Here’s how you can connect to friends who are depressed

Some heartfelt advice from writer Bill Bernat, who’s been there

When I lived with severe depression and social anxiety, I found it extremely difficult to talk to strangers. Yet the one conversation that uplifted me more than any other occurred in the dining hall of the mental health wing of a mountain-town hospital. I met a woman who told me that a few days earlier, she’d driven her Jeep Wrangler to the edge of the Grand Canyon. She sat there, revving the engine and thinking about driving over.

She described what had been going on in her life in the days and months leading up, what her thoughts were at that exact moment, why she wanted to die, and why she didn’t do it. We nodded and half-smiled, and then it was my turn to talk about my journey to our table in that fine dining establishment. I had taken too many sleeping pills. After the doctors treated me, they were like, “Hey, we’d love it if you would be our guest in the psych ward!”

That day, she and I talked shop. She allowed me to be deeply depressed andsimultaneously have a genuine connection to another person. For the first time, I identified as someone living with depression and I felt, oddly, good about it — or rather, like I wasn’t a bad person for having it.

Now, imagine one of the people at that table was a member of your family or a close friend who told you they were really depressed. Would you be comfortable talking to them?

Depression doesn’t diminish a person’s desire to connect with other people, just their ability.

The World Health Organization says that depression is the leading cause of ill health and disability worldwide, affecting more than 300 million people. In the United States, the National Institute of Mental Health reports 7 percent of Americans experience depression in a year. But while depression is super common, in my experience most folks don’t want to talk to depressed people unless we pretend to be happy. So we learn to put on a cheerful façade for casual interactions, like buying a pumpkin spice latte. The average barista doesn’t want to know that a customer is trapped in the infinite darkness of their soul.

Depression doesn’t diminish a person’s desire to connect with other people, just their ability. And despite what you might think, talking to friends and family living with depression can be easy and maybe fun. Not like Facebook-selfie-with-Lady-Gaga-at-an-underground-party fun — instead, I’m talking about the kind of fun where people enjoy each other’s company effortlessly, no one feels awkward, and no one accuses the sad person of ruining the holidays.

There’s a chasm that exists. On one side are people with depression, and on the other side is everyone else and they’re asking, “Why you gotta be so depressed?”

I’ve noticed there’s a chasm that exists. On the one side are those people living with depression, who may act in off-putting or confusing ways because they’re fighting a war in their head that nobody else can see. On the other side is everyone else, and they’re looking across the divide, shaking their heads, and asking, ‘Why you gotta be so depressed?’

I began battling depression when I was eight, and decades later, to my surprise, I started winning that battle. I shifted from being miserable much of the time to enjoying life. Today I live pretty well with bipolar disorder, and I’ve overcome some other mental health conditions, like overeating, addiction and social anxiety. As someone who lives on both sides of this chasm, I want to offer you some guidance based on my experiences to help you build a bridge across. I’ve also talked to a lot of people who’ve lived with depression to refine these suggestions.

Please don’t let our lack of bubbly happiness freak you out. Sadness doesn’t need to be treated with the urgency of a shark attack.

Before I get to the dos, here are the don’ts — some things you might want to avoid when talking to someone who’s depressed.

Don’t say “Just get over it.” That’s a great idea – we love it —  but there’s just one problem: we already thought of that. The inability to “just get over it” is depression. Depression is an illness, so it’s no different from telling someone with a broken ankle or cancer to “just get over it.” Try not to fix us — your pressure to be “normal” can make us depressed people feel like we’re disappointing you.

Don’t insist that the things which make other people feel better will work for us. For example, you cannot cure clinical depression by eating ice cream, which is unfortunate because that would be living the dream.

Don’t take it personally if we respond negatively to your advice. I have a friend who, about a year ago, messaged me saying he was feeling really isolated and depressed. I suggested some things for him to do, and he was like, “No, no, and no.” I got mad, like, “How dare he not embrace my brilliant wisdom!” Then I remembered the times I’ve been depressed and how I thought I was doomed in all possible futures and everybody hated me. It didn’t matter how many people told me otherwise; I didn’t believe them. So I let my friend know I cared, and I didn’t take his response personally.

