My Experiences

What exactly is meant by the term ‘mental wellbeing knowledge’ ?

This post a little bit different to my normal stuff, but there is something that has captured my curiosity recently. I’m currently in the job searching process, looking to be a researcher in mental wellbeing. In a lot of adverts I come across, I notice that one criteria provided in the person specification is a knowledge of mental wellbeing. This has got me thinking, what does it exactly mean to have knowledge in this area?

Traditionally, knowledge is associated with qualifications; someone who has knowledge in mental wellbeing may have gone to university and gained a degree in psychology or mental health. A lot of the time, employers see qualifications as knowledge, but I feel that in the world of mental health, having and gaining knowledge can take more forms than just formal qualifications.

Some individuals may have no formal education in mental health. But what they do have is life experience from their own journey. Their knowledge is gained in the form of lessons that they have learnt along the way. These people may have suffered from or may still be struggling with their mental wellbeing. Although they have never been to university, they have learnt techniques that aid them with their own mental wellbeing. I think that online mediums such as Youtube are so valuable in the acquisition of knowledge and allow individuals to learn about mental health and wellbeing regardless of their background or financial. Myself, I have learnt so much about mental health from watching others talk about their mental health online and reading books on the subject. In some cases, individuals may have a mixture of formally credited knowledge and knowledge acquired elsewhere.

After thinking about this, I’ve come to the conclusion that all of the people mentioned in this post have mental wellbeing knowledge, and in both cases this knowledge is credible and has the power to benefit others. Theory and studies are great sources of knowledge, but there’s also a lot of knowledge to gain from those that has been through experiences relating to mental health. In my case, it’s very unlikely that I will get a formal qualification, but I’m grateful for the knowledge that is provided by others through online mediums. Online blogs, Youtube and Instagram all have a credible part to play in the distribution of knowledge and shouldn’t be underrated.

I hope I have been able to express myself clearly in this post, as there is a bit of an emotional influence behind this post. But I feel it highlights a key issue; in a world where more mental health research is needed, I worry that those who want to help but don’t have the formal qualifications to do so are locked out (although I totally understand that in some cases qualifications are needed to ensure vulnerable people are kept safe).

What do you feel it means to have mental wellbeing knowledge? I’d love to have a discussion below.

research

Sun, Sea and Self-doubt – The effect of reality TV and social media on self-image

I thought in this post we could explore the concept of body image and influences upon this. The theory behind our own perceptions of our body image seems increasingly relevant right now for a couple of reasons. Firstly, many of us will have made new years goals in an attempt to change how we look and feel about ourselves. This may include exercising more or giving up something that we feel is bad for our health.

Secondly, this Sunday marks the start of the biggest reality TV show in the UK right now – Love island. For those who are not aware of the format of the show, Love island brings together a group of people in a sunny villa somewhere lovely and hot. Most of these people appear to be young and what popular culture deems to be ‘attractive’ at the time. They all enter the villa looking for love, and I believe couples are made and challenged with the arrival of more young ‘attractive’ people throughout the series. I’ve never personally watched the show (apart from the one time a woman was watching it on the train next to me) so I can’t pass judgement upon it. But I thought I would explore the effects of this type of reality TV and the social media that surrounds it has on individuals behaviours with reference to their perceived self-image.

Watching shows like Love island can have a detrimental effect on our mental health and how we feel about our own bodies. As humans, we have a natural desire to make social comparisons. This means if we are unsure about something, we will look to others to determine our own social and personal worth based on how we stack up against others.

Seeing the contestants on Love island and their apparent ‘success’ from being on the show, a lot of people may place them in high regard and look to them to show them how to behave. The problem here is that the type of people that are contestants on the show demonstrate a lack of body diversity, with most being muscly and super-slim. Some may look at the bodies of the contestants and feel insecure about themselves. The shows boss has recently defended their casting decisions, stating that  contestants were chosen by the producers to represent an “aspirational version” of the show’s audience (Link here).

But what thought is given to viewers when suggesting these types of aspirations? The Mental Health Foundation recently ran a survey on body image. In their survey they found that seeing images of ‘ideal’ bodies can contribute to people feeling more distress and shame about their own body, if it does not match up to the presented aspirational ideal (Link here). Further to this, they found that 23% of 18-24 year olds said they had experienced suicidal thoughts and feelings because of concerns in relation to their body image. Fifteen percent said they had self-harmed or deliberately hurt themselves because of concerns about their body image. As a result of higher levels of body dissatisfaction, an individual may experience a poorer quality of life, psychological distress and be at risk of starting unhealthy eating behaviours.

