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Archive April 2019

Frank Field MP, Chair of the Work and Pensions select committee, has criticised the Government for not devoting enough time or energy to their response to a report published by the committee about Universal Credit. The committee refers to the response as “skimpy and disappointing”.

Responding to Frank Field’s comments, Sophie Corlett, Director of External Relations at Mind, said:

“The Work and Pensions Select Committee report yet again highlighted the many difficulties people face under Universal Credit. We know thousands of people with mental health problems are struggling to cope every week with this new benefits system. We’ve heard repeatedly from people at crisis point still being required to look for work or risk losing their benefits. We’re also concerned about what will happen to people still receiving older disability benefits moving over to the new system. We have repeatedly asked the Government to address issues and guarantee that no one receiving benefits will be worse off if they are unable to make a new claim.

“Many people are slipping through the net during the move to Universal Credit – because they’ve moved house, for example, or been in hospital for treatment. The Government should be taking steps to address these issues, so it’s worrying that the Work and Pensions committee don’t feel the Government is listening to its recommendations to improve the way Universal Credit works.

“If the Government is determined to forge ahead with Universal Credit, it needs to take responsibility in tackling urgent problems affecting thousands of people – issues requiring serious attention, not scant responses.”

Source: National Mind

After years languishing in the dark, mental illness is finally getting its moment in the spotlight. Frustrating political football it may be, but one thing can’t be denied – it’s making headlines more than ever. Focus, largely, has been on young people – crises in child and adolescent mental healthcare and in student populations have been both persistent and significant. But mental illness doesn’t end with reaching adulthood – often, in fact, it doesn’t end at all.

New research from the British Journal of Psychiatry into self-harm in older people puts this into stark perspective. A meta-analysis of 40 studies found that yearly self-harm rates were about 65 per 100,000 people, with risk of repetition and of suicide also higher than average. Self-harm is still seen as a problem among younger demographics; and while that remains true, this data proves that the issue is even more complex and diffuse than we thought.

The findings are not wholly surprising. In 2014, the World Health Organization found that suicide rates were highest in people aged over 70 in almost all regions of the world. The Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCP) also found that 40% of older people in GP clinics experience mental ill-health; this rose to 50% in general hospitals and 60% in care homes. And, as the Mental Health Foundation points out, the UK population is ageing rapidly – since 1974, the number of older people in the UK has grown by 47%. By 2027, the Office for National Statistics predicts, 20.7% of the UK population will be aged 65 or over, compared with 15.9% in 2007. The problem, clearly, is not going away.

Full story: Guardian

Screen time has little effect on the psychological wellbeing of teenagers, regardless of whether they use devices for hours a day or just before bedtime, according to a study by researchers at Oxford University.

The research, based on analysis of the screen use of more than 17,000 teenagers across Ireland, the US and the UK, found use of screens before bedtime was completely unrelated to psychological wellbeing, and screen time more generally had a “minuscule” effect on wellbeing in teenagers when compared with other activities in an adolescent’s life.

The effect was believed to be small enough that adolescents “would need to report 63 hours and 31 minutes’ more of technology use a day in their time-use diaries to decrease their wellbeing” by an amount big enough for them to notice.

The study, published in the journal Psychological Science, is an important data point in the growing debate about whether excessive screen time can damage the mental health of young people.

Full story: Guardian

I would rather tell an employer I have excruciating period pain or terrible diarrhoea than say I need to take a day off for my mental health. Despite the mental health awareness days, mindfulness at work courses and stigma-bashing posters, many of us still feel that our bosses are not open to accommodating mental illness – and we may be right.

Andrew Berrie, employer programme manager at the Time to Change campaign, says nine in 10 people who experience mental health problems report facing stigma and discrimination. More than half say they experience that stigma the most at work, meaning many do not feel they can talk openly with their line manager. Things are improving, says Berrie – but the stigma means that, like me, 95% of employees would prefer to call in sick with a made-up reason, rather than reveal the truth about their poor mental health.

Geoff McDonald is co-founder of minds@work, a network of professionals seeking to build psychologically healthy workplaces. He says: “I think there is still a huge disconnect between what senior leaders think the culture and openness is, and what it actually feels like on the frontline, whether or not you can have those conversations.” He tells of a senior executive who walked into a mindfulness class his company was running, surveyed the room and said: “So, these are the people who can’t cope in my business.” The organisation had ticked a box, but not changed the culture of intolerance that fosters judgment of those who struggle. We are making progress, McDonald says, but we are “still at the foothills of climbing Mount Everest”.

