It’s World Mental Health Day today – 10th October. This year’s theme is Mental Health in the Workplace.
The dreadful events in Manchester on Monday night will have had an impact on us all. Some of us may have been directly affected, some of us may have been indirectly affected, some may be professionally involved and some of us may become involved professionally over the months. It’s important to recognise the impact of something happening so close to home. Many of us will know what helps in situations like this and many of us may well be involved in providing advice and support.
As many of you will know it’s Time to Talk day on Thursday this week. It’s part of the Time to Change campaign to end mental health discrimination. The point of the Time to Talk day is to increase conversations about mental health to reduce the isolation and negative feelings that people may experience when dealing with a mental health problem. For those of us working in clinical settings, this may be what you do every day – talk to people with mental health problems. That’s important and the role we have in doing this is a privilege as well as hard work – we should definitely keep doing this. How often are we able to do this in other settings? We often have those conversations that involve one person saying ‘How are you?’ and the other saying ‘Fine’ or ‘Hanging in there’. We may nod sympathetically but perhaps we don’t ask more and the conversation moves on. Perhaps it’s time to think about doing things differently – could we say something else that may be encourages a different conversation. There could be so many ways of doing this and I’m sure you all know of many different options. So instead of moving on, we could ask ‘What’s been happening?’ or ‘How’s your day/week going?’
It’s been a big week for mental health in the media this week starting with Theresa May’s speech at the Charity Commission which focused on children’s mental health. Jeremy Hunt was also on the radio commenting on children’s mental health and the need to reduce avoidable deaths.
Happy New Year from the PPN. The start of a new year can sometimes feel a bit arbitrary and there are different New Year dates in different cultures (as well as different Christmas dates). However, the change of the year number often does feel like a marker and a point to reset and refocus. It can also be a time of creating expectations for oneself that may not be easily achievable e.g. joining a gym and doing more exercise. While the goals are desirable, we don’t all find them easy to stick to and then we may use them as ways to criticise ourselves. As psychological professionals, I’m sure we are all aware of the potential impact of this pattern of behaviour. Perhaps we could also see this as an opportunity to try new things and review their fit for ourselves – so maybe not the gym but perhaps a regular walk is achievable?
There has been much written about eye contact and that maintaining it can need extra brain power. Also averting one's gaze can help one think. However, an interesting finding is that our eyes are in constant motion - microsaccades. The reason for this is that if our brains are presented with a static image then they no longer 'see' it and will not process what is in front of us. Therefore, even when we are staring at a fixed point - our eyes are constantly moving creating that sense of a changing landscape. This is in addition to the voluntary movements we make when we are reading, looking at pictures, TV or talking to someone.
There has been a lot of focus in the media recently about the abuse experienced by boys at football clubs and some of them have grown up to become professional footballers. Some of these professional footballers who are now retired have been on television and radio to say what happened to them. There are now reports of over 860 phone calls to an NSPCC hotline, 17 police forces are now investigating, police have said around 350 people have reported child sexual abuse at UK football clubs. The numbers are big and behind all these numbers are the traumatic experiences of boys who thought they were being giving the opportunity to follow their dream. Yet following that dream came at the price of living a nightmare: One said ‘From being 11 years of age, you didn’t discuss things like that because the dream would have burst’.
This time last week, Laura Golding and I were privileged to be in Santander, Spain presenting on the PPN. This was a journey that took a day to get there and a day to get back as there did not appear to be any winter flights directly to Santander from the North of England. We flew from Manchester to London, then from London to Madrid and then on to Santander. In total, three flights and two taxis and lots of walking around airports (steps targets met!). The only things missing transport-wise were trains and boats but there were plenty of boats to be seen in the harbour at Santander. It was strange being at work in Santander – it didn’t look like work (or anywhere I have worked) and it felt like it should have been a holiday but we were there with work colleagues and we did do some work too!
The PPN 4th annual conference took place today. It was a pleasure and a privilege to be able to open the event. Our key note speaker was Jacqui Dyer – Vice Chair of the Mental Health Task Force amongst her many other roles and achievements – both personal and professional.
World mental health day this week was focused on psychological first aid and supporting people in distress. There have been stories in the media, website links and other resources and information on this area which I am sure many of you will have seen.
Time seems to pass quickly and it seems surprisingly quick that the PPN is approaching the 3rd anniversary of the website launch. There has been research looking at the experience of time passing and relating it to age and experience (adults have more to remember than children) and to heart rate (slower heart rates may mean time is experienced more quickly). However, that’s for another day.
There’s a phrase which I’m sure many of you will have heard that describes the UK and USA as divided by a common language. It’s been attributed to both George Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde. Hearing the phrase again made me think about the day to day world of the NHS and how sometimes communication seems particularly difficult. As psychological professionals, we spend a lot of time communicating with our service users/patients/clients and endeavour to ensure there’s a shared understanding of the issues being discussed. Our colleagues in other professions/disciplines have similar aims in their clinical work too.
It's mental health awareness week this week. The theme of the week is relationships. There's been research showing the importance of social relationships for our health overall. People with fewer social relationships had more ill-health and died younger. Also, the importance of at least one close confiding relationship on better wellbeing has been well established.
In a recent survey of psychological professions conducted by the BPS and New Savoy Conference showed that most of the respondents agreed that they had good relationships outside work. However, they still reported high levels of stress and workload pressures. They also reported feelings of failure and depression.
I was recently at a meeting with colleagues from NHS England (North) and Health Education England (in the North West and North East) which was facilitated by Clare Baguley – PPN programme manager. The meeting looked at the overlaps and potential for shared work across these.
There’s probably a recommendation for each defined part of the population in the report from the Mental Health Taskforce as well as recommendations for government, NHS England, commissioners and bodies such as Health Education England, Public Health England. There’s also mention of the need to improve research and implement evidence-based pathways. Spending on mental health research is reported as less than 5.5% of all health research funding. NICE provides guidance on evidence-based approaches and much of their work focuses on the robustness of the research.
The Five Year Forward View for Mental Health: A report from the independent Mental Health Taskforce to the NHS in England
It’s been a while since I last posted. It’s been a really busy year for the network and really encouraging that it continues to go from strength to strength. We now have over 1500 members – thank you to all of you and please do encourage colleagues to join.
There has been a lot about parity of esteem recently and it appears to be used in a variety of ways to basically say that mental and physical health should be viewed and treated equally within health care. However, I was recently asked by a very senior Health Education England director whether frontline staff and patients/service users actually knew what it meant. I confessed I didn’t know if they would and then reflected that perhaps they wouldn’t as it appears to have become a label for a range of thoughts – a bit like ‘Transforming Community Services’ if anyone remembers that.