5 Tips for a Mental Health Emergency Plan: Guest blog by Emily Bartels

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(image: http://crmhfoundation.org/self-care/)

 

When it comes to emergency plans, usually we think in a more physical sense, but did you know that mental health emergency plans are important?

Mental health emergencies can be quite stressful, and if you’re in a mental health industry or have any personal concerns about your own health, providing the right help is important.  Here, we will outline important tips to help you create a mental health emergency plan that will suffice.

 

Have a Support system

If you tend to get overwhelmed when an emergency happens, a big way to help reduce the trauma from it is to have a support system. Whoever you are and whereever you work, your own personal triggers and issues are still there. If you’re having issues coping, find a support system- a friend, family member or therapist that can help.

You may want to come up with a plan to help your  responses to situations, especially when disaster strikes. If you do have anxiety and depression, do make sure that you have people that can help around you or reach out for help from a doctor or therapist.

 

Prepare For Emotional Reactions

Another big thing that emergency evacuation plan Melbourne  (in Australia) does point out, is you need to make sure that you have the right idea of what might happen.  You should know when you have chaotic reactions, and what you struggle with when disaster strikes.

Focus on what will help, what might happen when you do suffer from an incident, and make sure to communicate it to others.

Processing information is quite hard in a stressful situation, such as fear, anxiety, depression, or even a panic attack, and you should make sure that, with the group of people you trust or the medical profession, you do speak about what happens. It’s also important to make sure that you properly communicate to others.  While panic attacks and sad emotions do happen, you should know that you probably will be upset about whatever will transpire. But that its OK to feel this way.

 

Be Prepared to communicate

A large part of a mental health plan is to make sure that you communicate your needs. If you need to, make sure that you explain any mental health needs, such as medication you might need, in an emergency, with loved ones.  Its vital to your wellbeing  even when stressful to communicate. Letting others know can help them and you prepare for the worst and take action if needed. You aren’t alone.

 

Keep Contact information on hand

Pharmacies can help you get emergency medication, but making sure that you have the contact information for your provider, any diagnoses, and dosages of medication are important.  Make sure to let some people in your support system know, and also keep those phone numbers on hand in case if the emergency lines are overloaded.

 

Create a Recovery Bag

If you have extra medications, a comfort item, and anything that you can use to help in the case of an emergency or crisis, put it in a small emergency kit, which you can use if you need to attend hospital or appointments.  Remember, emergency kits aren’t just for physical health aspects, but also for mental health.  You need to make sure you’re prepared both physically and mentally for any issues that might transpire so that you’re not suffering.

Mental health during an emergency often isn’t focused on as much as say other aspects of your health. Depression, anxiety, and even suicidal thoughts don’t always go away, and you need to be prepared for that, and reach out for help so you can recover well.

Creating a plan to try and prevent or reduce this from happening with your medical team will help if a mental health emergency comes about. From there, you can get the help that you need in order to stabilise yourself, look after yourself and recover again.

 

This blog was written by Emily Bartels, freelance writer with an interest in mental health and wellbeing.

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Happy Third Blog Anniversary! : On Our Third Birthday by Eleanor

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(image : etsy)

Earlier this week, on the 1st March, Be Ur Own Light turned 3 years old! I still remember starting this blog as an outlet for my fears, thoughts and emotions after leaving a job in 2016 due to acute anxiety and panic ( part of my bipolar) . Writing the blog and sharing thoughts has been so therapeutic and it has taken me on  a journey that I could not have imagined when I started writing. As many of you know, this blog led to me writing for big media outlets and to my book deal (book hopefully will be out in November) and I am so grateful for the confidence it has given me too- and the chance to connect with people all over the world.

However, this year (as with the past 2), the blog has attracted a horde of talented writers wanting to spread their messages about mental health and wellness. Some have shared their personal stories of hope and recovery, others have given useful tips on health and wellness  and we have covered topics as wide ranging as Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and addictions to drugs and alcohol. We have talked about pet therapy, writing therapy, mindfulness and yoga, amongst other therapies.

My guest bloggers have written about their recovery from mental illnesses like anorexia and bipolar disorder. National campaigns like the Diana Award also got in touch with us to discuss bullying and LGBT issues too and Jami charity asked us to cover their mental health awareness campaign (which I helped set up). Furthermore, Be Ur Own Light has also covered World Mental Health Day and Time to Talk Day this year, featuring personal mental health stories as a way to raise awareness and fight misconceptions.

Thank you to my amazing guest bloggers March 2018-2019 for your fantastic content:   

Donna at Wildwoman Book Club for Self care

Lynn Crilly- Hope with eating disorders (book)

Cordelia Moor- Living with Quiet BPD for Time to Talk Day

Sarah- On Depression for Time to Talk Day

Peter McDonnell-  Managing anxiety and psychosis for TTD

Cara Lisette- Recovery from anorexia and bipolar disorder for TTD

David Welham- Depression and Recovery/  Being a parent of children taking exams

Rachelle Wilber- Treatment for PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder)

Brandon Christensen- What is mental health stigma?