With contestants going on to have very successful careers in social media afterwards, their influence expands way further than just the programme itself. It’s not unusual for contestants to be paid by companies to promote diet programmes, makeup and skincare on their social media platforms. But this can lead to their followers feeling inadequate and less worthy because they feel their body doesn’t look a certain way. More than a third of 18-24 year olds (34%) said images used in advertising and promotion on social media made them worry about their body image (Link here). An article from the NHS last week states that there has been a 37% rise in hospital admissions for eating disorders in just two years (link here). Claire Murdoch, national mental health director for the NHS said that individuals mental health was being damaged by “massive pressures about body image, fuelled through social media”.

‘In a Society That Profits From Your Self-Doubt, Liking Yourself Is a Rebellious Act’

As programmes like Love island carry on getting ever more popular, it’s even more important to spread the word and promote positive body image. Everyone has the right to feel at home and comfortable in the body they were born in. Below I’ve linked some great instagram accounts that I follow that actively promote self-love and acceptance, so feel free to follow them if you would like to:

https://www.instagram.com/i_weigh/?hl=en – I Weigh is a campaign about radical inclusivity.
https://www.instagram.com/dontcallmepretty_/?hl=en – Big on promoting self-love.
https://www.instagram.com/theinsecuregirlsclub/?hl=en – A space which promotes empowerment through embracing vulnerabilities.
https://www.instagram.com/peterdevito/?hl=en – A inspirational and inclusive photographer

Advice and tips, My Experiences

30 mental health lessons I learned during my twenties

So today marks my 30th full orbit around the sun. In the past 30 years I’ve learned a fair amount about myself and my mental health (some of it I wish I’d learnt a lot earlier). I thought in this post I would write about something a little more personal. Below are 30 lessons I’ve learned regarding my own mental health within the last ten years or so:

  1. There are some people in the world that will just never understand mental illness and the effect it can have on individuals that suffer from it.
  2. But some people do understand, you should hold onto these people for they are gold dust.
  3. Even though it’s hard, opening up to others can make the world of difference.
  4. Try not to be so hard yourself all of the time.
  5. Staying up at night stressing about that stupid thing you did when you were 24 won’t change the present and only causes unneeded anxiety.
  6. Finding a therapist isn’t easy. It’s like finding a relationship, some will work for you, others won’t. Keep looking until you find the one that’s right for you.
  7. There’s no shame in the way you feel.
  8. Don’t live your life to please others, this causes unnecessary stress.
  9. You’ll meet a variety of people throughout your life, some will be good for your mental health, others not so much, try to stay away from these people where possible.
  10. Treat yourself with the same respect you would have for others. 
  11. 99 percent of the bad things you spent hours worrying about happening never actually happened.
  12. If you don’t do anything to change your mental wellbeing, don’t expect anything to change.
  13. Hold onto the small things that make you smile (even if it is just dancing around and miming to the Spice Girls’ greatest hits)
  14. Stop worrying about what you’re meant to be doing to be considered ‘normal’. In this world there is no such thing as ‘normal’. ‘Normal’ is nothing more than a setting on a washing machine.
  15. Looking after your mental wellbeing is a lifelong process, there’s unlikely to be a quick fix.
  16. Don’t feel ashamed of taking medication for your mental health, you’d take a couple of painkillers if you needed to so what’s the difference?
  17. Your mental struggles do not define you – you are not your anxiety.
  18. Listen to what your mind is telling you. If you need a break, take one.
  19. You are not alone in your mental health struggles, even when you feel like the loneliest person on the planet. 1 in 4 people suffer with a mental illness at some point in their lives.
  20. Exercise provides effective relief for anxiety. 
  21. Anxiety is just a natural feeling, it won’t last forever so allow yourself to feel it and trust that it will eventually pass.
  22. Stop kicking yourself for the things you could’ve done differently.
  23. Strangers are not able to instantly see and judge you upon your mental health struggles.
  24. Take the time to look after yourself and your mind may follow.
  25. Your mental health struggles have no effect on your self-worth, you are as worthy as the next person and you deserve just as much happiness.
  26. It’s okay not to feel okay sometimes.
  27. Like my physical health, my mental health should be my main priority in life.
  28. Experiencing panic attacks and anxiety does not make you a failure.
  29. Coping with your mental struggles makes you a stronger person than you’ll ever give yourself credit for.
  30. Whatever happens, just keep moving forward at whatever pace you are able to (as Dory says, just keep swimming…)

