T’is the Season To Be Jolly.. Or Else?

So, I returned from an appointment the other week (back in November, actually!), to discover that my neighbours had already started decorating for Christmas 😐 this is something that does not make me happy; in fact, I had been hoping to hold off on the ‘Christmas Blog’ for a few more weeks yet. But, when another neighbour decorated with lights outside their house (in a bizarre pattern!) last week, I felt that I could not contain this blog anymore; batten down the hatches, Christmas is coming (not said in a Game of Thrones style, I promise).

So, when DO we start getting ready for Christmas and how does all this affect us? I am a bit of a traditionalist; to me, Christmas decorations and trees should not appear before the 15th December, as the earliest! However, there has been a growing pattern of people starting the festivities earlier and earlier; the first year we moved in here, four years ago, the decorations came out the first week of December and they have crept earlier and earlier every year since!

This made me think- am I being ‘Bah humbug’ or are other people feeling the same as me? I found a study by (Werner, Peterson-Lewis and Brown, 1989) that suggests that neighbours who decorate their houses, and perhaps do not have many friends in their street, are doing so to show their openness and cohesiveness in their local community. So, does that mean I don’t want to get involved with my neighbours? Well, yes, to a certain extent, but this doesn’t explain WHY people decorate so early? Maybe it is to welcome the neighbours to the coming festivities?

What about those people whose decorations are ridiculous to the extremes? And I am thinking this;

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-20669944

Now, perhaps this level of decoration could actually alienate the neighbours? Who wants to live next door to lights of that extreme, or that many visitors during December? The only positive thing I can think of, is that I think your house would be fairly safe from burglars throughout the whole of December?

So, if lights can either make you more (or less) tolerant and accepting of your neighbours, what does give you the ‘Christmas Spirit’? Well, a popular study I have found, cited by all the Christmas Naysayers, is from a couple of scientists in the Journal of Happiness Studies. (Kasser and Sheldon, 2002) asked 117 people, ranging in age from 18-80. They asked them to answer questions about their satisfaction, stress, and emotional state during the Christmas season, as well as questions about their experiences, use of money, and consumption behaviors during the festive period!

Now, I don’t know if this was what you were expecting, but peoples satisfaction was actually greater for the festive period, when it was based around family and religious experiences, rather than spending loads of money and giving/receiving gifts. Was that what you were expecting? I don’t know if I was; I know that, for me, I am very lucky and have a wonderful family, so Christmas is all about being with them. I don’t really mind present giving and receiving, or maybe that is because I am far too old, and bah humbug!

I find it hard to get too exited about Christmas until late December because, for me, it can’t start without my family. So until I am doing those activities like the Christmas food shop, or the kids start the school holidays it really is not Christmas time.

The Christmas period starting in late November, or early December is more about retail. Shops have to be able to sell goods and toys for two paydays before the 25th to give people a chance to buy things. For many people this leads to Christmas fatigue before Christmas arrives, and this is why I choose to ignore the holiday season for as long as possible.

So, I guess this brings us to the crux of the issue; what if it isn’t about spending, money and presents. What if it is about spending time with loved ones. And, lets just say, you are alone and don’t have any loved ones to spend it with. What then? What if you are left alone for Christmas, and I don’t mean in a cutesy ‘Home Alone’ movie style? What happens then?

It can be very hard to be alone for Christmas, but conversely, some people love being alone at this time! So, what can you do to keep yourself from being lonely at Christmas?

Scouring the Internet, the ideas are all the same;

  • Volunteer- helping others always makes us feel good about ourselves, and lets be honest, Christmas is probably the best time to volunteer!
  • Say YES to everything you are invited to- even if you are not feeling up to it, say YES! You can always leave early and go home; you never know what you might be missing out on, if you don’t even try
  • Work, Work, Work- if you enjoy working, then work! We are all different and different things make us happy. If it isn’t interrupting your life, perhaps you can get a jump-start on next quarters budgets!
  • Indulge yourself- comfort food, stay in your pajamas all day, dancing around the front room, watch your favourite movies all day long, whatever it is, DO IT!
  • Don’t wallow in your loneliness; find some support, internet, friends, chat rooms, whatever- just don’t feel like you are on your own!
  • Planning your time in advance is a good way of staving off the loneliness; if you have planned your time in advance, you know that you are not going to get bored and lonely, as you have a full itinery of things to do. Sounds like a plan to me J
  • Random acts of kindness and having faith can be quite important; I don’t mean an all encompassing faith that demands your presence at church 24/7, but perhaps some Mindfulness meditation, some relaxation or just getting in touch with your spiritual side and your ideas of what life is all about. Whatever it is that can make you happy.

So, there you have it, you’ve got some ideas to get you going. But what if none of those things appeal to you, and you don’t have anyone special to spend the holidays with? Well I would say that you do… You are special, buy yourself a present and enjoy it, you deserve it!


Kasser, T. and Sheldon, K. (2002) ‘What Makes for a Merry Christmas?’, Journal of Happiness Studies, vol. 3, no. 4, December, pp. 313-329.

Werner, C., Peterson-Lewis, S. and Brown, B. (1989) ‘Inferences about homeowners’ sociability: Impact of christmas decorations and other cues’, Journal of Environmetal Psychology, vol. 9, no. 4, December, pp. 279-296.

 

 

One Year On and Has There Been Any Real Change?

One year ago today, the world was rocked by the unexpected death of Robin Williams. He had been suffering from severe depression and, sadly, took his own life. What caused him to do this is unknown, and sadly, suicide remains very prevalent in our modern society.

According to The Samaritans 2015 report, Suicide Statistics 2015,

  • In 2013, 6,233 suicides were registered in the UK. This corresponds to a rate of 11.9 per 100,000 (19.0 per 100,000 for men and 5.1 per 100,000 for women).
  • The male suicide rate is the highest since 2001. The suicide rate among men aged 45-59, 25.1 per 100,000, is the highest for this group since 1981.

SuicideChart

 

Screen Shot 2015-08-11 at 18.10.11

So, why is this happening and what is going on? The rates of suicide are increasing- but aren’t we more aware of our mental health now, more than ever? The Mental Health Foundation estimates that;

  • One in four people will experience a mental health problem at some point in their lives.
  • Around one in ten children experience mental health problems.
  • Depression affects around one in 12 of the whole population.
  • Rates of self-harm in the UK are the highest in Europe at 400 per 100,000.
  • 450 million people worldwide have a mental health problem.

So, mental health issues are pretty common place- so why are the suicide rates increasing? One reason that is consistently studied is the idea of stigma that is attached to admitting that one is suffering from a mental health difficulty. Different forms of stigma include personal stigma (negative attitudes towards others), perceived stigma (perceived attitudes of others) and self-stigma (self-attribution of others’ negative attitudes), so we can see the possible effects of ‘owning up’ to a mental health difficulty.

A study published this year asked 350 members of the public and university students to complete an online survey assessing their knowledge and contact with depression and anxiety, perceived stigma and self-stigma for both anxiety and depression (Grant, Bruce and Batterham, 2015). They found that (surprise, surprise!) the more contact you have with anxiety and depression- be it yourself or a friend or colleague- the less stigma you perceived from other people.

