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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

An elite band of doctors has now come up with a solution to their recurrent occupational hazard. They say a genetic test for schizophrenia should be made available on the NHS. “It can help people understand that they have an illness like any other, just like epilepsy or diabetes, and may also mean that they and their families are more comfortable with the idea of them taking medication,” Professor Kam Bhui explained in the respected British Journal of Psychiatry.

Professor Bhui edits the journal, published on behalf of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, and has long been an influential commentator. His latest suggestion has already been backed by his Queen Mary University colleagues Professor David Curtis and Dr Katherine Adlington. They say the NHS should make the test available “as a matter of urgency.”

There is just one small ethical problem. Schizophrenia has never been shown to be caused by genetics, either wholly or in part. The trio of psychiatrists appear comfortable in advocating that this moral inconvenience should not stand in the way of it being held up as an explainer to patients and families. “We can do a simple genetic test on a patient and, for example, tell them that they have a small piece of chromosome 22 missing and that this is probably the reason why they’ve developed schizophrenia,” Professor Curtis has excitedly argued.

This particular chromosome correlation has been observed in just one percent of patients with schizophrenia, and those without schizophrenia have also been seen to exhibit it, the Royal College of Psychiatrists has told Mental Health Today. Schizophrenia can not currently be genetically explained in the same way as, say, Down’s Syndrome can (where children are born with a third copy of chromosome 21).

If genetic testing becomes routine on all patients diagnosed with schizophrenia, then perhaps in time a commonality will be discovered. If patients are being given a false reason for taking a (currently hollow) test, does the end justify the means?

Let’s start by making a comparison with Down’s Syndrome once again. Since diagnostic testing has become more reliable and less invasive for pregnant mothers, abortions have increased. Parents should not be denied their reproductive rights of course, but campaigners living with the condition have expressed their fears at where that statistical trend will end up, or how such knowledge could be abused by eugenicists.

Just this month Japan agreed to pay compensation to thousands of individuals with mental health conditions, intellectual disabilities and physical disabilities who were sterilised over five decades until 1996. 25,000 people were sterilised under the so-called Eugenics Protection Law. Almost half gave their consent to the procedure.

Professor Peter Kinderman, a clinical psychologist, is dismayed at psychiatry’s latest approach to confronting conversations about schizophrenia. “Biological explanations of mental illness appear to offer people the suggestion that they are not to blame for their difficulties. But in truth the history of both psychology and psychiatry is littered with the debris of eugenics, where biological and genetic explanations are used as justification for harsh, discriminatory, and sometimes even lethal treatment,” he says. “Even if we did have a genetic test for so-called schizophrenia, we should be extremely reluctant to roll out its use. But in truth the notion is scientific fantasy anyway.”

Full story: Mental Health Today

Social media addiction should be considered a disease, MPs have said, in a sign of the pressures facing technology companies and the growing concern over the impact social networks are having on users’ mental health.

The politicians called for further research on the effects of social media but said a report suggested there was good reason to believe sites such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter – which are constantly competing for users to spend more time on their platforms – could be having a corrosive effect on children.

“It is paramount that we protect young people to ensure they are kept safe and healthy when they are online,” said the MPs, who believe the government should urgently fund long-term studies to see whether a clinical definition for social media addiction should be introduced.

The report was compiled by the all-party parliamentary group on social media and young people’s mental health and wellbeing, made up of MPs who have an interest in the topic. The report was written with the assistance of the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) charity, which endorsed its findings following a series of evidence hearings.

Full story: Guardian

A former member of Mind staff has authored a report sharing what he learned during his time at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). After working tirelessly on benefits and mental health issues for many years at Mind, Tom Pollard spent 18 months working as Senior Mental Health Policy Advisor for the DWP.

The secondment lasted from November 2016 until April 2018 and culminated with a report – Pathways from Poverty – published by DEMOS. The aim of Tom’s secondment was to advise policy and practice in order to better support people with mental health problems and other disabled people accessing the Government’s controversial welfare system.

