Category Archives: Mental Health

Young people and mental health

When I was asked to write about teens and young people’s emotional and mental wellbeing I wasn’t sure where to start. It’s such a vast topic. Then I got thinking.  There is a quote that has stuck with me for the last 23 years, from an essay I wrote at university: “Childhood is a Cultural Invention” Discuss. (Kessen, 1979: from The American Child and Other Cultural Inventions). I was fascinated when I wrote this assignment.  I read studies on children as young as five years being left in charge of camp, fire, cooking and younger siblings whilst parents went off foraging and hunting. I read of three year olds using a machete to chop food and gut fish. Later I watched programmes where young kids swam in waters far deeper than them, hunting for fish: diving down to tie and untie nets.  It has always intrigued me; how different societies treat their young – and the correlation to wellbeing. 

Mental Health Crisis

In this country (and other Western countries) now, we are facing what is being termed a ‘mental health crisis’ in our youth (and all ages) and many people are asking why.  My thoughts are this: Life has become so fragmented. If we think about key things that we need to keep us sane and happy: a sense of community of purpose and of belonging are high up the list.  Yet we live lives where parents go off to work, kids to school and very often we have little time outside of that to spend together. We may be busy with clubs, activities, chores etc, but often our lives and those of our young are quite separate. Then there is pressure for ‘quality time’ which often, in a capitalist society, can be translated into day trips or restaurant visits.  The slow daily ‘togetherness’ is lost.  The doing chores together, teaching our young as they work alongside us, to cook, clean, care for animals, build, or just communicate is lost too.

Family Environment

An acquaintance was talking to me once about the ‘domestic load’ on them, alongside full-time work.  I suggested they get their teenager to cook a couple of times a week. They looked at me, bewildered and said that their teen couldn’t cook. They had ‘never had time’ to teach them.   So here we can see clearly defined ‘roles:’ Mum ‘cares’ for EVERYONE.  She is therefore exhausted and quite possibly resentful.  Teen, practically, has an easy life – but they don’t feel like a real PART of the family. They also don’t learn the responsibilities of adulthood in a safe and supported environment. Mum has little time for anything other than chores, because they do all the caring and organising: therefore there is no ‘together while we work’ time, OR much ‘quality time’ together. She possibly feels the anger of ‘I do everything for you. You do nothing.’

Involving children in daily activities

How can this model possibly work? And yet it runs throughout our society. Young people have few responsibilities, which can lead them to feeling a bit useless … which can eat into their self-esteem.  My suggestion: involve your kids. Enjoy the chores together. This gives you time together, just being. It gives them a sense of pride, community, belonging and of being a useful and important part of something bigger. They develop skills, they gain your respect (and you theirs) and they build their self-esteem. You can chat through your day – and build connection.  

In the early days – it can feel like hard work, yes, but I promise you the rewards are worth it. Kids are capable of far, far more than we give them credit for in our society. I truly believe that it is in holding them back, that frustrations arise. When kids are little, all they want to do is help their parents. Often we tell them no: it seems easier to do it yourself. But think on this: if you don’t let them hoover or wash up when they are 4 (and I know, it can be frustrating and they may break things) – well, how can you expect them to help when they are 14? (this was my mantra when mine were small – through gritted teeth sometimes, as jobs took hours and had to be re-done!) 

I recently had a week off work with my husband and we built a cabin in our garden.  My kids helped.  It took us longer, because we had to teach them how to use tools and work with wood; to follow instructions, but … we had fun and they learned. They hammered in floorboards, screwed in roof boards, laid roof tiles … and when one was feeling off-colour, she cooked the meals, kept us hydrated and walked the dogs. Now: every day we can look outside and see what we built, together. Remember the fun and the learning. Have a sense of achievement. Yes, it took longer to do it this way, but as well as saving a significant amount of money by doing it ourselves, we learned together, talked together, had fun together, achieved together and also saved money on ‘activity days out’ during half term.  We have a communal sense of achievement, togetherness and growth – and a daily visual reminder of that. This kind of togetherness: being together, doing together, achieving (and not) together is,  I believe, fundamentally important to the overall wellbeing of everyone, but particularly for young people who are just finding their way in the world. They may seem ‘grown up’ and they may push us away – but what they really need is to feel like they truly belong with us, so that they can venture out with confidence.

