research

A Puppy a Day Keeps the Doctor Away? – The Influence of Cute Animals on our Overall Well-being

This week I read some research which was just too delightful not to share. I have often found myself scrolling endlessly through videos on instagram of cute baby animals until the early hours of the morning, I’m sure many of you can relate right? Cute animal videos evoke those ‘warm fuzzies’ we get where we feel happy, positive and all joyous inside. But alongside the instant feelings we get by looking at cute animals, they are beneficial to our general mental wellbeing in the long haul… who knew? 

A study published last year by the University of Leeds examined how watching images and videos of cute animals affected individuals blood pressure, heart rate and anxiety. During the study, participants watched a 30 minute slideshow containing a variety of different cute animals (puppies, kittens, baby gorillas ect.). Participants’ blood pressure, heart rate and anxiety levels were compared before and 30 minutes after watching the slide show. Significant reductions in the participant groups blood pressure and heart rate were found. There was also on average a 35% reduction in the levels of anxiety that the group felt overall (for some, their anxiety was reduced as much as 50%).

Another recent study has supported further the benefit of looking at cute animals (specifically dogs) on individuals overall well-being. In this between-groups study there were three groups of participants who spent five minutes either looking at (a) popular funny posts on Twitter, (b) cute pictures of dogs or (c) Donald Trump’s Twitter feed. Overall well-being was measured on an established scale both before and after the five minutes. The changes in well-being were then compared between the three groups. The biggest and most significant benefit to overall well-being was found in Group B who had looked at pictures of dogs for five minutes*. 

But what is it about baby animals that we are so drawn to? Apparently it’s all down to a phenomenon called ‘baby schema’. As human beings we are automatically drawn to creatures with big heads, chubby cheeks or large eyes near the centre of the face. The warm fuzzies I described earlier come about as a result of wanting to nurture the cute creature and keep it safe from harm (I guess that would explain my sudden need to internally combust whenever I see a puppy in the street).

If you are having a tough day/ week so far, take five minutes to ingest some of my favourite cute animal pictures below:

Hope that helped some of you, it certainly made me feel a bit calmer 🙂

Stay Safe!

*Just for those who wonder, participants in Group C actually experienced reductions in their perceived levels of well-being pre and post viewing Trumps twitter.

60 seconds

60 seconds on… Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

In today’s post we are exploring a mental health condition called obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD for short). This condition appears to have become more known in recent years, with a number of celebrities (such as Leonardo Dicaprio and Justin Timberlake) talking openly about their own experiences of living with the condition. Also, there has been recent news suggesting the number of people in the UK seeking help for OCD has risen sharply since the outbreak of coronavirus, with 72% of those with OCD feeling like their symptoms have worsened (full article can be found here).

Obsessive compulsive disorder is a type of anxiety disorder, involving a vicious cycle of obsessive thoughts, anxiety, compulsive behaviours and temporary relief.

Obsessions are reoccurring thoughts or images. These are often distressing for the individual and make them feel uncomfortable or like they can’t control them. An example of this could be obsessive thoughts that a fire is going to start in the kitchen. These obsessive thoughts can cause levels of anxiety to rise in the individual, alongside feelings of intense fear or doubt. 

Other obsessive thoughts can include:

  • A fear of contamination from body fluids, germs, dirt or pollution in the environment.
  • A fear of losing control of themselves, which could lead them to carrying out behaviours such as harming themselves or others. 
  • A fear about lack of perfectionism. They may feel that things need to be an exact way.
  • A fear of forgetting or losing important things or information.

Compulsions are repetitive behaviours that individuals carry out in order to rid themselves of their obsessions and lower their anxieties. These compulsions often only offer a temporary relief from an individual’s obsessions, meaning they return and the cycle starts again. Relating to the example above, an individual may flick plug switches in the kitchen on and off multiple times in a specific way to try and reduce their fears of a fire starting.

Other compulsions can include:

  • Excessive washing of the body and hands.
  • Excessive cleaning of the environment around them (e.g. household objects)
  • Repetitive checking that their actions haven’t had a negative effect on or harmed anyone.
  • Checking that they haven’t harmed themselves – including checking the physical condition of their body.
  • Avoidance of situations which may trigger obsessive thoughts.