Men reported that they felt more personal stigma around depression and anxiety than women and the more the participant had personal experience of anxiety and depression, the higher their levels of self-stigma were towards mental health illnesses. So, really, there were no surprises. The more you experience mental health difficulties, the more you think other people will judge you negatively. So, now are we getting to the crux of why suicide’s are rising year on year? Despite the fact that we all think we are tolerant towards mental health illnesses, there is still a huge amount of perceived stigma, particularly from people who are suffering.

If you are feeling bad, who is going to want to risk telling people, who may then judge them and make them feel worse? Or just the idea that we have a mental health difficulty can be enough to stop you even acknowledging it, and certainly stop you getting help for it. What this study found was that we need to increase interventions aimed at increasing help-seeking behavior- we need to make it easier and less traumatic and worrying to get help.

We still assume that we are going to be penalized, personally, financially and professionally if we admit to having difficulties; but, and here is the crazy part, ONE IN FOUR PEOPLE will experience mental health problems at some point in their life. It could be you, your mum, dad, partner, children, best friends or colleagues from work. How would you feel if your loved one was feeling depressed, or, heaven forbid, suicidal, but didn’t want to tell anyone for fear of shame?

We really like to think of ourselves as sophisticated and non-judgmental, but, if this were the case, more people would seek help for their health, and surely, suicide rates would decrease? Mental health difficulties don’t discriminate; the old, young, rich, poor, male, female, cultural differences- it doesn’t matter. So, if mental health illnesses don’t discriminate, why should we?

What Robin Williams sad death highlighted for our society was the fact that no matter how rich or successful you are, if you are feeling low, depressed or anxious, money and fame and success won’t fix it- it’s time we were more open about mental health. Life is hard, sometimes, and we all need help from time to time; why should we have shame and stigma attached to that?

I wrote a blog piece earlier in the year on teenage depression, but, you know what? A lot of the symptoms are the same! The other point about this piece I am writing, is that even if you are not suffering from depression or anxiety, it’s really helpful to know what the symptoms are, so we can help and support our friends and family! Also, what’s the harm in spreading information and destigmatizing the issue of mental health? Anyway, back to the point of this particular paragraph; when it comes to mental health illnesses, please seek some help if you are experiencing three or more of these;

  • Do you feel a sense of hopelessness or sadness? It can be for no reason at all.
  • Do you have thoughts of death or suicide? ‘Everyone would be better off if I wasn’t here’ can sometimes be a common thought.
  • Do you suffer from a lack of energy? Are you fatigued more than normal?
  • Are there any changes in your eating habits? Eating more, or less?
  • Are there any changes in your sleeping habits? Sleeping more, sleeping less, night waking and being unable to return to sleep, waking up early?
  • Have you withdrawn from family and friends? Does work seem harder than usual, for no particular reason?
  • Are you tearful? Do you cry easily? Are you crying frequently?
  • Have you lost interest in your usual activities? Is there a sense of apathy that wasn’t there before?
  • Are you agitated? Restless? Unable to sit still?
  • Are you suffering from feelings of worthlessness and guilt?
  • Have you developed difficulties in concentrating?
  • Have you lost your usual enthusiasm? Have you developed a lack of motivation?
  • Are you feeling irritable? Angry? Hostile?
  • Have you any increased feelings of anxiety?
  • Have you become extremely sensitive to criticism?
  • Do you have unexplained aches and pains? Headaches or stomach aches, for example?

Please do go and see a Doctor. Seek out some help. Everybody goes through a rough patch at some point or another and sometimes things are just really difficult to deal with.

There are lots of different ways to tackle depression- medication is not the only thing available! I work in the NHS with clients who are referred from their Doctors surgeries. Sometimes, just talking to someone can help. Knowing that you are not the only one who feels that way can help to normalise what is going on for you. The NHS offers CBT therapy and courses to help deal with depression, anxiety and other issues. Please believe me when I say that you are not alone, many, many others feel this way too.

It might sounds ridiculous, when you are feeling so rough that you don’t want to get out of bed, but try and see your friends and family- research shows that getting out there and talking to people really does make you feel better. It is hard work, I know, but the more you see your friends and family, the easier it gets to go out and see them and the less you isolate yourself from the people who care.

Get some exercise! Go for a walk, run, swim- whatever it is that makes you feel better! Exercise releases endorphins, which are the feel good hormones in our body, so after we exercise, we get a hit of endorphins that makes us feel good. Even If it is just a walk- it will still do the same!

Concentrate on ‘me’ time- whether that’s a face pack, a bath, and meeting friends, going to the cinema. Whatever it is that will relax you. I know, I know, there are far too many things that need to be done before you can have some relaxation. But, the dishes will still be there when you have spent some ‘me’ time, and you know what? Doing those dishes might not be such a big deal when you have had time to relax.

As adults, especially if we have families to look after, we don’t feel like we deserve to have ‘me’ time, but realistically, having some ‘me’ time can help you so much more than you think it will! Spending a small amount of time de-stressing yourself will make all those things you need to deal with easier. Go on, try it- what have you got to lose?

Are you worrying too much? Do you find yourself spending all your time worrying? One thing that can really help is to have a ‘worry book’ on hand. Every time you have a worry, write it in your worry book. Then allocate yourself a period of time during the day to acknowledge your worries- make sure its not bedtime though, as those thoughts will just swim around your head! Take 30 minutes (no more- it’s worry time, not worry hours!), perhaps after dinner, or when you’ve put the kids to bed, and get your worry book out. Have a look at your worries. Can you do something about it? If so, it’s a problem, not a worry- and problems we can do something about!

If it is something in the past, or something that we physically cant do anything about, it is a worry. Write it in your worry book, acknowledge it in your worry time, and whenever it pops back in to your head during the day, say to yourself ‘Yep, that’s a worry for me- but, it’s in my worry book/I’ll put it in my worry book, and I will look at it later in worry time!’ distinguishing between what is a worry and what is a problem can be very helpful and give us some perspective about things we can do and things we cant.

Finally, seek out help- if you are feeling low, call a friend, call the Samaritans, CALM or SANE to talk to someone. Don’t suffer alone! If you don’t feel like your GP is taking you seriously, talk to another one. Just like some people specialise in holiday insurance and others in pet insurance, GP’s have specialisms too! Some are just better dealing with mental health difficulties than others!

If you do decide to go for counselling, it is really important that you find a counsellor who fits with the way you think and feel. If you don’t feel safe and listened to by one counsellor, go to another- as counsellors, we really want you to feel confortable with us; we wont take offense if you don’t! You cant like everyone in this life!

So, don’t let your mental health get to the point that you feel there is no hope. There is help out there, if only you can find it. And, you know what? People are a lot less judgemental than you think, and that stigma you perceived from your colleague? Well, maybe they just don’t really know what to say, but they do want to help!

 


Grant, J.B., Bruce,  .P. and Batterham, P.J. (2015) ‘Predictors of personal, perceived and self-stigma towards anxiety and depression’, Epidemiology and Psychiatric Sciences, vol. 1, August, pp. 1-8.