Charlotte Underwood- Overcoming Adversity/ The Saviour Complex

Ralph Macey- Managing Bipolar in the workplace

Manmohan Singh- Benefits of Yoga

Alex Sabin- Enjoying the Holidays after Addiction

Spela Kranjec- How to Accept Yourself/ My Journey in surviving Anorexia

Jami charity- Mental Health Awareness Shabbat campaign

Brookman- Avoiding a relationship crisis at Christmas

Sarah Cardwell-  Womens health awareness

Anti Bullying Week, the Diana Award and Everyones Talking about Jamie

Allen- Recovery from alcoholism and mental illness

Lizzie Weakley- How to combat your eating disorder

Posy and Posy- Flowers for wellness

N- Poem on depression- Copy of my Mask

Dan Brown at My Therapy- Suicide prevention on social media- World MH Day

Lydia- On complex PTSD and recovery

Ashley Smith- how Physiotherapy helps with stress and anxiety

Amy Hutson- How Writing Therapy helps

Christine H- What family therapy is really like

Meera Watts- How Yoga enhances your lifestyle

Dawn Prime- How can Animal and Pet therapy help

Bill Weiss- Mental Health Stigma and Drug addiction

Dr Nancy Irwin- Signs your loved one is abusing drugs

Eve Crabtree- The MIND diet for Dementia

James Kenneth- Overcoming mental health challenges

Ellie Willis- A guide to mood disorders

AXA PPP- is social media bad for our health?

Lori Longoria- How baths and spas help relaxation

Tomas Sanchez- can alcohol raise stress levels and affect mental health

Dr Janina Scarlet- Therapy quest book

Cloe Matheson- tips to reduce stress

Paul Matthews- fitness and how it helps depression

Katie Rose- How to help anxiety and panic attacks

Anonymous- on sexual abuse

Kayla Clough- coping with post partum depression

Kara Masterson- 4 tips to begin the fight against drug addiction

Michelle Hannan- 5 tips to boost your immune system

Kevin Morley- Satori Mind- Tips to boost mindfulness

Sara Whitehouse at Stadia Sports-How sport can help mental health

Amy Boyington- How holistic medicine helps mental health

 

Thank you so much to all of you and I am excited to see what 2019 brings for the blog!

2018 was a very special year for me and my writing- being published in Metro.co.uk, Glamour, The Telegraph, Happiful magazine, the Jewish News and several other media outlets. I was featured in articles in Cosmopolitan, Elle, Prima, Yahoo News, Prevention magazine and Refinery29 and guest blogged on other mental health blogs too.

This year on the blog I wrote about my life with social anxiety and work anxiety, winter blues and SAD/ depression, I shared my articles about being plus size and a bride and about my recovery from bipolar disorder. Furthermore, I wrote about the Twitter hashtags I started #mydepressionmeans and #myanxietymeans, to help people feel less alone and share their own experiences online.

On the blog I also reviewed the brilliant book ‘Love and Remission‘ by Annie Belasco by Trigger Publishing, about breast cancer and mental health. Triggers mental health books are great and I read so many that I was unable to review due to time constraints including Depression in a Digital Age by Fiona Thomas and books by Paul McGregor and Ruth Fox.

This year we were given the accolade of being a Top 10 UK Mental Health Blog by Vuelio and were a shortlisted finalist in the 2018 UK Blog Awards (Health and Social Care category). I was also invited to the Mind Media Awards which was an incredible experience and this year, we have been nominated for Blogger of the Year in the Mental Health Blog Awards.

Be Ur Own Light continues to be read globally and I love receiving your messages about the blogs and finding new writers too.  Blogging makes me happy and I hope it helps so many of you too and you love what we do here.

Heres to a productive, wonderful, fun and exciting year of educating and battling mental health stigma too 🙂

Happy 3rd birthday Be Ur Own Light!  ❤ May this be a special year for us

Love and gratitude,

Eleanor    

xxx

eleanortwit

 

4 Helpful Treatment Options for those who suffer from PTSD- Guest post by Rachelle Wilber

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Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a serious mental health condition that affects people who’ve experienced major trauma events. Common among military service members who’ve fought in combat zones, PTSD can also affect people who’ve lived through other terrifying episodes that have resulted in physical and/or mental harm. If you believe that you suffer from PTSD, you can work with a therapist and try any of these four different treatment methods to overcome the condition.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

This type of therapy works to alter thought patterns that often cause people to relive the traumatic events in their minds. As Mayo Clinic states, the goal of cognitive behavioural therapy is to make you more aware of negative or inaccurate thoughts so that you can adopt a healthier perspective of challenging situations and respond in a better way. Undergoing this therapy may also help prevent relapses that could jeopardise your mental health.

Exposure Therapy

Your therapist may also try exposing you to things that trigger traumatic thoughts as a way to alleviate them. This is done in a safe way, and your mental health care provider will be there to help you process your thoughts and feelings and give you tools to overcome your anguish. You may be shown pictures, see writings or even revisit a place where the traumatic episode occurred. Gradually, these negative thoughts should lose their power and cause you less mental grief the more that you’re exposed to them.

Eye Movement Desensitizing and Reprocessing (EMDR)

Also known as EMDR therapy, this treatment method involves recalling distressing thoughts while a therapist’s fingers move in front of your face. You’ll be asked to follow these finger movements with your eyes while discussing your feelings, however, you generally won’t be required to talk about your thoughts in great detail.

Some therapists use foot or hand tapping or musical notes instead of finger movements in front of the face. This more active approach to therapy is intended to minimise the effects of bad thoughts.

