Tag Archives: awareness

Reaching my audience, owning my responsibilities and asking a favour

This blog has been on my mind for a while as I struggle to reach my intended audience; I have to consider what to write for the audience I want to reach as well as the needs of audience I actually reach.

You may, or may not know, my main aim is to raise awareness of mental health issues. Ideally, I would reach an audience totally unaware of mental illness. But of course, this is very difficult! Writing blogs and sending them off into the ether, the people who read them are, of course, people who are already interested in mental health related issues.

Sometimes I write about other things on my mind, with the hope these blogs will reach people not specifically interested in mental health and they may, then, have a little look around my site! Other than this, the only thing I can do is share my mental health blogs as far and wide as possible!

While I’d like to write hard hitting mental health blogs with the intent to shock and wake people out of their ignorant stupor, I have to consider my sensitive audience, that is, the people who are already very aware of the disturbing truths and don’t need rousing into action.

For example, I may want to get through to the MPs who aren't giving mental health services enough funding and give them graphic detail about my hospital stays that haven't gone well because there haven't been enough staff to support me to keep safe, but the people who'll actually read that will be my fellow in-patients who had equally rough stays and, may benefit to hear that they weren't alone, or relatives of fellow inpatients who may be interested in what it was like but equally may be upset by such gory details.

Of course I have a basic responsibility to keep things factually accurate. A blog about mental health often shares opinions and experiences where it’s a fine balancing act between saying “this is how it is” and “this is how I experience it”. I’m always clear to state when writing about an experience; the feedback I’ve had is that a factual blog (drawn from my professional background) peppered with experiences, is most readable.

"It felt as though the psychiatrist was deliberately provoking me to self harm" is a valid experience - it's how I felt at the time, when I was feeling paranoid; how, it's important to state that it's an experience because if people think there are psychiatrists out there who do actually deliberately provoke patients, this will prevent them from seeking support when they need it. It's important to be aware, while my experience was fact, I may not be stating the situation factually.

If I’m writing about another individual who could be identified, I always check that they’re prepared for this information to be public. A popular blog was an interview with my husband, on my to-do list is another interview, watch this space!

I also have a responsibility to myself. As someone recovering from severe mental illness, currently in therapy, I never publish something unless I’m feeling in a robust enough position to deal with any fallout. No matter how small the topic, this rule remains the same. I’ve published articles on all sorts of revealing topics in national newspapers and spoken on national TV about topics that left me feeling quite exposed. No one’s guided me through this. No one else will know when I’m ready. It’s been tough but incredibly rewarding.

Your responsibility

While I’m taking my responsibilities seriously, could I ask you to do the same? If you’re reading my blogs, am I right to assume you’re interested in mental health and therefore have an interest in reducing stigma and discrimination etc? So, what do you do with what you read? I’m incredibly grateful when I get feedback from people saying that I’ve helped them feel less alone or enabled them to understand what it’s like for their friend or relative. If you find it interesting, someone else might too.

80% people during lockdown, said their mental health deteriorated. That means 80% of the UK population could personally benefit from reading something of what I’ve written and the other 20% will know someone from the 80% therefore they could read what I’ve written and support someone who’s struggling.

Great things are happening – I cannot express my gratitude enough to the people who share my blogs. There are too many people in this world completely lacking in knowledge about mental health and I’m just trying to do my little bit towards educating them. Building this platform has led to all sorts of interviews and other work, I just hope this continues.

But if no one new shares my blogs, I'll continue writing into an echo chamber where everyone agrees, I've had some difficult experiences and I'm making some good points about things that need to change. Each year Mental Health Awareness Week comes around and the same people are aware of the same issues and nothing changes.

Analytics enable me to see a fair amount about my audience, this helps me see who is reading what and for how long but I don’t necessarily know why…?! I don’t know if people are liking it or not liking it! I get some comments – I approve all comments (except the obvious) so I’m happy if you disagree with what I’ve written or want to query something, I welcome respectful differences of opinion.

I’ll admit I make mistakes, not every blog is spot on and I struggle to produce regular content, I live with chronic illness, it’s not an excuse, it’s a reason. But I’d really love it if I kept up my side of the bargain, I’ll produce responsible content:

If you don’t like it, please comment – tell me why

If you do like it, (you can comment if you like but) please share it – I’d love it if you shared the link on social media but even if you just sent the link to one person in a text or an email, you never know what a difference this could make to them and this would seriously make my day!

Young person looking at their phone

Can a film about eating disorders be made “responsibly”?

Recently, while in conversation about the good, the bad and the ugly of mental health portrayal in film, I said, “although it divided the eating disorder (ED) community, I thought , To The Bone was a good movie”. The person I was speaking to responded saying that they didn’t think it had been made responsibly because it showed eating disordered behaviours. “Fair enough”, I thought, everyone’s entitled to their opinion. Read my thoughts on To The Bone here.

To The Bone character Ellen looking concerned at weighing scales

I’ve been reflecting on this and I’m wondering why ED’s are treated differently to other mental illnesses when it comes to portraying behaviours in the media.

There seems to be a fear that ED behaviours can be caught and that if the media gives hits and tips, a “how to…” develop an ED, maybe there’ll be an epidemic. No one thinks that a portrayal of a psychotic episode with someone experiencing a delusion they can fly will lead to an epidemic of teens jumping out of windows, pretending they have bipolar disorder!

