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Category: Features

Ralf Little supports WellHappy

As promised, The Media Mind interviewed actor Ralf Little at the launch of WellHappy, a health app for London’s young people. Here’s what he had to say:

The Two Pints of Lager and A Packet of Crisp‘s actor attended the event with fashion designer Sadie Frost in support of the WellHappy app.

The app was produced by myhealthlondon, YoungMinds and Living Well.

In this video, Ralf speaks of why he supports the new project.

When asked about how open people are with talking about mental health today, Ralf said:

Everybody has a sex drive and sex questions, that’s just a way of life. People are a lot more reluctant to talk about mental health.

Sadie also spoke to The Media Mind about her personal experience of anxiety in this video.

We also spoke to the creators of Well Happy, Kat Cormack and Devika Chowdhury, about their work. Watch our video with them here.

London band, Mammoth Sound, also performed live at the event designed to encourage open discussion about sex and relationships, mental health and substance misuse.

The app is available from the Apple store here and the Google play store.

Category: Features

From Addiction to recovery – True Story

This is a story of one man’s struggle to seek help to overcome an addiction to drugs and alcohol.

A fight with addiction
Kristoffer Johansson* is a broadcast journalist currently undergoing a masters degree in journalism at City University London.

For the past seven years, Kristoffer has had bipolar disorder. However, due to a fear and an unwillingness to accept official routes to control the disorder he’s taken to self-medicating, relying on drugs and alcohol to balance his moods.

After an emergency trip to the hospital following a drug-fuelled binge that went wrong, Kristoffer realised he couldn’t hide from his mental state any longer and needed to seek help before it was too late.

 

The road to recovery

When he visited a GP he was given the details for a local addiction centre and was told the doctor wouldn’t help any further until he started to control his substance abuse.

Now, at a different clinic than originally suggested following a few failed attempts to make contact with the first, Kristoffer has his own support worker who is readily available to guide, educate and support him on his road to recovery.

He also has access to free group therapy sessions, mindfulness classes and gym facilities, to name but a few activities. Kristoffer still has a long journey ahead of him but has certainly made those initial steps in the right direction.

But the process to get this support, though on the surface was simple enough, presented mental hurdles every step of the way.

For Kristoffer, the most shocking of hurdles to overcome was that fact that he was regularly greeted with an unfriendliness and harshness by those very people who are working in a system there to help.

This is Kristoffer’s story in his own words:

Master of lies

You would probably never be able to guess what I suffer from.

The only thing that could possibly give this away is if we met up close and if you saw the traces of it on my scarred wrists.

When you suffer from what I do, especially if you self medicate and have an addictive personality, you automatically become a professional liar, hider and manipulator.

The more you love someone, the more you care for someone, the bigger the reason you have for not wanting to hurt them by your mental illness. Therefore, logically, the more you lie.

Because I don’t look or act like I’m mentally ill when you see me walking down the street or sitting in a lecture (at 10am, after having drank two cans of beer and snorted a couple of lines of cocaine or amphetamine), you’d never be able to get me the help I need, no matter how much you care for me.

Not my acquaintances and especially not the ones closest to me (since these are who I lie to most) will ever notice how I feel or how I treat myself, unless I let them.

Turning point

Eventually, after an accidental overdose, which made it impossible to hide my mental status any longer, I received the support and strength needed to seek treatment.

Unfortunately, my attempt to find help was only to be greeted by a verbal elbow in my face and an annoyed look, putting me on the verge of completely giving up – to give up and to possibly repeat that accidental overdose some day in the future, but maybe next time it would be deliberate.

Guilty feelings

The verbal elbow and the eyes that told me I wasn’t welcome at the rehab clinic (a place referred to me by my GP) was something I needed to confront as I knew I had done nothing wrong.

If the fact I had visited the wrong clinic was anyone’s fault, it was either my GP’s or the lady’s with the elbow on the reception.

But what you need to understand is that when you feel like I do, you think that everyone hates you and you always think that you have something to apologise for.

In the same way that you lie the most to the people you love the most, you automatically think that the people you care for the most are the ones who hate you the most.

A right to life

If that elbow and annoyed look from the lady at the rehab clinic would be swapped for an outstretched hand and a friendly smile it could lead to a place in care, and hopefully consequences in a life without addiction and mental instability.