Samaritans 08457 90 90 90

SANE 0845 767 8000

CALM 0800 58 58 58 or by text on 07537 404717

 

 

 

Phew- What a Scorcher!

Hi Everyone!

Hasn’t the weather been glorious this week? I have been sat in training this week, so I have missed most of the sunshine!

I am just writing a brief blog post today, as I wanted to share with you the training that I am working with this week- it is called Havening Techniques and, so far, proves to be working very well!

Havening Techniques can deal with traumatic events in your past, that can cause difficulties in your present. Havening Techniques can also help to deal with strong emotions. It is a relatively new form of Therapy, and, as such, most people have never heard of it!

I will be looking for volunteers to work with over the coming months- in order to gain my Practitioner certificate, I will need to treat and record case studies for 30 clients. In order to be part of my study group, you will need to agree to (anonymously) have your data written up and for some of you, to agree to being filmed whilst undergoing your treatments!

So, if this sounds of any interest to you- do get in touch!


 

* For more information, go to www.havening.org

Being Mindful of Mindfulness!

I was on a Mindfulness course last week- Mindfulness is a really hot topic with Mental Health workers at the moment. I have been working with Mindfulness for around 4 years, so I thought I would scrub up on my techniques and ideas and get back into my Mindful practice for myself!

Did you know that in 2012 there were 40 new papers on mindfulness published every month according to Google Scholar? Guardian journalist Barney Ronay noted that 37 new books had been released that week alone! I think that this demonstrates just how popular mindfulness has become.

Mindfulness, the act of paying attention, in a non-judgmental way, to ones own experiences of the here and now. So, what exactly does that mean? Well, exactly what it says- paying attention to what is happening to you, around you, in the moment that you notice them.

Whenever anyone is going on a mindfulness course, the first thing people who are experienced in mindfulness will say to him or her is “Wait until you do the raisin exercise!” What? What on earth is that? Well, a good way to explain mindfulness is to take a raisin. Don’t eat it- you are jumping the gun there! Hold it in your hand. Have you ever really looked at a raisin? Have you noticed the colours? Have you held it up to the light and looked at the brown and amber hues that are in front of you? Have you ever looked at the creases, the ridges, and the folds? The size of the raisin or the shape of it? Have you felt it between your fingers? Is it squishy? Hard? Smooth? Textured?

No? I am sure you haven’t. Not really. Not closely.

Well, let’s not stop there! Pick up the raisin. Put it to your ear. Do you hear anything? No, of course you don’t, but then roll the raisin between your fingers. Can you hear the squeakiness of the raisin now? The slight grinding as you roll the raisin between your fingers?

Take the raisin and hold it up to your nose. Take a deep breathe in- can you smell it? What does it remind you of? Christmas cake? Cinnamon rolls? Is it a slight smell, or pungent?

Now, put the raisin in your mouth- but don’t chew it or swallow it! Roll it around in your mouth and really feel it. Put it between your teeth, give it a little squeeze. Can you feel the textures and the taste starting to spread? Gently chew the raisin, experience the flavour. Is it sweet? Bitter? Finally, swallow.

Now. I bet you haven’t experienced a raisin like that before, have you? You could do the same with making a cup of tea or brushing your teeth- any activity that you do during the day, that you can break down and really pay attention too!

So, what on earth has fiddling with a raisin for the last 10 minutes done for you, eh? Well, by exercising all of your five senses, your cortisol level has decreased (stress hormone) and you will feel calmer than you did before you started. By looking at things from a visual, auditory, kinaesthetic, gustatory and olfactory sense (see, hear, touch, taste, smell!) you have brought yourself into the present moment. You are not thinking of that annoying colleague today at work and you are not thinking of all the work you need to do tonight to prepare for tomorrow. You are in the moment, and that moment is peaceful and calm.

So, by practising this every day (for those of you in the know, it is VAKGO. Yep, snazzy, eh?) we can just stop what is happening, take a few minutes out of life to relax and calm down, before we go on to the next busy period of the day.

So, how exactly does being mindful, which can actually be a personality trait anyway, actually be beneficial? A study in 2011 suggests that

Evidence suggests that mindfulness practice is associated with neuroplastic changes in the anterior cingulate cortex, insula, temporo-parietal junction, fronto-limbic network, and default mode network structures” (Hölzel et al., 2011)

Say, what?! Well, what this means is that by practicing mindfulness, area’s of the brain, associated with neuroplastic changes (referring to changes in neural pathways and synapses that occur due to changes in behavior, environment, neural processes, thinking, and emotions – as well as to changes resulting from bodily injury) in areas of the brain that are responsible for attention, focus and regulation. Simply put, by utilizing mindfulness you can actually change the structure of your brain (the area’s that are ‘plastic’) for your benefit; to increase your sense of personal perspective awareness, your attention and focus, your emotional regulation and your body awareness.

Nah, that’s not real. Once your born, your brain doesn’t change. Well, actually it does- as we grow so does our brain. Our neural pathways and synapses develop and change, according to our environment, what we learn, what we don’t learn and genetics. So, if we train our brain to be present in the moment, really present, we can grow the area that we use to focus and pay attention. What magic is this, I hear you ask? Well, it is simply the wonder of the human mind- although science has come along way over the last 100 years, we still do not really know how the brain functions; we are learning more every week.

So, if mindfulness is so magic, why isn’t everyone doing it? Well, I cannot answer that one, I am afraid! What I can say is that mindfulness is NOT a cure all. It is a technique you can use to develop and enhance your day-to-day life. In fact, there are studies available that say certain people should not practice mindfulness; a study in 2012 concluded that there was not enough data available to fully analyse who should or should not partake in mindfulness meditation or therapy, but that people for whom there are deep-seated mental health difficulties or long term psychological affects, mindfulness meditation may not be appropriate (Dobkin, Irving and Amar, 2012).

The reason that mindfulness may not be appropriate for some people is that the act of mindfulness takes us deep in to meditation- by doing so, we are relaxing and allowing ourselves to be in the moment. If you have any traumatic experiences that you perhaps haven’t dealt with, or that still trouble you, the by going in to the mindful state can reduce your inhibitions, and the safety mechanisms, the defence mechanisms you have in place, to protect you from your difficult thoughts, are suddenly lowered, which can leave you in a very troubled place.

So, this blog then becomes a cautionary tale! Mindfulness, to some, seems like it is a waste of time, however, this is not what we are seeing from the studies that are coming out. Mindfulness has been shown to reduce anxiety and depression and to help with many other issues people have. However, it is not a one size fits all therapeutic achievement. In fact, if you are not in the right place in your life, in the right state of mind, mindfulness could in fact be quite dangerous for you- raising traumatic memories that you have repressed, hidden deep down or simply memories that you actually don’t want to, or can’t, deal with. Mindfulness is not the be all and end all that we originally thought it to be, the studies are showing this, but. That said, it could really work for some people.

