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

 

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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

 

 

 

When is a Therapy not a Therapy?

I have been on a lot of training lately- some I have loved, and some I have found less impressive-  the techniques just don’t resonate with me, so I have decided not to adopt them in my therapeutic work. That isn’t to say that the types of therapy do not work, I just don’t see them fitting in to my practice, be it because of a lack of a rigorous scientific background, or I just didn’t like the form of therapy! This got me to thinking- who is to say what works and why? Whilst pondering this (eternal) question, I found a study in the Psychological Bulletin that really intrigued me.

The study is called The Effects of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy as an Anti-Depressive Treatment is Falling: A Meta-Analysis, so perhaps from this, you can see why my interest was piqued! The study is a meta-analysis, which means that they have taken all the studies (between 1977 and 2014) that are about CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) (Johnsen and Friborg, 2015) and have analysed them to produce an overall investigation in to the efficacy (how it is working) of CBT. The results are, interesting, to say the least!

The study tracked the fluctuations in the effectiveness of CBT over time, and what the study found was that CBT appears to becoming less effective over time. This is not good news for the NHS, as this is the main type of therapy that they advocate. So, why does it appear to be falling out of grace, and why?

The study shows that over a period of time, 1977 to 2014, CBT has become roughly half as effective in treating depression as it used to be. I have to say, that from my clinical practice, I am finding that clients are becoming more and more resistant to CBT- in my (limited!) opinion, it is because we are becoming more self aware, and the more self aware we become, the less we can justify it to ourselves. But then, I am just one psychologist and that is my opinion!

One theory that is being bandied around is the idea of the placebo effect, which I am sure you have all heard of. The placebo effect is the idea that if you take a pill for your headache, and you believe it is paracetamol, but it is actually just a sugar pill, that the power of your mind is so strong that you will believe that this ‘tablet’ has made you better and your headache disappears, even though there was no ‘active ingredient’ in the pill you took.

Perhaps, like a popular friend in your network of friends, CBT’s reputation precedes it; the fact that CBT was hailed as a miracle cure, could mean that people really thought it worked (the placebo effect) when in actual fact, it didn’t work as well as was expected.

Part of this theory is about our expectations, which kind of ties in with my theory on the efficacy of CBT- in comparison to when CBT came about, when it was developed by Dr Aaron Beck in the 1960’s, our expectations of life have changed greatly. We are more realistic about life, in general. So, perhaps we do not expect a ‘miracle cure’ anymore? Perhaps we accept that we are who we are, and we can only change things if we want to? Who knows? That, my friends, is another study waiting to happen!

Another theory is that, as any therapy develops and becomes more popular (which is inevitable!), that the number of incompetent or inexperienced therapists applying these techniques increases. This means that the efficacy of the therapy decreases- if you are not attending CBT therapy with an experienced practitioner, it is not going to work as well. It’s like taking your Porsche to the Skoda garage- it’s similar, but not quite the same, and a Porsche has a specialist management system, so a Skoda garage wont be able to give you as good service as the Porsche garage will; although your car may be fixed to a certain extent, there is still work left to do.

Whatever the reason, life has changed and therapy changes with it. Who is to say that the placebo effect can’t actually help? I mean, if CBT works for you, who cares if it is the placebo effect at work? As long as it works, right? The problem though, lies in if it doesn’t work for you because you have been to an inexperienced therapist, or perhaps, as in my experience, you are actually self-aware and you know what is happening for you. Either way, if the only therapy available to you is CBT, and it doesn’t work, what do you do?

Well, the current therapy du jour happens to be mindfulness. Now, I have been using mindfulness for a few years, and just attended a course to brush up on my techniques, learn any new theories and to make sure I am not an inexperienced practitioner! But, is mindfulness just the next buzz word- in 40 years time, will the studies be there to show us that, just like CBT, mindfulness has become less effective also?

