Tuesday, 26 February 2013

No to diets

Notodiets is a new blog about eating disorders which I found out about recently. Its creator, Leanne, wrote to me about her experiences and explained why she decided to start the blog:

"Well, it’s about time I started my own blog I thought – having no idea about how to set one up. None the less, off I went on a rather steep ‘blogging’ learning curve and have produced my first ever blog!

Obviously anyone setting up a blog needs to have a focus, a passion for example. Well, this bit of the process is easy for me because I am absolutely, emphatically passionate about raising awareness that ‘diets don’t work’!

I suffered from Bulimia for 15 years mainly through my late teens and twenties. During this time I didn’t talk to anyone about it – which I now really wish I had. I also wish I knew then what I now know about diets!

As a teenager I overate a lot and consequently I gained a lot of weight, not only did this bring taunts from my peers but my self confidence was severely affected. I turned to diets, the type of commercial diets we see advertised everywhere and all the time today.

They maybe worked for a little while then I would give up (which of course is what the dieting industry want us to do, so that we go back for more! It’s all about money). The weight would then go back on and plus some!

I then turned to Bulimia with the false hope that not only would I lose weight but everything would seem ‘better’. But, it wasn’t – I lost and gained, lost and mostly gained in a damaging cycle that dangerously affected my physical and mental health. I became so scared of the impact Bulimia was having on my physical health, I managed to begin recovery 4 years ago and have been Bulimia free for those 4 years.

I have always had a sense that something is not quite ‘right’ with the dieting industry and its approach to weight loss. I wondered more about why we eat the way we eat for example, but this was rarely talked about. This is what started my interest in eating disorders and I began working professionally with people suffering from eating disorders in late 2007.

It has been my own struggle with weight, others’ stories and the government’s drive to ‘tackle obesity’ that has prompted me to begin research into other, alternative ways to weight loss and becoming a healthier person for the individual. This search has taken me into a world of like minded people including renowned professionals conducting research into this area. The basic assertion is that ‘diets don’t work’ and that overeating / compulsive eating is linked to our emotions and therefore a psychological approach is important when attempting to lose and maintain weigh loss.

However, there is much more work that needs to be done in raising this awareness to the government, policy makers, the diet industry and the general public and I hope that my blog, and campaigning amongst all the many other people fighting for this recognition, might help to raise this awareness.

I really hope you enjoy reading the blog – I will be regularly updating it with posts, book reviews, articles, links and discussions.

Please comment / email me via my blog and share with others to help raise awareness."

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Hafal in Powys

This afternoon I met with Carina Edwards, who works for the mental health charity Hafal, based in Colwyn Bay. There was no sign of the famous VW camper van in the PAVO office car park, but I look forward to getting an on-board tour another time!

For those that don't know, Hafal is, in its own words:  “a member-led charity run by the people it supports: people with a serious mental illness and their carers. We believe that people who have experienced mental illness at first hand know best about how to achieve recovery.”

I like dipping into Bill’s Blog - by the Hafal Chief Executive Bill Walden-Jones (one of our favourite blogs - link on the right). You never know what you might find... photos of his cats Rhys and Huw lazing around (pets are good for your mental health) or championing the value of psychological therapies for people with serious mental illness, including those who experience a psychotic illness.

Carina was in Powys to recruit a new Family Support Worker who will hopefully be based in Llandrindod Wells and start work in the next few weeks. The role was created to support carers of those with a serious mental illness, and is funded by Powys County Council. The previous worker had moved on after doing excellent work with about 60 carers across the county, setting up strong networks of carers, and also carrying out one-to-one work as required. Another particularly rewarding part of her role was to set up popular well-being days (of the spa and pampering variety).

Carina said that interestingly uptake had been much greater in South Powys, which was surprising considering the greater population in the North. I wonder why? What do you think? 