Don’t think that being sad and being OK are incompatible. Please don’t let our lack of bubbly happiness freak you out. Sadness does not need to be treated with the urgency of a shark attack. Yes, we can be sad and OK at the exact same time. TV, movies, popular songs and even people tell us if we’re not happy, there’s something wrong. We’re taught that sadness is unnatural, and we must resist it. In truth, it’s natural and it’s healthy to accept sadness and know it won’t last forever.

Talk to a depressed person as if their life is just as valuable, intense and beautiful as yours.

And here are some dos.

Do talk to us in your natural voice. You don’t need to put on a sad voice because we’re depressed; do you sneeze when you’re talking to somebody with a cold? It’s not rude for you to be upbeat around us.

Do absolve yourself of responsibility for the depressed person. You might be afraid that if you talk to them, you’re responsible for their well-being, that you need to “fix” them and solve their problems. You’re not expected to be Dr. Phil — just be friendly, more like Ellen. You may worry that you won’t know what to say, but words are not the most important thing — your presence is.

Do be clear about what you can and cannot do for us. I’ve told people, “Hey, call or text me anytime, but I might not be able to get back to you that same day.” It’s totally cool for you to make a narrow offer with really clear boundaries. Give us a sense of control by getting our consent about what you’re planning to do. A while back when I was having a depressive episode, a friend reached out and said, “Hey, I want to check in with you. Can I call you every day? Or, maybe text you every day and call you later in the week? What works for you?” By asking for my permission, she earned my confidence and remains one of my best friends today.

Do interact with us about normal stuff or ask us for help. When people were worried about a friend of mine, they’d call him and ask if he wanted to go shopping or help them clean out their garage. This was a great way to reach out. They were engaging with him without calling attention to his depression. He knew they cared, but he didn’t feel embarrassed or like a burden. (Yes, your depressed friends could be a good source of free labor!) Invite them to contribute to your life in some way, even if it’s as small as asking you to go see a movie that you wanted to see in the theater.

This is, by no means, a definitive list. All of these suggestions are grounded in one guiding principle: speaking to someone like they belong and can contribute. That’s what allowed the woman in the Jeep Wrangler to start me on my path to recovery without even trying: She spoke to me like I was OK and had something to offer exactly as I was at that moment. Talk to a depressed person as if their life is just as valuable, intense and beautiful as yours. If you focus on that, it might just be the most uplifting conversation of their life.

This piece was adapted from a talk given at TEDxSnoIsleLibraries2017. 

Here’s how you can connect to friends who are depressed

Postnatal depression: fathers can suffer similar issues to women, say experts

Calls for new fathers as well as mothers to be screened for depression after the birth of a child

The mental health of new fathers is being overlooked despite evidence suggesting men might experience similar rates of depression to mothers after the birth of a child, experts have warned.

It is thought at least 10% of new mothers experience postnatal depression, although charities have said figures could be higher as surveys have shown many women do not seek help or are not asked about their mental health after having a baby.

But recent studies have suggested that new fathers might experience depression at similar rates, and that such depression might affect various developmental outcomes for children as is thought to be the case for new mothers with postnatal depression.

New fathers, however, are generally not screened for mental health problems, and a survey of about 450 new fathers in Sweden last year suggested the scale used to assess mothers for postpartum depression was not necessarily as accurate for men.

Speaking at the American Psychological Association convention, psychologists in the US have said that new fathers should be screened, as new mothers are supposed to be, for mental health problems.

“Fathers need to be seen as the partners that they are, and the family system is what needs to be assessed and treated any time there is a newborn coming into the home,” said Dr Sara Rosenquist, a psychologist based in North Carolina, adding that adoptive parents can also experience postnatal depression. Rosenquist added that men need access to suitable treatment if they have postnatal depression.

The call for new fathers to be screened for mental health problems has also been made in the UK. In November the campaign group Fathers Reaching Out addressed the House of Commons on the issue, led by founder Mark Williams who, alongside his wife, experienced postnatal depression.