Last week I attended training on a course called Havening Techniques®. Yes, yet another new form of therapy. I have not had enough experience with Havening to fully make my mind up about it, which is why I need volunteers to work with. But, this brings in to question, again, the efficacy of a therapy and the placebo effect- who is to say what is right and what is wrong? If a therapy works for you, and a competent therapist is treating you, then does it really matter what the modality of therapy is? Perhaps, in our ever-changing world in which we live in, the changing modality of therapies is actually useful. Perhaps therapy is adjusting to our different lifestyles and expectations in life?

Back when Freud was just at the beginning of his Psychodynamic theory, life was very different. People did not understand how their emotions effected, and affected their lives. The ‘new therapy’ gave us an understanding of what was happening in our lives. But now we understand, we want to solve our problems. And, in true modern fashion, we don’t want to wait; we want to fix them NOW.

Perhaps this is where Havening® could fit in? Dealing with trauma and emotions in a focused way, whilst, at the same time, giving you techniques to practice at home, where you do not have to be an expert? I don’t know, but I do know one thing- I am looking forward to finding out!


 

★ if you have contacted me with regards Havening therapy; I am in the process of writing contracts etc. to begin the therapy. I hope to be in contact with you in the next week or so to book appointments!


Johnsen, T.J. and Friborg, O. (2015) ‘The Effects of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy as an Anti-Depressive Treatment is Falling: A Meta-Analysis’, Psychological Bulletin, May.

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.

 

 

Procrastination- What Are You Waiting For?

Procrastination. We all do it at some time or another. I know I have- if there is a deadline for an assignment, you will always find me playing a game, or anything to avoid the inevitable! But, I always start with just enough time to get it done. For some people, procrastination is far more stressful- it really affects their lives and can change things for the worse.

So, why do we procrastinate? And does it do us any harm? I read a study posted in the Association of Psychological Science last month, the study stated that procrastination, or rather Trait Procrastination– the tendency to delay important tasks despite the negative consequences- was significantly associated with hypertension and cardiovascular disease (Sirois, 2015). So, although this study highlighted that procrastination was associated with hypertension and cardiovascular disease, it did not provide a causal link- phew, all you procrastinators out there, we can breathe a sigh of relief. For the moment.

20% of people identify as chronic procrastinators (Marano, 2003); meaning that procrastination cuts across all aspects of their lives, from paying bills on time to filing tax returns. Luckily for me, my procrastination only seems to affect writing reports and studies (and yes, this blog, too!), but for other people, procrastination can be literally life ruining.

Chronic procrastination is not a problem of time management, believe it or not! Procrastinators are actually more optimistic than other people- they genuinely believe they will get the work/project/bill paid completed in time! We are also not born procrastinators- procrastination is a learned habit, generally from our familial habits, albeit not directly from our families- it is generally our own responses to being raised within an authoritarian lifestyle.

So, for example, having a harshly authoritarian father will keep you from developing an ability to regulate yourself, by internalizing their own intentions and then learning to act on them. Procrastination can also be a form of rebellion- one of the only ways we feel we can act out within our familial situation. Sometimes parental support is not there, so we tend to look to our friends for support. Now, the thing with friends is that they tolerate our BS, don’t they? They don’t call us on it when we say ‘yeah, sorry, my dog ate my homework’. They empathise with us and let it go- thus reinforcing our procrastination techniques and habits.

Situational procrastinators, on the other hand, make delays based on the task at hand. Procrastination becomes a form of self-regulation failure- you know you should do it, but you just can’t bring yourself to do it, for whatever reason it is, you just cannot get around to doing it, till it is either too late, or it has caused you a problem.

What wont come as a surprise, is that procrastinators actively look for distractions! I remember writing my dissertation and finding that the whole house was ‘desperately’ in need of a clean before I started the work! The thing is, procrastinators tell themselves lies- we say ‘I work best under pressure’ or ‘its not important, I have plenty of time to do it if I start tomorrow’. So, what happens is, procrastinators run out of time- the work that is produced is not of a high enough standard, or we missed buying those bargain tickets to the next gig we wanted to go to.