Do you know someone caring for a person with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder? If they don't already know about the Hafal service, then watch this space, and we'll introduce you to the new worker when they start.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Home Treatment Team for the North

About 20 months ago I supported the charity Powys Mental Health Alliance to edit the organisation’s summer 2011 newsletter. On page 10 there is a really interesting article by Gethin Evans about the new Home Treatment and Crisis Resolution team he was leading on at the time in South Powys. You can read it here.

The definition of a Crisis Home Resolution Team, according to a Sainsburys Centre for Mental Health report in 2006, is as follows:
A CRHT team is a team of mental health professionals which can respond to psychiatric emergencies and crises quickly and in the person’s home.  The team is able to support, treat and manage the person at home (and support their carers) until the crisis is resolved and the person is offered on-going care.

Gethin is employed by Aneurin Bevan Health Board – which provides mental health services in Brecknock & Radnor. Home Treatment Teams have been available for many years in other parts of England and Wales, with the first teams in Wales being established in December 2002.

But what of North Powys, which until now has had to struggle on with no such service? Yesterday I met with Mike Shone, who is the Project Lead for the new Home Treatment Team in the North. He works for Betsi Cadwaldr Health Board, which provides mental health services here in the North (Montgomeryshire).

Mike told me all about the plans for the new Home Treatment Team – which are already well under way.  The new posts for the 10-strong team have been advertised, new premises are being sought, and Mike hopes that the team will be in place to start work the week commencing 6 May.  The new service is regarded as an alternative approach to hospital admission for people experiencing mental distress, but also as “in-reach” into hospital so that patients can be discharged earlier.

The only difference with this team is that it will be called a Home Treatment Team, not a Crisis Home Resolution Team. Mike explained that Crisis Resolution teams were trialled in other areas of North Wales such as Wrexham, but when reviewed not found to be particularly effective. Referrals could be from anywhere, and many were from GPs. However, in reality people were often not appropriately referred, and much CHRT time was spent assessing people who in all likelihood would not have been facing hospital admission anyway. Following the review the teams became known purely as Home Treatment Teams, and only took referrals from Community Mental Health Teams. (In other words, people referred had already been diagnosed with a mental health condition and were keen to receive further specialist support). You can read more about how Crisis Resolution works alongside Home Treatment in the Sainsburys report (see below). What do you think about this? Clearly those people already registered with a CMHT and in crisis will be eligible to take up the services of the new HTT. But not others. Where does that leave those who are not with the CMHT when a crisis unfolds which could potentially lead to a hospital admission?

An information event about the new HTT is planned for Monday 8 April, 1.30 - 4.30pm at The Elephant & Castle in Newtown. There is an open invitation to those individuals using services, carers and staff to attend and find out more. Read more and book a place here.

You can download and read Crisis Resolution and Home Treatment – a Practical Guide, by the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health, here.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Suicide survivors

A couple of weeks ago my sister, who manages a hall of residence at a large British university, was faced with one of the hardest times of her working life. Tragically one of the young students living at the hall appears to have taken her own life (I have to write "appears" as the inquest has yet to take place). Another member of staff and one of the student's friends found her, in her room, after she had been reported as missing all day. It is hard to imagine a more harrowing experience for that staff member and the friend. And then there is the impact upon the family, other close friends, and the wider social circle both at university and outside.

It has been described as like "a grenade going off within a family or community".

The university has arranged ongoing counselling sessions for those students closely affected which is obviously good to know. However, it got me thinking... what about other people who lose a loved one to suicide... what if there is no official support system in place... what do they do?

Well, there are a lot of resources and organisations out there which can offer support and advice.

Survivors of bereavement by suicide (SOBS) has a national helpline - 0844 561 6855, and there are local groups all across the UK. You can find out more here. The website also has links to useful books, videos, survivor testimonials, and other relevant sites.

You can link to an NHS website called Coping after a suicide.

Healthtalkonline has a section here, where you can watch interviews with suicide survivors - brothers, sisters, parents, partners and friends.

Many sites are from outside the UK, but nonetheless helpful for being so.