Medication

Medication is sometimes prescribed by mental health professionals to work in conjunction with other types of therapy. Prozac, Zoloft and similar antidepressant medications are formulated to boost serotonin levels in the brain to alleviate negative thoughts and emotions. Your doctor may also prescribe Depakote to stabilize your moods. Prazosin often works well in stopping nightmares.

You don’t have to continue letting PTSD dominate a large part of your life. Seeking professional help and undergoing any of these therapies will likely give you positive results.

 

This article was written by freelance writer Rachelle Wilber from San Diego, California

The Mental Health Benefits of Yoga: Guest post by Manmohan Singh

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(image: https://www.gaia.com/series/yoga-every-day)

Mental illness is like any other illness in the body. With Yoga, it can be treated and helped to heal. Yoga encourages mental fitness and healing of the mind.

Living in a modernised world, many of us still have conformist ideologies. Mental illness  is misinterpreted. It is often a deep-rooted issue, which, if not helped, can become life-threatening. Day-to-day stresses and heartbreak can lead to depression and other mental illness. If the condition becomes severe, it can lead to self-destructive tendencies, including self harm.

There are many ways (meditation, therapies, etc.) to prevent and help mental illness, with yoga being one of the most natural and safe options. According to many studies, it is confirmed that Yoga has the ability to relieve stress and anxiety and reduce mild depression and other mental illnesses.

So, let’s see the amazing mental health benefits of Yoga:

 

Calms The Nervous System

Yoga has the power to calm the nervous system and reduce anxiety levels. It makes you enter into a more relaxed state, and gradually, you move from flight or fight-to rest and digest mode (or move from the sympathetic nervous system to parasympathetic nervous system). Yoga reduces stress, anxiety, depression, treats insomnia, and other kinds of health issues.

Makes You Self-Aware

Yoga practice helps to ignite the sense of Self. Through yoga, you know yourself better and form a deeper connection from within. Yoga helps build self-trust, increases self-awareness that helps in making healthier choices- like eating healthier, living the right lifestyle. You learn to accept yourself, develop stronger willpower, bring your consciousness back to the present, feel more confident, and gradually realise your self-worth.

Helps Mend  Relationships

Emotions and feelings contribute a lot towards ones mental health. A traumatising incident, heartbreak, death of loved ones, and many other day-to-day relationship struggles, can affect our mind and lead to mental illness.

Yoga ignites awareness and not only helps us improve our relationship with the Self but with others as well. When you form a positive relationship with the Self, you tend to deal with others in the same manner. A healthy relationship helps to maintain the overall mental well-being as well.

Reduces Inflammation Related To Genes

According to a study, it is proven that 15 minutes of yoga practice or relaxation techniques switches off the genes that are responsive to stress and inflammation. With the modern world, stress is something that is often found. This stress leads to various mental health conditions. Our body is designed in a manner that it has the ability to reduce stress and this mechanism is called the ‘relaxation response’. With yoga relaxation techniques, you can easily trigger the stress reduction ability.

Yoga practice is the best way to fire your body’s built-in mechanism that helps mental relaxation. 15-20 minutes of yoga practice triggers the biochemical changes in the brain cells and protects from stress and anxiety.

Yoga Boosts GABA Level

Our brain is filled with receptors and GABA or GABA receptors or gamma-aminobutyric acid is linked with anxiety and mood disorders. When the brain drops the GABA activity, the mood of a person becomes lower and they start feeling more anxious.  

With the help of yoga practice, you can boost the GABA level. Practice yoga for an hour daily to get positive results.

Reduces The Effect Of Traumatic Incidents

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD is a serious issue that people face after going through a traumatising or negative situation, shocking or terrifying experiences. People in this condition frequently experience flashbacks and nightmares of the situation they have had come across. With yoga, a person can help himself come out from the situation and help the mind.

Improves Concentration And Boosts Memory

Sometimes, our brain finds it difficult to do or concentrate on the day-to-day tasks. Yoga practice has proven effective in boosting memory and improving concentration and also clears the mind and calms the senses.

Prevents Mental Health Disorders At Every Age

A mental health condition can occur at any age depending on the situation you are in or what you’re going through. According to a study, people of age group 18-35 are at high risk of mental illness and have periods of severe stress.

These issues can also occur during adolescence, due to various reasons, including genetics but also envrionmental- family disputes, fights, peer pressure, body shaming, academics etc. Teenagers also go through many physical, mental and emotional changes.

Yoga practice helps elevate the mood, reduce stress and anxiety, prevent depression, control anger, and ignites mindfulness.

People as they get older can also face these mental health issues due to loneliness, change of the environment, alcohol abuse, dementia, loss of loved one, long-term illness, physical disability, poor diet, etc., Yoga can be beneficial to health.

Yoga Asanas To Practice For Mental Health- Balasana, Viparita Karani Asana, Uttanasana, Adho Mukha Svanasana, Setu Bandha Sarvangasana, Bhujangasana, and Shavasana. Also practice Pranayama like: Kapalbhati, Anulom Vilom and Bhramari.

It is rightly said that a healthy mind breeds a healthy body, and vice-versa. It is important to have good, positive mental health for complete fitness and healthy, happy living.

Practising yoga promotes better health, try it today!

 

 

Author Bio: Manmohan Singh is a passionate Yogi, Yoga Teacher and a Traveller in India. He provides Yoga Teacher Training in Rishikesh, India. He loves writing and reading the books related to yoga, health, nature and the Himalayas.