Dr Andrew Mayers, an expert in perinatal mental health at Bournemouth University who is among those who have backed the campaign, said that while women can be diagnosed with peripartum depression – relating to the period around giving birth – there is no recognised equivalent diagnosis for men.

“We already know that there is growing evidence that men can experience very similar symptoms, call it what you will, to postnatal depression,” said Mayers, stressing that it is important as it appears to affect fathers’ interactions with their children.

A spokesperson for the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) said that guidelines cover recognising, assessing and treating mental health problems in women who are planning to have a baby, are pregnant, or have had a baby or been pregnant in the past year.

There is scant reference to partners’ mental health, although in the case of traumatic births Nice advises “Take into account the effect of the birth or miscarriage on the partner and encourage them to accept support from family and friends.”

Mayers added that one issue is that postnatal depression is often discussed as a matter of hormones. “Postnatal depression itself is not entirely hormonal, not by a very long way. It is a small part, there are many other factors,” he said. “When people often talk about women and hormones and mental illness they are more likely to be thinking of what we call the baby blues – this happens to the vast majority of women in the first few days of having a baby and the mood will fluctuate dramatically and quite alarmingly in some cases but it tends to disappear.”

Postnatal depression, he said, is often longer-lasting, begins later, is more debilitating and is down to many factors. “Most of those are social-environmental factors, and many of those are common between men and women,” said Mayers, but he noted that different coping mechanisms, feelings about becoming a parent, and a shift in the relationship between partners might be among them. Mayers also noted that in men there is some evidence that testosterone levels change on becoming a father.

Rosenquist agreed that the emphasis on women’s hormones is misplaced. “I think it was originally well intended,” she said. “But it has backfired in many ways because now you have a convenient way of dismissing women’s emotions,” she said.

Mayers added that raising the mental health problems new fathers face is not about funnelling resources away from new mothers. “We are not saying that some of the funding that has been put aside for women also now needs to be put towards men – we want more money, we want more resources, we want a better understanding for what men are going through at this stage as well,” he said, noting that men are more likely to hide symptoms and internalise them due to social stigma. “And it is important – particularly these days when we should be seeing pregnancy, birthing and parenting as a partnership.”

64 Self Care Ideas For When Life Gets Hard

When you’re running low on energy, carrying too many burdens or just not feeling your best, it’s vital that you nurture yourself in order to replenish your resources. If you need some inspiration, look to any one (or more) of these 64 quick and effective ways to practice self care.


  1. Spend time with a parent or mentor—someone who makes you feel safe and inspired


  1. Volunteer to help a cause that means something to you


  1. Listen to music from one of the happiest periods of your life


  1. Practice a mindfulness exercise, even if it’s just deep breathing from your tummy


  1. Light some candles and enjoy your favourite drink


  1. Think of three things you love


  1. Take a hot shower for at least 10 minutes, then change into some soft, clean clothes


  1. Do some creative writing—imagine a fantasy scenario, and lose yourself in it


  1. Go to bed early and make sure you get at least a full 8 hours of sleep.


  1. Make an appointment to see a therapist. Even just one session of unburdening yourself could make a difference


  1. Say out loud “Nothing lasts forever. This too shall pass.”


  1. Visualize a beautiful, calm location and spend 10 minutes imagining you’re there right now


  1. Keep your hands busy with a repetitive activity like knitting, sewing or solving a puzzle


  1. Write down ten things in your life that inspire gratitude.


  1. Sketch something, whether it’s an elaborate drawing or just a doodle of patterns that appeal to you


  1. Go for a hike


  1. Plan a day trip and take photographs of 10 things you see that inspire you


  1. Look into local retreats where you can meet like-minded people and escape from society


  1. Watch YouTube videos of cute animals


  1. Hug someone you love (friend, family member or partner) for 12-15 seconds—studies show this boosts immune system function and prompts the release of calming hormones


