mental health

Mental health and exercise

Me on my bike

This week, we heard about a US study which apparently showed a link between exercise and improving one’s mental health.

“How marvellous” cry quite a few people who have been fortunate enough never to experience any sort of mental illness. “Here is proof” they go on to say “That lying around in bed all day is bad for you. Next time I meet someone who says they are depressed, I will tell them to go out for a jolly good walk. A bit of fresh air will blow the cobwebs away. After all, I always feel better after a walk/run/session with my personal trainer/ swim in the health club pool ” they remark helpfully.

Thank goodness for wise owls like Dr Dean Burnett who, while welcoming the study, reminds us of the likelihood and risks of overstating the findings, and of its limitations, such as that the participants self-reported their improved mental health, that most of them didn’t have a serious mental illness to start with, and that anyone with anything other than depression was excluded from the study.

Exercise can play a positive part in managing our mental health. But it’s not a magic cure-all. Here are some things I’d like anyone feeling excited by this study to do. And a few that I and others with similar experiences would prefer you not to do.

  1. Please read Dr Dean Burnett’s brief analysis here.

  2. Learn how depression is a physical illness and why exercising when you are having a severe episode can be very harmful here.

  3. Remember that prevention may be better than cure, but that to muddle the two is both dangerous and cruel. Imagine telling someone having chemotherapy just to eat more vegetables? It’s the same with mental illnesses (of which there are many) as with cancer. What helps us stay well is not an alternative to the treatment we need when we are poorly.

  4. Remember that many people who experience mental illness face other challenges which compound their situation, including poverty, insecure housing and post-traumatic stress. So please tread gently. Don’t make suggestions that seem obvious to you but may be daunting, even terrifying, or that they just can’t afford.

  5. Do all you can not to offer advice to your friend who seems be showing signs of mental illness. Instead, sit with them and just listen. Help them by showing that you care enough to stop whatever else you are doing and giving them your undivided attention. Be patient. Be courageous. Be quiet. Be there.

  6. IF they should decide that they want to try a bit of exercise, offer to walk, run or cycle beside them. Show them that you have their back.

Finally, in case you or anyone you know needs it, here is My Letter To You. 

Take it gently. This world is a tough old place.

Thank you.

 

 

 

 

BEING AN NHS CHIEF EXECUTIVE…

 

No blogs from me for a while because I’ve been finishing my book Being an NHS Chief Executive.

In these early weeks after publication, it is nice to talk to a few reviewers about the book. Here are some of the questions I’ve been answering.

Why did you write it?

Because I felt I had something to say, about our attitudes to mental illness, and about suicide and abuse. I wanted to speak directly to those who devote their lives to public service. I also wrote it for a bit of catharsis. I haven’t had a work dream since I finished it, so that plan seems to be working – so far…

Is there still stigma about mental illness?

You bet there is. It will take more than a few people in the public eye talking about their own experiences to rid us of that terrible stigma. It manifests itself in the way people who are mentally ill are portrayed in the media, although have seen some progress. But more in how society (including government, who are elected by the people and in effect do their bidding) treats people who experience mental illness. There is unfair discrimination in access to decent housing, welfare benefits, support in finding meaningful employment, and to timely, compassionate, effective health care. Here in the UK, people with the most severe forms of mental illness die on average 20 years earlier than the general population. That should be a national scandal. The fact that it isn’t seems to me to be cast-iron evidence of the stigma that still exists.

Why did you decide to come out about your own experiences of anxiety and depression, having kept quiet for 58 years?

Until I was in my early forties, I wouldn’t have described my experiences as that. My self-stigma was so great that I viewed my inability at times to face the world, simply as personal weakness or flaws in my character. And then, once I began to accept my experiences for what they really were, I felt that talking about them would be self-indulgent, given the good luck I seem to have had with my family, friends, education, home and job.

This is something that people like me must always look out for. When I had my last major depression and was huddled in the dark wanting to be dead, I didn’t have to worry about being made homeless, having no money and getting no treatment or support. So I should watch my privilege.