This report highlights that progress is being hindered by barriers and resistance to change that are embedded within the DWP’s culture. Rather than challenging specific ideas or policies and looking at issues in isolation, the report calls for radical and institutional reform to a government department that is currently ‘institutionally and culturally incapable’ of supporting disabled people.

Responding to the report, Paul Farmer, Mind’s Chief Executive, said: “We welcome this report, which echoes Mind’s longstanding concerns about the benefits system. We have consistently campaigned for a system which supports, not demonises, those of us with mental health problems. If you are out of work because of your mental health, you need empathy, understanding and financial support, not mandatory activities or the threat of sanctions. This report shines a bright light on fundamental cultural problems within the DWP that are preventing the change we need to see.

“Given the high proportion of people with mental health problems who need support from the benefits system, it’s only right that mental health should be at the heart of every project, reform and policy. In order to properly understand and support people who need support from benefits, there needs to be greater mental health expertise within the DWP, and a willingness to involve people in decisions that affect them. Successive benefits reforms have encountered major problems and have often left people with mental health problems getting the worst deal. This report suggests the need for a fresh approach to welfare policy and delivery.”

Source: National Mind

The independent review of the Mental Health Act 1983 has been published. The Act sets out when people with a mental health problem can be detained and treated in hospital against their will. 

The review was established by Prime Minister Theresa May last year to look at how the legislation is used and what needs to change. Recommendations include minimising the numbers of people being held against their will; strengthening the rights, dignity and wellbeing of people who are in extremely vulnerable situations; and dealing with racial inequality in the use of the Act. 

Mind was part of the steering and working groups for the review and Steven Gilbert, who has lived experience of the Act and is also trustee at Mind, was the vice-chair of the board. 

Responding to the review, Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind, said:

“Mind welcomes the review and the recommendations of the panel. This outdated legislation has seen thousands of people experience poor, sometimes appalling, treatment, who still live with the consequences to this day. We are pleased to see that many of our concerns – and those of the people we represent and have supported to feed into the review – have been heard. 

“The recommendations to strengthen people’s rights, empower them to question decisions about their care, choose their treatment and involve friends and family have the potential to make a real difference to those who are in an extremely vulnerable situation. We back the call for people on mental health wards to have a legal right to an independent advocate and agree that people who have been detained should be able to choose which family members and friends can make decisions about their care and treatment. 

“It’s good to see the review address racial inequalities. We know that black people are disproportionately sectioned, are more likely to be restrained, and are most likely to be put on a Community Treatment Order. These orders have been proven ineffective in reducing hospital readmission. Tightening the rules for imposing them is a small step in the right direction but we are disappointed that the review has not called to scrap them. Likewise, we back the promotion of race equality in mental health services and in the use of the Act but this must come with concrete commitments, including that the NHS builds relationships with local communities. 

“The Government now needs to take this review forward as soon as possible so that people with mental health problems get the support they need. A key test of the recommendations will be their impact on racial inequality and we look forward to the NHS long-term plan which will set out how mental health care will be transformed. These recommended changes are much needed but detentions will only reduce when people have access to quality, culturally relevant and timely care, so that fewer people end up in a mental health crisis.”

Source: National Mind

The word “crisis” comes up a lot whenever children and young people’s mental health is mentioned. Whether it’s youngsters in desperate need of acute care being sent hundreds of miles away for treatment due to local bed shortages, failure to receive help even after their GP has referred them for specialist care, or enduring problems with NHS child and adolescent mental health services (Camhs), patients under 18 find it increasingly difficult to access the support they need.

Today, for the first time, the Office for National Statistics is publishing figures on children and young people’s views and experiences of loneliness and how to overcome it. Separately, NHS Digital figures published last week found that as of the end of August, 213,702 children were referred to or being seen by children and young people’s mental health services. In all, one in eight young people between five and 18 in England has a mental health disorder. While the government has repeatedly said that youth mental health is a priority and has pledged to do more, especially around early intervention, the reality is that for many of those seeking help, long waits and inadequate services are the norm.