Website: https://www.rishikulyogshala.org/

Suicide Prevention on Social media: Guest post by Dan Brown at MyTherapy for World Mental Health Day

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I recall reading a story last year about two teenage students from a town in Denver, both of whom lost their lives to suicide within two days of one-another.

In both cases, the students had made their intentions known on social media.

Countless similar stories can be found online. In many cases, such as the one above, people did attempt to reach out to those in need. In other cases, online cries for help were ignored or not taken seriously.

Teen Suicide Rates are Rising

Between 2010 and 2017, the number of teenage suicides in England and Wales increased by 67%.

In London, the figure is rising at an even greater rate, while a similar trend is occurring on the other side of the Atlantic, with the suicide rate of children and teenagers between 10 and 17 years old increasing by 70% in a decade since 2006.

The Role of Social Media in Suicide Prevention

While many believe social media is at least partially responsible for the rising rates of teenage suicides – due to matter such as cyber-bullying – it can be used as an effective tool for suicide prevention. This goes for any user of social media, not just teenagers.

The major platforms themselves are actively engaged in suicide prevention, but much of the onus is on individuals to respond should they encounter a post pertaining to suicide from a friend, family member, or anybody else.

Contacting the Emergency Services

First-and-foremost, you should not hesitate in contacting the emergency services if you believe someone’s life is in imminent danger. Any indications that someone is preparing to take their own life should be treated as a medical emergency. If need-be, contact closer friends or relatives of the person in question as well, to ensure help can arrive as quickly as possible.

In such situations, particularly if the person has made their intentions clear, the danger is obvious.

However, it is not always so easy to spot when a person needs help, or to differentiate between someone simply ‘venting’ after having a bad day and a more serious mental health issue.

The Warning Signs

Spotting the signs that a person may be contemplated suicide based on their social media activity can be difficult, given the absence of body language or tone of voice in many posts, especially those that are purely text rather than photos or videos.

However, there are some warning signs you can look out for.

  • Tone
    While tone of voice by not be present in a lot of social media posts, you will probably be familiar with the tone your friends and family members take on social media. A negative change in tone may be subtle or happen gradually over time, but it should not be overlooked. If you start to notice more posts that strike you as odd or out-of-character, it could be that person’s way of expressing negative emotions.
  • Signs of Anger or Lashing Out
    “Anger turned inward” is how Sigmund Freud described depression, a characterisation that is debated to this day. What seems beyond debate is that anger often coexists with depression, and that it can be outward as well as inward. Therefore, if you see someone reacting angrily or lashing out online, it could suggest they are struggling mentally. Again, this should be particularly alarming if it is out-of-character for that person.
  • Sad Posts
    Of course, sadness is the most obvious emotion to link with depression. When it comes to social media, this could be shown in sharing sad memes and pictures, or posts discrediting their own self-worth. Frequent posts of this nature could be a cry for help and should not be ignored.

 

It is also worth paying attention to the time of day the person is posting, as insomnia is a common symptom of depression. As such, regular posts late at night or in the early hours may be another warning sign.

Reaching Out to Someone You Are Concerned About

If you are concerned about someone’s wellbeing, raising your concerns with them is usually far from easy and must be done sensitively. However, many people struggle to talk about their mental wellbeing, be it through embarrassment, fear of ridicule, or any other reason perpetuated by the stigma surrounding the topic.

If you are the one to raise the issue, it can help break that barrier immediately.

There is also the myth that talking about suicide is a bad idea and could encourage a person to take their own life, which has contributed in making suicide taboo subject. Again, being the one to raise the topic, if appropriate, can help make a person feel more comfortable in discussing their concerns.

This article from Helpguide.org does a superb job of explaining the steps you can take in opening the dialogue.

Contacting Someone Closer to the Person

You do not have to be a close friend or family member to raise your concerns with a person. Given that we are discussing social media, you can even be the other side of the world.

However, you may ultimately decide that you are not the best person to speak directly to the individual you are concerned about.

That, however, does not mean you are unable to help.

Contacting someone closer to them – either physically or emotionally – clearly and considerately explaining why you are concerned, may encourage that person to bring the issue up. Perhaps they too have noticed the signs but were unsure whether to address them. Your message could be the push they need to do so.

You Can Help a Person in Need

It is quite likely that nothing in this article is new or surprising to you. However, many cries for help on social media go ignored. In the most tragic of cases, lives are needlessly lost. So, if you do find yourself in a situation where a friend or loved one is using social media in such a way, just remember: you can be the one to help. You may even save a life.

 

This article was contributed by Dan Brown from MyTherapy (free for iOS and Android).

On Complex PTSD and my recovery: Guest post by Lydia for World Mental Health Day

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Hi there, I’m Lydia a 20-year-old youtuber and film maker, I’ve been battling my mental health conditions for a little over five years. This article is about C-PTSD (Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and how I’ve found recovery, but first, what is C-PTSD?

C-PTSD, is a type of post-traumatic stress disorder that stems from repetitive exposure to a traumatic experience, it is also commonly diagnosed alongside BPD (borderline personality disorder), I was diagnosed with C-PTSD around 3 years ago after witnessing a suicide and multiple suicide attempts, without going into too much detail it was really hard, and has taken me until this year (2018) to even begin to process what happened.

So, let’s talk about recovery, there a massive misconception that it isn’t possible to recover from any type of PTSD, however it totally is possible to  find recovery. My recovery really got started this year when I made the decision to privately access EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) which was without question the most beneficial type of therapy I’ve tried.

