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.
This post is aimed at any PhD students; perspective, current or graduated. I was reading an article the other day which states that 1 in 2 students will experience some kind of psychological distress during the PhD process (although from my own observations I’m surprised this isn’t higher).
But feeling mentally drained and unwell isn’t your own fault. In my opinion, the current PhD process is full of different factors that can contribute towards poor mental well-being. Below I outline the reasons I believe the PhD process to have such a negative impact on mental well-being, based upon my own experiences and observations.
First of all there’s pressure, lots of pressure. Throughout the PhD journey you are expected to cope with pressures that would be overwhelming for anyone. When you aren’t working on that conference paper, you are running yourself into the ground to meet the internal stage deadlines set by your supervisor. The pressure of having to deliver results can dominate your life, leading to a loss of sleep and self care time. When I was completing my research it was just accepted that PhD students are put under significant pressure and this is simply the way it is. The current ‘accepted norm’ of a constant three years of pressure can definitely contribute to bad mental well-being, especially when paired with any of the other factors mentioned below.
Imposter syndrome and social comparison
I spent most of my PhD journey feeling like an imposter. I felt like I didn’t fit in and I just wasn’t good enough to get a PhD (spoiler: I was good enough and I did get one in the end). Feelings of imposter syndrome seem to be common and I talked to many other students who felt the same way that I did. Talking to others actually made me start to question if anyone ever truly ‘fits in’. Whilst struggling at times during my PhD, I would look around at others who appear to be breezing through the process. As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, comparison is the thief of happiness. Social comparison is a completely natural and sometimes unavoidable thing to do but it can lead to negative effects on your mental well-being.
Looking back after completing my PhD, there are a couple of reasons why comparing myself to others was never going to be beneficial. Firstly, I was comparing myself to my own perceptions of my fellow research students. To me they appeared to be doing fine, but I would find out later on that they weren’t doing as well as I thought they were. They struggled too at times the same way I did. From my own observations, I feel that there’s a stigma around admitting you are struggling as a PhD student. Some feel that to talk about struggling is like admitting weakness and this stops research students sharing these worries with each other. Secondly, each PhD journey is a deeply personal thing to each student and it can vary depending on their research area, supervisor and environment. Because of this, it was never useful to compare myself to others. It would be like comparing the process of training to be a teacher and training to be a vet; similar in some aspects, but so very different in others.
Getting a PhD can feel like a lonely process, and for me it did most of the time. These feelings of loneliness can definitely affect your mental well-being. Although I worked in an office some days with about eight other people, at times I couldn’t have felt more lonely. Alongside this loneliness, some students may feel a lack of support available to them, which can have a further negative impact on their mental well-being. Some may feel that talking to their supervisor about mental well-being is a no go area; I myself only talked to my supervisor when I absolutely had to. I think this circles back around to feelings of not wanting to appear weak. Your supervisors are amazing at conducting research and analysing results, but they may not be trained in how to support you with the mental aspects of the process. Because of this it may appear tough to find support within the academic environment when you are struggling.
Fear of failure
Finally, during a PhD you are highly likely to experience some type of failure and rejection (unless you are super super lucky). For some it can happen on a daily basis, maybe you had a conference paper rejected or you didn’t get the study results you were expecting. This failure and rejection can definitely have a negative effect on your mental well-being, especially in the cases where multiple rejections happen at the same time (believe me, I had a few days of this throughout my PhD journey).
I hope that this post isn’t disheartening, there’s no doubt that the PhD process is a tough one. I guess in a way I’m writing what I wish I had heard a few years ago. I just wanted to highlight some of the issues I found with the process to ensure any PhD researchers out there that you are doing a great job, and if your mental well-being is struggling at times then it is totally understandable given the circumstances.
If you are struggling, I would suggest talking to someone you can trust about how you are feeling and working through things together; whether this be a personal friend or a trained professional. As a follow up to this post I will be sharing some tips and advice based on my own PhD experience which I hope may help some of you out there.
Are there any other elements of the PhD process which you feel can impact mental well-being? Feel free to share below
I’ve been hearing a lot of people recently commenting how there seems to be a lack of items like hand wash, sanitiser and even toilet roll in the supermarkets. Hand sanitiser is currently being administered somewhat like tobacco; it’s being stored behind counters and you have to ask for it and even then you can only purchase a maximum of two at a time. The current lack of hygiene products is very much in response to the current coronavirus situation. But this got me thinking about the psychology behind stockpiling behaviours and why certain individuals do this.