Individuals with OCD experience constant feelings of fear that something bad is going to happen. Although these fears can appear irrational to others, they can be intense or overpowering for people with OCD. Their thoughts replay over and over again in their minds and they can become stuck on these distressing thoughts. They may feel like they aren’t in control of their own mind, they feel like their thoughts are taking over them and putting constant pressure on them. The cycle of thoughts and behaviours that OCD creates can have a negative effect on an individual in a number of ways:

  • An individual may sustain damage to their physical health as a result of their compulsions – for example they may make the skin on their hands bleed from scrubbing too much. 
  • Some individuals may turn to self-medication in order to feel that they can cope with the condition. This can lead to them abusing substances such as alcohol and drugs which can cause further damage to their physical health.
  • Individuals may not feel in control of their own lives and may feel enslaved by their condition. Having OCD can make an individual feel ashamed of themselves and how they behave. They may worry that they are going to think like this forever and they can’t be treated. 
  • They may get anxious about being around others due to their condition which can cause them to become withdrawn from the world around them. This can lead to them feeling isolated and lonely.

OCD can also have an effect on an individuals daily life:

  • It get in the way of them carrying out tasks which could have an impact on their education, where they find themselves able to complete tasks in the set time due to their compulsive behaviours. 
  • Compulsive behaviours may also make it difficult to obtain, sustain and progress in a job. Individuals with OCD may avoid certain situations which can make it difficult to carry out their job properly.
  • An individual’s relationships with others can become strained. If they are with a partner who doesn’t understand the condition, this could cause disputes as they don’t understand the reasons for the individuals behaviours. 
  • Their friends and family may stay away from them when they find out about their condition due to the stigma around mental illness. This can reduce their quality of life due to lack of social interactions.
  • An individual’s obsessions and compulsions can make it difficult for them to look after others such as their children. This could lead to accidents occurring which could have a damaging effect on the parent-child relationship.

I hope that the information above is insightful. I certainly found out a lot more about the condition and just how much of an effect it can have on an individuals life.

60 seconds

60 seconds on… Eating Disorders

In the UK at the moment the government is considering new legislation in a bid to reduce current levels of obesity in the country. One of these measures include food outlets stating the calories of each of their products on the menu. There’s been a lot of debate about this idea, with some suggesting that there’s more to tackling obesity than placing numbers on foods. Encouraging this method of calorie counting can also be very dangerous for individuals who suffer from an eating disorder. I thought for this weeks ‘60 seconds on’ I could provide an introduction to eating disorders and the effect that the condition can have on an individual’s life.

An eating disorder causes an individual’s life to revolve around food. They can become so obsessed with food that they are unable to live their normal lives from day-to-day. Eating disorders can result in an individual conducting unhealthy eating behaviours, leading to damaging results on their physical and mental health.

There are three types of eating disorders: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder.

  • Anorexia can cause an individual to become obsessed with controlling their own weight. This can cause these individuals to compulsively weigh themselves and obsess over their food portions, ensuring that they don’t eat too much. Individuals may carry out excessive dieting and exercising regimes or may purge themselves in order to lose weight.
  • Bulimia can cause an individual to fear gaining weight and carry out behaviours in a bid to lose weight, which include binge-eating and then purging. Often these behaviours are carried out in secret and individuals may appear to be a healthy weight.
  • Binge-eating disorder can cause an individual to lose control of their eating behaviours, leading to periods of binge-eating. But unlike those with anorexia and bulimia, individuals do not purge, fast or exercise in a bid to lose weight. This can leads to individuals becoming overweight or obese.

Having an eating disorder can have both physical and psychological effects on an individual which can have an impact on their daily life:

Physical effects include:

  • Thinning of bones
  • Weakening of body muscles
  • Dry skin 
  • Brittle hair and nails. 
  • In severe cases, eating disorders can lead to brain damage, infertility and multiple organ failure. 
  • Damage to an individual’s heart function, resulting in low blood pressure, a reduced pulse and a drop in body temperature. 
  • Feeling lethargic and tired all of the time, which can make an individuals daily life difficult. For example, they may not be able to leave the house and see their friends because they feel so weak, which could lead to a breakdown in their relationships.