So, if you are having difficulty sleeping, or are feeling stressed from your busy life, why not take 10 minutes out of your busy day to practice some mindfulness meditation (as long as you are not in the group of people discussed above, for whom mindfulness is contradictive!)? It doesn’t have to be the raisin, although, why not? Perhaps you are just going to use the VAKGO to notice what is going on around you, or you are just going to close your eyes and concentrate on your breath. In and out, slowly, clearly, purposefully. You never know. After 10 minutes of it, you may feel like a whole new person!


 

Dobkin, P.L., Irving, J.A. and Amar, S. (2012) ‘For Whom May Participation in a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program be Contraindicated?’, Mindfulness, vol. 3, no. 1, March, pp. 44-50.

Hölzel, B.K., Lazar, S.W., Gard, T., Zev, S.O., Vago, D.R. and Ott, U. (2011) ‘How Does Mindfulness Meditation Work? Proposing Mechanisms of Action From a Conceptual and Neural Perspective’, Perspectives on Psychological Science, vol. 6, no. 6, November, pp. 537-559.

 

 

Death To All, But Metal \m/

Sometimes, you read a piece of research that really makes you sad, but sometimes, you read a piece of research that makes you smile and laugh- this is one of the blogs!

This week, a piece of research came out that really spoke to my soul (and, in particular, the teenager in me!)- the study comes from America, but is equally valid in the UK. As a teenager, and even now, I was heavily in to the ‘Alternative scene’. I didn’t listen to pop music, I listened to Grunge, Metal and Goth music, and the music seemed to offer a sort of peace of mind- I wasn’t the only person who thought this way. In fact, despite outward appearances and behaviours, I was actually really quite normal (if there can be such a thing as normal!).

So, the team in the USA wanted to find out- did the Heavy Metal kids from the 1980’s go on to lead a happy life? The back story to this study started, I guess, in the 1970’s with the birth of Heavy Metal music- bands like Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and Kiss had come to the forefront and exploded out of our stereo’s. Common myths were expounded at the time- if you played Sabbath’s records backwards, you would get a message from the devil! Now, we know that this is not the case, but back in the 1970’s and 1980’s, people genuinely feared for the sanity and the health of ‘Heavy Metallers’. They were seen as Satanists, or Occultists, and that no good would ever come of them and all they were trying to do was to get one over on ‘Big Brother’.

However, in reality, if you were in to this scene, you would know that this wasn’t true- the music was an escape for a lot of people, for the bad things that were going on in their lives. It gave people, who, like me, were ‘different’, somewhere to come together with likeminded people, talk, party, socialise and have something in common. To us, we were the normal ones, and the ‘norms’ were all weird!

So, back to the study- what did happen to those 80’s Metallers, and are they still living their Satanically demonic, drug-fuelled lifestyles? Well, the answer seems to be quite clear- the study from Humbolt State University utilised Social Media, to get together a group of 99 fans of Metal music, 20 musicians and around 20 ‘groupies’ (usually women, but sometimes men, who followed the groups around) and used a control group of a similar age, who were in to pop music, how their lives had turned out (Howe et al., 2015).

The heavy metal fans and groupies, but not musicians, reported that during their childhood they experienced more adverse childhood experiences than the control group did, with the groupies being particularly prone to suicidal tendencies. So, what does this tell us? Well, it tells us that the fans of metal music could have been drawn to the music because of the underlying themes of the music and the tone of the music, which seemed to tie in with their real-life experiences- life being dark, serious, moody and challenging; quite unlike the airy-fairiness of pop music.

The cohort of the study were examined against controls of attachment In their adult years (how well they form and keep personal relationships), the Big Five personality traits (openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism) and how this interacts with their personalities and how they function with them. Comparing the control group with the test group found that there was really not much difference between the two groups, psychologically- despite the Metal groups early childhood difficulties.

So, what about now? How are they dealing with life now? Well, believe it or not, the Metallers actually feel as content in their lives as the ‘norm’ group, but, crucially enough, the Metallers actually recalled being significantly happier in their youths and only one third of the metal group expressed any regrets in their lives, whereas in the control ‘norm’ group, at least half of them actually expressed regrets over their lives, and this group actually had a higher occurrence of commencing counselling for emotional problems.

So, what this seems to suggest to us is that by listening to Metal music, the test group actually managed to get through their tumultuous teenage years, fairing better than their ‘norm’ counterparts. Perhaps this does lend weight to the belief that the music allows its listeners a sense of freedom, a sense of being understood and a sense of catharsis about their lives, allowing for the free expression of their emotions and creating an outlet for the frustrations of adolescence.

One of the most interesting parts of the study was that the Metal musicians actually did better in this study than their counterparts- that actually implies the idea that the musician group of the cohort were actually highly functioning. This means that the musicians decided what they wanted in life and pursued their goals until they successfully completed their ambitions, thus making a career out of a ‘hobby’ that they were incredibly passionate about. Which, just goes to show that, if you have a past time that you truly love and are completely passionate about, if you follow your dreams, you probably will be a lot happier than your peers and counterparts.

One word of warning though- a third of the musicians went on to contract an STD during their lives, which, when accepting that they averaged over 300 sexual partners each, doesn’t seem to be much of a surprise! Remember kids- always practice safe sex!

I guess that the lesson here is, just because you don’t like it, don’t understand it, or don’t agree with it, doesn’t make it wrong. We are all different, and different things make us happy, elated, confident and strive to make the most out of our lives. Even if it does mean we suffer neck ache when we are dancing!

n.b I am away training next week, so I am thinking of changing the blog posting day- Don’t be surprised to see a post earlier in the week!


Howe, T., Aberson, C., Friedman, H., Murphy, S., Alcazar, E., Vazquez, E. and Becker, R. (2015) ‘Three Decades Later: The Life Experiences and Mid-Life Functioning of 1980s Heavy Metal Groupies, Musicians, and Fans’, Self and Identity, vol. 1, no. 25, May.

Medication or Therapy- Which is Better?

Depression- we all know the signs, right? Wrong. I have lost count of the amount of clients I have seen, who have sat in front of me saying “But, I’m not depressed though, am I?” after having reeled off a very impressive list of depressive attributes. Depression creeps up on you, slowly. At first, you’re just having a bad day. Then a bad week, and before you know it, you’ve had so many bad weeks; they’ve turned into months and possibly years.

There has been a lot of academic argument lately, within the Institute’s of Psychiatry and Psychology- an argument is being put forward that the long-term use of psychiatric medication is causing more harm than good. Professor Peter Gøtzsche, the director of the Nordic Cochrane Centre at Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen is currently arguing that the ‘minimal’ benefits of psychiatric drugs are exaggerated and the harms (including suicide) are underestimated (Gøtzsche, Young and Crace, 2015). For those people who are on medication, and find it works, I am sure that they would argue the odds with these authors, and be angry at their assertion that medication has minimal benefits. Medication, which for some people is a lifeline, seems to be being dismissed so out of hand and so easily.

There have also been articles with regards to Mindfulness – and other talking therapies, that have appeared recently, advocating the benefits of Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), which was developed as an explicit intervention to reduce relapse and recurrence in depression; the study goes on to find that there is no evidence that MBCT is better at avoiding depressive relapses than antidepressant treatment (Kessler et al, 2015). So, what does that mean for the ‘layperson’? Well, it means that talking therapies can be as effective as medication, but that it depends on the illness that is being treated and the person themselves, but also how that person responds to the medication and the talking therapy.