Don’t get me wrong, I know there are many people within the NHS that want what’s best for you and who try their hardest to help.

But, if I – someone who you can’t physically see is suffering, someone who has support from a vast social network of relatives and friends – almost wasn’t strong enough to keep pushing for my rights a second, third and fourth time after that elbow, how do you think someone without my network but with my symptoms would feel?

The thing is, it is your RIGHT to have the opportunity to help yourself, and to be encouraged when you try.

The battle goes on

Though I have finally found a suitable place to help me after several redirections, miscommunications and unwelcoming greetings, I’m not saying now that I am guaranteed to get well.

I’m not naïve and saying that the understanding and friendly staff in the clinic I’m now welcomed to will automatically create miracles for me.

I’m not saying I will never crave that shortcut of self-medication as opposed to taking the long and painful route towards wellbeing in the long run.

I’m just saying that I now seem to have the opportunity to get better after fighting for it.

But that is the problem – I wasn’t GIVEN that opportunity, I had to FIGHT for it.

I had to fight for help after I had managed to fight the two toughest battles of them all: first, to admit to myself what I needed, and secondly, to allow those closest to me become soldiers who now fight by my side.

Many, many people have been and will be weaker than me and will never be able to win those first two battles. Why then make them fight an elbow and an annoyed look on top of it all?


If you’re in a similar situation to Kristoffer, there are a wide range of services available to help you cope and the NHS provides a great deal of information to help get your treatment started.

For immediate information and support regarding drugs, call the Frank helpline on 0800 776600. Frank is a confidential helpline, operating 24 hours every day.

Alternatively, use this search to find your nearest NHS drug addiction support services.

*Name has been changed for privacy

Category: Features

Negative attitudes to mental illness are not shifting – and the media may have something to do with it

Overall public attitudes towards mental health have not improved significantly since the mid 1990s.

Meanwhile, the proportion of newspaper reports which adopt a stigmatising tone towards mental health has not improved either, suggesting that the media may have played a role in maintaining these negative attitudes.

Many people continue to hold negative and discriminatory beliefs towards mental health, despite the extensive work of anti-stigma campaigns such as Shift and Time to Change, as well as a number of celebrities opening up publicly about their mental issues.

One in six people continue to believe that one of the main causes of mental illness is a lack of self-discipline and will-power, whilst one in five think that as soon as a person shows signs of mental disturbance, they should be hospitalised. Both these figures have remained largely unchanged between 1995 and 2011 (see graph below).

Indications that attitudes were slowly improving in the late 1990s were short-lived. The proportion of people agreeing with negative statements peaked again most notably in 2003 and again in 2011.

One area which has seen a slight improvement is the idea that people with mental illness are a burden on society, the proportion of people agreeing with which has decreased by 5 percent since 1995.

Yet, on the whole, figures have remained relatively constant over this 16 year period.

Negative Attitudes v Personal Experiences

Stigmatising beliefs such as these can be highly damaging. Of the people surveyed by Time to Change, 60 percent said the stigma they face from the public is worse than the symptoms of their mental illness.

However, a study recently published in the British Journal of Psychiatry does show that the number of people reporting discrimination from friends and family fell between 2008 and 2011.

I asked psychiatrist Dr Claire Henderson to offer an explanation for this discrepancy. She suggests that it is much easier to influence the way people behave with those they are close to than to change people’s attitudes more generally.

“Someone’s behaviour towards someone they know who has a mental health problem could improve in the absence of their attitudes to mental illness in general changing very much”, commented Henderson.

The Role of the Media

Two studies allow us to compare this data on public attitudes and personal experiences with newspaper coverage of mental illness since the mid-1990s.

Guardian journalist Mary O’Hara’s research into newspaper reports found little change in the proportion of negative articles between 1995 and 2009. In fact, she found that tabloids had become more negative with regards to mental illness.

A study published this year in the British Journal of Psychiatry illustrates a continuation of O’Hara’s findings since 2009.

O’Hara’s and the BJP statistics reveal that, like public attitudes, the proportion of negative articles has also remained steady – at around 45 percent – throughout the period between 1995 and 2011.

These findings suggest that the media has played an important role in influencing attitudes, especially since many of the negative ideas evident in newspaper reports are reflected in the data on public attitudes.