Nicola Sinclair 10 June 2021

Equality Inclusion & Diversity

I was talking recently with an organisation I provide professional support to about Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) within the workplace. What struck us was that the one common thread on every single job description within this varied organisation was a sentence about EDI. However, none of the staff are ever questioned about EDI performance during their annual appraisal.

It’s got me thinking – how can we move from a position of tick box, mandatory training (that many don’t engage with) and automated assumptions to actual engagement, a desire to increase awareness because we want to rather than because we have to?

For me, this is about moving from a place of treating everyone as the same to treating everyone as different, unique and wanting to understand their place of difference rather than smooth it over and pretend it isn’t there. I see this as both an individual task and an organisational one. Then what about membership bodies such as BACP and UKCP? How can they, and should they, make EDI training mandatory and accountable? How do they/we balance freedom of speech with a profession of expected non-discrimination?

My membership is with BACP and for this I complete a training expectations and outcome document annually. I have added an element to mine so that EDI awareness is there as part of my ongoing continual professional development arrangements. I don’t lose sight of it this way. Each time I’m at the planning stage I ask myself which area I feel I need more awareness of, Whilst I need to keep up-to-date on gender, sexual and relationship diversity (one of my areas of expertise), I also need to make sure that my knowledge around race, disability or sex work, for example, doesn’t get left behind. I can’t know everything about everything but I invite myself to become better informed each year and therefore a better ally to those who are disadvantaged in different ways to me, both professionally and personally.  I actively want to know more and to understand more about the areas where I have an advantage, those areas I don’t have to think about every day.

Challenge

I have noticed that it can feel challenging and exposing to grapple with the idea that we have advantage over another. As therapists this can feel very uncomfortable and we can get defensive when questioned or invited to expand our thinking. I think it’s important to separate the ‘I wasn’t aware of that’ from ‘I am a bad person’. Once we have awareness we can chose to do something different. Similarly once we have awareness about a relationship or behaviour that isn’t helpful for us we can chose to respond differently. Once we have awareness that our inner critic is having a field day we can learn to be kinder to ourselves and others.  

Fear

Many therapists come from a place of early wounding, hence the phrase ‘wounded healer’. I wonder if we can learn to respond to EDI and inherent advantage/disadvantage from a place of curiosity rather than a place of fear?

gardening as metaphor

Gardening as metaphor

As the temperature finally increased this year following a long winter it made me think about the impact that gardening and being outdoors can have on our mental health and how we can use this as the metaphor for nurturing ourselves. Being in contact with nature has the potential to calm the soul so it can be a good tool for our mental health first aid kit.

As those first signs of distress appear, where’s your go-to place? Where do you feel safe? Where feels restorative? During this last year of lockdown (see Weathering the Storm) many have craved green spaces and simply being outdoors. I have made it a priority most days to get out even for a local walk.

There’s something also about the very act of nurturing seedlings and plants that, for many, represents the nurturing of the self that may have not been present in early life. It can become a way to nurture ourselves as well – gardening as metaphor. Does anyone else find themselves talking to seedlings…urging them on? It won’t have been a coincidence that compost was hard to get hold of at certain points during the pandemic.

Following the long winter, we then had an unprecedented dry spell making the ground hard as rock. When the rain eventually came, the ground struggled, at first, to absorb what it most needed. It made me think about how difficult it can be for some clients to absorb ‘the good stuff’; it can get rejected repeatedly until a time when it might feel safer to absorb it. Many struggles for ‘water’ may have come and gone in the meantime. Looking at the garden, the signs are good; the grass looks rejuvenated from the water and there are more shades of green reappearing.

So, with gardening as metaphor in mind, how do we respond to both nurturing others and receiving nurturing from others? What do you notice in both your mind and body? What feels comfortable? What feels more challenging? Is there the potential for noticing and potentially an alternative way of being?

So, even if you are not into gardening or don’t have a garden, what’s the ‘nature’ part of your first aid kit? How do you restore your soul? I wish you peace, however you do it.

US Election 2016

As we woke up to the news that Donald Trump had become the next president of the United States of America, I thought about the impact on so many people across the world. For some, it will be a time for celebration. For others it will be a time of fear and despondency; not unlike post-Brexit here in the UK. One thing is certain for all of us; that we are living in a time of great uncertainty. America is a big place and has influence on the rest of the world.