Let’s not forget- medication needs to be taken regularly, and may need to be adjusted to find a dose that works for the person effectively, or that the medication prescribed is not actually working for the individual and a change of medication may be needed. But also that, in terms of talking therapies, it is crucial that you find a therapist that you can get along with, that you trust and that you can open up to- creating the working alliance of the therapeutic relationship is key to ‘good’ therapy (Clarkson, 2003).

The combination of using medication and talking therapies can prove to be very useful for some people- the medication can work to combat the symptoms of the depressive illness and the talking therapy can help to support the patient to deal with any underlying issues that may have caused the depression (Hollon et al, 2014). So, as you can see, a two-pronged attack seems to work also. There was another study in 2013 that suggested that neither medication nor talking therapies worked any better than each other (Cuijpers et al, 2013) which was a meta-analysis- a meta-analysis is where all the current studies for the related field are looked at, and an overall summation of the findings is given.

So, what does that leave you with? You are not a study, cohort or focus group- all the studies I read tell me what I may find, but in reality we are all very different and we each need to find what works for us. A doctor can help you find the right medication, and a therapist can supply the therapy – the important thing is that whether its meds of therapy type, if it did not work for you, don’t give up, try something else; another therapist, go back to you doctor, go to a new doctor. Keep trying until you find the help and support you need.

Well, in my experience, medication is great- if you can find one that works, get the dosage right, then it can really help to resolve the physical manifestation of depressive illness. Sometimes, we do not know what has triggered the depressive illness, and sometimes we do- when we do know what has caused it, coming to therapy can really help gain a sense of perspective, or put old ghosts to rest. Even if you don’t know what has caused your depression, talking to a professional can really help and may even help you understand the cause. As therapists we are there to listen and be non-judgmental; we wont tell you to ‘buck up’ or ‘snap out of it’, as we know that saying that to you wont help you and it certainly wont work! If you could really just ‘snap out of it’, wouldn’t you have done that months ago?

The World Health Organization (WHO) believe that 1 in 10 of us will suffer with depression at some point in our lives, and it is the leading cause of disability in the world (yes, really!). Depression can affect anyone, at any time. We don’t know what causes depression and much, much more research needs to be done in the area. Depression does tend to run in families and it can be caused via a genetic and environmental combination. You may not realise you are depressed to start with, other people may recognise it in you first, or you may recongise that you are just not feeling as good as you used to.

It can be difficult to support someone going through a depressive illness, especially if you have no experience of depression and don’t understand what is happening to your loved one or friend. The important thing is to listen to them; be patient and encouraging, but above all, show kindness and compassion. And, you know what? The same applies to yourself, if you are suffering with depression- be kind to yourself, acknowledge that you are going through a bad period and do not beat yourself up over it. Something I like to say to my clients is “What would you say to a friend, if they were in your situation?” because, you can guarantee, you wouldn’t be harsh on a depressed friend, so why be harsh on yourself?


 

Clarkson, P. (2003) The Therapeutic Relationship, London: Whurr Publishers.

Cuijpers, P., Sijbrandij, M., Koole, S.L., Andersson, G., Beekman, A.T. and 3rd, C.F.R. (2013) ‘The Efficacy of Psychotherapy and Pharmacotherapy in Treating Depressive and Anxiety Disorders: a Meta-analysis of Direct Comparisons’, World Psychiatry, vol. 12, no. 2, pp. 137-148.

Gøtzsche, P., Young, A.H. and Crace, J. (2015) ‘Does long term use of psychiatric drugs cause more harm than good?’, British Medical Journal, vol. 350, May, p. h2435.

Hollon, S., DeRubeis, R., Fawcett, J., Amsterdam, J., Shelton, R., Zajecka, J., Young, P. and Gallop, R. (2014) ‘Effect of cognitive therapy with antidepressant medications vs antidepressants alone on the rate of recovery in major depressive disorder: a randomized clinical trial.’, JAMA Psychiatry, vol. 71, no. 10, October, pp. 1157-64.

Kessler, Lewis, G., Watkins, E., Brejcha, C., Cardy, J., Causley, A., Cowderoy, S., Evans, A., Gradinger, F., Kaur, S., Lanham, P., Morant, N., Richards, J., Shah, P., Sutton, H., Vicary, R., Weaver, A., Wilks, J., Williams, M., Taylor, R.S. et al. (2015) ‘Effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy compared with maintenance antidepressant treatment in the prevention of depressive relapse or recurrence (PREVENT): a randomised controlled trial’, The Lancet, April, Available: http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(14)62222-4/fulltext [20 May 2015].

 

 

Disappointed with the Result? Bear this in Mind!

Here in the UK, we have just had our General Election, which we have once every five years. Now, I know that some of you out there are going to be left feeling disappointed and disenfranchised, but others will be feeling the opposite (I will not be pledging my own Political allegiance here- I learnt at a very young age not to argue about Politics, Religion and music!). And this is where this blog is going- disappointment and how it affects our lives.

There is a general feeling of apathy and dysphoria in the Nation, at this moment in time- I am wondering, have you ever felt that in your life? Do you sometimes wonder where you are going with your life, why you are in a cycle of repeating mistakes, or just that you seem to be disappointed with your lot in life? We all do, at some point in our lives, but it can become a problem if this is our outlook for extended periods of time. In fact, for some people, even just a short period of time feeling like this can be extremely detrimental to their mental health. You know, ‘cos Mental Health Matters, don’t it?

Lots of people are sceptical about therapy- I encounter it all the time. “Oh, you’re a Psychologist? Read my mind then” or the other familiar “Oh. You’re a Psychologist.” Then nothing. They don’t want to talk because they think I will psychoanalyze them the whole time! This doesn’t happen, I just want you all to know this- even Psychologists need time off to kick off our DM’s and enjoy a party!

Saying that, there has been some articles in reputable UK publications of late, to do with something you may never have heard of; Mindfulness. “What is Mindfulness?” I hear you ask! The Dictionary definition of Therapeutic Mindfulness is;

“A mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.”

 I bet you’re thinking “Mumbo Jumbo?” Well, according to a recent study published in the most ‘reputable’ of medical publications, The Lancet (Kuyken, 2015), Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) is nearly as effective as taking prescription Antidepressants alone- out of 424 participants, after two years, 44% of the MBCT patients relapsed as opposed to 47% of Medication only patients. So, what does this tell us? Well, surprisingly, MBCT is more effective than first believed.

There are a few issues here, with the Mindfulness study- the scientific description of Mindfulness changes from provider to provider. Now, because it is available on the NHS, MBCT has proven its efficacy (that it works) and so, if it can work on the NHS, then maybe, going to a reputable provider (if seeking private therapy), will also be the same.

The main critique with this study is that the Mindfulness patients had already suffered three or four bouts of depression (depression can be a right b*gger that way) and were already on a maintenance dose of medication. The common thinking has been that the combination of talking therapies, be it MBCT or CBT or Person-Centered, with medication is the best form of support for someone with recurring depression.