Psychological effects can include:

  • A lack of self-worth and confidence in abilities. Individuals may experience low self-esteem and feel worthless some days, which could lead to them contemplating hurting themselves. A lack of self-esteem can cause individuals not to feel motivated at work or school, which can have a devastating impact on their future. 
  • Finding it difficult to separate their emotions from their eating behaviours, for example someone with anorexia may fast in order to regain a feeling of control after a bad break-up.
  • Feelings of guilt and shame surrounding their eating behaviours. This can cause them to hide things from others and become socially withdrawn. Because of this, they may have difficulty in forming and maintaining relationships with  family and friends. Others may try to help the individual and ask them about their behaviours which may develop into conflict.

I hope today’s post has been insightful, especially in light of the proposed government plans. I personally can see the damage that placing numbers on foods can have for those struggling with an eating disorder and would urge the government to consider other options.

60 seconds

60 seconds on… Schizophrenia

This weeks 60 seconds is on Schizophrenia. In the survey I conducted, this was one of the mental disorders participants felt that they knew the least about. In my opinion it’s also an illness that is stigmatised a great deal due to the way it is portrayed in the media. There is constant misinformation portrayed about the condition which can cause fear in those who view it. Schizophrenia is often portrayed as someone having a split ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ personality, when research has shown this not to be true.

Schizophrenia is a long-term mental illness that can severely impair the way an individual thinks. An individual with schizophrenia can experience a number of different psychological symptoms, creating both ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ feelings.

They include:

  • Hallucinations – they may experience things that aren’t really there or aren’t real.
  • Delusions – they start to think irrationally and believe in thoughts that are unlikely to be true (for example they may believe they are being spied on).
  • Disordered thoughts – this can include talking quicker or slower than usual about things that don’t make logical sense to those around them.
  • Possessed thoughts – individuals may believe that they are not in control of their own thoughts and that someone else is putting them there. Others can believe that their thoughts are being extracted from their mind by a third party.
  • Thought blocking – where their mind goes blank in the middle of their train of thought.
  • Thought echoes – where they hear their thoughts being spoken out loud, which can lead to them engaging in a conversation with them.
  • Thought broadcasting – this is where an individual believes that their thoughts are being said out loud for everyone to hear.

Negative feelings refer to the loss of an individual’s enjoyment in life or ability.

They include:

  • A loss of motivation.
  • Struggling with concentration, making it difficult to learn new information.
  • Difficulty planning and sticking to goals.
  • A reduced range of emotions and facial expressions.
  • Engaging in obsessive-compulsive behaviours.
  • Emotions may be inappropriate, for example laughing at something that is sad.

Having schizophrenia can massively affect an individuals life in a number of ways:

  • It may lead to relationship problems. They may find it difficult to trust others and In some cases they may believe that the people close to them are out to get them.
  • Individuals can become withdrawn from life and stop taking part in the social activities that they used to enjoy. They can lose an interest in life and may find it difficult to get out of bed in the morning for example.
  • Some may use drugs and alcohol as a way to alleviate their symptoms. But in some cases, their drug use can mess with any medicine they are currently taking and could actually make their symptoms worse.
  • They may find it impossible to carry out normal activities such as food shopping or eating, especially if they are experiencing hallucinations or delusions at the time.
  • Difficulty concentrating can lead to an individual finding it difficult to plan their daily life.
  • They may feel that their thoughts are not their own and they may contemplate committing suicide. They need a support network who are able to seek help when this happens as those with schizophrenia are more likely to attempt to take their own life.

