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…

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