Following this there was a major incident in which my mental stability declined rapidly I was subsequently detained in a psychiatric hospital for a little under a month, following my release, I decided to take control of my mental health and help myself.

The first thing I did to help myself was cut off from everybody negative, which I realised I had to do, because I really was at a point where I could have reached crisis point if things didn’t change. I moved from one end of the country to the other, I blocked everybody’s number, Facebook and Twitter, it was a drastic move but so important and to anybody who struggling with their mental health I’d wholeheartedly recommend doing this, just cut yourself off from everybody negative, you don’t have to justify it, your health and welfare should be the most important thing in your life.

The next thing I did was go to my GP and re-start my medication. Sometimes you just need an extra push, psychiatric medication can’t change your life circumstances, but it can help you heal. This was a pretty big decision but it was one I needed to make.

The final thing I did was to take a break and find a hobby.  I went on holiday with my family, I started creating more positive content on YouTube while also documenting my recovery which has been one of the most helpful things I’ve done/ This is because I’m a part of a really supportive community on YouTube, and just reading comments like “you gave me hope” means so much.

The big move I made this year was to write and release my own book on the journey I’ve been on, and I wouldn’t change it because it’s made me who I am today.

After a few years of complete hell, I’ve turned my life around and I’m certainly in a much more positive place, things change and life changes for the better. My overall message for you all would be to never lose hope, just hold on because if you put in the time and work things will change, however don’t expect people to change things for you. Hold on and find recovery.

 

Lydia is a youtuber and film maker, talking about her mental health. You can see her channels here:

www.youtube.com/lydiisadinosaur

www.twitter.com/Lifewithlydia

 

Why Writing therapy helps : Guest Post by Amy Hutson, Counsellor

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(image: Amy Hutson)

I first started using writing therapy without really knowing what it was when I was having a tough time at school. There was something valuable about getting my thoughts down on to a page, instead of spinning around my head that helped to make sense of everything.

Since training as a counsellor many years later, I came across writing therapy and took some training in how to use it with clients. I’ve found it can be very powerful, alongside therapy or even on its own.

But what is writing therapy?

Writing therapy or expressive writing is basically writing as fast as you can without worrying about grammar or whether it makes sense. It might sound a bit odd, but it taps into your unconscious thoughts and can be cathartic writing things down, as well as helping to come up with answers to something you’ve been struggling with.

In the 1980s James W. Pennebaker was the first person to research how writing therapy helps and he set the challenge of asking people to write about their most traumatic experiences over four consecutive days. The results of the study were staggering, people felt much better both mentally and physically. So much so that people made less visits to the doctor at about half their usual rate, after the experiment.

So how can you use writing therapy?

There are lots of different techniques I use with clients, depending on what issue it is we’re discussing or what I think might be helpful to them. But here are a few things you could try at home and if it ever feels a bit too painful what you’re writing, you can stop at any time or write about something that feels safer.

Journalling

If you’ve never tried writing in a stream-of-conscious style of writing in a journal, I’d recommend starting here. Some people like to buy a lovely notebook and find a quiet space to write, sometimes at the beginning or at the end of the day. Then the idea is to write about whatever comes to mind. Even if you start by just writing ‘blah blah blah’, you will probably find something insightful will come up if you just keep writing and don’t stop to think. If writing every day feels too much, you could try writing whenever you feel you need to – it could be you’ve had a really rough day and want somewhere to vent or maybe something incredible happened and you want to record and remember it.

The unsent letter

The unsent letter can be powerful when you want to say something to someone but feel you can’t. It might be you’re angry or upset with someone and you’re holding on to those strong emotions, because you feel unable to share them. So, you simply write everything you want to say to this person in a letter without worrying about hurting anyone’s feelings, because it’s not going to be sent. Writing it alone can really help, but it can also be used as a way of getting your thoughts together before confronting someone in a less emotional state.

If you want to take this one step further, you could write a letter back to yourself from the other person. The results can be surprising, as they can offer another perspective to the situation you might not have thought of.

Quick lists

Writing lists quickly and without editing them can be helpful and used in lots of different ways. Say you’re feeling anxious, you could start a list like:

I’m really anxious about:

  • My new job
  • Lack of sleep
  • Bad diet

Rather than just focusing on the anxiety, writing a list can sometimes help uncover what might be causing it, which you could then explore further in a journal, with a friend or a counsellor.

Another example of a quick list which can help if you’re feeling low is:

Three good things that happened today:

  • I got through the day at work despite little sleep
  • I met a friend for coffee
  • I went to the gym

Writing therapy really helps my clients and it could help you too!

 

Amy Hutson is a counsellor and writing therapist, who offers therapy in Hove and worldwide on Skype. For more details visit www.amyhutsoncounselling.co.uk

 

What’s Family therapy really like? Guest post by Christine H

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(image: Christine H)

Therapy is growing more and more accepted as a mainstream practice, rather than a scary, stigmatised ordeal. After all, it’s important to take care of mental health, and sometimes, we could all use a little extra help.

However, when it comes to any kind of therapy, it can still be scary. We don’t know what to expect, and we worry that we’ll be forced into something that makes us too uncomfortable. This can especially true in the case of family therapy. Often, family therapy is utilised when one or more family member confronts a serious mental health challenge (such as, for example, bipolar disorder, addiction, or major behavioural issues) that affects the rest of the family.