Sensationalist headlines can create misleading impressions of mental illness. ‘You still do see ‘crazed’ or ‘psycho’’, says O’Hara, ‘and they’re usually in relation to people committing violent crimes’.

15 percent of headlines in O’Hara’s study and 18 percent of articles in the more recent BJP study made a link between mental illness and dangerousness. This connection is also prominent in the public attitudes data – a third of people would describe someone who is mentally ill as ‘someone prone to violence’.

The media ability to generate and maintain stereotypes such as the association between mental health and violence is highlighted by psychologist Dr Otto Wahl who has conducted extensive research into the powerful role of mass media images of mental illness; images which he asserts are largely false.

Indeed, leading charity Mind asserts that people with mental health problems are more likely to be the victim of a violent crime than the perpetrator.

But why would media coverage have such a powerful influence on public attitudes but little influence on how people behave in more personal roles?

“If you already know someone with a mental illness then subsequent media coverage seems less likely to impact on your behaviour towards them”, suggests Dr Henderson.

This discrepancy may hold an important lesson for anti-stigma campaigns, says Dr Henderson. It suggests that reducing stigma and discrimination might depend on more social contact between the public and those with mental health problems.

The negative attitudes towards mental illness which many people continue to hold are likely to be due to a combination of factors rather than solely due to stigmatising media coverage.

But statistics do suggest that the continuation of sensationalist and inaccurate media coverage is having an important influence on public attitudes and helps to explain why people a significant proportion of people continue to hold false ideas and stereotypes about people with mental health problems.

Category: Features

From addiction to recovery: the referral process

Kristoffer Johansson* is addicted to drugs. After an emergency visit to hospital he realised something had to change. Like 27,229 UK adults did between 2011-2012, Kristoffer referred himself to rehab.

After a brief break from the UK, the trainee journalist returned home determined to seek professional help to control his seven year battle against bipolar. This took an unexpected turn, and Kristoffer has now entered a structured treatment programme to overcome his reliance on drugs and alcohol.

 

The Who

Almost 200,000 adults in the UK underwent official treatment to overcome drug abuse between 2011 and 2012, according to the National Drug Treatment Monitoring System (NDTMS).

Out of these, 69,434 were new to treatment journeys.

Like Kristoffer, during this period the majority of the clients undergoing treatment were white (88 percent) and male (73 percent).

The median age for the men was 35 years, one year older than that of the women.

The How

The search for official help took Kristoffer from speaking to a doctor in the A&E department, registering at a local doctor’s surgery, and finally finding a personal support worker at a rehab centre.

Between 2011 to 2012, by far the most common route in was through self referral, with four in ten clients starting treatment this way.

In comparison, only six percent were officially referred by doctors, and 182 clients went through accident and emergency departments, which may be a surprise to many.

Treatment is provided free by the NHS alongside many charity services and getting help can be a simple process. But for someone constantly struggling with their own mental state, Kristoffer felt like he was fighting an uphill battle.

Kristoffer faced uncompassionate staff throughout the process. When he made contact with health professionals he was routinely told he was speaking to the wrong person. He had to overcome a clinic’s phone number that didn’t connect and an out-of-date website publicising misinformation. And most of all, he has had to fight past his own prejudices about what it means to visit an addiction rehab centre.

The hardest part of asking for help came when he heard that his GP could not proceed with treatment for his mental health until he started to control his substance abuse.

He hadn’t been aware that he wasn’t in control. And he had no idea what was next.

The good news is, the majority of clients received their first intervention within three weeks from their first point of contact between 2011 and 2012. Kristoffer’s situation mirrored this after registering with the GP.

This number has increased steadily over the past six years from 87 percent in 2006 to 2007 to 97 percent, as found by the NDTMS.

Commenting on the challenges Kristoffer went through, Harry Shapiro, Director of Communications for the UK’s leading charity supporting professionals working in drug and alcohol treatment DrugWise, said:

As the figures show, there has been a dramatic reduction over the past decade in the waiting times for entering drug treatment.  In the late 90s and early  part of this century – a wait of a year or more was not uncommon.

That said, there are still long-standing concerns for those with a dual diagnosis of substance misuse and mental health problems.

As you have reported, the person in this situation can easily fall through the net of service provision.