It may also surprise you to know, that there are three different types of basic procrastinators;

  • The first type is the ‘avoiders’- avoiding fear of failure or fear of success. They would rather that people think they lacked effort than ability.
  • The second type is the decisional procrastinators- when you find it difficult to make a decision. You know, when your friends or partner say ‘where would you like to go for dinner?’ and your response is ‘I really don’t mind’.
  • The third type is ‘arousal type’ of procrastinator- the thrill seekers who are waiting for the last minute for the rush of adrenaline they experience.

So, have you identified which type of procrastinator you are? Are you a chronic procrastinator, or just a casual one- procrastinating in one field or area only? But hey, there’s no problem with procrastination, is there? It doesn’t really matter? Well, actually, that is not true. As I said earlier, there is a study that links procrastination to heart problems, but there is also evidence that procrastination harms the immune system- over the course of one academic term, college students who procrastinated suffered more colds, suffered from insomnia, suffered more gastrointestinal issues and more cases of flu.

Procrastinators have higher levels of stress and lower levels of emotional and harmonial wellbeing. Joseph Ferrari, Professor of Psychology at DePaul University in the USA found that ‘everybody may procrastinate, but not everyone is a procrastinator’ (so, there is hope for me after all!). The Professor says ‘telling someone who procrastinates to just do it, is like telling someone with chronic depression to cheer up’ (Ferrari, 2010). So, what can we do then?

Well, the current level of thinking is that what lies behind a procrastinator’s thought patterns are actually based on our Emotional Regulation. If we can regulate our emotions, and deal with them, then we can stay on task. If we are not enjoying the task, we are more lightly to procrastinate. Ok, so, that’s fine, but as humans, we need to do things on a weekly or daily basis that we don’t want to do, or that we don’t enjoy. So, how can we go about changing ourselves, to reduce our stress and make ourselves feel more harmonious, and less likely to get sick?

One thought of how to do this, is to try to make your current mood a positive one- if we handle this situation well, then our ‘future self’ will be better equipped to deal with these issues in the future (Wohl, Pychyl and Bennett, 2010). Sounds simple, but how do we go about doing it?

One-way could be through Counselling- by attending Counselling we can help the client to realise that they are compromising their long-term goals and aims for short term happiness. Perhaps there is a way that we may feel like we are punishing ourselves for past transgressions- until we open up the emotions and reasons why a client procrastinates, then we cant really get to the core of what we can do to stop it, or improve the situation.

Mindfulness therapy can be really helpful with this- by really appreciating the current moment, and not thinking so far in to the future. By learning Mindfulness skills, you can really put yourself in the present moment and appreciate that moment for what it is. Perhaps then, you can possibly see the damage that procrastination is doing to your self, your stress levels and your ability to actually ‘get the job done’.

Secondly, the procrastinator could split their goal down to smaller tasks- this is basic CBT and can be achieved by you or with the help of a Counsellor. Finding and exploring ways in which you can work with your procrastination can be difficult to see or achieve; sometimes it is only when we talk to some one else about what we are doing, that we really see what is going on before our eyes. After all, as I said earlier, our friends kind of let us get away with our procrastination, a Counsellor will not. We wont be mean or cruel, but we will challenge your beliefs and expectations; that’s our job, it’s what we are good at and we do it in a way that is safe and guided by you.

You could also start by imposing your own personal goals and deadlines- if your bill is due to be paid on the 30th of the month, start splitting the task down at the beginning of the month. Start small; with achievable steps that you can tick off when they’re done- nothing encourages us to carry on with our goals than when we actually start to see results!

Emotionally, this can be a slightly tougher nut to crack- you’re going to need to find something positive in the task that you are trying to achieve, which could lead us back to breaking the task down to smaller components and allowing ourselves to be proud of our achievements, not matter how small or trivial they may seem. When it comes to our loved ones, perhaps it is a good idea to not let their procrastination go- challenge them, did the dog really eat your homework, or could you just not be bothered?

But the key to procrastination could be as simple as self-forgiveness- forgive yourself for procrastinating and acknowledge the fact that you did procrastinate. The next time, maybe you will find yourself actually doing the work a little quicker, and hitting your goals and achievements on time.

 


 

Ferrari, J.R. (2010) Still Procrastinating? The No Regrets Guide to Getting It Done., 1st edition, Hoboken: Wiley.