So, where does this fit in with disappointment? Well, disappointment and depression can both be caused by life’s tribulations. In one study, disappointment was ascribed to being the resultant causes of ‘what might have been’ or the ‘outcome of unfavourable decisions’ (Zeelenberg et al., 1998). Sound familiar to anyone? Mixed up in there is also the emotion of regret; perhaps you regret your vote yesterday? Perhaps you regret making a decision that ‘could’ of had a more favourable outcome? Whatever it is, life is full of mistakes, disappointment and regret- as well as happiness, joy, love and positivity! The problems only come when these two opposing forces are unbalanced.

So, that Mindfulness stuff, eh? How does that work then? Well, MBCT blends Mindfulness with CBT, so we learn to be in the present, instead of focusing on the future and the past. It helps us to come to terms with the decisions we have made; the disappointment, the regret, and focus on the here and now and how we can make the most of our lives as they are.

MCBT looks at what is going on for you now, and how the impact can be lessened for you- it gives you a specific set of skills, to practice for everyday life. No, it is not just meditation, it is being mindful of what is happening, your surroundings and not skipping forward to the end result.

According to the London School of Economics, 1 in 6 adults will be affected by depression during their lifetimes. That is a significant number; really, a lot. So, if you are feeling that way, please know that you are not alone and there is help available.

If you are interested in Mindfulness based therapy, have a look at the NHS website for more information. Many of your local GP surgeries, in the UK, will also offer free courses in Mindfulness. So, what are you waiting for?


 

 

Effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy compared with maintenance antidepressant treatment in the prevention of depressive relapse or recurrence (PREVENT): a randomised controlled trial; Dr Willem Kuyken, Rachel Hayes, PhD, Barbara Barrett, PhD, Richard Byng, PhD, Tim Dalgleish, PhD, David Kessler, PhD, Glyn Lewis, PhD, Edward Watkins, PhD, Claire Brejcha, BSc, Jessica Cardy, BSc, Aaron Causley, BSc, Suzanne Cowderoy, MSc, Alison Evans, MSc, Felix Gradinger, PhD, Surinder Kaur, BSc, Paul Lanham, Nicola Morant, PhD, Jonathan Richards, BSc, Pooja Shah, Harry Sutton, Rachael Vicary, PhD, Alice Weaver, BSc, Jenny Wilks, MSc, Matthew Williams, MSc, Rod S Taylor, PhD, Sarah Byford, PhD The Lancet, April 2015.

Zeelenberg, M., Dijk, W.W.v., S.R.Manstead, A. and Pligt, J.d. (1998) ‘The Experience of Regret and Disappointment’, Cognition and Emotion, vol. 12, no. 2, pp. 221-230.

 

 

Laughter- the friendly medicine.

So, tonight is going to be a really quick blog post- I have been training all day and am shattered (remember back to a previous blog where I said it was ‘ok’ to give yourself a break? Well, this is it!). I will be writing about my training today in next week’s blog though- so look forward to a long in depth article then!

I was working this week with a new client- new client’s are always interesting, as you don’t know their story and it is a ‘process’ to develop a rapport with your client, into what we called the ‘working alliance’ (Clarkson, 2003). The Working Alliance is basically a term for the way in which we work with our clients- in order for you to tell me about yourself, we have to get on, you have to engage with me enough to feel comfortable enough to talk about issues that can be very challenging.

Now, notice how I didn’t say ‘we’ need to engage with each other? As a therapist, my work is all about engaging with you, as the client. I am ready from the moment you walk through that door- you could tell me the very worst thing in the world, and I will openly accept, listen and empathise with you. You don’t even have to know me. That is my job. As a therapist, I am a keen listener and what a therapist does do, is to afford you Unconditional positive regard (Rogers, 1951)- that whatever you say to me, whatever your experience is, even though I many have never experienced it myself, I can listen to you without judgement. Accepting all that you tell me and actually caring about it, too.

As a therapist, I am ethically bound to be empathetic and congruent to you, as a client. What this means, is that I am open to what you say, and am listening- I can understand and imagine, or empathise with you about how that must feel and how difficult/challenging/funny/scary it is. After all, it is about being genuine and if I am not genuine with you and honest, how could you hope to gain anything from our meeting?

These are the core conditions of my training- I hope it is what makes me an understanding and empathetic therapist. But, sometimes, for some clients, this isn’t enough. They still experience difficulty in the therapy room and it can take some time to get to know each other well enough, for you to feel like you can open up to me. And you know what? That is fine. It is ok to take your time!

I was reading a study about how, after laughing, we are more inclined to open up and tell others personal details about ourselves (Gray, Parkinson and & Dunbar, 2015)- the study used groups of participants, who were each shown a different video, prior to writing down five pieces of personal information about themselves, which they were prepared to share with their companions. They were shown either a comedy clip, an uplifting but sobering clip or a neutral clip from an instructional golf video.

The only difference in their reactions was laughter. I remember doing a similar experiment during my Psychology degree, except we were measuring our heart rate. Laughing, for obvious reasons raised our heart rate. I remember thinking, well, how can this be linked to anything interestingly Psychological? But here it is- the laughter made that group of participants share more intimate details about themselves than the other clips.

So, I guess you will be wondering, what does that have to do with being in the therapy room and talking about yourself? Well, as therapists, we are only human, you know. We smile, we joke and we are guilty of laughing at the wrong thing, sometimes. So, perhaps, when sharing our information, a more light-hearted approach could be used? Maybe we should share a joke or two, before we start our sessions? I know that, the longer I see you for, the more we talk about, the more we exchange pleasantries and the more we will laugh or smile at the beginning, middle and end of a session. So, I guess, laughter does actually bring us closer together- it helps us to feel comfortable with the person we are with. I imagine, that laughter is a great leveller for all people.

It has been found that when we disclose information about ourselves, it increases liking of us in the other person, and increased liking increases the likelihood of laughter. Increased liking leads to further self-disclosure and before you know it, you are part of a disclosure liking cycle! (Collins and Milner, 1994) So you can see how talking about ourselves, liking and laughter all go together hand in hand.

Unfortunately there is also an opposite cycle where by fear of rejection in the face of disclosing prevents disclosure – leading to increased isolation, loneliness and depression. (Wei, Russell and Zakalik, 2005). The thing is, in therapy, I won’t reject you. I won’t laugh if it’s not funny and I won’t make you feel bad about a decision you regret.

So if you are feeling low, and someone invites you out somewhere, and you don’t really feel up to it, you need to ask yourself a question. Which cycle do you want to ride? The fun bike to town? Or the same one you have been riding in the rut you have been stuck in?

The flip side to this, I would assume, is when we are out and about socialising. Perhaps if we are giggling too much, we relax too much and allow ourselves to say things we didn’t mean to? Perhaps it isn’t just ‘all the alcohol talking’. The study described how laughing could be a ‘social lubricant’. By the very nature of therapy, this seems to go against the grain; after all, I am supposed to be empathic and congruent towards you. But, perhaps you would like to see me laugh or smile? Maybe that makes me more real to you? Whatever it is, and however we are in the therapy room, I am there for you and we can talk and develop a rapport; even if we don’t laugh!