Fear was already very present post-Brexit and now post-election. Both elections have been heavily influenced by fear of difference rather than consciously finding a path forward for everyone, irrespective of where they are born, what’s on their birth certificate and how much money they have.

Uncertainty brings with it anxiety and so I am mindful of the damage that can be caused when we act out that anxiety. We saw a rise in hate crime following the EU Referendum and much of this is about acting out those fears.

I wonder if we can all be more mindful of what we feel and why we feel it so that we can engage with people who hold different, sometimes opposing, views to ourselves. The more we can be aware of our place of privilege, the less hurt we cause to those oppressed by our privilege. For both the US Election and the EU Referendum, race has been at the heart of the results. The thing is that when we are in a place of privilege we are often not aware of it so it takes some honest thinking about. It takes putting ourselves in a vulnerable position.

So, following the US Election result, can we be more mindful of who will gain from the result and who will likely be negatively impacted? Can we find more compassion for those in need? Can we hold them in mind alongside thinking about our own needs? Can we make choices that enhance equality, inclusivity and diversity? Can we collectively focus on humanness rather than race, gender, sexuality, dis/ability, wealth?

If you have been affected by the election and would like someone to talk to, please do get in touch.

Manchester Terror Attacks

Many of my clients (none are identifiable here) have voiced, since the recent attacks in Manchester and London, their concerns about being in a world where they feel under threat from terrorists’ actions. 

As news regarding the attacks unfolds I am mindful of how potentially unhelpful the gratuitous, detailed and repetitive reporting can be. I wonder what we can each do that would have a more helpful impact both on those immediately affected, those around us and ourselves. 

There are also many attacks that go virtually unreported in other territories; are their lives less important because they are not British or American, ?

Some of my clients are not British nationals and fear, even more post-Brexit, that they are no longer welcome here. It’s incredibly frightening to no longer feel welcome in a place you have lived and worked for many years and to live with uncertainty about whether you will be asked to leave.

Some of my clients are Muslim; a number of whom are now extremely anxious of being under attack themselves even though they have no affinity with the attackers. There has been an increase in hate crime post-Manchester attack and this saddens me greatly. Here in Leicester there are reports of heightened racist and homophobic incidents. Humanity and integrity seems to be difficult to hang onto whilst retaliation is so much at the forefront of the mind. 

Many of the people I work with are very different to me. I may not share all or any of their beliefs but I only need to look into their eyes to see their pain. We connect on this most basic level even if our histories do not cross over in any other way.

I am mindful that in spite of intolerance and avoidance I stand firm in my belief that, as humans, we have far more in common with each other than we have differences. My belief, as a psychotherapist, is that talking about our experiences and our differences can give us much greater understanding both of ourselves and others, so that we can become more compassionate with those around us, whoever they are and whatever their beliefs. 

Tracey’s reflections on mindfulness

What is mindfulness?

The Oxford dictionary definition is:

“The quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.”

So why are Gwyneth Paltrow and Jonny Wilkinson interested in it?

There is a lot of evidence that mindfulness practice can

  • reduce pain;
  • improve sleep;
  • reduce the impact that stress has on the mind and body;
  • improve concentration; and
  • increase happiness.

So a lot of people are interested in at least one of those things for themselves.

How did you discover the practice of mindfulness?

I read a book to understand the science behind it and get familiar with the available evidence for its benefits (Full Catastrophe Living, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Piatkus 2013). I then went on an introductory course run by Shehzad Malik (mindful-monkey.com) and followed a six-week guided meditation programme of 45 mins per day, six days per week using Kabat-Zinn’s book and his Guided Mindfulness Meditation CD.

How difficult was it to begin with?

In some ways the guided meditation part was easy, all I had to do was sit with the CD and pay attention. In other ways it was tricky, my mind kept wandering off as human minds do. During one particular practice (the “body scan”) I would always fall asleep and I wondered whether I was getting any benefit from doing it. However, I found that this six week guided practice gave me a good grounding that allowed me to develop my mindfulness in everyday life.

What difference has it made for you?

The first thing I noticed was that my memory functioned more effectively. Instead of remembering that I “should have” brought something with me five minutes after leaving home, the item would pop into my mind in the moments before I left, so I had time to pick it up and bring it with me.

I no longer feel frustrated by short delays (in traffic, in a queue, waiting for someone) and I take the opportunity to use one of the practices that I have become familiar with.