“Growing numbers of young people are seeking mental health support, meaning that an already over-stretched system is a long way from meeting demand,” says Emma Thomas, the chief executive of the charity Young Minds. “This can have devastating consequences. Every child who reaches out for support should be able to get the help they need.” We talked to young adults about their experiences of seeking help and accessing mental health services while under 18 and asked them what they feel needs to change.

Full story: Guardian

Over the past decade, social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter have become a central part of everyday life. Despite their massive popularity, however, controversy abounds regarding their impact on mental health and wellbeing. A new research study by the University of Amsterdam (UvA) has now found a correlation between the passive use of social media and depression symptoms like loneliness and fatigue. The findings were recently published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.

For many of us it is a daily habit. Whenever we have a moment to spare, we find ourselves reaching for our smartphones and aimlessly scrolling through social media feeds reading updates or looking at pictures. This behaviour, called passive social media use (PSMU), is often used to relieve boredom and can swallow up large chunks of personal time. While seemingly innocent, PSMU isn’t without controversy – experimental research shows that it can decrease affective wellbeing, a sense of belonging and life satisfaction.

To investigate the link between social media use and depression symptoms, an international research team led by the UvA recruited 125 students and measured their wellbeing and passive social media use seven times daily for 14 days. A special app on their phones prompted participants at fixed times to complete a 12-item depression questionnaire. Their responses were analysed with a novel statistical technique, which was developed/implemented by researchers affiliated with the UvA’s Psychosystems Group (Dr Laura Bringmann and Dr Sacha Epskamp). The analysis focused on three timeframes – short-term (within the same two hours), medium-term (prediction from one prompt to next) and longer-term (across the entire 14 days).

Full story: News Medical

A major NHS report has found that one in eight young people in England, aged between five and 19, suffer with a mental health disorder.

The survey, which looked at data from more than 9,000 children living in England and registered with a GP, found an increase in conditions such as anxiety, depression and OCD in children over the past decade.

A worrying one in 18 children aged two to four years now has at least one mental health condition, while 17-19-year-old girls have been identified as a ‘high risk’ group, with one in four suffering with disorder and 46.8% of children in this age category attempting self-harm or suicide.

The emotional wellbeing of children is just as important as their physical health, and while having a conversation with your child about mental issues can be challenging, it can be the important first step in helping them to find the support they need.

Sarah Kendrick, head of service from children’s mental health charity Place2Be, reveals the dos and don’ts for talking to a young people you think may be struggling to cope.

Full story: Independent

A survey conducted by Rethink Mental Key Illness on people’s experiences of care and treatment shows that those severely affected by mental illness are often waiting the longest for treatment and receiving the worst care.

This survey of over 1,600 people shows that the extreme challenges we have experienced as individuals and families are part of a bigger problem. The findings speak for themselves: people are waiting over three months for an assessment alone and over six months for treatment to begin. 

The report found:

  • The average waiting time for an assessment was 14 weeks
  • One in twenty people had waited more than a year
  • One in three people asked for a service that they were told was unavailable
  • Over a quarter of people felt they were referred to a service that was not appropriate to support their mental health
  • Just over half those asked felt they received support for a sufficient and appropriate time
  • Over 20 people had thought about or attempted suicide due to the lack of services

Click here to download a copy of the report.

Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, has written to the Prime Minister calling for clarity on the use of so-called “gagging clauses” in government contracts with charities.

The issue has come to the fore again after a story in The Times newspaper (subscription required) this morning said that as many as 40 charities had signed probation service contracts with the Ministry of Justice that said they must not do anything that would adversely affect the reputation of the justice secretary.

The newspaper last month highlighted similar concerns about the use of gagging clauses in contracts with the Department for Work and Pensions, although the Shaw Trust, which was named in the article, said at the time that the contract did not affect its independence as a charity.

Etherington said in a statement today that the issue had rumbled on for some time and he was calling on the government to provide “absolute clarity about whether these clauses, in any way, should prevent charities from speaking out”.

He said: “I have written today to the Prime Minister to ask her to confirm whether these clauses would prevent charities from publicly expressing concern about a particular policy or programme.”

Full story: Third Sector