My life so far has had its ups and downs with regards to my mental wellbeing, but overall I feel more prepared than ever for the future. Here’s to another 30 years of discovery and mental self care! 🙂

Have you learnt any lessons about your mental health over the past few years? Feel free to share below.

research

The effects of Christmas on mental wellbeing

Whilst putting together my previous post a couple of days ago, I got thinking about the festive period and the effect it has on mental wellbeing. To satisfy my curiosity, I had a browse of online research looking at the relationship between Christmas and mental wellbeing. I found the results of others research to be mixed to say the least. For example, there are articles outlining factors that can have a negative effect on an individuals mental wellbeing such as loneliness (link here) or the dreaded ‘holiday blues’ (more information about this can be found here). But a literature review conducted by Sansone & Sansone (2011) suggests that Christmas doesn’t actually have a negative effect on individuals mental wellbeing. They suggest that at Christmas time, less people are carrying out self-harm behaviour or suicide attempts when compared to other points in the year (link to this here).

I thought it would be interesting to carry out a quick survey to find out peoples views on Christmas and how it effects them mentally. I posted a survey online which contained two questions for people to fill in. The first question asked people to indicate what effect they felt the Christmas period had on their mental wellbeing. The second question encouraged individuals to explain the reasoning behind their first answer. 189 participants kindly took part in this survey, and an outline of the results are below:

The chart shows that for most, the Christmas period does appear to have some affect on their mental wellbeing (only 11% stated that there was no effect). Like the research I had found earlier, there was mixed results, with relatively even numbers of people experiencing good and bad effects to their mental health. Some individuals stated that they experienced both good and bad effects to their mental wellbeing during the Christmas period.

When looking at the reasons given for their answers, the top five ways in which individuals felt the holidays have a good impact on their mental wellbeing are below:

  1. Family – This was by far the most common reason people stated for boosts to their mental wellbeing. Some individuals enjoyed being in the presence of their family and catching up with people they hadn’t seen in a while.
  2. The Christmas spirit – Everyone generally appears to be more upbeat at this time of year. For some individuals, this feeling of cheer and unity was found to have a positive impact on their mental wellbeing.
  3. Decorations – Seeing tree lights, tinsel and glitter made some individuals feel instantly happier.
  4. Break from work – Some individuals appreciated the extra time in bed in the morning and the break from the pressures of their job
  5. Time to relax – Just having extra time to do things they enjoy and look after themselves.

Conversely, the top five ways in which people felt the holidays have a bad impact on their mental wellbeing are below:

  1. Family – This was a very common response, with a lot more individuals giving this as a main contributing factor to their poor mental wellbeing during the Christmas period. Some felt the pressure of having to make conversation with relatives, others just felt that being around all their family tended to lead to stressful events and negative interactions happening.
  2. Financial stresses – Individuals wallets and bank accounts felt the strain of having to take part in Christmas. This strain can lead to stress.
  3. Gifts – One person labelled this as ‘gift anxiety’, individuals were worried what gifts to buy everyone and making sure that these were appropriate.
  4. Missing loved ones – Some individuals are separated from their loved ones and this time of year reminds them that they are not here anymore.
  5. Stress – This covered individuals feeling stressed and pressured to carry out family traditions and other obligations that arise at this time of year.

I found the results above to be very interesting, especially the fact that family is both the most common factor in both of the top five lists. I think this really stresses that everyones minds are different and their own; what some really relish in doing may not be another persons idea of a good time.

I find myself relating to items from both lists and generally I feel that overall Christmas time results in mixed effects for my mental wellbeing. I would like to know what effect do the holidays have on your mental wellbeing? Are there any tips you would give to help others who may be struggling?