Stockpiling, also referred to as panic buying is defined in the Cambridge English dictionary as ‘a situation in which many people suddenly buy as much food, fuel, etc. as they can because they are worried about something bad that may happen’. As the name suggests, this type of buying is fuelled mainly through anxiety. Research suggests that there are three factors that lead to an increase in anxiety in these situations: scarcity, maintaining a sense of control, and social proof.
Firstly, us humans psychologically respond to scarcity, we don’t like to feel like we have missed out on something important. If something appears rare, we are more likely to chase it (especially if it’s something we wanted in the first place). A good example of this is the Black Friday sales, which we see footage of on the news every year. We see how some people are prepared to queue for hours and fight with each other to get a cheap TV set, all emotionally fuelled of course.
During the coronavirus outbreak, social media has used the hashtags #toiletpapercrisis and #toiletpapergate to display pictures of empty supermarket shelves, making toilet paper appear scarce and something that is running out. After seeing such images and information online, an individual can be motivated to stock up on toilet paper by ‘anticipatory regret’, we are protecting ourselves from a feeling of regret later down the line. I’m sure that we’ve all experienced that feeling of remorse and regret of missing out on something and would understand others wanting to avoid these feelings.
Maintaining a sense of control
Secondly, some panic buying can be an effort to try and keep a sense of control in uncertain situations. A loss of control is not the same as feeling out of control; It addresses the everyday experience of being unable to take action to help produce a desired outcome in a given environment, which in this case might be to be able to personally cope if the coronavirus becomes a big issue for the country.
None of us are entirely sure of what is happening with the coronavirus at the moment, or what will happen in the near future. Stockpiling helps individuals to feel in control; it’s an aspect of their lives that they can actively control. In this case, panic buying toilet paper can help to ease the anxieties that an individual is feeling.
As human beings we are always subconsciously keeping an eye on what those around us are doing (even if you think otherwise!). Social proof is a phrase made popular by psychologist Robert Cialdini. In times where we are unsure of how to behave we will look to see how others are behaving, so social proof could be considered as a type of conformity. We believe at the time that others around us possess more information about the situation than us and that they have made their choices based upon this information they possess (spoiler: they usually don’t know much more than you do). Here’s a quick experiment for you: stand in the middle of town just looking up at nothing in particular. Keep an eye on the people around you and you might realise some of them looking up as well, us humans hate to think we are missing out on something!
I can think of a specific time in my life where I was majorly influenced by social proof. So it’s summer of 2017, I’m with a friend at a summer fair and we fancy a bite to eat. We head over to the food carts and there’s two options: a hamburger bar or a burrito stand. There were a couple of people waiting for hamburgers but the queue to the burritos was a lot longer. We went for burritos figuring that if the queue was longer, it must mean they are the best choice. In this case our decision to follow the herd paid off and after waiting 45 minutes in a queue I enjoyed eating the best burrito that I have ever had in my life. But the results of social proof aren’t always so tasty. In this case, an individual seeing another person bulk buying toilet roll may increase their chances of doing the same thing as they may fear that they are missing something due to their lack of knowledge about the current situation.
I find the psychology behind human behaviour like this all so interesting. On a slight side note, I also just found out that stockpiling is referred to as ‘Hamsterkauf’ in Germany. This great word translates to ‘hamster buying’ and literally refers to the way hamsters stuff their cheeks with food:
So have you been feeling more inclined to buy more of certain items because of the coronavirus? Or do the factors above have little effect on your behaviours? Let me know below.
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 .
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 . 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 . 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  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:
Compare this to the actual responses they state they have 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.
This is the view as I write this post. I’m currently sitting outside enjoying a rare British summer bank holiday weekend where it isn’t raining. As I sit here I feel strangely peaceful, at one with nature (although I am aware of the fact that currently I’m typing on a laptop). The summer breeze, the sound of the birds, the whole sensation of just being outside in the open and just existing is so calming. This got me wondering why this is the case, why does nature appear to ease humans worries and make us feel so calm? I did a bit of research and found out the following (quite interesting) information regarding the links between nature and mental health.
It can decrease stress
Spending time outdoors can help to relieve tension and anxiety. One study  found that students that spent two days in the forest were less stressed when compared to students that had spent the same amount of time in a city environment . This study found being outside to lead to lower levels of cortisol, which is a hormone often associated with stress. Researchers suggest that spending as little as 20 minutes exposed to nature a day can significantly reduce cortisol levels in an individual .
It may help ease depression and anxiety
A previous study  has found that spending time outdoors can lead to decreased anxiety and depression for some individuals. Another study  suggests that individuals who spend time in nature show less neural activity in the part of the brain associated with depression when compared to those who spent time in a city environment. Because of this previous work, some researchers  even actively recommend spending time walking outdoors as a supplement to other treatments for major depressive disorder.