What is your biggest regret?

Probably not dealing with all the above sooner, so that I could have used my understanding to help tackle the stigma that mental health services experienced throughout my 13 years of being in a position of influence. In fact, cuts to services are increasing as I write this, despite all the government rhetoric.

As well as being cruel, this is a false economy. Most mental illnesses start when we are young. If young people get the right advice and treatment straight away, the chances are they will be able to resume their education and personal lives fairly quickly, growing up to become full participants and contributors to society. It doesn’t mean they will necessarily be cured, but it does mean that the disabling impacts of mental illness will be avoided or kept to a minimum. Imagine if we said to people with cancer, look, your tumour isn’t causing you enough problems yet. Go away and manage it yourself and only come back when you are dangerously ill. There would be an outcry.

But just having regrets is wasted energy. So I’m doing what I can, writing blogs like this, talking about it to anyone who will listen, and using the book as an introduction to a having a different sort of conversation.

What are you writing now?

A novel set in a choir school. It is half done but I am trying to concentrate on it properly now. When writing fiction, you need to let the creative juices run, which for me means starting to write as soon as I wake up. Some days I am in still in my PJs at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. At least that’s my excuse!

 

If you want to read my book, you can get it in paperback or on Kindle here.

 

 

Take good care of yourself

Leaving flowers

Leaving flowers 2014

Another longer blog based on a talk, this time for Point of Care Foundation Community Conference on 27.10.2016

These days I usually introduce myself as a writer, coach and mental health campaigner. Sometimes I say I’m a charity trustee. I might talk about Grassroots Suicide Prevention and how we help to save lives by training people in mental health awareness and suicide prevention techniques. Or the Mary Seacole Trust and that now we have achieved a beautiful statue to the first named black woman in the UK, we intend to smash the glass ceiling that still holds back the careers in business and in public life of women and, even more so, BME people. Occasionally I mention my voluntary work with Time to Change, or that I am training as a Samaritan. And I might say that I love writing fiction, cryptic crosswords, cycling, making jam, Brighton and Hove Albion FC, the Archers, and my family and friends.

Only if relevant do I refer to my 41 year NHS career as a nurse and health visitor, then manager. I prefer not to be defined by what I used to do. I don’t want to live my life in retrospect. I may be over 60, but I feel I have so much more to do and give.

However, for the purposes of today, I need to explain that I was chief executive of a mental health trust in Sussex for 13 years, from 2001 – 2014. And now I am a recovering chief executive. I have Professor Sir Simon Wessely, President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists to thank for that description. And he is right; it describes me well. I have been writing a book about my experiences. I thought I had finished it. But then a few things happened and now I’m less sure. Nonetheless, I have insights I want to share with you.

The main one is this: please don’t do what I did as far as looking after yourself is concerned. I didn’t always make a good job of it. And it wasn’t only me who suffered.

It started with that over-developed sense of responsibility that many of us who choose a career in healthcare seem to have. We are often the first child in the family. If not, we are the one who looks after our siblings, even our parents. In my case, I was also the only girl. Being caring and helpful was expected, and the best way to evoke praise.

People with certain personality preferences have a tendency to choose a career in a caring profession. Another tendency of those with these profiles, and I am one, is to find it hard to say no. We also tend to take criticism personally, we can be overwhelmed by setbacks, and we can experience guilt more readily than those with other profiles. We are also find it very hard to tell others when we are not OK. None of this is set in stone, of course. They are only tendencies; one can learn to modify one’s responses.

The classic personality profiles for people in senior leadership roles are different. They tend to be confident go-getters, driven by vision, analysis and logic rather than feelings of responsibility. They like making decisions, challenging others and being challenged themselves. And so the tendency of leaders who do not fit such a profile is to try to act as though they do. And to pretend not to mind things that they actually mind very much.

I struggled a bit as a student nurse. But once qualified, I got huge satisfaction from clinical practice. I loved helping people, especially those down on their luck. I always will. 