And while overall service provision is good, drug users can face stigmatising and hostile responses from health and social care workers. All these issues have yet to be addressed satisfactorily.

The What Next

Treatment is personalised for every individual who seeks help and can involve a number of activities. These may include attending weekly private meetings at day centres, group therapy and mindfulness sessions, drug substitution, or alternatively inpatient detoxification.

Out of the 63,020 clients who exited treatment in 2011 to 2012, nearly half of them left having completed their programmes and were defined having overcome their dependency. On average (mean), these completed their treatment in 506 days (16 months).

Though it’s only been a couple of weeks, Kristoffer’s support worker has been meeting with him weekly and has exchanged mobile phone numbers so to offer 24 hour support.

A long journey still awaits Kristoffer in his battle against bipolar and addiction. But one thing is for sure, at least he has made that first crucial step in the right direction.


For immediate information and support regarding drugs, call the Frank helpline on 0800 776600. Frank is a confidential helpline, operating 24 hours every day.

Alternatively, use this search to find your nearest NHS drug addiction support services.

To understand the effects of street drugs on your mental health Mind has more information here.

*Name changed for privacy

Category: Features

Mental Health services spending cuts: “Counter Productive”

A leading mental health charity has warned that spending cuts on council mental health care are being hit more than other social care services, and that it will put extra strain on the NHS if they continue.

According to data collated by The Media Mind, spending on mental health services, designated as services for people “under 65 with mental health needs” has fallen by 5.4% over the last three years. This is roughly five times more than spending for social care has been cut as a whole, around 1.1% over the same time period.

In response, Mind – the leading charity on mental health services across the UK and – has criticised the culture of austerity as “counter-productive”.

Amy Whitelock, Policy and Campaigns Manager at Mind, told us:

“The figures suggest the cuts are disproportionately falling on mental health care and support. Social care can be a crucial lifeline for many people with mental health problems, helping them to stay well, manage their condition and live independently in the community.”

Across England, services provided by local authorities for these mental health services were worth £1.14 billion in 2010/11, falling to £1.07 billion in 2012/13. This figure is expected to fall further in future.

Usually funded by county councils, unitary authorities, and London’s borough councils, these services include drop-in centres, sheltered housing, and addiction support services. The NHS compliments this service, but local authorities are often considered the “frontline” in mental health social care, and provide support for those in the community that do not require NHS treatment.

Amy Whitelock added that cutting funding to these services will mean more people who need the care will be turned away by councils as they struggle to balance their books. She added: “People who are denied social care are likely to become more unwell, in turn putting more pressure on health services.”

The Care and Social bill, which was announced in the Queen’s speech on Wednesday, was supposed to lay out people’s rights to social care, but with the cuts to mental health services being only one chunk of the cuts to social care spending as a whole, it may see more onus placed on an already stretched NHS, rather than local authorities.

Some up, some down

However, not all councils are cutting back.

The City of London is one of the few whose budgets have risen in the last three years. But that’s not what is most surprising about the City of London. They spend more than double that per person than any other council in the country.

£195 per head is spent on social care services for people under 65 with mental health needs. To put it in perspective, Camden – the second highest spender in terms of per capita for mental health services – spends £67 per head.

But with only 7,400 people who actually live in the City of London, what does that money go on?

Marion Lang, the service care manager for City of London, pointed out that most of the money goes on helping the homeless.

“Historically the City of London has had a commitment to working with the homeless who, after being connected with the city, become the City of London’s responsibility to support if there are no other discernible connections with another authority.”

The City of London commissions its own homeless person’s charity, called Broadway. Broadway works with over 7,000 people every year to provide housing and support for those without.

But City of London are one of only the few out of the 154 councils responsible for this spending who have had an increase in their budget for mental health services.

Despite some councils actually increasing spending, Mind are quick to criticise the overall government attitude to spending, saying that “making cuts to save money in the short term is counter-productive.”

Source: Department for Communities and Local Government

 

Category: Features

Top tips for healthy living when on the road

Constantly on the road? Trying to lose weight but lack energy? Can’t sleep? Nutritionist Suzi Green has worked in the music bizz and knows all about it. These are her top tips for healthy living in an industry that’s go go go.

