actually picking up the items.
  • To fight fatigue, good sleep hygiene is best for a good night’s sleep—no caffeine or sugar before bed, sleep in a dark cool room and make sure you’ve had fresh air and/or exercise everyday.

If you’re struggling with anxiety or depression, it’s important to get the right support. Contact your GP or speak to a counsellor or therapist. If you’re finding it difficult to cope, talking about it will be the best thing you can do.