  1. Do some yoga—even just five minutes of very basic positions can help you feel calmer and stronger


  1. Go to a café, order your favorite delicious coffee (or some other kind of luxury drink), and read a book or magazine


  1. Move your body even if its just a few star jumps!


  1. Slowly file, buff and paint your nails, then massage soothing cream into your hands


  1. Make a playlist of uplifting songs, and know you can tune in to it whenever things get rough


  1. Let yourself cry if you need to—holding it back tends to make people feel worse instead of better


  1. Challenge yourself to write down 100 things you love about life. This is easier than you might think!


  1. Just say “no” if someone is asking you to do something that feels too much


  1. Recreate a favorite date or day out with your partner or a good friend


  1. Take a full day (even if you have to call in sick) and just take care of yourself


  1. Eat a square of dark chocolate, which is proven to lower the levels of certain stress hormones


  1. Skip your household chores for a full day


  1. Watch several episodes of your favorite TV show, back to back


  1. Empty out your wardrobe, and donate old, ill-fitting or unappealing clothes to charity


  1. If you need to make a tricky decision, create a list of pros and cons


  1. Head to the gym and sweat out your stress with a serious workout


  1. Head to a beautiful, quiet place and watch the sunset


  1. Dance to your favorite songs, and really put your whole body into it!


  1. Watch a movie that is guaranteed to make you laugh


  1. Go cycling or running in a beautiful place (you’ll get the endorphins flowing and expose your mind to natural beauty)


  1. Get your favorite comfort food and savor it without any guilt—you deserve it


  1. Go for a drive with your music turned up loud. Sing along if you like


  1. Switch off from the internet for a full day


  1. Go shopping and treat yourself to one little item that you don’t really need but that represents caring for yourself


  1. Take a long, slow walk, listening to some of your favorite relaxing music on your headphones


  1. Reset your brain and revitalize your energy stores by taking a 15-20 minute nap


  1. Plan a weekend away, whether it’s by yourself or with some people whose company you love


  1. Make a cup of tea and just sip it in quiet stillness


  1. Cook a healthy meal that’s packed with delicious, fresh vegetables


  1. Deliberately externalize your feelings of stress, sadness or frustration in a journal entry


  1. Interact with your pet, or go to a place where you can touch some animals (e.g. a petting zoo or cat café)


  1. Pick up the phone and call someone who gets you


  1. Reorganize your workspace, getting rid of clutter. Research shows that this helps to declutter your mind too


  1. Smile at yourself in the mirror—you’ll be surprised at how quickly the smile becomes genuine


  1. Read a good book (under a blanket if it’s cold, or lazing in the sun if it’s warm outside)


  1. Offer to walk someone’s dog for them


  1. Play a sport, or sign up to learn a new one—it’s good for your social life and great for pent-up frustration


  1. Watch some trashy TV or read a trashy magazine—sometimes, we all need a little escapism


  1. Book a massage, a manicure, or a facial. If you can afford it, book all three!


  1. Plan a night out (or a night in) with your favorite people


  1. If you are religious or spiritual, spend some time praying


  1. Take a hot bath with Epsom salts


  1. Sit by a river and watch the movement of the water watching the insects and animals around you. Focus on the details like the colours, patterns, sounds, smells


  1. Paint something—it can be as abstract or realistic as you like

Mental health of pupils is ‘at crisis point’, teachers warn

Anxiety, self-harm and suicide are rising, finds survey of school leaders and teachers in England


More than eight out of 10 teachers say mental health among pupils in England has deteriorated in the past two years – with rising reports of anxiety, self-harm and even cases of suicide – against a backdrop of inadequate support in schools.

In a survey of 8,600 school leaders, teachers and support workers, 83% said they had witnessed an increase in the number of children in their care with poor mental health, rising to 90% among students in colleges.

Many described a sense of helplessness in the face of the crisis. One said it was “like a slow-motion car crash for our young people that I am powerless to stop and can’t bear to watch or be part of any more”.

Others complained that real-terms funding cuts in schools were making it harder to support pupils in need, with fewer support staff available. “We are at a crisis point with mental health,” one respondent said. “Much more anxiety, self-harming. Three suicides in three years in my school alone,” said another.

The survey of members of the National Education Union before their conference in Liverpool this week also asked about the support available in schools to pupils in distress.