I hope that this post has been useful and informative. I found out an interesting fact the other day which I feel is really relevant to this post. A lot of individuals are fearful of those with schizophrenia; they believe that the individual is likely to be violent towards them or cause them harm. In actual fact, individuals with schizophrenia are much more likely to cause harm to themselves before anyone else. Also, research suggests that you are more likely to be attacked by a drug addict than someone with schizophrenia. Food for thought…

60 seconds

60 seconds on… Bipolar Disorder

In response to my previous post, I thought I would start a mini-series of blog posts called the ‘60 seconds on’ series. These will be posts on a range of mental illnesses outlining definitions, symptoms and effects each disorder can have on an individual and their lives. The aim of these posts is to be short but sweet, allowing individuals to gain awareness on mental disorders when and wherever they have a spare couple of minutes free. A lot of information on mental illness is usually presented through the media, which can be hugely biased and exaggerated to create emotional reactions from the viewer or reader. But sadly this can also lead to stigma against those suffering from these disorders. I’ll include a range of resources and websites at the end of this post, should anyone want to learn more about the disorder presented.

Today’s post is about bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder is a mental illness in which an individual’s emotions become magnified, often unpredictably. Bipolar disorder can cause an individual to experience severe mood swings, experiencing either high or low moods. 

  • feel overly happy and energised. They may find it difficult to stay still or go to sleep.
  • feel like they can do anything in the world and may start to make lots of ambitious plans.
  • become irritable and impulsive, which can lead to them making reckless decisions, such as going on shopping sprees and buying things they can’t really afford.
  • have an exaggerated positive outlook on life, a heightened sense of self-importance and may spend an excessive amount of time doing the things that they find pleasurable.
  • Have a lack of focus, moving quickly between ideas.
  • experience a deep depression, where they feel sluggish, hopeless and very sad. 
  • feel worthless and like nothing is ever going to get better for them, feelings which can lead to thoughts of suicide.
  • display aggressive or irritable behaviours and have feelings of guilt afterwards.
  • lose interest in the things that used to bring them joy. 
  • become withdrawn from life.
  • feel unable to eat or sleep.

During both high and low moods, an individual with bipolar disorder may experience hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren’t there) or delusions (believing things that are highly unlikely to be true).

However there is a period of stability for the individual, between these high and low moods. The number of mood swings an individual experiences can vary, some may only experience a couple over their lifetime whereas for others they may be a lot more frequent. 

Bipolar disorder can have an impact on an individual’s life in a number of ways: 

  • hallucinations and delusions may make it difficult for the individual to distinguish real life from their imagination.
  • some may feel that they are not in control of their own emotions. 
  • During depressive episodes:
    • an individuals self-worth can dip, which could lead to them carrying out self-harm or contemplating suicide. 
    • individuals may feel lethargic and lack the motivation to carry out daily tasks, which could lead to issues in their career. 
    • individuals may become withdrawn and avoid seeing people which can have an effect on their support network.
    • individuals may struggle with their sleeping and eating behaviours which could have an effect on their physical health.
  • During manic episodes:
    •  an individual can act erratically and sometimes irresponsibly which could lead to financial worries due to extravagant spending. 
    • They can find it difficult to communicate with those around them because they can’t focus and their thoughts are quickly changing all the time. 
    • An individual can become impulsive and this can result in them carry out risky behaviours with regards to drugs, alcohol and sex. 
    • An individual may act aggressively, sometimes towards others which can put a strain on their relationships.

I hope that this post has been informative and useful!

Extra information about bipolar disorder can be found by clicking on the links below:

Rethink Mental illness

NHS

Youngminds

Mind

research

How much do we actually know about mental health disorders? – Survey results

It was recently mental health awareness week, where organisations and influential individuals highlight the importance of looking after your own mental wellbeing and considering the effects of mental illness on an individual. This got me thinking about the term mental health awareness itself, and what it means to possess it.

We are increasingly seeing more people speaking out about their own experiences with mental illness, with big celebrities such as Adele recently discussing aspects of living with post-natal depression. I believe that as a nation we are becoming more aware of conditions such as stress, depression and anxiety, whilst considering the effect these can have on an individuals day-to-day life. This is only a good move in my opinion and a increase in awareness will hopefully help to beat the current stigma that individuals with a mental illness face on a daily basis.