Advice and tips

The most wonderful time of the year? – Looking after your mental wellbeing at Christmas

The twinkling of Christmas lights, the sound of Bublé in the air and the sight of some truly terrible jumpers, Christmas can really be the most delightful time of the year. But despite this, it can still be a difficult time for those who suffer from anxiety disorders.

My anxiety wasn’t present during the first 15 or so years of my life. I guess Christmas was just exciting to me back then. Nowadays I find myself needing to look after my mental wellbeing more at this time of year. Things like gift buying, seeing people I haven’t seen in a long time and just other general stress at this time can have a knock on effect on my anxiety and mental well-being in general.

I thought in this post I could offer some tips on how to cope with the festive period if your mental wellbeing tends to suffer. These tips are by no means proven, they are based on my own previous experiences and having to learn to cope with my own anxieties at this time of year:

You are what you eat

For some this may not be the case, but I find that my anxiety tends to behave a little better the healthier I eat. This time of the year is associated with lots of delicious, but somewhat unhealthy food. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t eat all the exciting festive offerings (I’m not a total Scrooge), but I’ve found it to be beneficial to try and tame general indulgences. I’ve found this to be really helpful when it comes to things like caffeine and alcohol. It’s about getting that perfect balance between having fun but also considering the effects on consuming certain things on your mental well-being. Understanding your limits can really help, for example I’m happy to have a traditional glass of champagne, but I’ll always stop at one.

Have a break (Kit Kat is optional)

It’s totally normal for Christmas to be overwhelming at times, even for those that don’t struggle with their mental wellbeing. It’s important to take regular time out for yourself, this is definitely not a selfish thing to do. I will often take time out to do something I enjoy for a little while (for me it’s reading). Doing something that you personally enjoy can be a great way of eradicating or easing any negative feelings that you may be having at the time.

Be a lover not a fighter

Accept how you feel and stop working against yourself. No two people think and feel the same, what a boring place the world would be if that was the case. It’s okay to feel how you do. If you don’t feel festive, totally fine. Not in the mood to have in-depth conversations with relatives you see once a year? Then don’t. I fought against my own feelings for years and felt terrible because of the way I’ve behaved and felt in certain situations. Give yourself a break (it’s Christmas after all). Just accept that you feel how you do. If you become anxious, don’t fight it, I’ve found this to actually make the feelings worse. Instead, accept the anxiety and understand that the feelings will subside, like a storm in the ocean. Don’t let others tell you how you should be feeling, they aren’t in your body.

Keep active

It’s pretty common knowledge that exercise has positive effects on mental well-being. But as the nights draw in and the temperature drops, it can be difficult to keep active. Ensure that you do a little something each day, even if this is a short walk outside. Your mental well-being may thank you for it.

Keep your fire burning

I think this is my most important advice. It’s so easy to work your mental health into the ground these days, but this burnout can be detrimental and difficult to come back from. If you can sense that you are struggling the do something to help. This could be talking to someone, or delegating things in order to reduce stress. Don’t worry about being a burden by putting things on your friends and family, if they love you, they honestly won’t mind. It personally took me a while to realise this and be comfortable in asking others for help.

So remember, check in with yourself and your mental wellbeing on a regular basis and don’t be afraid to avoid anything which will have a negative impact on this. It’s not being selfish, it’s called self care.

To all my blog readers, I wish you all good health and a pleasant Christmas! 🙂

research

Sadfishing – the latest social media trend or something more sinister?

The other week, I was watching daytime TV (something I rarely do these days actually) and there was a panel discussion show on. I heard them mention a word that I’d never heard before – sadfishing. On the TV show they had a discussion about it and the impact it can have on young people’s mental health. Watching this got me intrigued to know more about this latest social media behaviour and understand exactly how and why it can have such a detrimental effect on the mental wellbeing of some individuals.

So what is sadfishing? Put simply, sadfishing involves an individual posting an emotional message on social media in an apparent attempt to attract sympathy or hook an audience. They often exaggerate their feelings in order to elicit a desired response. This term was coined at the beginning of 2019 in response to Kendall Jenner sharing her ‘raw story’ and ‘awful’ past skin experiences on Instagram in order to encourage people to buy Proactiv, a type of skin care product [3].

An example of ‘sadfishing’

The phenomenon has also been used by other celebrities, with Justin Bieber recently telling his 119 million Instagram followers: “It’s hard to get out of bed in the morning when you are overwhelmed with your life.” These behaviours are starting to be copied by young people, with some of them being more open to sharing their sadness and mental health woes online.