It can boost your mood
Some studies have found spending time outside to lead to positive effects on individuals moods, making them feel happier . This is attributed to the exposure to natural light that you get from being outside, which fills your mind with a feeling of well-being .
It can reduce mental fatigue
So much of our lives nowadays are spent looking at screens or interacting with technology which can lead to stress. Stress can be caused by a number of factors, for example you may receive a tough work email or you could be on social media observing how perfect everyone’s lives appear to be when compared to your own (definitely never done this whilst eating a tub of ice cream on a Friday night…)
Being outside allows you to step away from the screen, which can give your brain a rest, allowing your mind to rejuvenate. Previous studies  have found a positive link between spending time outdoors and reducing mental fatigue. They found that being outside in a natural environment required less directed attention. In contrast, urban environments are filled with stimulation that captures attention dramatically, often requiring directed attention, for example you are actively always avoiding walking into people or being hit by a car.
Further to the information above I also found out that some countries have incorporated the act of spending time outdoors into their culture. In Japan, spending time walking around forests is a very popular form of preventative health care, known as forest bathing or shinrin-yoku.
In Scandinavian countries such as Norway, Sweden, and Finland, the value of spending time outdoors is known as friluftsliv, which translates to “open air life.” Friluftsliv encourages a connection with nature and encourage children to play outdoors and explore the world around them. Finnish schools allow plenty of time for their students to play outdoors during the day. This system of blending work and outdoor play has resulted in students achieving more academically when compared to other countries on a global scale.
I’ve made this post a relatively short one, as I’m going to close my laptop down now and just sit outside for a while. If you can, I advise most of you to give yourself a break and to try and do the same, if only for a couple of minutes. Breathe deeply and open your senses to the environment around you. Make the most of the nice weather while it’s here as I’m sure we will all have our thermals and wooly coats on in a couple of days time if typical British weather is anything to go by.
So, in a technology driven world, be a rebel and put the phone down for a minute or two. Why not reintroduce yourself to mother nature, have a cup of tea (there are other great beverages available) and have a bit of a catch-up together.
Li, Q. (2010). Effect of forest bathing trips on human immune function. Environmental health and preventive medicine, 15(1), 9.
Park, B. J., Tsunetsugu, Y., Kasetani, T., Kagawa, T., & Miyazaki, Y. (2010). The physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku (taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing): evidence from field experiments in 24 forests across Japan. Environmental health and preventive medicine, 15(1), 18.
Barton, J., & Pretty, J. (2010). What is the best dose of nature and green exercise for improving mental health? A multi-study analysis. Environmental science & technology, 44(10), 3947-3955.
When most people are trying to sleep, they keep themselves awake with things like worrying that they forgot to lock the backdoor or fantasising about the latest James Bond actor, not me apparently. This week my mind pondered about colours and their links with mental health and emotions. People may say they are feeling blue or they have been tickled pink, but what is the actual link between colours and emotions?
Apparently there is a thing called ‘colour psychology’, and for this post I thought I would share a bit that I’ve learned about this concept. Colour psychology refers to the psychological effects that certain colours can have on our bodies and minds. It explains how colour may be a powerful force in an individual’s life, with certain colours being able to evoke emotions and feelings. Previous research highlights how some colours have associations because the role it’s played in our evolution. In nature, red or yellow markings on an animal or insect are usually associated with danger, so our ancestors knew to be weary when faced with these. Likewise, our ancestors found colours such as green to be associated with rotting food or faeces which should be avoided, therefore this colour would induce a feeling of disgust.
This week I also researched all about ‘Chromotherapy’. According to this type of therapy, each human needs a sun’s light to function and live. Further to this, the sun’s light can be split up into a seven-colour spectrum. If an individual has an imbalance of these seven colours it may result in them experiencing negative effects to their physical or mental well being. An example of a type of treatment offered currently is a chromotherapy bath, which is like taking a normal bath but the bath lights up certain colours to address particular health needs. For example red is used to support an individual’s circulatory functions as it is believed to increase the pulse, raise blood pressure and increase the rate of breathing. Whereas yellow is utilised to purify the skin and aid with indigestion. For those of you who would like to know more about chromotherapy in depth, there are some good sources of information here and here .
Having read about chromotherapy I was still a little on the cautious side when considering the power of colour on an individual’s emotional health. I did a little bit more delving and found a number of empirical studies that appear to support the links between colours and emotions. An overview of the links found between colours and emotions is outlined below (Full references can be found at the bottom of this post).