I notice the difference most in conversations. I am better and more often able to take a “third position” where part of my brain can observe myself and others from outside myself and gain a different perspective than the one I have from inside me looking out.

A friend of mine believes that my reactions are quicker and I am better at catching things – but this hasn’t been scientifically proven!

And now?

I currently use guided meditation podcasts (such as marc.ucla.edu/meditation-at-the-hammer) which vary in length from 3 min to 30 min to fit in with the time I have available, such as while food is cooking or when I am a few minutes early for an appointment. I also practice while cleaning my teeth and washing up.

And what about the sleeping?

I have always slept well so mindfulness didn’t have any space to improve my sleep quality. However, the learning from falling asleep during every “body scan” has incentivised me to change my bedtime routine and I am now hardly ever tired.

Do you use mindfulness techniques within your work as a therapist?

The adoption of the “third position” fits well with my therapy training and supports my focus on the client within a therapy session. Part of the way I work is to try to help clients increase their awareness of their thoughts and feelings so this fits nicely too.

How do you see mindfulness benefiting clients, particularly those who experience anxiety and depression?

Some of my clients have discovered the benefits of mindfulness for themselves while others have tried it and it hasn’t made sense to them at the time. It can be helpful for people suffering from anxiety or depression as it can help them put their habitual thoughts into perspective. People suffering from panic attacks can find it particularly helpful in understanding their body sensations and giving them back a sense of control.

What do you feel are some of the contributory factors for needing mindfulness

Like drinking plenty of water, having sufficient sleep and taking regular exercise, I see mindfulness as helpful to everyone. It seems to be especially helpful to people who feel bombarded by the number of things coming at them in the modern world and who want to reduce the amount of stress that this induces in them.

How can I find out more?

Check out the NHS guide to mindfulness:https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/mindfulness/

Resilience to engage in dialogue

In my work with the BACP Ethics team I wonder how many complaints or threat of complaints could be resolved by simply having open dialogue. In the hearing and telling of each perspective we get the opportunity for greater understanding of ourselves and others, though this does require a level of bravery for all involved. 

As therapists we need to have done enough work on our own emotional development so that we can truly tolerate hearing clients tell us that we have got something wrong. Reacting without retaliation, but with compassion and understanding is hopefully our goal. With an apology we can often bring in challenge where it’s needed so that we can help clients to see what part they may have played in the situation as well as check out our own responses.

Therapists often have a dual role (and it’s these dual roles so often at the heart of conflict) so it’s also really important to be able to voice our concerns, disappointment, frustration etc. with our therapist, supervisor or manager. Without that open dialogue, ruptures go unrepaired and the roots of the conflict (envy, anger, frustration, misunderstanding etc.) are left unchecked and can fester into something much bigger than was originally there. We understand that sometimes clients need to run away from dialogue to (un)consciously generate a repeat of previous unresolved conflict.

Our aim is hopefully one of providing the opportunity for a different sort of ending or response than has been experienced previously. We can only provide that space; the client then choses whether they can take the risk for a new experience. The same space is provided for supervisees and colleagues. In having more than one role we need to develop the resilience to engage in those difficult conversations. If we don’t have the resilience to engage in dialogue the relationship can break down and potentially result in unresolved conflict. 

In my own experience, across my roles of client, therapist, supervisor and manager, I have seen the benefits of open dialogue in bringing about change both for myself and others. 

Death By Shame

In the aftermath of another celebrity suicide death I have been thinking about the consequences of internalised shame…

All too often the shame simply becomes too big to survive. There are so many situations where we can internalise shame…not feeling like we fit into a group such as not appearing British enough, woman enough, man enough, trans enough, white enough, black enough etc. We are given so many signals growing up and into adulthood as to what is socially un/acceptable and if we happen to fit the ‘wrong’ category the shame carried can be fatally toxic. Finances is often another big driver for suicide; the ultimate cost being the life of someone who feels shamed that they have failed their family. 

The internet is great for helping those in marginalised groups being able to find information, community and support. 41% of trans people will have at least one suicide attempt in their lifetime. I’m sure the sense of community provided online helps to keep the number from being higher than this. It’s too high though. Shockingly high. One of the contributory factors…social media. So the internet both helps and hinders. People so often find their voice of hatred whilst protected behind a technological screen…some have little thought for the consequences, others post in the full knowledge and hope of causing distress. What readily gets missed is that hatred is so often fuelled by fear, fear of difference, fear of change, fear of our assumptions being shown to be incorrect, fear that we will be shown to be lacking in some way. . 