But the uprise of this latest social media trend appears to be affecting the mental health of some individuals. Digital awareness UK recently released a report stating that the uprise in sadfishing is making it difficult for young people who are facing genuine mental health difficulties to seek online support [2]. They surveyed 50,000 teenagers (aged 11 – 16) and they found that for most of them who had posted something regarding their mental wellbeing, they had faced being bullied as a consequence of their post. This lack of online support may leave young people feeling disappointed can subsequently make their emotional or mental health problems worse. 

Sadfishing can also lead to a person becoming addicted, they crave the attention that they get from their actions [1]. If they don’t get the attention they desired, this could have a detrimental impact on their mental wellbeing. Sadfishing behaviours may result in individuals oversharing information, which can leave them vulnerable, as sometimes complete strangers may be reading what they post. The digital awareness report [2] describes a case study where a teenage girl who, after posting about her depression online, was approached by a friend of a friend who shared their experiences in a supportive manner. But this relationship soon turned sour, and ended up with him pressuring her to send explicit pictures.

In response to the information above I thought I would conduct a short survey to see if sadfishing is something that is still currently happening and try to understand the effect it has on the individuals carrying out these behaviours. I created a survey which I posted on Reddit, the results of which are quite interesting. 82 people completed the survey, all of which were under 30 years old.

When struggling with mental wellbeing or feeling sad, 26% of people stated that they were likely to post about it on social media. 27% of people indicated that they had posted about their mental wellbeing on social media when they had been struggling in the past. Of these people, the diagram below highlights what kind of response they were expecting from posting such information online:

What kind of response participants wanted

Compare this to the actual responses they state they have received:

An overview of actual responses received

When asked what effect sharing this information on social media had on their social media:

23% said it had a positive effect on their mental wellbeing.

27% said it had a negative effect on their mental wellbeing.

45% said it had neither a positive or negative effect on their mental wellbeing.

This survey is far from scientific quality, but I feel it outlines the role that social media plays as a method of communicating when an individual may be struggling with their mental health. I found it interesting that 1 in 5 of the people that posted information didn’t expect any response to it, almost like the process of posting was more of a cathartic release for them. I also feel the results show the difference in the effects of posting to social media on each individuals mental wellbeing. It would be interesting to investigate this further to understand what factors influence the effect of posts on mental wellbeing.

References:
[1] https://www.jameshornsby.essex.sch.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Sadfishing.pdf
[2] https://www.bbntimes.com/en/companies/sadfishing-the-latest-toxic-social-media-trend
[3] https://metro.co.uk/2019/01/21/sadfishing-social-media-trend-making-misery-profitabl-8367931/

My Experiences

Are we all bus drivers?- a mental wellbeing metaphor

This week I was travelling on a bus. Whilst travelling I observed something which I felt was such a fitting metaphor for mental wellbeing that I feel I should share it. In a way I love bus journeys. I live in a fairly rural place, so when I’m on the bus I’m usually looking out the window to be greeted with serene scenes of fields, livestock and wildflowers. I find that travelling down country lanes is so often suitably calming.

On this particular morning, I was sat at the back of the bus, watching the world pass by on the outside. There was a variety of passengers on the bus, all varying in their appearances and ages; there was a small child in a pram talking to its mother about big dogs, next to an elderly gentlemen reading the days news in the Guardian. Although full of different people, there was a peaceful equilibrium as the bus drove peacefully through the lanes. As the bus progressed, it picked up and dropped off people, still maintaining its peaceful environment.

But at one stage of the journey a young couple got on. They sat down and started a heated discussion, apparently the guy had been seeing someone else and hadn’t told his partner. This argument got louder and more aggressive between the two as the journey went on, and the environment began to feel hostile. Although things in the back of the bus were beginning to become nasty between the couple, the bus driver still had to drive on. They couldn’t pull over because it wasn’t safe to do so. Also the driver had to keep to the set timetable, so they just carried on driving, transporting this negative energy with them. While all this was happening, a bus passed on the opposite side of the road. The bus drivers shared a friendly hello gesture and a smile as they passed each other, irrespective of the events happening in the back of their vehicles that they were transporting around.