So, in order to dispel some of the misunderstandings surrounding family therapy, and to perhaps help people become more comfortable with it, here are some important things to know:

 

There May Be a Mix of Alone and Together Time

Contrary to popular belief, family therapy isn’t just going to be your family talking in a circle with a therapist the whole session. Well, maybe sometimes it will be. But other times, “family therapy” refers to a lot of different compilations of relationships within your family. Parents may talk with the counsellor separately, and then a child who has been the primary subject of therapy will talk with the therapist, and then perhaps the counselor will enable a conversation between the child and parents in order to share information that needs to be shared.

Additionally, family therapy is most effective when all family members are utilising therapeutic tools to get what they can out of the experience. For example, often in the case of addiction, support groups are available for both the person struggling with addiction, and for the family members who are affected by it. In these separate group therapies (which you can learn more about here) family members can gain new perspectives which will empower them to return to family therapy with the information they need to make it a productive venture.

 

Information that You Want Confidential Can Be Confidential

During all the mix-match of family therapy modules, many individuals are wary about sharing information with the counselor if they don’t want it to be shared with the whole group. And although this might sound kind of shady, it’s not just about keeping major secrets. Often, it’s about protecting family members’ feelings, or being embarrassed or worried about our own feelings.

Since family systems therapy is ultimately about repairing relationships and empowering healthy communication and cooperation, a counsellor can help individuals identify what information is important to share, and how to go about it in the best way. However, there are some challenges that are best talked out one on one with the therapist, and not in the group as a whole. It’s important for all parties involved to understand that they can still control the information that’s shared, and the way they choose to do it… or not.

 

It’s Not All Talk Therapy

Although sometimes all that’s needed in order to strengthen a family’s power to communicate and cooperate is an outsider guiding the conversation, other times talk therapy can be frustrating for families, as they’ll find themselves going around in the same old circles and arguments that they would on their own. That’s why most counsellors will utilise other techniques and approaches to achieve family goals.

For example, sometimes it’s useful to utilize experiential therapy, which could include anything from a cooperative ropes course, to role playing exercises. You can learn more about those options here.

 

Practicing Outside of Therapy Sessions Is Vital

One common assumption of family therapy is that the work will get done in therapy sessions, and it doesn’t have to change the way things are outside of therapy. Family therapy can only be successful when it creates changes to habits and systems within the family dynamic that aren’t serving individuals as well as they should.

Most of the time, a therapist will give family members assignments and goals that they can do–both by themselves, and as they interact with the rest of the family–in order to improve family relationships. Often, these are small habits in the way that we talk and the way we share duties in and out of the house.

 

This article was written by expert on family therapy Christine H:

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Christine is a professional writer and an avid reader who’s passionate about storytelling in any form. At any given moment, she’s in the middle of at least three books on anything from psychology to ninjas. Although she’s a marathon swimmer and enjoys camping in the mountains, she believes there’s nothing better than a carton of ice cream and a Dawson’s Creek marathon. She blogs about marketing here. Follow more of her writing on Twitter @readwritechill.

 

Can Animals and Pet Therapy help our Mental Health? Guest post by Dawn Prime

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(image: http://www.usatherapydogs.org/)

Can animals help our mental health? Approximately one in four people in England will experience a mental health issue each year (YouGOV). Every mental health issue is individual, and every situation is different; this can be shown in many forms including stress, anxiety and depression. Living with a mental health condition can affect many aspects of our daily life, with many describing it to be a lonely and isolating experience, whilst others withdraw from social interaction.

So, can animals help with mental health? In my experience they certainly can, and the therapeutic power of pets has been well documented. I believe that this is done in a number of ways, from improving mood, to calming down and giving a sense of purpose.

Whether it’s dogs, cats, rabbits or fish – each animal has a way to help and offer great companionship to those experiencing and overcoming mental health.

Mental health benefits associated with pets include:

* Decreased anxiety

* Reduced loneliness

* A known sense of comfort and safety

* A greater improvement of self-esteem and confidence

* Help in depression

At the best of times a pet can be a great source of comfort, companionship and motivation, and in many ways they can help us all to live mentally healthier lives.

Caring for a pet gives our day a purpose and reward, similar to that sense of achievement in say, looking after a child. For example, owning a pet – especially a dog – means you will need to go for walks, which can often lead to conversations with other dog owners along the way, so simply put, it’s helping someone with mental health stay connected and less withdrawn in a social circle. Social anxiety can be a major hurdle to overcome but by having a dog, you have a ready-made conversation, as dog owners like to talk to other owners about their dogs!

Pets can also give owner’s incentive to remain calm – most pets are generally cute or cuddly and have the ‘awww’ factor, however our pets’ mood, at times, can very much reflect our own, so if we feel sad, our pet could be too.

Commanding and teaching our pet brings confidence and reassurance, and in time this will naturally train our own brains to let go of any negative stress. Unlike people, pets won’t judge your illness, so many people find it therapeutic to talk to animals as they listen – remember they are non-judgmental, and who knows they might just understand!

We can take stroking our pet as something we sub-consciously do whilst we watch the TV or read a newspaper, but did you know that stroking a pet can, at the same time, stop our minds drifting into negative thoughts.

Our mind releases feel good endorphins, so can make us feel better and calmer. The simple act of stroking a pet is also well known to lower blood pressure, as well as reducing physical and emotional stress.