But carrying on from this, I wonder how much the public know about other mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia? Personally I don’t see much information being disseminated about other mental illnesses that aren’t depression or anxiety. But it’s just as important that individuals are informed about all mental illness to challenge all forms of stigma.

I wanted to find out how much individuals felt they knew about a range of different mental health disorders. In order to do this I designed a little survey and posted this online. It asked participants to indicate on a scale (ranging from ‘nothing’ to ‘a lot’) how much they felt they knew about a number of mental health disorders, from depression to obsessive compulsive disorder. It then followed this up with two questions asking them if they would like to know more about the mental disorders mentioned and if they thought it would be beneficial for them. The results of this survey are outlined below:

Eighty one people took part in this survey. With regards to their perceived knowledge on a range of mental health disorders, the results are outlined below. The figure shows the average knowledge score and where this is placed upon the scale. The mental disorders mentioned have been sorted from most known about to least known about.

To be honest, I was not that surprised with the results. As I thought, individuals felt that they knew more about disorders such as depression and anxiety. I don’t know exactly why this is the case, but I could speculate that this is because these are more widely spoken about as opposed to illnesses such as dementia and schizophrenia. The next figures show the percentage responses to the two questions posed at the end of the survey:

The results above seem to be positive, with only 12% of participants indicating that they would not like to learn more about the mental disorders mentioned. On reflection I wondered if these people already felt that they knew a lot about all the disorders mentioned so they don’t see the purpose of learning more? Something to think about…

Further to this, 70% indicated that they see the benefit of learning more about the range of mental health disorders mentioned. I think this is great news and really encouraging going forward. I hope that in the future, more information is provided about all mental health disorders, not just depression and anxiety.

I realise on reflection that my previous posts on this blog have focused heavily on anxiety and depression. I aim to provide more information on a wider range of mental health disorders in my blog posts going forward. I hope you found these results as interesting and promising as I did.

Stay safe x

Advice and tips, My Experiences

Your mental wellbeing – When should you seek help?

First of all, I hope you are all keeping well in these weird times. I rarely read and watch the news these days but whenever I do catch it I never see them addressing or talking about the mental health aspects of the coronavirus situation (although do feel free to correct me on this if I’m wrong). Mental wellbeing is something that needs to be talked about more, especially at this current time. It’s totally understandable to feel like you’re struggling with your wellbeing given the current situation.

Something that I have personally found difficult in the past is understanding when to seek help with your mental wellbeing. And sadly I can’t provide you with any concrete guidelines of when to do so in this post. Everybody is different; different environments, different minds and different characteristics. Your mental wellbeing is personal to you and knowing when you should seek help is something that is also a personal decision you have to make, based on your own views and beliefs. When I was younger and struggling with my own mental well-being, I thought I wasn’t suffering enough to warrant seeking help and support. I thought only those people who were acting strange or being manic should get help, how naïve was I.

I thought for those who need it, I would provide a list of factors I feel could be indicators that you may need a bit of support for your mental wellbeing. I am be no means a professional; the indicators below are purely based on my own previous experiences.

  1. You notice changes in your own behaviour – these changes may not always be ones you find good or healthy. You may be more snappy towards others or lethargic and finding it difficult to get out of bed in the morning. You may also become dependant on something such as alcohol to get through the day.
  2. A person you trust has expressed concern – An example may be a friend or family member asking you if you’re okay because you seem a bit down. Notice I use the word ‘trust’ here. A lot of people can fling around insults like ‘you’re crazy’ without thinking about the consequences.
  3. You avoid doing things you normally would do – for me, I started to avoid going out to see friends or going to busy places because I knew this would trigger my anxiety. Although avoidance feels good in the short term, it may not be the best solution long term.
  4. Basic functioning becomes difficult – For example, you may find eating a meal or going to sleep challenging.
  5. You can’t see a way out – When you are struggling, it can be difficult or impossible to see that light at the end of the tunnel.