I eventually moved into management via a series of lucky accidents.I had no long-term plan to become a chief executive, even a director. It just happened. I fell in love with the trust I eventually ran because of a chance meeting with some adults with learning disabilities who I had known as children many years previously. Their care wasn’t terrible. But it could have been so much better. And then a senior colleague told me that mental health services were a backwater and that if I took such a job, I would never escape to do anything else. And that was it really; I was hooked.

For the most part, it was wonderful for me to be able to influence the care received by people who were usually at the bottom of the pile, to challenge stigma and discrimination locally and also nationally, to be busy and in demand, and to have the opportunity to work with a bright, engaged team I had the good fortune to build from scratch. Whilst we were all different, we each cared deeply about providing care that we would be happy to receive ourselves or for a member of our own family to receive. And when the care we provided failed, we minded very much and did whatever we could to put it right.

But I also got some things wrong. I can ignore details if they don’t tell me what I want to see or hear. And I wanted every project to go well. So I sometimes reacted badly when not all of them did. I was often overwhelmed by self doubt and imposter syndrome. I had sleepless nights, especially after incidents when things went wrong for patients. I felt very lonely at such times, but I didn’t feel I could tell anyone – I thought I had to tough it out. And this was counterproductive because trying so hard to appear competent made me less approachable to others who were also struggling.

I also wanted my team to be one happy, harmonious family. Without breaking any confidences, I would overreact to disagreements and try to play the peacemaker when what we needed was more discussion and debate. It took me a long time to realise that I had assumed the role of parent or older sister, when a more adult to adult relationship would have served us better. I am grateful to those who persuaded me eventually to see this – we got there in the end.

Although suicide amongst those using mental health services accounts for only a quarter of such deaths, it is, very sadly, not an infrequent occurrence. It took me a long time to admit to myself that the reason I found it so distressing was because I knew something of how desperate those who took that step must have been feeling. And even longer to admit it to others. Although I worked hard not to show it, I found it almost unbearable to be criticised by regulators or via the media for failing to stop someone from taking their own life. I felt guilty both that we had failed, and that I wasn’t always successful in defending the efforts of the staff, who had often kept the person concerned safe for many years and were themselves also devastated. I also know that the effort of hiding my own distress sometimes made me less sensitive to theirs.

Risk assessment, of which much is made these days, is an imprecise science. Some believe it has no scientific validity in preventing suicide or homicide by someone who is mentally ill. And yet people lose their jobs, even their careers, over not applying it correctly. They are judged by those privileged to look at the full facts of a case at leisure, with the benefit of hindsight. Rather than under pressure in real time in a busy hospital or clinic or on a difficult home visit. And without enough of the right resources. Families can be led to believe, sometimes erroneously, that a chance event that has changed their lives forever might somehow have been predicted or prevented, and that someone must therefore have been at fault. Unless NHS staff have erred deliberately or been recklessly careless, it is seldom the right thing to do to blame them, whether they are a junior nurse or a very senior manager. It is cruel and reductive and unlikely to bring about positive change. In fact it is likely to make people fearful and to drive poor practice underground.

I am extremely grateful to those who helped me to understand a more nuanced way of thinking about suicide, especially to Dr Alys Cole-King of Connecting with People, my friends at Grassroots Suicide Prevention, and Samaritans. I also thank John Ballatt and Penny Campling, whose book Intelligent Kindness enabled me to understand what was wrong with the traditional NHS approach to serious incidents, as well as a few other things. And to the Point of Care Foundation, whose outstanding work helps professionals to nurture their compassion and non-judgemental curiosity, despite the challenges of today’s NHS.

Some people reading this know that I saw my first psychiatrist aged 15, and have been troubled off and on with anxiety and depression throughout my life. I am still trying to make sense of why i felt so ashamed of this for so long, and how I managed to get through 12 of my 13 years as a chief executive of a mental health trust without blowing my cover. All I can say is that I am well-practised at pretending to be OK when I am not. 