Therapy animals also have a valuable role to play; often in a professional setting they provide comfort, support and can help to engage people. Therapy animals are trained to help people with mental health conditions such as depression and provide a calming atmosphere – with a typical therapy session involving the therapist, the animal and their handler.

Therapy pets can include “dogs, cats, rabbits, birds, guinea pigs, rats, miniature pigs, llamas, alpacas, horses, donkeys and mini-horses,” as long as they’re at least a year old and have lived with their owner for six months (Pet Partners).

Personally, I have known people whose anxiety has improved since having a pet. They find it very comforting in having some company which isn’t human, and someone they know who will love them unconditionally. It is re-assuring to know that they have a responsibility for looking after someone else that takes their mind off their own problems, whilst having a positive impact on their own well-being – helping them cope with everyday life.

Finally, it’s important to remember that every pet is different and it’s vital to be aware of the commitments they bring, for example a dog will need good walks at least twice a day and a horse will need to be ridden out. If you are not sure about taking on a pet but want the benefits that are associated with being around animals, then there are many local animal sanctuaries which would value a volunteer.

Animals can be wonderful creatures and really therapeutic for our mental health.

This article was written by animal nursing assistant, health advisor and writer Dawn Prime. 

A Guide to Mood Disorders: Guest blog By Ellie Willis

Mood disorders encompass many disorders of how you feel from day-to-day, whether that is abnormally elevated (mania) or depressed and in low mood. They can include depressive illness such as major depressive disorder, dysthymia, postnatal depression and the bipolar spectrum disorders. They also feature anxiety and panic disorders. These are often down to brain chemistry and sometimes environment.

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(image: Pinterest/ Healthyplace.com)

 

Major Depressive Disorder

Major depression is defined as a depressive illness where you experience a significantly lowered mood and a loss of interest in activities that you would normally enjoy. While it is normal to feel sadness and grief when your life significantly changes, such as when a loved one passes away, when it doesn’t go away or gets worse, it may evolve into major depression. Some of the symptoms of depression are:

• Feelings of helplessness or hopelessness • Feeling guilty over insignificant things • Withdrawing from family and friends • Drinking alcohol or taking drugs as a coping mechanism • Having problems with concentration • Being unproductive • Having a lack of confidence • Feeling irritated or frustrated • Having a lack of interest in sex.

While sometimes a depressive episode seems to come out of the blue, there are often things that can trigger them. These may include: Genetic risk factors • Alcohol or other substance abuse • Medical problems such as thyroid issues or chronic pain • Certain medications such as steroids • Sleeping problems • Stressful life events 

Studies have shown that there appears to be a genetic component to depression. That is, if one of your parents has a depressive illness, you may end up suffering from depression yourself.

Dysthymia is a chronic form of depression that occurs when you suffer from a mild to moderate depression for at least two years. Although dysthymia causes problems in everyday life, dysthymia is often not severe enough to warrant hospitalisation. The chronic nature of the disorder means that you may believe that you have always felt like this.

The good news is that there are a wide range of medications to treat major depressive disorder, such as antidepressants. There are many kinds of medications around, and you may have to try a few until you and your psychiatrist find the perfect one with little to no side effects.

As of the time of writing, the antidepressants most commonly used are SSRIs and SNRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors). These refer to the types of neurotransmitters (chemicals in the brain that affect mood, among other things) that they affect.

With antidepressants, it is extremely important not to stop medication all at once, unless there are serious side effects and even then, only under medical advice. This is because of discontinuation syndrome. Simply put, this means that your body gets used to the medication being in your system (different to addiction where you crave the drug) and you experience symptoms such as nausea, dizziness and insomnia, to name a few.

Another important way to treat depression is psychotherapy in one form or another. This can help you by learning coping skills to deal with depressive thoughts and negative thinking, as well as having someone to speak to with complete privacy. There are a few other ways for you to combat depression in adjunct to medications or therapy.

These are: • Maintaining good sleeping habits • Exercising more • Seeking out activities that bring you pleasure • Being around caring and supportive people

Postnatal Depression

Postnatal depression is a depressive illness where a new mother experiences depression in the first few months after giving birth to a child.

Some of the symptoms of postnatal depression include:

• Feeling sad or empty • Lowered self-esteem • Changing appetite (usually a decrease) • A loss of enjoyment in everyday activities • Changes in sleep patterns such as insomnia • Not being able to concentrate • Feeling cut off from the baby • A loss of interest in sex • Feeling ashamed, guilty or inadequate • Withdrawing from family and friends • Mood swings • Thoughts of harming yourself or the baby

There are a number of factors that make postnatal depression more likely. Some of these may include: • A history of depression, especially postnatal depression in the past • If the baby is sick or colicky • If you are in an abusive relationship • If you are suffering from stress • If you have little support from family and friends •

Treatment for postnatal depression is essentially similar to that for major depression, such as antidepressants and therapy and in some cases intervention from a psychiatrist or hospital team is required.

 

Bipolar Disorder Spectrum

Bipolar disorder is a mental illness characterised by periods of extreme mood states known as mania and depression. It is one of the most serious mental illnesses and is the sixth most disabling condition in the world at the time of writing. It is chronic and potentially life threatening. However, those with it can go on to recovery and live happy and fulfilled lives between episodes. 

According to some studies, one in fifty people may suffer from a form of bipolar disorder. In many cases, there is a family history.