Marano, H.E (2003) Procrastination Psychology Today; https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200308/procrastination-ten-things-know. Accessed May 2015

Sirois, F.M. (2015) ‘s procrastination a vulnerability factor for hypertension and cardiovascular disease? Testing an extension of the procrastination–health model’, Journal of Behavioral Medicine, vol. 1, no. 12.

Wohl, M.J.A., Pychyl, T.A. and Bennett, S.H. (2010) ‘I forgive myself, now I can study: How self-forgiveness for procrastinating can reduce future procrastination.’, Personality and Individual Differences, vol. 48, pp. 803-808.

Troll; a New Name For An Old Game

So, I was going to write a blog piece about how this week is Mental Health Awareness week in the UK, however, I recently made a flippant comment on social media, and all kinds of furore ensued. As I have said before, I won’t argue Politics, Religion or Music; changing people’s opinion is not my mission in life- supporting people to achieve their missions in life, however, is.

I am a fairly laid back person- I believe in the right to freedom of speech and I believe in the right for people to have their own opinions. What I don’t believe in, in any way shape or form, is bullying, and this folks, is what I became subject to- the infamous ‘Internet Troll’! Now, this got me thinking- we can all Pop Psychologise the schemas and mind-set’s of an Internet troll, but actually, what is going on for them and why do they do what they do?

In this day and age, I don’t think anyone under the age of 60 doesn’t communicate in some way via social media, email or text messaging (I have no statistics on this, so this is just a rough guess!) so this made me wonder- what are the studies out there? Has anyone studied Internet trolling? How many people have experienced Internet Trolling and if so, what is the usual outcome?

This might not seem like it would affect you or be something you would come to Therapy with, but, actually, cyber bullying is on the increase- in 2012-2013 Childline (a UK charity) saw an 87% increase in the contact they had with children complaining of cyber bullying. To put this in context, there were 4,507 children who actually had a counselling session from Childline, in a one-year period, specifically about cyber bullying. I couldn’t find any statistics for adults, but if the statistics for children have increased, I would imagine, so too, have the statistics for adults.

My experience of being ‘trolled’ was from someone I did not know, over a comment I made, expressing my own opinion. This person then took it upon themselves to bring me to task for being irrational and abusive- of which, I believe, I did no such thing. The troll decided that I had caused an affront to people and as such, it was their task to chide me. It was, to say the least, intimidating that someone so vehemently, aggressively and dogmatically was ‘baying for my blood’. This person wanted me to pay for what I had said- they felt the need to publicly vilify me, and would not give up until they did.

After a few comments, I politely declined to continue- ‘know when to pick your battles’ is something I have been taught by my parents over the years, and I can spot a troll fairly easily. To be fair, I shouldn’t have even replied to them once, but, I am only human, and so I did. Mistake number 1.

Mistake number 2 was not pushing it to the back of my mind and forgetting about it. It bugged me. Someone was being incredibly rude about me on a public forum, whether deserved or not, and it made me feel uncomfortable.

So, what could I do? Well, I could research- go to my books and look for a reason as to why people like this person feel the need to belittle people and ignore their opinions. What makes the Internet troll think they are right and that everyone else in the world, who doesn’t agree with them, is wrong?

So, firstly, what is an Internet Troll? What is the definition? Well, I found this online, from the good old Oxford Dictionary;

‘Make a deliberately offensive or provocative online post with the aim of upsetting someone or eliciting an angry response from them.’

Now, I have met a few of these in my time, both personally and professionally, but I have never had the displeasure to greet one online. And, linking in to one of my other blog posts (about how we behave and what we write when we are hidden behind a computer screen), I wondered whether Internet trolls are the same in real life, or was it just the safety of the computer that gave them the edge and bravado to behave however they wanted to?

Actually, I guess this does tie in with Mental Health Awareness week- after all, if someone is being/has been trolled for a period of time (or even just once could be enough), this could seriously upset and trouble them. Bullying is bullying, be it online or face to face and we know from statistics, that bullying does cause people to become depressed, suicidal and to even feel like they have no choice left but to take their own life.