 

 

Clarkson, P. (2003) The Therapeutic Relationship, London: Whurr Publishers.

Collins, N.L. and Milner, L.C. (1994) ‘Self Disclosure and liking; A Meta-analytic review’, Psychological Bulletin, vol. 116, no. 3, pp. 457-475.

Gray, A., Parkinson, B. and & Dunbar, R. (2015) ‘Laughter’s Influence on the Intimacy of Self-Disclosure’, Human Nature, vol. 26, no. 1, March, pp. 28-43.

Rogers, C. (1951) Client Centered Therapy, London: Constable.

Wei, M., Russell, D. and Zakalik, R. (2005) ‘Adult Attachment, Social Self Efficacy, Self disclosure, Loneliness, and subsequent Depression for Freshman College Students; A Longditudinal Study’, Journal of Counselling Psychology, vol. 52, no. 4, pp. 602-614.

 

 

 

“It’s Society’s Crime, Not Ours!”*

I was reading some fluffy ladies magazines this week (research, you understand!) when I was quite astounded by the way we view people in everyday life. I have young children, and already, by the time they are 5, they already know that they should be ‘thin’ and that why are some of their classmates even thinner than they are.

So, I was really interested to read this study I found, about age differences and body size stereotyping in preschool girls (Harriger, 2014)- 102 girls from the age of three to five were asked to consider twelve adjectives (six positive and six negative), and to allocate one of these adjectives to one of three females they were presented with. One female was very thin, one was very fat and the final female was average size. There were no other differences between these females.

The result, which I suppose should be unsurprising, is that the three, four and five year old girls ALL ascribed more of the negative adjectives to the fat female and the more positive adjectives to the very thin female.

The second part of the study was for the children to look at nine figures (three fat, three thin and three average) and to choose who their first three preferences would be for playmates, and then to choose a best friend from the selection of nine figures.

Children of all ages tended to choose the thin figure as their first choice, a thin or average person for their second choice and had no bias choices when ascribing their third playmate. However, best friend choices always tended to be the thin figure.

Surprisingly, the three year olds showed more of a bias towards thin figures, as opposed to a bias against fat figures- fat prejudice would appear to grow with age.

Now, this study was only in America, with young girls, so the study would need to be replicated world wide and to include boys into the demographic, but it makes for sobering reading, doesn’t it? The fact that even by the age of three, young girls are conditioned to prefer the company, and appearance of thin people.

Another article I read, just this morning, was from the Guardian newspaper, which suggests that thin people are more likely to suffer from dementia than larger people (Bosely, 2015). Wait just a moment. Hang on there- so; being thin might not be a good idea in the long term? So, another article I read, states that being overweight means that you will find it more difficult to get a job, due to fat bias, fearing that fat people are ‘lazy’ (Parry, 2015). Ok, what is going on here then? Am I supposed to be fat or am I supposed to be thin? Which one is it World? Come on, I AM WAITING!!!

Whichever size you are, surely what matters is how people respond to you; and herein lies the problem. People judge people, all the time. We can’t help it. Even the most non-judgemental person in the world has their bad days, or a subject that strikes a chord with them. But what about tolerance? What about caring for others?

The fact that three year old girls find thin people more acceptable than fat people shows a huge flaw in our society- no matter how much we want to be thin, for some people, for whatever reasons, that might just not happen. The same can be said for thin people- perhaps they wish they were a little larger, but can’t put on the weight.

I feel sadness for young people in this technological society- they can’t win. As demonstrated by the two different newspaper articles- you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t. When the newspapers get hold of a picture of a celebrity, on the beach, not looking their best, the headlines scream offensive comments about bulges, wobbly thighs, stretch marks and cellulite. The next day, the same celebrity is on the newsstands again, but this time, she is wearing a beautiful dress, showing off how thin she is- and the newspapers mock her for being too thin, and that she should put on more weight.

Our young people are bombarded by this media, 24/7 (yes, when you think your son/daughter is in bed sleeping, they are on Snapchat, Instagram or Oovoo with their friends, sharing pictures and stories and further perpetuating the beauty myth) and it is relentless people! The pressure on our young people, to be thin, to get a job, to get good grades, to get a partner, is immense. Somewhere along the line, we need to give them a break and support them to understand that we are all different and that is ok.

Some people, however, are taking a stand, and saying “NO” to the fat shaming- Plus size models such as Tess Holliday (@Tess_holliday) are standing up for women, in particular, and saying that my shape, your shape, their shape- it’s all ok! #effyourbeautystandards has become a moniker for the disaffected and is gathering momentum, which is vital when fighting societal prejudice!

So perhaps we need to start to normalise bodies at a much younger age- a thigh gap may not be achievable for your body frame, no matter how hard you try. Perhaps, like Kim Kardashian, you will always be a ‘shapely’ figure. Or perhaps you will always be as thin as Nicole Richie. I am not in any way saying that these women are healthy or not, or that they do or do not have issues with food or eating; I am merely commenting on their shape and size. And what I am saying is that both shape types are normal for society- some people are naturally curvy, and some people are naturally very thin.

As with anything, there are varying degrees of normal, whether you are on the lighter side of the scale, or the heavier- what is important, is body confidence and how you feel (health, is of course a big issue and I am not denying it’s importance). We need to ensure that our children are healthy, yes, but also that they see the differences in people, and that all differences are normal. Whether it is your weight, your religion or your sexuality- we are all NORMAL here!

These prejudices are a function of society and as such there is an aspect that you may not have considered. If there is a societal prejudice that an overweight person will be less competent than a thin person, this prejudice will also be held by overweight people, leading to an undermining of self-confidence in their abilities.

So I guess, the challenge for us all, will be to question the way we think about people we know, especially when they are acquaintances, rather than friends, and ask ourselves “Am I really being fair in my mind, whether it is conscious or not, as to what I am thinking and saying to that thin/fat person? Am I really crediting them with the skills that they actually have?” And more to the point, am I being fair to myself? Because this, being kind to yourself and increasing your self-confidence, can be hard to achieve.


 

 

Bosely, S. (2015) Society pages, 10 April, [Online], Available: http://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/apr/10/underweight-people-face-significantly-higher-risk-of-dementia-study-suggests [10 April 2015].

Harriger, J. (2014) ‘Age Differences in Body Size Stereotyping in a Sample of Preschool Girls’, Eating Disorders, vol. 23, no. 2, pp. 177-190.

Parry, L. (2015) Mail Online, 8 April, [Online], Available: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-3030815/Overweight-needn-t-bother-applying-job-Nearly-half-employers-unlikely-hire-fat-workers-fear-lazy.html [10 April 2015].

* Quote from Montegue Withnail, 1969

 

 

 

 

 

The Issue Behind The Headlines.