At this point I found myself reflecting upon this, comparing the bus to an individuals mind. The chaos that ensues inside an individuals mind is not totally visible to those outside, similar to that of the events on the bus. Irresponsive to the events on the bus, the driver presents a positive face to other drivers as they pass. I feel this to be representative of the face that an individual presents to others. For some who are living with mental distress, they may feel the need to cover this up, often appearing smiley and cheery to others, regardless of their actual feelings. We are all bus drivers in a sense; travelling with our own passengers and events going on. I just found this metaphor to be so fitting I felt I had to share.

So be kind to your fellow bus drivers, even if you can’t see inside their vehicle very well. You just never know what chaos they may be having to handle inside.

Advice and tips, My Experiences

Social anxiety and coping with job interviews

Earlier this week I had a job interview, the first one that I’d actually had in a little while. For me, interviews send my anxiety into complete overdrive. I become hyper aware of myself and the fact that in this situation I am actively being judged. Being this aware can lead me to being extra cautious of what I’m saying for fear of coming across badly. This was the exact case during this job interview, I found myself struggling to speak and at times my mind completely blanked out (another common behaviour I’ve experienced with my anxiety).

Safe to say, I didn’t get the job. One of the interviewers stated the reason being because I didn’t explain myself thoroughly when I was talking, and I actually agree with them. My anxiety was really prominent during the interview but I’m proud that I came through it in one piece and this is the positive I take away from the experience.

Reflecting on this experience, I thought I would benefit from looking up some advice about coping with job interviews when you suffer from anxiety. I thought I could share the advice I find in the hope it can help others who also struggle with similar issues to myself.

How you feel is completely normal

Being confronted by an interview panel, anyone is bound to be nervous. For me, my anxiety can make me feel so isolated and alone at times. But in this situation, accepting that anxiety is a completely natural feeling is the first step towards working with it. Some of the sources I read even suggest that you shouldn’t be afraid of anxiety and that it could even be harnessed to your advantage. The adrenaline caused by anxiety may actually be beneficial when you’re in a job interview situation. For me personally, I think adopting this viewpoint may be of benefit.

Seeing Success

There’s a technique suggested which draws upon theory surrounding positive thinking. It states that those who are prone to anxiety should take some time out in a quiet spot to visualise themselves being successful before the interview. It is claimed that if done properly, this visualising technique may actually be preparing your mind to behave in a certain way during the interview. I think this technique is quite interesting and it’s used by elite athletes before competitions to improve performance, so I might give it a try myself.

Slow and steady wins the race

During job interviews, my anxiety results in a tendency to want to answer questions as quickly as possible. But on reflection, one of the websites I found stressed that there’s no need to rush with responses. If you pause before giving your answer, it gives you a chance to collect your thoughts and this could stop your mind going completely blank while you’re talking. If your mind does go blank, ask for a moment to collect your thoughts. Or you could even ask the interviewer a question to buy yourself a little more time to think (like “as a matter of fact, I was thinking…”). I think with anxiety, the fear of blanking out can almost be enough to cause it to actually happen. I find this advice reassuring and will definitely try it in the future.

Get outside yourself

Anxiety can make an individual become very self-conscious, I myself am particularly susceptible to this. One way of getting around this is to move your focus onto others. Some sources have explained how you can do this by asking others questions (like asking the receptionist or interviewer how they are) and being empathic to their answer. Actively engaging with others, although this can be difficult, may actually help an individual with anxiety to feel calmer.

Another way of shifting the focus comes back to the practise of interviewing the interviewer. This mindset involves you realising that job interviews are also a chance for you to evaluate your employer. You are as much deciding if the job is suitable for you as the employer is deciding if you are suitable for the job. Asking them questions shows curiosity and shifts the focus from yourself.

Although I found lots of advice that I personally feel will be helpful, there was also a lot of advice on the internet which I felt to be quite patronising. Some advice was the standard ‘just be calmer and breathe’ (like that’s an easy thing to do when you’re on the edge of a panic attack). I even found advice that suggested you ensure to wash your hands before each interview to reduce anxiety (I have no idea either).

I think reflecting on my experience this week it just comes down to practise makes perfect. Sometimes I really hate anxiety, but I feel the only way for me to personally address mine is to expose myself to it as often as possible to give me a chance to accept it and work with it. I aim to learn from my job interview experience and keep challenging myself to do more. I hope this article is useful to some of you who may be struggling with similar issues to me.