So, what makes a troll? Well, according to a study in 2014, ‘trolls operate as agents of chaos on the Internet, exploiting ‘‘hot-button issues’’ to make users appear overly emotional or foolish in some manner’ (Buckelsa, Trapnellb and Paulhusc, 2014). So, an Internet Troll is a very specific type of person- they are actively seeking to make users appear overly emotion or foolish. I can certainly identify with that as being my experience. This study took place in Canada, and consisted of 1215 participants. They were recruited from an Amazon website and were given several, notable and rigorously tested personality scale questionnaires- the Short Sadistic Impulse Scale (SSIS), the Varieties of Sadistic Tendencies Scale (VAST) and a 27 item Short Dark Triad Scale (SD3). Short Dark what? The Dark Triad is effectively a Tetrad of Personality- people who experience and identify more with Sadism, Psychopathy and Machiavellianism. These scales, when filled in, give the researchers an idea of what types of personality make up an Internet Troll. After all, the people who took part in the study were, admittedly, Internet Trolls; so, who better to ask?

What the study found was that the participants, a mix of men and women, commented, on average, at least 1 hour per day. That is 1 hour per day that these Trolls give up to their ‘hobby’. If you had an hour free, per day, I wonder what you would want to fill it with? Perhaps being kind to yourself and allowing yourself some ‘me’ time to do something that makes you feel good? I guess, that is the point for Internet Trolls- trolling does make them feel good; albeit in an odd way. Younger people commented for longer and men spent a greater time commenting that women.

The troll persona would appear to be a combination of a malicious virtual avatar, which reflects their own personality and their ideal self. Of all the personality measures that were studied, sadism was associated most with trolling and was specific to the trolling behaviour. The personality measures also show that trolling had a positive correlation with Psychopathy and Machiavellianism- as the authors of the study describe, ‘cyber-trolling appears to be an Internet manifestation of everyday sadism. Wow. I was not expecting to come across this information. Now, I am in no way saying that my troll had any of these issues that I have discovered evidence for- I cannot possibly know that, and I cannot ‘psychologize’ someone I have never met. For all I know, my troll didn’t understand what they were doing. So, please do not assume I am tarring every troll with the same brush- as with everything in life, there is no black or white, only shades of grey.

Another study claims that trolling is both ‘real and pretend, both playful and malicious’ (Phillips, 2011). So, does that mean that they are just playing with your emotions? Purely for ‘the game’ and ‘the lulz’? In the Phillips study, the troll lays the blame firmly at the recipient’s door- saying that they are free to leave the public forum/social media and just not look at it anymore. But what about the invasion of privacy for the victim of the troll? And why should they be forced out of their social media- don’t we all have a right to be online, how we want and when we want?

Another study describes trolls as ‘Trolls attempt to hijack a discussion through harassment or inflammatory content, hoping to provoke an emotional response. The troll ‘wins’ when discussions descend into virtual shouting matches’ (MacKinnon and Zuckerman, 2013). So, being at the end of a troll’s wrath is a no-win situation. Another study states that ‘the order of society is maintained by morality. Morality has definite rules and conducts, which every member of the society agrees upon and depends on. Morality is functional since it has authority and regularity. Therefore people know how to behave and what is right or wrong offline. In the Internet space, however, people do not perceive clear codes of conducts on the Internet, nor authority and regularity, according to the result of this study. Unlike offline morality reinforced by education, that online morality have not been shared and not even discussed so provides the existence of Troll.’ (Shin, 2008)

For some people, trolling is obviously a hobby- a mean one, but one that they enjoy. The victims, not so much. The effects of online bullying are far-reaching. People who troll online are not necessarily devoid of morals in real life, so, the question remains, why do it online?

Victims of cyber bullying are often told if you cant handle it, get offline. But why should you? So, how do you deal with something as serious as online bullying? Where do you go and what do you do, if you don’t want to go ‘offline’? There is support out there, but the convention seems to be, step away from the Internet! Sometimes, however, the damage is already done.