I think that ultimately, I just got ‘a feeling’ in my gut that I was struggling and that prompted me to seek support for my own mental wellbeing. If you find yourself struggling I would always recommend seeking help from a professional as a first port of call. But counselling may not be feasible for everyone for a variety of reasons so here’s a few other techniques I’ve used to help support my own mental wellbeing over the past few years:

  1. If you feel comfortable in doing so, try talking with a person you trust (maybe a friend or family member). Sometimes talking can help ease your worries and you will have an extra person to help you tackle the issues and discuss your options with.
  2. Try Mindfullness. I know this may not be for everyone, even I was a bit skeptical at first. But I have practised guided meditations on a free mobile app called Headspace and I have found them to be beneficial for me.
  3. Be active and try to exercise every day, no matter how little (just do what you feel up to). If you don’t feel able to leave your home there are loads of workouts on youtube that you can take part in without going outside. There is also an app I’ve used previously called down dog which is offering free home yoga classes for beginners until the beginning of June.
  4. Listen to a podcasts, there are some great mental health ones out there. I find it can help to hear others talking about their struggles and discussing how they have overcome them.
  5. Check out cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). This therapy can help you manage your problems by changing the way you think and behave about certain situations. Although it’s typically done in a talking environment with a counsellor, I have recently started working through this book and I have found it interesting challenging myself and my own beliefs. Hopefully it will be beneficial to me in the longterm!

I hope that some of the things I’ve discussed in this post are helpful to you or someone you know. I regard mental wellbeing as something that needs continuous support and work, like working your muscles at the gym. I was surprised by just how beneficial indulging in a little ‘mind-time’ each day was for my mental wellbeing.

What techniques do you use to support your mental wellbeing? I’d love to know below 🙂

Stay safe x

Advice and tips, My Experiences

Coping with the coronavirus when you have an anxiety disorder

I’m sure you are all aware of the current news surrounding the coronavirus. There has been a lot of information about the physical effects of the virus and how to tackle these but I’ve found little about the mental health aspects associated with the pandemic. For those who already suffer from mental health issues like anxiety, the current climate makes for unsettling viewing. As some of you know, I have been diagnosed with GAD in the past and I admit that I find it difficult not to get overly worried with the current given situation. There have been studies to show a relationship between our mental health and our immune system; when we are feeling stressed and anxious, this can have a bad impact and even weaken our immune system.

In times like these we need to look after our minds and our bodies so I thought I would make a list of the things I aim to do over the next few weeks. I hope that maybe they will be of help to others:

Accepting how I feel – Something I’ve learnt from previous experience is that fighting how you feel is an endless battle. Feeling anxious is a totally normal reaction and it’s easier to accept and feel these emotions then try and block them out. I’ve blocked them in the past and they build up and usually result in a panic attack. I aim to accept and even embrace my feelings of anxiety, allow it to come and pass as smoothly as possible.

Taking all media with a pinch of salt – When I talk about media here, I’m referring to both traditional and social. I’ve seen so much news about the coronavirus over the past few weeks. I’ve got no idea what is the truth and what is exaggerated anymore. I’ve decided to stop watching the news and only get my information about the coronavirus from credible sources. I’ve realised that in some cases it’s impossible to avoid all media but I’m going to definitely limit what I am exposed to. Social media is just a no-go for me at the moment, I won’t benefit from seeing pictures of empty shelves and people speculating about every aspect of their lives with no information to back themselves up.

Staying healthy – It’s difficult when I start to worry but I’m aiming to stick to my health routines that I know help ease my anxiety. These include exercise and my diet, restricting my caffeine intake and things like that. Ditching these is only the start of a slippery slope for my personal mental wellbeing.

Keeping myself distracted – I’m one of these people that if I’m left to my own devices, my mind will start to go into overdrive. I plan to try and ease this by taking more time to do the things I enjoy to stop my mind taking a detour. I really enjoy reading and this is a great form of escapism for me. I think it’s important to carry on doing the things that you love where possible and keep your mind focussed on things that make you feel happy.

Taking reasonable precautions – I find that having a plan can help ease some of my own anxiety. I’ve already took reasonable steps to try and stay safe, following the guidelines provided by the government. It can be easy to feel the need to panic and take action but it’s important to ensure that these actions are proportionate to the proposed threat, which can be tough for people with anxiety. For example, I know that shutting myself away for weeks in fear of catching the virus will do my mental health no favours, I just need to ensure I stay safe when I’m in public spaces. If I catch it, I’ve made a plan in my mind so I know how I would cope with it and ensure I don’t pass it onto my loved ones. Making these plans has really helped.