I eventually began to talk about it the year before I retired as my personal contribution to reducing stigma. It was even more painful than I had expected. I felt exposed and brittle. I couldn’t sleep or think straight. I was forgetful, jumpy and irritable and my judgement went downhill. I wondered if I was going mad, and in a way I was. I had such terrible stomach pains that I thought I might die. It would honestly have been a relief. And then I started to cry, and couldn’t stop. Driving home, I nearly crashed the car on purpose into the central reservation. It was only the thought of the fuss it would cause for others that stopped me. For the next 8 weeks I huddled in the dark. Slowly the kindness of my GP and psychiatrist and that of my family, closest friend and work colleagues made me realise that perhaps I wasn’t the worthless pile of ordure I had thought I was. 

Although I will let you into a secret; it wasn’t until I had been back at work a few months and had undergone a course of therapy that I finally accepted that I hadn’t been faking my latest bout of depression. And that I wasn’t the selfish, lazy, waste-of-space I was called by a nurse when I made an attempt on my own life many years earlier. His words stayed with me because I agreed with him.

If speaking up was hard, going back to work in January 2014 was harder. But it was also part of my recovery. It felt liberating to be able to be open about why I had been off. I found conversations with clinicians, managers and most of all patients were deeper and more meaningful. I was a better listener, and I wasn’t rushing to solve everything, as had been my wont. I found that I could listen properly to criticism, and appreciate what the other person was trying to say without feeling the need to defend the trust or myself. My final eight months before retiring in the summer as planned were the happiest of my whole 13 years.

If you have the sort of tendencies I have, here are five tips from me to help you take care of yourself.

  1. When something goes wrong and you or those for whom you are responsible make a mistake, try not to be disheartened. Allow yourself time to process what happened and why. Apologise wholeheartedly. But do not be rushed into snap decisions. Treat yourself and your team as a work in progress.
  2. When someone offers you criticism, try hard not to be devastated by it. But also try not to reject it out-of-hand. Take it for what it is, just an opinion that may or may not be useful.
  3. Don’t pretend to be someone or something that you are not. It is exhausting.
  4. Exercise is important, and so is eating well. But sleep is healing. We all need it or we can’t function. If you are having trouble sleeping, then you deserve some help. This advice from Mind is a good starting point.
  5. Remember that being kind to yourself is not selfish. It is actually extremely unselfish. Because it is only through being kind to yourself that you can truly be kind to others.

It was Carl Jung who initially wrote about the wounded healer. There is nothing wrong with being motivated to help others partly because one has issues oneself; such experiences can help the care giver to be more empathetic. But if we truly care about others, as I have learned at great cost, it is very important that we do not pretend to be OK when we are not.

Because, as Karl Rogers, a successor of Jung said: what I am is good enough if I would only be it openly.

 

 

 

 

 

Is #TheArchers like real life?

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We Archers addicts are waiting with bated breath for September and the trial when, we hope, serial bully and narcissistic cad Rob Titchenor will finally get his come-uppance.

But our hopes keep being dashed. Scruff has gone to his grave (alright, an urn in Lynda’s basket) without revealing the secrets of the flood. Shula’s confession (that she lied to the police and that Rob really did hit the hunt saboteur) may wreck her marriage and her saintly reputation. But it won’t help Helen. And Helen isn’t helping herself; she won’t tell Anna the full extent of the shameful secrets from her marriage to Rob.

It’s all very frustrating. Which is good for us listeners, because that’s what real life is like. As well as messy, inconclusive and often unfair. In this article from 2014, psychotherapist Philippa Perry explains why tragic events in fairy stories, books and films are good for children. They help them to practice the emotions needed to deal with real-life disappointment and loss.

We adults need the same. And we must prepare ourselves. Because the chances are that Helen will get convicted next month. I’m not saying this because I think she’s guilty. I believe that, at worst, she acted in self-defence. I say it because men like Rob often get away with it. The odds are stacked in his favour. He lacks emotions about anyone but himself. But he also plays the loving father and victim very well for short periods. He could fool the jurors. After all, he fooled most of us when he first appeared in Ambridge.