So what does all this mean, well a person will not necessarily consciously decide to find a deserving victim and become the Troll. But someone will rather come across a situation that fulfills their specific trigger requirements – say an offense to their pragmatic morality, and will punish that victim until they see the error of their ways. They may not see their behavior in same way as an external perspective, and without the feedback inherent in more involved forms of communication, continue without mercy. Cyber-bullying is a relatively new concept, but bullying is not. The same feelings can apply in real life, as well as the virtual.

In my practice, I have worked with clients that have been bullied- some for a short time and some for years and years. The damage that it does to them is intense, traumatic, and to some extent, irreversible. Being the victim of a bully changes you forever; it changes the person you were and creates a whole new person who has to learn to deal with the changes that have happened. Some of the changes can be good- the victim can find strength in standing up to a bully, but this can be rare. Most of the time, the changes are not positive; they wear on you as time goes on.

Coming to therapy can really help the victim; they can talk about what has happened to them and explore what the impact has been on them. However, sometimes, victims feel like they are all alone and have no one to turn to- this is when bullying can take a vicious turn. What the bully feels is just ‘a little bit of fun’ can lead to far reaching ramifications for the victim; ‘Beyond the immediate trauma of experiencing bullying, victims are at high risk of later physical and emotional disorders.’ (Vanderbilt and Augustyn, 2010). And here we are, full circle to Mental Health Awareness Week.

So, a warning for all you Internet savvy people; ‘Both trolls and sadists feel sadistic glee at the distress of others. Sadists just want to have fun … and the Internet is their playground!’ (Buckelsa, Trapnellb and Paulhusc, 2014), Perhaps it is time to be mindful of what we are saying to people, especially online. After all, you never know when it might be you who are the victim of bullying, and not the perpetrator. I know it has made me think twice about posting things online and has certainly made me more wary of how I interact online. I don’t find the Internet my playground, and I don’t want to be teased. Therefore, the only answer is to step away from the keyboard, and make a cup of tea!


Buckelsa, E.E., Trapnellb, P.D. and Paulhusc, D.L. (2014) ‘Trolls Just Want To Have Fun’, Personality and Individual Differences, vol. 67, September, pp. 97-102.

MacKinnon, R. and Zuckerman, E. (2013) ‘Don’t Feed the Trolls’, Digital Frontiers, vol. 41, no. 4, pp. 14-24.

Phillips, W. (2011) ‘Meet The Trolls’, Index on Censorship, vol. 40, no. 2, pp. 68-76.

Shin, J. (2008) ‘Morality and Internet Behavior: A study of the Internet Troll and its relation with morality on the Internet’, Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference, Las Vegas, 2834-2840.

Vanderbilt, D. and Augustyn, M. (2010) ‘The Effects of Bullying’, Paediatrics and Child Health, vol. 20, no. 7, July, pp. 315-320.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

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.

Stress- If I have no time for you, why should I have time for me?

This week has been a very busy week at WH Counselling- setting up on your own is a long, busy process. I have found myself working more than when I work as an employee! I am constantly thinking about work; a new blog post, a client, training, costs, timing- basically, you name it, it’s there! So, if I am so busy looking after the business, where is the time for me?

Whether you are setting up your own business, an employee or a stay at home parent, we will all suffer from one similar aspect- a lack of time and space! We are all too busy trying to get our work done, make sure dinner is cooked, children have done home work, we’ve done that special favour for a friend, or making time to visit a relative- so, what’s in it for me? You may ask, at the end of another busy week!

“I can’t justify spending time on myself, when there are so many other things I should be doing” is a common complaint among people nowadays- why is that? Are we working harder as a generation, or are we just not working smarter? For some people, working so hard is not an issue- they thrive on it. And, as long as it doesn’t negatively impact yourself or others around you, then I guess that is great for you and your sense of achievement. But, what if it is too much? And how will you know if it is too much? Are you feeling stressed and irritable? Do you feel pulled in all directions? Is it just too much effort to go out and meet your friends for a night out? It is? Well, perhaps it is about time you gave yourself permission to have a break!