It is not just tokenism we are smelling, but fear, too, he says. “There has been a lot of campaigning, awareness-building, encouraging people to talk – but I think there is still this fear of not knowing what to do or say, even at the simplest of levels.” He says line managers often confess that they are fearful of saying the wrong thing, telling him that if someone came to them saying they were suffering from anxiety, they wouldn’t know how to handle it.

Clinical psychologist Dr Beverley Flint, from Camden and Islington NHS Mental Health foundation trust, runs C&I Wellbeing, offering mental health support training for managers and HR staff. She says many businesses and organisations are blind to the reality of what their employees are going through.

When she meets employers who tell her they “don’t have a problem with mental health” in their workplace, she says she raises an eyebrow. “I tell them: ‘But you do, you just don’t know about it. You will have people in the workplace who have a diagnosis – I’d love to see your staff retention data.’ People get annoyed with me when I say that.”

Full story: Guardian

A couple of years ago, the actor and choreographer Lanre Malaolu was creating a duet about mental health. “I was working with an amazing contortionist dancer,” he remembers. “But for various reasons she had to drop out … I didn’t have time to get anyone else.” He swears under his breath and smiles, before explaining how he sat in his living room and tried to come up with a quick solo performance. “I was like, ‘What’s one of the challenges that I’ve experienced with anxiety, depression? Getting out of bed.’”

The scene Malaolu made “was almost verging on clownish. I was using physical theatre and hip-hop movement to show this guy just wanting to get up.” The performance went down a storm. “People were really affected by it, and were like, ‘You need to tour this around.’ I was like, ‘It’s only 15 minutes!’ But that got me thinking.” Malaolu has expanded that single scene into a full-length show, Elephant in the Room, which now has a three-week run at Camden People’s theatre in London.

“Basically, it’s about a young man’s challenges with his mental health,” he says. “But also how he interacts with different characters that he’s grown up with, and how they influence his perception [of his mental wellbeing].” The piece mixes dance, theatre and spoken word, with Malaolu playing the mostly silent protagonist Michael and the other characters.

Conversations about mental health have become more visible, with the likes of Zayn Malik and Prince Harry openly discussing their struggles. There has been a rise, too, in theatrical work on the subject such as Milly Thomas’s Dust, a look at one young woman’s suicide, and I’m a Phoenix, Bitch, in which performance artist Bryony Kimmings looked at her trauma-related breakdown. Masculinity and the mental health of young men are considered in Barber Shop Chronicles, which is coming to the Roundhouse, London, after two National Theatre runs and an international tour, and Fledgling Theatre’s Neck or Nothing, which is at the Pleasance theatre, London, this month, in partnership with men’s suicide prevention charity Calm.

Full story: Guardian

Children and young people with mental health problems will be routinely asked about their use of social media under new guidance being issued to NHS psychiatrists.

Under-18s seeking help with conditions such as anxiety, depression and eating disorders will be questioned to see whether using Facebook, Instagram or other platforms is causing or exacerbating their illness.

As a result, when they first meet young people, psychiatrists will ask if accessing such sites is affecting their sleep, performance at school, mood or eating habits.

They will try, for example, to establish whether troubled young people have spent time on sites that promote self-harm or encourage anorexia.

Parents will also be asked what devices are in their homes, which ones their child uses and how often, and whether their offspring look at screens during meals or while adults are doing chores.

The guidance has been issued by the Royal College of Psychiatrists at a time of growing concern that long hours spent on social media, and some of its content, are damaging young people’s psychological health.

It is the first time the RCP, which represents psychiatrists professionally and sets standards for the profession, has advised members to investigate how much social media has added to young patients’ difficulties.

Full story: Guardian

Women across England and Wales will get vital mental health support as part of a major new programme launched by mental health charity Mind and Agenda, the alliance for women and girls at risk.

The £1.8 million programme, called Women Side by Side, will increase the availability of high quality, community-based peer support for women through around 70 projects delivered by specialist organisations across the country.

The projects will particularly benefit women experiencing multiple disadvantage – for example those experiencing mental health problems, homelessness, drug and alcohol misuse, abuse and violence, family breakdown, offending or a combination of these.

Around one in five (19 per cent) women experience a common mental health problem, such as anxiety or depression. More than one in two women with a mental health problem has experienced some form of violence and abuse.

Five new hubs (four in England and one in Wales), which will act as learning centres supporting every project, are already up and running. The hubs, run by women’s organisations, are using their specialist expertise and links to community organisations to make sure all services understand and respond to women’s specific needs, including their experiences of trauma and abuse. 

Research has shown that peer support – getting support from people who have similar experiences – improves people’s wellbeing and helps them manage their mental health problem, enabling them to choose what kind of support works best for them. Peer support is also a good investment and can help decrease other healthcare costs, for example by reducing hospital admissions by people with mental health problems. 

Full story: National Mind

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