Here’s a list of websites I found useful and drew upon:
https://www.verywellmind.com/tips-cope-with-job-interview-anxiety-3024324
http://overcomingsocialanxiety.com/why-you-can-still-face-job-interviews-even-with-social-anxiety/
https://introvertdear.com/news/interview-socially-anxiety-introvert/
https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/career-transitions/201503/10-ways-calm-your-interview-anxiety

My Experiences

Meet Rosie – How getting a dog helped my mental health

Hey everyone, I hope you are all doing well and having a lovely week.

I thought for this post I could introduce you to my best four-legged friend called Rosie. Here she is:

Rosie’s a cockapoo and she loves nothing more than eating, chasing squirrels and having a nap. My family decided to get her a couple of years ago and she’s a rescue dog. At this point in my life my mental health was really suffering, I was generally very anxious and would experience panic attacks on a regular basis. I didn’t know it at this point, but having a dog in my life was to change my mental wellbeing for the better. I feel so lucky to have met Rosie and I thought in this post I could discuss some of the reasons why I think getting a dog had a benefit on my mental wellbeing.

Her love is unconditional

Rosie shows me love and affection, no matter what I look like. She loves me as much first thing in the morning as when I am fully dressed up. I’m someone who has a lot of personal hang ups and anxieties about my appearance, so I find this so comforting. It’s definitely helped me to accept how I look without my make-up on and I even feel more confident in showing others my bare face now too.

She provides a distraction

When I start to feel anxious, I make some time to spend time with her. Just playing with or walking her is a great distraction for me and helps me to remove my focus from whats making me anxious. She is very good at bringing me back to the present moment. I can enjoy my time with her, which stops me worrying about the future and the anxiety that surrounds this.

She unintentionally makes me smile everyday

When I’m struggling with my mental health, it can feel really desperate at times and it feels like nothing will make me feel happy ever again. Since getting Rosie, I’ve noticed that I smile more often and that these are genuine smiles of joy. Everyday she never fails to bring a little bit of happiness to my life, whether that be from her funny ‘wobbling’ walk or her determination to carry as many of her toys as possible in her mouth all at once.

She’s a great companion

As they say, a dog is a mans best friend. I work from home a lot and this comes with its own sense of loneliness. I’m okay with the concept of solitude, but my anxiety is not. When I’m alone I find my mind can go into overdrive and I’m more likely to start thinking irrationally. Rosie spends most days at home with me and I find her company relaxing. She has a laid-back approach to life and spends a lot of the day asleep, but just knowing that she’s here with me is so reassuring.

She’s one tough cookie

Rosie hasn’t had the best start in life, but she’s still here and loving life. Seeing her thirst for life and all that it brings is such an inspiration to me. It might sound a bit silly to say I’m inspired by a dog, but it’s the way she attacks her fears and faces them head on. Granted that a lot of the time she doesn’t have a choice in what she does (for example, each month she goes to the groomers, a situation of which causes her great anxiety), the fact is that she gets through these experiences. This has encouraged me to face a few more situations that would normally cause my anxiety to kick in. I just try to think of all the experiences and situations that Rosie has overcome in her life and this gives me a strong feeling of strength to carry on.

Overall, I’m so grateful to have met Rosie and I hope that I bring as much joy into her life as she does into mine.

Do any of you have pets? and if so what effect have they had on your wellbeing? I’d love to know.

research

Mental Illness Awareness Week – What exactly is mental health stigma?

So this week (6th – 12th October) is Mental Illness Awareness Week. I thought in this post I could talk about one of the biggest issues for people living with mental health problems – the stigma surrounding it. I’ll be honest, I’ve never fully understood what the word ‘stigma’ actually means. I’ve assumed it is something to do with negative associations, but I’m curious to find out more. I thought I could add to the discussions this week by raising awareness of mental health stigma, what it is and the effect it has on the individuals whom it is directed towards. Hopefully others will find the information I uncover as insightful as I do.

The actual word stigma is derived from the greek word ‘stizein’. A stizein was known as a distinguishing mark that was branded into the flesh of slaves or criminals so that others would know who they were and that they were less-valued members of society (1). Because of the markings, these individuals were often avoided by others in public spaces (2).