And the prosecution will paint Helen as an unreliable witness. We may not like it, but women like Helen, who have experience of mental illness, plus have had their confidence sapped by abusive partners and being separated from their children, often fare badly within our adversarial judicial system.

Some judges bend over backwards to make sure that vulnerable women get a fair hearing in court. But not all. The one who presided over the interim custody order for Henry seemed predisposed towards Rob. He was sharp with Anna and with Helen. Shockingly, that wasn’t unrealistic.

But we can still hope.

  1. We can hope that the trial judge is a bit more enlightened. But even then, the odds are stacked against Helen. Juries are made up of people representative of society. And like it or not, in our society, women are unfairly discriminated against, in court as in many other settings.
  2. We might also hope that Henry will remember what he heard, even saw, on the night that Rob got stabbed. Of course, we don’t know what actually happened. Or what Rob has subsequently persuaded Henry that he heard or saw. Henry could say something that makes things even worse for Helen.
  3. We can hope that Henry will tell the social worker that Rob has an evil temper, is always telling him to be quiet and a good boy, and does cruel things like threatening boarding school and confiscating his rabbit because it’s babyish. Rob’s parenting methods are based on what his own awful parents did to him. Plus he has told Henry that his Mummy is bad and has abandoned him. Henry may feel that Daddy is all he has left. The holiday with Pat and Tony has come at a good time. But we should be worried for poor little Henry, who seems unnaturally well-behaved given what has happened to him recently.
  4. We are of course all hoping that Helen will somehow find the courage to face what Rob did over many months when he isolated her, psychologically abused her, threatened her, belittled her and sexually assaulted her on the night that baby Gideon/Jack was conceived. And joked afterwards about her being a minx who made him get carried away. But Helen has buried those memories because they are disgusting and unbearable to her. She may never be able to face them, even though they hold the key to saving herself and her children.
  5. We can hope that Jess will have a change of heart and be prepared to tell the court what she has already admitted to Anna about Rob’s psychological and physical abuse of her too, and how she warned Helen about him. But it sounds like Rob has bought Jess off. And she is also probably frightened of him and maybe even still in thrall to him. As Helen may also be too. Men like Rob seem to mesmerise women. They wield physical power. But it is their psychological power that is the most threatening.
  6. We can even hope that somehow Stefan will reappear and spill the beans on whatever Rob did to cause the flood. Or that some other miracle will happen.

I’m definitely still hoping; the writers have had us on tenterhooks for a long time and we need a break. But I’m also preparing myself for the worst. Because  as a soap, The Archers must mimic real life.

And in real life, shit happens. Especially to people who don’t deserve it.

 

Open dialogue

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I went to a conference in Nottingham yesterday to learn about a technique called Open Dialogue. I wanted to know more because of how it has revolutionised the care of people who are in crisis in parts of Finland and the US, reducing demand on mental hospitals and transforming lives.

I care deeply about mental health services, although I don’t run them any more. These days I campaign to make them better. I volunteer in suicide prevention. I chair the Time to Change mental health professionals project. And sometimes I need help from services myself.

I wish you could have been there too. Some massive pennies dropped, not just for me but for everyone who hadn’t already appreciated the possibilities. We learned that Open Dialogue is about being with people rather than doing something to them. And we realised that here was a way to mend things that previously seemed unfixable.

Let me explain.

There are some who say that the NHS is broken. And that mental health services are badly broken.

I’m not sure that broken is a helpful way to describe things. I prefer to think of them as badly wounded. And when someone is wounded, you take care of them.

I believe that people in highly influential positions do care about mental health. They are just unsure about what to to do, other than saying they care. They know that mental health services around the country are buckling under the strain of increasing demand. Referral rates have never been higher. And continue to climb. Services find it increasingly difficult to discharge people because there is nowhere for them to go. Staff are overwhelmed, and there is a growing recruitment and morale crisis.