The murder suicide of Andreas Lubitz last week, with Germanwings flight 9525 was a terrible tragedy, for all concerned- the 149 victims and their families must be devastated by what the Co-Pilot chose to do. In all the news reports, there has not been any sympathy garnered for Andreas, or his family. Some may say that he does not deserve it, but I would be one of the first to disagree with this perspective. I am not saying that Andreas is absorbed from any responsibility for his actions; I am saying we need to learn and grow from them.

This kind of murder-suicide has happened before- from my research, at least 9 times before. That is a lot. Too many times, if we are being honest. From the news reports, it would appear that there have been failings at many levels- both from the Co-pilot himself, and the process of risk and safety and security from the airlines. One can only hope that these processes have all been re-evaluated in the light of 24th March’s events, and that the situation of one person being alone in the cockpit will not happen again.

I am no aviation expert; I do not know the rules and regulations of air flight. What I do know, are people. Although not an expert in people, I have dedicated the last 10 years of my life towards learning about the ‘human condition’ and what makes us ‘tick’. Over the years, the stigma of depression has decreased, but as demonstrated in the last week; we are still not over the fact that 1 in 6 people suffer depression in their lifetime, and that this is a completely normal illness.

The failing here, I believe, was in company policy- had Germanwings had a policy that there was always to be two people in the cockpit at any given time, as in the US, Andreas would not have had the opportunity to do what he did. So, this then begs the question- was it premeditated or a spontaneous act?

When people suffer with depression, usually, the only people that they are willing to hurt are themselves. Suicide is a form of self-harm; an extreme form of self-harm, but self-harm none the less. The problem with screening for this type of event, is that it would bring up too many false positive’s (Eliason, 2009); making it unfeasible both ecologically and financially.

Most murder-suicides are actually between couples, or estranged couples (Eliason, 2009) and premeditating factors are; substance abuse; divorce and separation; 88% of the time, the victims are female; depression was a risk factor, but in most of the cases of murder-suicide, this was between a couple who had broken up- not an aircraft full of men, women and children. The supposition that Andreas had recently split from his partner is there, but as yet there is no proof to determine this, or indeed if it was a cause or effect of his mental state. But aren’t we getting away from the point here, just a little?

Murder-suicide is rare, especially of this magnitude. Not everyone who is depressed is going to kill themselves, let alone anybody else; so, surely the question here, is why is someone who was mentally ill being demonised for actually being… well, mentally ill? We do not know the factors involved, but what we do know is that the resulting chaos in the press has served to stigmatise mental illness even further. Headline such as ‘Crazed Pilot’ from the Daily Mail; web articles with titles such as ‘Mad, Sad or Bad’ are screaming out the prejudice that society still serves towards mentally ill people.

Dr Paul Keedwell, a Psychiatrist at Cardiff University, was quoted in the Independent newspaper as saying “Among cases of murder suicide in general, the rate of previously diagnosed depression varies from 40 to 60 per cent, depending on the context. Of those who are depressed, very few are being treated for it..” (Connor, S 2015). But most crucially, amongst professionals, the consensus is that murder-suicide is not explainable by depression. Therefore, something more is going on in play here, but, because most of the people who are involved in murder-suicide, who know the perpetrator, are actually the victims of the crime, we cannot get a real psychological pathology of what was going on for the perpetrator at the time (Eliason, 2009).

But again, surely there is something wrong here? Yes, a crime has been committed, and the person who committed it, who we are calling the perpetrator, well, surely they, too, could be considered a victim? I don’t know about you, but the above statistic is actually quite frightening- up to 60% of people among murder suicide cases are not being treated for depression- what we have to ask, is why? If they are not being treated for depression, and the consensus is that murder-suicide is more than just depression- where are the health care system, and employers, letting us down?

Professor Michael Anestis, director of the Suicide and Emotional Dysregulation Lab at the University of Southern Mississippi states that ‘we are not particularly good at detecting risk; who’s going to do it and when’ (Bruenig, E. 2015). Reasons cited for not disclosing mental illness are fear or repercussions professionally and personally. And there in lies the problem. Mental illness, of any form, is still so radically stigmatized that the people who genuinely need the help, are not seeking it. Suffering a mental illness does not have to mean that your life is over; it does not have to mean that you lose your job. What it does mean, is that if you look for, and get support for your illness, there is help available.

In the UK, we are not used to paying for healthcare; we expect everything to be free, as we are lucky enough to have our NHS (National Health Service). However, with budget cuts and a rapidly expanding population, more prone to mental illness (or is it just the fact that we are more likely to report it? That, my friends, is an issue for another blog post!), it means that we are having to look to private healthcare to gain the mental health support we need, and perhaps that is where the model falls down? By having private therapy, individuals who are worried about their professional or private lives, can try to mitigate some of the fall out. Not all, but some. We think nothing of paying £45 for a pair of shoes or a console game, but when it comes to our mental health, we just don’t want to part with the money. So, herein lies the trap- individuals in need do not want to go to their Doctors, but they also deem private care too expensive. Where is the middle ground?

Well, it revolves around reducing the stigma attached to depression and mental illness. The more we can remove this stigma, the more people will seek help for their difficulties. This wont stop every murder-suicide- it would be impossible to catch everyone with one net- but it could help to change peoples lives.

Why are we still stigmatizing mental health, in this day and age? We know that there can be genetic factors involved; we know that stressful events can trigger depression and we know that sometimes, due to our brains physiology, depression can just happen. So, if it could happen to you, then surely it could happen to me? And you. And you. And you. See? If we keep the stigma of mental health, at some point it may affect you or someone you love.

From the headlines I have seen, it is fairly true to say that there is still a huge stigma towards mental illness in the media- an Australian Mental Health Charity, Sane, found ‘that SANE research from 2007 found that inaccurate and prejudiced assumptions about people with a mental illness could be reduced through increased accurate and helpful reporting in the media.’ So, have the headlines of the last few weeks really been helpful? Or have they just served to increase our societal prejudice towards mental health issues?

We need more empathy, more concern and more understanding towards mental health; if we do this, people will not be so afraid to come forwards to get the help they really need. It isn’t fair to all those families out there, suffering because of a silent illness. After all, how do you know that your family isn’t suffering because of a loved one’s health? Or if you do, are you too scared to open up about it, because of what others will think?

Either way, more tolerance is needed. I am not saying this would of stopped Andreas from his horrendous actions, but perhaps, just perhaps, openness, understanding and awareness of mental health issues could stop people feeling like they have no other option, by reaching them before they get to this point. It’s your choice- choose to reduce the stigma.


Bruenig, E.S. (2015) The Germanwings Mass Murder–Suicide Shows the Importance of Depression Intervention, 30 March, [Online], Available: http://www.newrepublic.com/article/121405/germanwings-pilot-andreas-lubitz-struggled-severe-depression [01 April 2015].

Connor, S. (2015) Germanwings Plane Crash: ‘Murder-suicide’ cannot be explained as depression, say experts, 27 March, [Online], Available: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/germanwings-plane-crash-murdersuicide-cannot-be-explained-as-depression-say-experts-10140104.html [02 April 2015].

Eliason, S. (2009) ‘Murder-Suicide: A Review of the Recent Literature’, Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and Law Online, vol. 39, no. 3, September, pp. 371-376.