The Alliance of Hope for Suicide Survivors has a website page here about the common feelings which surface at a time like this. Other people's survival stories can be helpful - showing that not only is survival possible, but there is a journey beyond: "Survivors must mourn, question and rebuild their shattered lives.  For many though, there is an unexpected gift:  a bond among survivors, which pierces through the isolation and the fear."  

"RedRubySlippers" writes of her poignant journey here.

You can find many more resources online - these are just a few key links. Get in touch or leave a comment if you have some ideas that helped you.

Postscript, July 2013: The Samaritans have produced a guide called Help is at hand for family and friends bereaved through suicide and unexplained death. 

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Mindfulness - just 10 minutes a day

When my colleague Glynis told me about a brilliant Mindfulness video she had watched yesterday, and I took ten minutes to watch it just now, a lot of things struck home. In particular, Andy Puddicombe's comment that we spend more time looking after our clothes, our car and our hair than we devote to our minds.

10 minutes a day is all he advocates, which does not sound like much really, but it's 10 minutes purely dedicated to Mindfulness. That means no eating, no texting, no TV, no internet, no chatting.... not even any reminiscing about the past...  All you can do is nothing for 10 minutes a day.

I won't talk any more about the exercise or approach that Andy advocates, because that's all in the video. Just to say a little bit more about Andy, who is a former Buddhist monk and meditation expert - he has his own website called Headspace, and you can read a bit of a biog here.

You can actually sign up to a Mindfulness course in Powys. Following the successful launch of its first course in Newtown with Jo Mussen (now fully booked and about half-way through I'm told) Ponthafren Association is planning a course in Welshpool to take place in the summer. You can register interest with them now, however, by contacting Welshpool Outreach by ringing 01938 552770 or email welshpooladmin@virginmedia.com 

And you can find out more about Mindfulness on the Mental Health Foundation website here and in a recent Daily Telegraph article here.

So now I need to just log into my Google calendar and book a 10 minute slot... I wonder if I'll be allowed to ditch the 10 minutes I normally spend dusting my desk each day...

Friday, 1 February 2013

It's time to talk drugs

Largactil - early schizophrenia drug
credit: Wellcome Library, London
Just recently I was passed some detailed and rather complex information about a new drug trial - which reported excellent results. I think it was published by the company which manufactured the drug... my first thought was - I'm well out of my depth here, there are thousands of drugs out there and I know very little at all about any of them. So, being in the field of information, my next thought was... I wonder how much other people know about the drugs prescribed for the treatment of mental health conditions... (I had another very cynical thought about the potential bias of pharmaceutical companies when carrying out drug trials and promoting products... but perhaps I won't go there just yet....)

Well, I have started to discover some really useful resources online. 

The mental health charity Mind has some excellent webpages on drugs. There is an alphabetical list for starters, which you can link to here. Everything from Abilify - aripiprazole to Zyprexa - olanzapine. Mind's "making sense" leaflets cover issues such as informed consent, drug names, and how to find out more information from your GP or pharmacist.

Another really useful site is RxISK. Here you can type in the name of a drug and find out more information than you thought could possibly exist. You can also help others by reporting any side effects you experience if taking psychiatric drugs yourself, find out if the drugs affect your feelings, your sexual response, your behaviour, you hair, skin and nails. Also how the drugs interact with each other. One of the members of the medical & research team on the site is David Healy, Professor of Psychiatry at Cardiff University.

If you are taking more than one prescription drug, or drugs for a long-term condition, you can have a "Medicine use review" at your pharmacy - you can find out more and download a booklet here.

And if you're interested in the history of psychiatric drugs try the Science Museum's "Exploring the history of medicine" series. (Stuffed full of intriguing information, photographs and drawings).

Let us know of your favourite sites about psychiatric drugs, and later we'll do an update and also start a debate about medication and how it impacts on people's lives. (If you want to start reading now there is a really interesting article by Jan Hopkins on page 20 of this Powys Mental Health Alliance magazine.)