The language we use around suicide also has an impact. The term ‘committed suicide’ is rather outdated now and harks back to an area where it was illegal to end one’s own life. More recent terminology such as ‘taken their own life’ or ‘death by suicide’ have a less stigmatising effect both for the individual and for those left in grief. 

And then, of course, there are those left behind. Suicide loss is a bereavement like no other. It’s incredibly difficult to process and integrate into life. There are so often more questions than there are answers; questions that inevitably can never be answered. It leaves a particular scar, often laced with shame and so the cycle potentially continues.

So, the next time you take to social media, take a deep breath and ask yourself what the impact of the post might be. It’s OK to challenge, to disagree but it’s so shaming and wounding to be targeted by hatred. We need to each own our fears about things we don’t agree with or don’t understand. The cumulative effect could be an end to a life. 

Weathering The Storm

Will Davies 24 July 2020

Weathering the storm – 3 tips for not letting lockdown take you down

Change is an essential part of our lives, there’s just no getting away from it and as a counsellor, it’s a common thread that runs through my work. Often a client is seeking counselling to elicit change in themselves or their situation but what’s stopping them is their relationship with change, and it’s this that forms the basis of the work. So, after working as a counsellor for a number of years now, you think I’d be a dab hand at change myself, and being honest, I thought so too, but that was until the lockdown in Leicester got extended.

2 steps forward 1 step back

If you’re not aware, in late June, the government, having identified a surge in cases of Covid-19 in the east of the city, extended the lockdown in Leicester and a number of outlying areas. It happened quickly, announced Monday and implemented Tuesday, with the main message being stay in your home as much as you can. I think it’s fair to say that the fallout of this decision was felt by everyone in Leicester and the surrounding areas. In some cases, there was a feeling that we were being singled out and in others, a sense that the rest of the country saw us as pariahs. My own emotional response to the extension was an overwhelming sense of anger and frustration, specifically at having to take an enforced 1 step back after a very much needed 2 steps forward, (out of county trips were planned, my mother was due to visit that weekend). In addition, I also started to catastrophise that things might not improve and we might never get out of lockdown. Of course, I knew that these responses to the change weren’t ‘mature’ or ‘rational’, but they were real to me and so there was a need to address and try to overcome them.

Nearly a month later, I have found the following three ‘tips’ to be the most beneficial in coping with life in extended Leicester lockdown:

1. What can you change?

In terms of my anger, I identified what I could actually change about the situation myself. Alas, government decision making is out of my control, as is whether someone else chooses to break the lockdown and go on holiday, but what I can do is commit to reducing my negative feelings through regular exercise (yoga and walking) and regular instances of self-care (journaling and cooking comfort food). I also consciously decided to talk openly within my social circle about how I felt and admit that I was unhappy. The release of these thoughts and feelings was met with empathy and made the ‘load’ feel a lot lighter.

2. Dial it down

I made the decision to turn my back on the profusion of lockdown related news, updates and social media that had previously kept me up till the early hours. I’m not an expert on virus transmission, so why was I feeling the need to know everything? What purpose was it serving other than overloading me with unnecessary information? So I dialled it down, took a step away from the town square and instantly began to feel much better for it.

3. Take the smooth with the rough

Lastly, rather than dwell on what I thought I was missing out on due to the extension, I started to refocus on enjoying the benefits of lockdown again. The ‘threat’ of having to do a commute and return to an open plan office for one of my roles, was no longer there. The money I would usually be spending in bars, pubs and cafes is still in my bank account and so for the first time ever July and August are not coming in wildly overbudget. More lie-ins, more Netflix, hello Disney+, more times with the family and now that the school summer holidays have begun, no need to try and dredge up the memory of what a quadratic equation is. You might think I was naively looking on the bright side, but in making myself try and turn the lemon that is lockdown into lemonade, I feel able to keep going, keep working and carry on until the next announcement.

Be prepared

Everyone is different of course, so I realise that some of these tips might not work for you. However, I do think that starting to develop your own healthy coping strategies, for when more inevitable Covid-19 related changes happen, will be time well spent. That way, you won’t be caught on the hop like I was, without an umbrella.