Added to which, successive governments say one thing about the importance of mental health but allow the opposite to happen regarding funding. Despite the fine words and promises in the response to the Mental Health Taskforce report published in February, we heard just a few weeks ago from NHS Providers that mental health trusts are not seeing the promised investment and some are reporting funding cuts in 2016 – 2017. Parity of esteem? Actions speak louder than words.

How might Open Dialogue help?

Firstly, it isn’t simply a technique for listening really carefully to people who experience trauma and distress AND their families so that together they can work out their own solutions, with support. It is also an extremely respectful way for people to relate to one another, in teams, across teams, organisations, health care systems and society. Even the NHS.

Secondly, Open Dialogue is the antidote to what is sometimes called the biomedical model, when doctor knows best and patients are compliant. This works when there is a fairly simple problem and solution. For example, a broken leg. It doesn’t work for the vast majority of health conditions in which people need to become the expert themselves if they are to lead fulfilling lives. And it certainly doesn’t work in mental health. Mental health professionals know this. But we organise and regulate mental health services as though we were fixing broken minds instead of legs.

Open Dialogue builds on what some call the Recovery Model, based on hope and fulfilment rather than simply diagnosis and treatment. It provides a method to apply a recovery-based approach, involving the whole family and team. It is the antidote to outpatient clinics and ward rounds.

Thirdly, Open Dialogue provides the basis from which to challenge many of the perverse incentives and restrictive practices that have grown up in mental health care out of fear of incident, media criticism or what a regulator might say. Such as staff spending more time documenting care than in giving care. The absolute adherence to risk assessment even though successive independent investigations show it to have limited predictive value. And risk management, which taken to extremes means that those who might possibly pose a risk to themselves or others, are cared for in inhumane conditions with no privacy or dignity, no sheets, cutlery, shoelaces, phone chargers or indeed any other item that someone somewhere has said might pose a risk. And yet we know that ligatures and weapons can be fashioned from almost anything. And that people who are ill, frightened and alone can be driven to do increasingly desperate things. The greatest risk management tool available is compassionate, skilled attention. Open Dialogue offers high quantities of that.

Open Dialogue is being used in a growing number of services in the UK. A research bid has been submitted and passed the first round of scrutiny. If successful, it will explore human, clinical and cost effectiveness, as well as developing a model that is scalable and sensitive to local circumstances.

I want to thank everyone at the conference for opening my eyes. Including Tracey Taylor, Simon Smith, Pablo Sadler, Lesley Nelson, Jen Kilyon, Russell Razzaque, Mark Hofenbeck, Julie Repper and Steve Pilling.

And to Corrine Hendy, who I first met at an NHS England event about putting patients first last year: Your journey from being locked in a mental hospital to becoming a skilled mental health professional, public speaker and highly effective advocate for Open Dialogue, is more inspirational than any you will hear on X-Factor. I want to repay the inspiration you have selflessly given.

I’m going to do what I can to spread the word.

 

Three blogs and a bike ride

This week has been Mental Health Awareness Week.  I’ve written three articles, visited a friend, given a talk, attended a party and been on a bike ride.

There’s been some other more difficult stuff which I don’t feel able to write about just now. More anon.

I wrote this piece about the loss of Sally Brampton through depression and what is assumed to have been suicide.

Suicide casts a long, cold shadow. My heart goes out to all who have lost someone that way. And to all who have tried to keep them safe. There is sometimes talk of failure in such circumstances. I fully understand why. But it can be cruel and destructive to those left behind. It can affect the grieving process and have terrible repercussions. I decided a while ago to devote some of my time to being a volunteer in suicide prevention. This work can of course be distressing. But is so worthwhile. If more people were involved in understanding about suicide, it would improve compassion and more lives might be saved. Blame doesn’t save anyone. If anything, it can have the opposite effect.