Suzi worked in the music industry for over 15 years from being a promoter to tour managing up to 300 artists at festivals.
Now, she is a Naturopathic Nutritionist practising in North London, specialising in dietary solutions for busy lifestyles and the not so saintly!
1.What was life like working in the music business?

There was lots of thinking on my feet, lots of sleepless nights, lots of stress and overall a need to adapt fast to ever changing situations. Do that for a long time and it would take its toll on anyone’s health and wellbeing!
2. How did you learn to cope with the pressures?
It was definitely a learning curve on many levels.

When I first started I think I was desperate to prove myself,particularly with tour managing, as even as little as 10 years ago it was often a male dominated role. I’ve lost count of the times I’d show up at a venue and the local crew would tell me later that when I stepped off the tourbus and started lugging flightcases with everyone else, they’d be surprised as they thought I was someone’s girlfriend!

I put my all in, worked 24/7, and you can only sustain that for so long.

Touring particularly, and with any job where you are working away for long stretches of time, it’s hard to step away and find time for yourself.

I noticed little things at first. I was more tired, was feeling low and lacked energy, and it took me longer to bounce back.

I’m a strong believer in your body tells you what it needs and if you ignore it, it will shout louder and louder until it gets your attention! 

There was one particular tour I came home from and felt so utterly exhausted on every level, I decided then that something had to give.

Change rarely happens overnight and I started thinking long term about my lifestyle. I also saw a homeopath and a nutritionist, had some tests done that showed I was suffering from adrenal fatigue (a type of burnout) and a borderline thyroid problem, and that got me thinking as to what I could do to support myself when I was away for long periods.

I guess the seed was sown there and then and that was the start of my journey. It was definitely baby steps at first!

3. Enjoying the journey

What are your top tips for those working long hours and often on the road?

Some of the things I incorporated to survive those 20 hour days were sneaking in mini sleeps. Oh, the magical power of the disco naps!

Sometimes even 10 minutes away to shut your eyes can help restore you.

I also learnt to meditate and had some ingenious methods for getting 15 minutes away at least once a day.

I’ve meditated in toilets, backs of vans, even a cupboard! There’s some amazing research behind meditation as to how it helps keep your head in a state of equilibrium and is beneficial for physical health as well.

And of course, it goes without saying almost, eat as best you can.

This is easier said than done when you’re on the move and takes some pre-planning depending on your situation.

When I was away on tourbuses, we were lucky enough to have some kitchen facilities, extremely minimal, but a fridge to keep things in and some space for my potions.One time a bus driver did throw out my bag of spirulina as he thought it looked ‘dodgy’. Quite what he thought it was I’m not sure!

On our rider I started including less of the blue M&Ms and more of a selection of fresh fruit and vegetables.  Some of the people I was working with were more keen on this than others!!

I found an ingenious way to start getting everyone to sneak in some of the fruit, even the doubtful. I brought along a small blender and would make up jugs of fruit smoothies aka Suzi’s ‘Green Stuff’ with that aforementioned spirulina (everything it touches turns green), plus bee pollen, live yoghurt, manuka honey etc. Anything I could think of I’d chuck it in to keep everyone’s immune systems going and energy levels up.

When you’re working and living closely together, if one person gets ill, everyone gets it, so keeping everyone as healthy as I could became really important.

Also, it’s important to say, everyone loved it! Who doesn’t want to feel like they’re being looked after and doing something good for themselves?!

4. Lunch box favourites

Yogurt coated raisins are delicious, but sneakily full of sugar – which are the best foods for on the go, that provide energy, but are not full of any of the nasty stuff?

Food marketing has become ever cleverer and more seductive in persuading us to buy so called healthy foods which are anything but.

Best snacks of all are the ones you put together yourself and that have some protein to keep your energy steady.

Low GI fruit and a few nuts are a great quick snack.

GI is the Glycaemic Index that food is categorized by and the ideal is to keep the GI as low as you can to keep your energy steady. Higher GI spikes your blood sugar and whilst it may give you a quick boost, it doesn’t sustain for long and makes you more tired and craving more sugar in the long run.

So low GI fruit are the less sweet ones meaning choose apples, pears, strawberries, raspberries and other berries, rather than pineapples, grapes and mangoes which tend to be over sweet.

I’m not a huge fan of dried fruit either as it’s very concentrated and sweet and easy to eat too much of.