If you are finding yourself resinating with some of the feelings I describe above, I hope some of the steps above are able to help you also. If you are finding it particularly difficult to cope with the current situation then please do talk to somebody. This could be a friend, family member or professional. If venturing outside is an issue then Skype can be a great tool and many councillors offer sessions over it these days. I think the main take away from this post is that we will all feel overwhelmed and worried at points in our lives, it’s totally fine and natural to feel this way. But given time, these feelings will pass, you just need to ride out the waves.

Take care x

My Experiences

More than a label? – Reflecting on diagnosis in mental health

At first I was a little reserved about writing this post, but I think by sharing my own experiences it may help others who may be struggling with their mental health at the moment. I have recently being reading a book entitled ‘This book will change your mind on mental health‘ by Nathan Filer. The author is a mental health nurse and in this book they discuss some of the greatest assumptions and myths with regards to psychiatry. It’s a great read and it definitely got my brain thinking about the current diagnosis process when it comes to mental illness.

Nathan talks about the labels that individuals are given to explain their current mental wellbeing, for example depression or schizophrenia. When being diagnosed, an individual will be given one or more of these labels, which are obtained by clinicians from books such as ‘The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)’. Now in its fifth edition, this book serves as a manual, providing a resource for the diagnosis and classification of mental disorders. The manual includes concise and specific criteria used to facilitate an objective assessment of symptom presentations. If an individual presents a number of the listed criteria, they are classified and labelled as having the associated mental health condition.

But this method of diagnosis has been criticised, with researchers suggesting that the manual’s rules are inconsistent and subjective, leaving a huge amount of overlap in symptoms between diagnoses. A recent study found that through using the DSM,  two people could receive the same diagnosis without sharing any common symptoms in the majority of cases (link to this study can be found here). There is also discussion around the scientific basis for the criteria and just how accurate a diagnosis they can obtain. An interesting and more in depth post outlining all the issues with the current methods of mental illness diagnosis can be found here.

I have tried thinking back to the time where I was labelled with generalised anxiety disorder (GAD). It was a few years back now. I remember the feeling of constant worry and panic, not knowing why I felt the way I did or what I could do about it. I felt that what I was thinking wasn’t normal, so I approached a therapist who suggested I talked to my doctor. After completing an online test, the doctor informed me that I had GAD. At the time this label gave me some relief; it made me feel better to know that there was actually something ‘wrong’ with me because then I thought that I could be cured (I was a bit naive back then). But this initial relief only lasted for a short period. After a few weeks, the label I had been given started to wear me down. I stopped seeing myself as a person and allowed the label to become me; I was GAD. I felt that when I talked to people, all they would see was the GAD. These thoughts made me so self-conscious, to the point where I would avoid any situation in which I felt vulnerable; where I thought my GAD would radiate out of my pores like rays of the sun, leading to people judging me solely upon it.

But I have come to realise that I am more than the GAD label I was given. It has taken me a lot of time and a lot of reading and learning to distance myself from GAD. Overall, would I say I’m grateful for the label? Definitely, because it allowed me to get access to the resources I needed to help myself and improve my mental wellbeing. But do I think I have GAD? I’m not so sure. I have times when my anxiety can go into overdrive but I’ve come to realise that anxiety is a totally normal human feeling and personally I don’t class an abundance of it as a disorder. I think it can be dangerous in some cases to quickly label individuals with certain mental conditions based on a 10 question internet survey conducted in a doctors office. Each individual’s mental wellbeing is unique and we each need to be assessed and treated on an individual basis, avoiding labels and being put into different boxes.

I’m really interested to hear your opinions on labels and how you think they effect individuals, whether for better or for worse. I end this post with a quote that I feel is quite fitting:

Labels are for filing. Labels are for clothing. Labels are not for people

– Martina Navratilova
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.