I’ll spell it out, if you show someone doing sit-ups, running, counting calories or carrying out food rituals, you’re not going to give anyone ideas about how to get anorexia. If someone is predisposed to anorexia, they will be able to come up with these weight loss schemes all by themselves!

Board of sliced food

I’m not naive though, I know young people can be influenced by what they see. We are seeing a concerning rise in self harming and we need to consider whether talking openly about these things is making such behaviours seem more acceptable. We’re in a precarious position in trying to raise awareness of all mental illnesses. While we want to normalise discussion of mental illness, it’s important that mental ill health does not become normal!

Of course, there needs to be careful consideration when depicting any illness; there needs to be sensitivity given we’re making other people’s pain into, let’s face it, entertainment.

It is important to recognise these imagines may be triggering for people who are already suffering but there comes a point where it’s your responsibility to decide if you can manage this. The media company can put a warning at the beginning of the content, they can do no more. If someone is in the mood to trigger themselves, there’s plenty of content available.

Of course, care has to be taken when showing particular behaviours to show the reality and not to glamourise it. Anorexia isn’t about getting thin, then getting care and attention. Doing sit ups with a boney spine, you will get painful bruises. I even started to get pressure sores on my buttocks. Also, there’s the everso attractive lanugo – excess hair to keep your body warm. Nothing about eating disorders is pleasant. To The Bone showed the ugly side to eating disorders, the guilt, the shame, the grief, the physical and emotional turmoil, it was not pretty.

Young lady liking sadly at a small slice of bread and glass of water

If someone has a genetic susceptibility and environmental factors lead to them being on the cusp of an eating disorder, they will not need hits and tips. I, for example, had no media input to my eating disorder, I naturally knew how to lose weight, I cut food out of my diet and I moved more. Food rituals develop as a way to reconcile external pressures with internal turmoil – if I absolutely had to eat in front of someone, if I cut my food into factors of 3, it was more manageable (for example).

If I’d watched a film depicting eating disorders accurately when I was struggling as a teen, I think I would have felt less alone and might have felt able to seek help sooner.

We’re relying in mainstream media to bring the unmentionable and the unexplainable into the open. If they don’t show behaviours, if they gloss over them with clever edits and subtle hints, they’re not giving an accurate portrayal and this would be unhelpful and they’d be criticised. It’s never going to be easy and it’s going to divide opinion but at least we’re talking about it!

The power of silence – part 2 – when silence is not ok!

In my last blog I explained that silence can be pleasant, relaxing and even therapeutic. There does not have to be anything awkward about silence between 2 people who are comfortable with each other, it can deepen their relationship.

However…

I’m sure there are many people (men in particular) who have sensed there’s something wrong with someone (perhaps a girlfriend or wife) so they’ve asked “what’s wrong?” and this person has barked “nothing!” with such venom you’re glad you were out of spitting distance! What they actually mean is “there is something wrong but…” either, “I’m not sure what it is” or “I don’t want to talk about it” or “I’m not ready to talk about it” or “I don’t know how to put it into words” or “I wish you could mind-read, then you’d know what was wrong”. There are numerous reasons why they choose to say “nothing” at this point but it’s certainly not because nothing’s wrong!

What then proceeds is a period of silence, some (women) can keep it up for hours… during this period, the power lies with the silent party as the other wonders what they’ve done, maybe trying to “make up” for their unknown misdeed.

I can understand, when emotions are overwhelming it can feel impossible to put anything into words. For years, I didn’t have words to express emotions, I didn’t know what emotions were, I struggled to find words to describe what was going on inside my world. If this happens to you, if you can manage “I don’t know what to say” or “I don’t know what the words are” that’s better than saying “nothing” and pretending you’ve not shrouded everything in a black cloud! I find, if I manage to say something, anything(!) this gets the conversation going and I manage to explain a bit more, even if it’s just a few words, this helps the other person understand and at least I’m trying! If after 20 minutes (how long emotional chemicals last if you don’t perpetuate them with thoughts and behaviours) I felt I could verbalise a bit more, I could start where I’d left off previously.

Something else that helps me is writing things down. If I can’t say the words out loud, often, I am able to find the words to write, maybe it’s to do with slowing down the process or using a different part of my brain or breaking down the process. Whatever it was, even when very distressed (snot, tears, the works…), unable to verbalise anything, put a pen and paper in my hands and I could start writing, explaining all sorts of things that were going on in my head. There were periods of therapy where I would struggle to speak in sessions but could write reams in emails straight after the session! Fortunately, I had a understanding therapist!

At the other end of the spectrum – some people deliberately give someone “the cold shoulder” because they’ve annoyed them or “send them to Coventry” because they’ve wronged them in some way. In this way, they feel powerful for choosing to cut this person out of the loop. Going silent on someone is an unhelpful passive-aggressive trait that some people will be aware they use while others may not. In this instance, a bit of assertiveness never hurt anyone – it’s far more helpful to think through what’s going on, what the different perspectives are, what you want from the situation, how you could get this, how you could compromise and approach the other person with a level head.

If something needs to be said, don’t hope it will go away, say it – what’s the worst that could happen? If the other person gets annoyed or angry, that can be managed but if no-one is talking about anything, nothing will ever change!