Tag Archives: mental illness

How to survive Blue Monday and thrive this year

The 3rd Monday of the year has been found to be “Blue Monday”, the day when people most depressed, uncertain if the future and even hopeless. It may be pseudoscience but I think people are feeling pretty down this year. Some people find themselves in debt after Christmas, struggling towards the next payday, weather in the northern hemisphere is pretty bleak and this year in particularly, the Covid-19 pandemic has been dragging on just a bit!

I just had to respond with a blog about how we can manage this period of the year and learn some coping strategies that will benefit us for the rest of the year!

Person tiring their shoe laces

5 top tips:

  • Move everyday—some form of exercise whether it’s yoga or walk or a HIIT workout, moving your body is awesome for all sorts of reasons. It can be a good distraction, a time to think, or a time for mindfulness. It releases endorphins, the feel good hormone. You can get the whole family involved too!
  • Creativity—whether it’s poetry, pottery or a building a shed, being able to say “I made this” with a sense of accomplishment boosts even the lowest mood. Turning your hand to something new or picking up an old skill taps into a part of the brain that we don’t use everyday. Something we can all do is listen to music, while it’s not building or making anything it taps into an expressive part of the brain and can be incredibly powerful.
  • Writing—it’s been found that even just writing about what you’ve been doing each day can help build memories. For some people, writing can be a way of expressing themselves if they find it difficult to talk about how they’re feeling. If you pick up and pen and don’t know what to write, perhaps start with things you’ve done or things you can see, hear or smell, then try writing some about how you feel, it doesn’t have to make sense initially but you’ll soon get the hang of it!handwriting
  • Talking—this is an incredibly beneficial coping strategy. From talk to your a pet to choosing to take up personal therapy or anything in between. It’s important if you live alone to keep in contact—we’re incredibly fortunate with the range of technology (text, email, various video call options or good old fashioned phone call) these days we just need to use it!
  • Help others—looking after a pet or even a plant can really improve your mood and help your self esteem. Feeling depressed can make all your thoughts turn inward but making yourself look outward can bring a different perspective to your problems. It doesn’t have to be huge but once you start you might feel you want to do more and more!

A few simply dos and don’ts

  • Do express your emotions in a health way—have a good cry if you need to, punch a cushion, scream if it helps, these are all fine. Make sure you can differentiate between healthy and unhealth expressions of emotion.
  • Don’t turn to addictive behaviours—alcohol may be “socially acceptable” and may “feel nice” but it’s just a way of numbing your feelings and it’s ultimately helpful. Equally, turning to food or anything else you know is your usual coping habit is a way of pushing away your feelings. A more healthy way of coping is to find ways of being able to manage your feelings in the moment such as breathing techniques, talking or writing about them or try mindfulness. (It’s fine to have a drink but just ask yourself if you’re drinking to escape stress/feelings etc?)woman holding a glass of wine
  • Do limit time spent reading/watching news about Covid-19—make sure you know the pertinent information but beyond that don’t get sucked into the unhealthy political mud slinging that the media seem to enjoy.
  • Don’t compare your life to other people’s! You don’t see what goes on behind closed doors. Don’t endlessly scroll through social media, limit your time on social media if you can. Remember that what other people post is a highly edited version of their life and doesn’t reflect their reality. Try to only follow people or pages that bring you happiness (hide, mute or unfollow everything else—it really is that simple!).
  • Do remember you’re mental, physical and spiritual health are all linked, if you don’t look after one, the others will suffer. Doing something physical, like going for a walk or having a bath will do just as good for your mental health as it will for your physical health. If you didn’t think you had a faith but this pandemic has got you asking questions like “why would God do such a cruel thing?” perhaps it’s time to find an Alpha or Puzzling Questions course (or similar) and ask these questions. It’s ok to get angry at God, he can take it. Ask someone you know goes to church or contact your local church (or other faith community) online, they’re all doing far more online than they used to!

If you think your low mood is more than feeling a bit blue and these tips are not going to be enough, please seek professional support. It’s important to get support early.

female video call

How to find the right counsellor for you

I’m currently training to be a counselling. As someone who’s also experienced “lying on the therapists couch” I thought I’d put some thoughts together for people who might be looking for a counsellor or therapist in these difficult times.

If you were looking for a doctor, you would make sure they were registered with the General Medical Council. Therefore you should make sure that your therapist/counsellor is a member of an organisation such as: BACP, UKCP or NCS* (or equivalent in other countries). The counselling/therapy profession isn’t currently fully regulated (that means anyone can call themselves a counsellor and isn’t breaking the law)…but by making sure that they’re a member of an organisation such as these, you’ll be getting a professional who:

  • Has achieved a substantial level of training (at least diploma level having undertaken 100 hours supervised placement hours etc)
  • Frequently undertakes continuous professional development
  • Adheres to a specific code of ethics (which can be found on each website)

You may wish to use a directory such as Counselling Directory to search for a verified, accredited counsellor/therapist. We have been incredibly fortunate that counselling has become more accessible recently, it’s now available online or on the phone, although there may be pros and cons, see this recent blog. There are specific platforms where this is all that’s offered so that it’s available across the world (e.g. Better Help and My Online Therapy). However, location may be a priority, should you wish to return to face-to-face counselling at some point. When browsing profiles a few red flags to beware of:

  • A counsellor who claims they deal with too many areas—some very experienced counsellors may have expertise in a number of areas but watch out for inexperienced counsellor’s who’re just trying to look more attractive.
  • Offering too many therapies—integrative is a type of therapy that is a specific way of blending therapies but being a specialist in more than about 4-5 therapeutic interventions means the therapist may not know the therapies in any depth. Also beware of the opposite—very specialist therapies claiming to cure-all are spinning you false hope!

Before you go to meet you counsellor/therapist, try to be clear with yourself what you want. For example, they don’t/shouldn’t diagnose or offer advice, the sorts of things you might achieve involve understanding yourself and why you repeat unhelpful patterns better and developing more helpful ways of coping with life’s ups and downs. It’s not up to them to decide what you need. During the introductory session, it’s important to find out if what you want and what they offer align.

Once you meet a therapist, you may think that feeling a sense of connection is the most important thing; while you’re not wrong there are some other important points to consider:

  • Do you trust them to keep the boundaries? These are the framework on which everything else hangs—they help you maintain trust and they’re where the work begins! For example, if the sessions always run over time, do you trust them to maintain confidentiality?
  • Will you be able to form a working alliance with this person? This is the relationship that exists between the counsellor and client that means they are able to work together in a judgment free zone towards shared goals. Do you understand how they work and will this help you?
  • Will this person challenge you? If you feel too comfortable with this person, if they’re too similar to you, it can be difficult to push yourself outside your comfort zone and make the changes that are needed.
  • Have you been able to ask all the questions you have? Do you know how much it’s going to cost? Are you signing up for a specific number of session or is it open ended? How will you be reviewing you progress?

Obviously you don’t want things to go wrong but if at any point you’re uncomfortable or wonder if they’ve behaved unethically, have they told you what to do? (Speak to them initially, then contact their membership body.)

Counselling/therapy can be hard but fantastically rewarding.

A life unexamined is not worth living—Socrates
  • *BACP = British Association for Counsellors and Psychotherapists
  • UKCP = UK Council for Psychotherapy
  • NCS = National Counselling Society
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.