Overall, previous research has produced many mixed results regarding the emotions that colours evoke. This is especially the case for red, where there appears to be a wide range of emotions, both positive and negative, linked to it. There have been a couple of reasons suggested in the past for these variations. Firstly, an individual’s culture or upbringing may play a role. People are more likely to make associations between colours and emotions according to what they were brought up with. For example, in India red is associated with purity, sensuality, and spirituality. On the other hand, some countries in Africa associate red with death, and in Nigeria it represents aggression and vitality. It’s considered a lucky charm in Egypt and symbolises good fortune and courage in Iran. Other researchers have also suggested that the specific shade can make a difference. With regards to red, dark red was found to be associated with anger and rage, whereas lighter shades of red were associated with love (6).
I thought I would do a little research of my own and decided to run a short online survey. In the survey, participants were presented with six colours in turn (red, yellow, blue, orange, purple and green) and for each one they were asked what emotion or mental state the colour made them feel. Forty-seven people kindly took part and a round up of the main results are below in word clouds. For those of you who are not familiar with word clouds, the size and vibrancy of colour is positively correlated with how often it was mentioned. For example, a big vivid word was a more common answer than a small grey one.
The most common emotion that red made people feel was angry (5 people stated this). Feelings of caution were also felt when presented with this colour in particular. The word cloud shows a lot of emotions that appear to be warm in nature associated with this word (e.g. Love, Fierce).
Overall, the results of this word cloud present yellow as a colour that draws out positive feelings and emotions. Most people stated that seeing yellow made them feel happy (4 stated this), which I thought could possibly be because it is the same colour as the sun? Others found yellow to be positively energising, making them feel awake and excited.
A vast majority of participants found blue to make them feel calm (15 people stated this). Blue also made many participants feel happy and relaxed. But in contrast to this, some participants had negative emotions occur when shown this colour, such as feelings of sadness and claustrophobia.
This colour appeared to be quite a high energy colour, with most participants stating that it made them feel alert (5 said this). It also appeared to provoke high energy emotions that were negative in nature, as some stated that it made them feel annoyed. Others found orange to be a playful colour, which they associated with fun and happiness.
Purple appeared to make people feel a whole range of emotions, with the most popular being regal and calm (but only 3 people stated these). It also appeared to stimulate people’s curiosity, with some people stating it made them feel inspired and inquisitive.
Green appeared to make most people feel calm (8 people felt this). For many, they associate this colour with neutral, natural and peaceful feelings. A couple of participants found this colour to result in negative emotions such as sickness and nervousness.
So what’s my final opinion on the link between colour and emotions considering all the information presented? I believe something is there but the extent to which certain colours can provoke particular emotions needs more research in my opinion. I’m not sure that there is an instinctive link between colour and mental state (we don’t see red and feel alert by instinct). The link between colour and emotion appears to be something that is developed over an individual’s lifetime, with this link having the possibility of being influenced by an individual’s environment and cultural upbringing. Because of this, the meanings of colours and the effect they have on an individual’s mind feels ambiguous and uncertain at the current time.
I hope you have found this all as interesting as I did putting it together. As a bonus, I can now go back to staying awake worrying that I haven’t locked the backdoor at night.
1 – Wexner, L. B. (1954). The degree to which colors (hues) are associated with mood-tones. J. Appl. Psychol. 38, 432–435. doi: 10.1037/h0062181 2 – Hanada, M. (2017). Correspondence analysis of color–emotion associations. Color Res. Appl. 43, 224–237. doi: 10.1002/col.22171 3 – Cimbalo, R. S., Beck, K. L., and Sendziak, D. S. (1978). Emotionally toned pictures and color selection for children and college students. J. Genet. Psychol. 133, 303–304. doi: 10.1080/00221325.1978.10533389 4 – Kaya, N., and Epps, H. (2004). Relationship between color and emotion: a study of college students. Coll. Stud. J. 38, 396–404. 5 – Sutton, T. M., and Altarriba, J. (2016). Finding the positive in all of the negative: Facilitation for color-related emotion words in a negative priming paradigm. Acta Psychol. 170, 84–93. doi: 10.1016/j.actpsy.2016.06.012 6 – Fugate JMB and Franco CL (2019) What Color Is Your Anger? Assessing Color-Emotion Pairings in English Speakers. Front. Psychol. 10:206. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00206 7 – Madden, T. J., Hewett, K., and Roth, M. S. (2000). Managing images in different cultures: a cross-national study of color meanings and preferences. J. Int. Market. 8, 90–107. doi: 10.1509/jimk.18.104.22.16895