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On Monday I popped up to Rugby to see the lovely Gill Phillips and learn more about the groundbreaking work she does through her company @WhoseShoes. Gill had a special birthday this week – now she’s nearly as old as me! I love the way that this entrepreneurial woman has started a new adventure. I hope I can support Gill to bring Whose Shoes to the world of mental health. Go us!

Just Giving asked me to write this list of ideas to help people to manage their own mental health. It’s been fun watching the list grow throughout the week, and hearing comments from unlikely places about the tips. I just curated the list – none of them were invented by me. I try to follow them, not always successfully.

And I wrote this piece called Serendipity for NHS Employers. It was also Equality and Human Rights week. It was serendipitous to bring two things together that matter very much to me but which I hadn’t realised before had so much in common. I’ve had some useful feedback. It has sparked conversations about how we can use Mary Seacole’s legacy to inspire young people not just to dream, but to work hard and not be deterred by setbacks from achieving their ambitions.

One of my ambitions is to see the top of the NHS become less white and less male. Nothing against you guys, but as it says in my blog, the way things are now just isn’t representative. And having an unrepresentative leadership breeds alienation and resentment which has a negative impact on services.

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On Thursday afternoon I spoke at a Brighton Housing Trust Health and Wellbeing Service event (photo above). I was invited there to inspire the women with my experiences of being a high profile woman who is also open about my own mental illness. But to be honest, it was they who inspired me. I heard some stories I will never forget. I want everyone to know what we agreed, which is that people who live with mental illness have assets to share. Rather than deficits to avoid or accommodate. I’m going to be returning to this theme in the future.

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I was at the beautiful Black Cultural Archive in Brixton on Thursday evening at a comedy night with a purpose – to thank all the ambassadors and trustees who have spent 12 long years raising money for the Mary Seacole Statue.  That’s me with our brilliant and indefatigable Vice Chair Professor Elizabeth Anionwu CBE. Mary’s statue goes up in six weeks – much more about this soon.

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And on Friday I was out cycle training with my friend Sally who is joining me on Ride 100 on 31st July when we will be raising money for Samaritans. You’ll be hearing a lot more about that shortly. Suffice to say, after doing 20 miles of hills, including the notorious Box Hill (twice) we felt pretty smug 🙂

 

In memory of Sally Brampton. You are not alone

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I was saddened to hear of Sally Brampton’s untimely death after a long battle with depression. She was 60, the same age as me. From my own experiences of depression, I know a little of how things must have been for her. My heart goes out to all who loved her. May she rest in peace.

Next week is Mental Health Awareness Week.

For those who are struggling, I say this. Mental illnesses mess with your head. They make you believe bad things about yourself. That there is nothing wrong with you other than laziness, moral cowardice, being hateful and lacking what it takes to lead a normal life. That you are not worthy of help. And that you must face this awful, isolating thing alone.

But struggling on alone is not a good idea. Nor is pretending to be OK when you are not. I know this from my own past, effective but wrong-headed attempts to keep how I was feeling to myself. In the end, keeping secrets just causes more damage. It can be really bad for you and those you care about.

If you are overwhelmed by negative or frightening thoughts, if life feels grim or even just pointless, please, please ask for help.

  • Talk to a friend or someone else that you trust.
  • Make an appointment to see your GP.
  • Check out the Grassroots Suicide Prevention StayAlive app – available free to download to iPhones and Androids.
  • Phone Samaritans on 116 123 or one of the other helplines.

If you don’t know what to say at first, or feel embarrassed or tongue-tied, it doesn’t matter. If you are afraid that the words won’t come, try writing it down.

Social media has been a massive help to me. I have made friends online who always seem to be there. They have been to those evil places. Not the same as mine, because we are all different, but their own terrifying versions. They know how lonely it feels.

Contrary to what you may hear, there are wonderful services available and treatments – medicines, many different sorts of therapy and other practical techniques – that work for most people. It can take time to find the right ones, of course. And it will take a lot of courage and effort on your part. There are no miracle cures. But I promise you, seeking help really is worth it.

Believe me, you are not alone.