When we are feeling stressed, all kinds of things happen to us; we may have physical symptoms- feeling tense, headaches, sweating, increased heart rate, butterflies and many more physical responses. We lose the ability to think as rationally as we would, were we not stressed. Our emotions change- we may not want to connect to people as much as we used too, we may feel sad, depressed, lonely, or like everything is too much to deal with. In turn, this can affect our behaviour- when you are stressed, are you more likely to shout at your children/partner/parents? Do you have less patience? Less interest in normal activities and, in turn, you are actually going out less or achieving less?

This is basically our adrenaline kicking in- our adrenaline is a hormone released from the adrenal glands and it’s major action, together with noradrenaline, is to prepare the body for fight or flight. Have you ever heard of our fight or flight response? It is our body’s way of protecting us and keeping us safe from stressful/dangerous/difficult situations. It can happen at any time- an exam could trigger it, being called in to your boss’s office at work, an argument, an accident or any other number of situations.

All of these physical and emotional response are perfectly normal when adrenaline is released- we might feel our chest tightening and a panic attack approaching, but again, this is just our adrenaline causing our fight or flight response. Everyone has one, and everyone has these symptoms at some point- it is a unique and different experience for everyone!

If you are feeling any of those emotions/sensations- what can you do? Well, sometimes we cannot just ‘get rid’ of our commitments and lower what we achieve. Perhaps we are committed to certain practices that we cannot get out of. But what IS important, is that you make time for YOU. “But I don’t have enough time to do that. I have too much going on. I am too tired in the evenings/weekends”- sound familiar?

At this point, it is even more important to make time for you! Life is incredibly stressful, and we all have a level of how much stress we can deal with- if we are already at our limit and the car breaks down, how are we going to deal with that extra stress? Not well! It may tip us over the edge- a problem that we, normally, if we weren’t stressed, could deal with easily, has blown out of all proportion and we just can’t deal with it.

So, what can we do to lower our stress levels? Make time for yourself! Every day, whether it is 30 minutes or a couple of hours; if it is just a bubble bath on your own, a yoga class, a walk, listening to music or reading a book, it is really important to give ourselves some time to relax and unwind. By doing this, we are reducing our stress levels, and then, when the next big stressful event happens, we are capable of dealing with it rationally and coherently.

Have you ever tried breathing and relaxation? By taking a little bit of time out to breathe, we give ourselves some much needed space to think about what we are going to do about the challenge that has just reared its head. By taking a few moments to breathe, it may stop us from saying the wrong thing to the wrong person, or something that we might regret! There are many free apps that you can download, which will help with breathing and relaxation techniques. However, a short ‘mantra’ for helping to relax with breathing, is to ensure that you breathe out for longer than you breathe in for- this reduces the CO2 and allows us a chance to calm and get rid of all the adrenaline that has built up over the stressful period/incident. Please do be aware, that although breathing out will help, it can take up to 2 hours for the adrenaline to leave our body- but, in that time, the body is not releasing more adrenaline; it needs to replenish what it has already released. So, calming down, may take time!

Mindfulness is another tool that we can keep in our stress relieving tool box- “Mindfulness is a mind-body approach to well-being that can help you change the way you think about experiences and reduce stress and anxiety” (Foundation, 2015). In short, it is learning to be in the present, rather than projecting to the future, or revisiting the past, and with this type of ‘relaxation’, it is possible to help with stressful situations. There are plenty of online courses, for free, that can help teach you mindfulness techniques- perhaps this could be part of your ‘me’ time?

So, what I am really saying, is that actually, it is ok to have a bit of ‘me’ time- it is not being selfish, it is taking good care of yourself, so that in times of crisis, you find it easier to cope! Finding the balance of ‘me’ time is very personal to you- what works for one person, may not work for all people, so do bare this in mind when you are working out what will help you! If you are not a sporty person, then there is no point in having your ‘me’ time as a sporty activity!

So, who of you is going to try and incorporate some ‘me’ time in to your day? I know I will be; at the end of the day, we all need a little pick me up from time to time. So, here it is- I give myself permission for some time off- will you?


 

 

 

Foundation, M.H. (2015) Be Mindful intro page, 17 March, [Online], Available: www.bemindful.co.uk [20 March 2015].