A common definition provided by Erving Goffman in 1963 describes stigma as ‘an attribute that is deeply discrediting’ and reduces an individual ‘from a whole and usual person to a tainted, discounted one’ (2). Other researchers have built upon this initial work to define stigma as ‘stereotypes or negative views attributed to a person or groups of people when their characteristics or behaviours are viewed as different from or inferior to societal norms.’ (3).

Types of stigma

I found out that there are many different types of stigma when it comes to mental health. The main three being discussed were public stigma, self-stigma and label avoidance, although there are others.

Public stigma involves some individuals within the general population endorsing the stereotypes of mental illness they are presented with in their environment (this could be stereotypes presented from the media or from their peers). These individuals then act in a discriminatory manner towards the stigmatised, so an example would be an individual refusing to work with a person with mental illness because they think they might be dangerous.

Self-stigma is when an individual with mental illness discriminates against themselves. An individual can become aware of the stereotypes that others have attached to others with mental illnesses. They then start to agree with the stereotype and apply it to themselves. This type of stigma can lead to devastating effects on an individual’s self-esteem and self-efficacy, making them believe they aren’t good enough or worthy of what other people have (4).

Label avoidance refers to a type of stigma that results from an individual being publicly labeled through association. In the context of mental health an example would be if an individual was seen leaving a psychiatrist’s office, others may think she’s crazy. This type of stigma can have a negative impact on those suffering from mental health issues, as it may deter them from seeking the help that they need.

Effects of stigma for those with mental health issues

There are a number of ways that stigma can have an effect on individuals experiencing mental illness. Here are just a few I found:

Those with mental health issues may fall victim to prejudice, as others may make preconceived opinions on them that have no factual back-up. A study carried out found the top three misconceptions about mental health patients to be that they are dangerous and violent; that they have a low IQ or are developmentally handicapped and that they cannot function or hold a job (5). The strange thing is, studies have shown evidence to dispel these claims of violence and handicap, but people still have misconceptions.

As a result of these misconceptions, those with mental health conditions can fall victim to social distancing. This is where people are unwilling to associate with a person with mental illness. For example, others may turn down offers to meet up for a coffee with someone they believe to have a mental illness (6).

As a result of prejudice and social distancing, those with mental health issues may feel isolated from society. Sadly, the Queensland Alliance for Mental Health observed that people with mental health problems are “frequently the object of ridicule within the media” which does nothing to help the feelings of rejections individuals may feel from society (7). 

Stigma can also lead to internalised discrimination, where an individual suffering with their mental health starts to believe in the stereotypes and misconceptions placed upon them. This leads them to assume they are rejects socially and this has a massively negative impact on their perceived self-worth (8).

Although work is taking place to get rid of mental health stigma, there is still a long way to go. Unfortunately, we still live in a world where some people see having a mental illness as a sign of weakness. Personally, I think some of the strongest people I know are those who are able to live their day to day lives despite their mental health issues. Also, having a mental health issue does not make anyone less worthy or capable.

Have you ever experienced any mental health stigma during your life? Also what do you think can be done to help remove the current stigma?

References

  1. Arboleda-Flórez, J. (2003). Considerations on the stigma of mental illness.
  2. Goffman, E. (2009). Stigma: Notes on the management of spoiled identity. Simon and Schuster.
  3. Dudley, J. R. (2000). Confronting stigma within the services system. Social Work, 45(5), 449.
  4. Corrigan, P.W., Rafacz, J., Rüsch, N., (2011). Examining a progressive model of self-stigma and its impact on people with serious mental illness. Psychiatry Research 189, 339–343.
  5. Canadian Mental Health Association, Ontario Division. (1994) Final report. Mental health anti-stigma campaign public education strategy. 
  6. Corrigan P et al (2001) Prejudice, social distance, and familiarity with mental illness. Schizophrenia Bulletin; 27: 219-226.
  7. Queensland Alliance for Mental Health (2010) From Discrimination to Social Inclusion. A Review of the Literature on Anti Stigma Initiatives in Mental Health.
  8. Livingston JD, Boyd J (2010) Correlates and consequences of internalized stigma for people living with mental illness: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Social Science and Medicine; 7: 2150-2161.