Mania is one pole of bipolar disorder – an extremely elevated or depressed mood, sometimes accompanied by psychosis. You may have racing thoughts or speak so quickly it is difficult for others to understand. You may also have trouble getting to sleep at night or suffer from insomnia. There is a danger of reckless behaviour such as overspending, unsafe sexual activity or aggression. You may feel a sense of grandiosity, making unrealistic plans. Despite mania feeling great at the time, the consequences of mania can be destructive.

Some of the signs of depression include a lowered mood, self-esteem or interest in enjoyable activities, pessimism, reduced energy and changes in appetite. Suicidal thoughts are also possible and must be monitored closely. As bipolar disorder is a recurrent illness and there isn’t any known cure, you may need to take medications to maintain your mood at a normal level.

Hypomania is the hallmark of bipolar II where the patient might feel euphoria or agitation. Hypomanic episodes are similar to manic episodes except they are less severe and sometimes pleasurable to you. There is never psychosis in a hypomanic episode. Despite hypomania increasing productivity, or making you feel increased self-esteem, the consequences can be major, especially as your mood goes down to depression.

A mixed state is a combination of manic and depressed symptoms. In a mixed state you may feel very sad or hopeless while feeling extremely energised. These can be dangerous, because of the suicide risk from being depressed as well as impulsive. If you feel you are heading into a mixed state, you should contact your psychiatrist as soon as possible.

Bipolar disorder type I is characterised by at least one episode of full-blown mania as well as depressive episodes. There is also a chance of psychosis (delusions/ hallucinations)  accompanying a manic episode. Bipolar type II features only hypomania and never mania or psychosis. While these manias are less destructive, the depression tends to be worse, and there is often a high suicide risk.

Cyclothymia is a bipolar spectrum disorder where you may have long periods of minor depression lasting at least two years alternating with hypomania. These depressive periods tend to be irritable and agitated rather than melancholic and lacking in energy.

Bipolar NOS (not otherwise specified) simply refers to bipolar disorders that do not strictly meet the criteria of any of the previously mentioned types of bipolar disorder.

The treatment of bipolar disorder involves medications such as Lithium carbonate, lamotrigine, sodium valporate, and quetiapine, as well as psychotherapy to help overcome negative thoughts that exacerbate depression or after effects of mania. 

As bipolar disorder is a recurrent illness and there isn’t any known cure, you may need to take medications for life to maintain your mood at a normal level. Despite this, many patients continue to do well as long as they stay compliant with treatment and keep aware of their changing mood states.

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(image: MTVFORA: http://fora.mtv.ca/words-of-wisdom-celebrity-quotes-on-mental-wellness/)

 

Anxiety Disorders

The term anxiety disorder covers a wide range of illnesses from panic disorder to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Despite the wide range of diseases, many share similar treatment options. There is a stigma affecting some anxiety disorders due to stereotypes in the media.

 

Generalised Anxiety Disorder

It is normal for people to feel some anxiety over normal life events such as exams, work problems or family issues. However, when it causes problems in your everyday life or is particularly severe you may have an anxiety disorder. Generalised anxiety disorder involves having irrational fears, such as being afraid harm will come to you or your loved ones, financial issues, health, relationships and work.

Physical symptoms when experiencing anxiety may include: • Light-headedness • Becoming tired easily, or being unable to sleep properly • Feeling tense or restless, or losing your temper easily • Nausea • Shortness of breath • Headaches • Trembling • Muscle tension Treatment generally involves medications or therapy.

Psychological treatments may involve: • Learning relaxation techniques such as muscle relaxing exercises or meditation • Therapy to teach you how to solve problems that cause anxiety with anxiety disorders, psychological treatments are generally more effective than medication, however it can still be useful.

The most common treatments are antidepressants or benzodiazepines such as alprazolam or diazepam. Generally, benzodiazepines shouldn’t be taken long-term, as there is a risk of becoming dependent on them.

Anxiety disorders are relatively common in the population, with statistics that approximately 25% of the people suffer some kind of anxiety disorder that may warrant treatment in their lifetime. Anxiety is treatable, and therapy or medication may minimise the effects on your life and relationships.

Panic Disorder

Panic disorder is a mental health condition where you experience a feeling known as a panic attack recurrently.

Some of the symptoms of a panic attack include: • Shortness of breath • Dizziness or light-headedness • Tightness or pain in the chest • Trembling or shaking • Dry mouth • Muscle tension • Difficulty gathering thoughts or speaking • Tingling fingers or feet • A choking or smothering feeling • Hot or cold flushes • Nausea or butterflies • Blurred vision • Fear of dying, losing control or going mad

When you have panic disorder, you may also worry about the implications of a panic attack such as humiliation or feeling of going crazy.

You may try and flee from the situation hoping the panic attack will stop. Panic disorder is generally treated via therapeutic methods rather than medications. This may involve your doctor teaching you about panic disorder, for example, that a panic attack is distinguishable from other mental illnesses such as other anxiety disorders or psychosis – this is known as psycho education.

A therapist may instruct you not to avoid any situations where a panic attack may occur. This may be unpleasant at first, but slowly you will not feel anxious in the situation. This will help prevent agoraphobia and the disability it causes.

A common treatment for anxiety disorders is CBT – but there are many types too including exposure therapy and talking therapies. They can be incredibly helpful for you to overcome feelings of anxiety.

This guest blog was written by Ellie Willis, an expert in mental health.