Oatcakes are also good as they come in small packets and last for ages stashed in pockets and drawers.

Have them with a little humus or tahini or nut butter for protein. Nut butters come in an amazing variety- cashew, almond, hazelnut – and they last for ages and don’t need refridgerating.

5. Perfect fridge fillers

Schedules can often be irregular when working in the media, making it hard to stock a fridge with fresh and healthy goodies but actually have the time to eat them before they go off – what are your favourite fridge fillers?

Easiest quick mini meals are smoothies as they take a minute to make and require little thought or preparation.

My favourite easy recipe is a small cup of coconut milk, a scoop of whey protein powder or a small handful of nuts, a spoonful of ground flax seeds (you can buy them ready ground in health shops) or flax seed oil for mood boosting Omega 3, add fruit and blend!

Coconut is great for you as its antibacterial and antiviral and is full of the healthy type of fats.

Canned coconut milk is one source, dilute it with some water, or try Kara coconut milk which is thinner and more like a traditional milk, or even coconut water which has become very popular lately and is full of electrolytes so great for restoring energy.

You can buy a small blender for £20 and they’re very portable, but if that’s too much to manage if you’re living out of small bag, you can use a shaker cup, easy to find in sports and health shops and just stick with the protein powder and the coconut milk or water and eat the fruit.

6. The truth behind the 5:2 Diet

The 5:2 diet and its alternatives appear to have become the next big craze – Is this really a long term solution for those trying to lose weight and live healthily in this unstable industry?

I’m yet to meet someone who is successfully accomplishing the 5:2 diet.

In principle it sounds doable, but my experience has found many people have had issues with overcompensating on the 5 days and eating much more than they ordinarily would do as they’ve just made it through a day of deprivation!

Also, the 5:2 diet isn’t such a great choice if you have blood sugar issues as it can lead to energy ups and downs.

You’re a blood sugary type if you’re the sort of person who starts going a bit mad if deprived of food for too long and you may start feeling faint, confused and even angry. I’d fit into that category! So better if you’ve this tendency to aim to eat every 3 hours or so and be mindful of portion size and what you’re eating.

7. Move over carbs!

Many people I know are trying to give up carbs (specifically grains and potatoes) – what alternatives would you suggest?

Actually, as a method of weight control, I heartily recommend cutting down on grains and potatoes!

We tend to load up on too many of the starchier carbohydrates which can lead to weight gain. Current studies are also showing that the increase in diabetes and obesity may well be down to too much processed carbohydrate, and less about saturated fat which is different to what was once thought.

It’s far healthier to fill up on a variety of vegetables, particularly the leafy greens and good quality animal or vegetable protein, a little fruit and nuts and seeds – in short a caveman type diet in the way to go!

8. Time to beat insomnia

Quite a few trainee journalists have told me that they suffer from insomnia due to not being able to stop their minds from thinking and worrying about their work load – what advice would you suggest?

If you’re having problems sleeping, try and establish a sleep routine before bedtime.

Have at least an hour technology free prior to bed, so no laptops, social media and no TV if you can manage it, or at the very least no tense thrillers or anything to stimulating.  Instead, look on the last hour before bedtime as a time to wind down and relax.

Tryptophan snacks can be helpful.

Tryptophan is an amino acid which is the precursor to melatonin which helps us sleep. It’s also an ingredient of seratonin, the happy hormone. Turkey, almonds, bananas, soya, tuna, pumpkin seeds and cheese are all good sources, so try and include some in the latter half of the day.

A cup of hot almond milk with a square of dark chocolate melted into it can be a nice tryptophan bed time drink! Chocolate is rich in magnesium which is also relaxing.

If you’re the blood sugary type, a small snack half hour before bed can be helpful too, contrary to what we’ve been told. The reason is it helps regulate your blood sugar whilst you’re asleep, so if your blood sugar drops, it can wake you up.

Alcohol at night also messes with blood sugar, and that together with the dehydration that accompanies drinking booze can also mean you don’t sleep so well.

Other things- make sure your room is really dark, keep electrical items out of the bedroom and try a herbal tea before bed including some of the sleep inducing herbs such as lemon balm, valerian and chamomile.

If you want further information about Suzi Green, or would like to book a consultation, please visit www.GreenVitality.co.uk.