Fewer than half said their school had a counsellor, three out of 10 (30%) had been able to access external specialist support such as NHS child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS), fewer than 30% had a school nurse and only 12% had a “mental health first aider”, as favoured by the government.

More than a third of respondents (37%) had training in the past year to help with supporting young people with mental ill health, but there were complaints that it was often inadequate and ineffective. “Mental health first aid is a lip service,” said one. “Seven members of staff trained – nothing we didn’t already know and it does not make us mental health practitioners. Massive myth.”

There were also harrowing accounts of the suffering among pupils. “Sats pressure and general expectations are taking their toll on more vulnerable pupils,” said one respondent, adding: “We have nine-year-olds talking about suicide.”

Another said: “I am currently working with 15 children who have been bereaved, have anxiety, have PTSD or a parent with a terminal/life threatening illness.”

School staff who took part in the survey were also asked to pinpoint what hinders them from properly supporting young people experiencing mental health issues. They blamed real-terms funding cuts (57%), cuts to teaching assistants (51%) an “exam factory” assessment system (53%) and problems accessing external support services such as CAMHS (64%).

The government has made children’s mental health a priority with additional funding, and a new compulsory health education that is intended to teach children how to look after their mental wellbeing and recognise when friends are struggling.

The Department for Education said: “We are investing more in mental health support with an additional £2.3bn a year being spent by 2023-24. This means that by 2023-24 an extra 345,000 children and young people up to the age of 25 will benefit from a range of services, including new support teams that will provide additional trained staff to work directly with schools and colleges.”

 In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or email You can contact the mental health charity Mind by calling 0300 123 3393 or visiting

Mental Health Awareness Ball – A huge thank you!

What a night! A huge thank you to the Duke of Portland Lodge No.2017 and a special thanks to Trevor Harris, for hosting the most phenomenal night in aid of Harmless and The Tomorrow Project.

The 2019 Mental Health Awareness Ball raised over £4000 for our service and 100% of this funds free support to those in need.

Trevor has been a dedicated supporter of our service and on behalf of the team we wanted to express a special mention. Thank you Trevor, your support has been indescribable and we are truly grateful.

Still have your childhood teddy? The psychological power of the toys we keep

When he was four years old, Chris had a piece of blue cloth he took everywhere with him, which he called Boo-Boo. Now 60, a retired teacher, husband and father of three adult children, he still remembers the feeling of safety he found when he gently rubbed the soft fabric against his face or between his fingers. “My Boo-Boo provided me with the comfort and security I craved. I wanted it with me, a bit like I wanted my mum with me all the time when I was little,” he says.

Shortly before Chris’s first day at school, his mother told him that he could not take his Boo-Boo with him and that he should throw it into their fire. “I can see it now, the lounge and the open fire, my mum telling me that I had to throw this Boo-Boo in. I couldn’t have it any more, I had to grow up. I can’t remember whether I cried or not, I can just feel the anguish. I had a sense of loss, an emptiness, without understanding.”

This piece of cloth had meaning and power and was always with him, whether he was in bed, walking around the house or playing with friends – “a bit like Linus”, he says. It was through Linus, the best friend of Charlie Brown and the younger brother of Lucy van Pelt in the comic strip Peanuts, that the cartoonist Charles M Schulz popularised the term “security blanket” – Linus was rarely seen without his.

From the Schulz Museum in California, the cartoonist’s widow, Jean, tells me that this idea came from her husband’s youngest child, Jill, who used to carry a blanket everywhere. “In fact, she would get out of her bed and sleep curled up on the floor with her blanket outside of the parents’ room,” she says. “So, that’s kind of sweet – talk about security.”

The exhibition Good Grief, Charlie Brown!, on display at Somerset House in London until 3 March 2019, shows that Schulz had a profound understanding of loss, childhood and the human condition. His depiction of the attachment Linus feels for his security blanket touched something in his readers – and in Guardian readers, too. When we asked readers about their favourite earliest possession, we received stories and photographs of teddies and blankets that had been literally loved to bits.

Catherine Jones, 45, from Hull, has Teddy, whom she was given in her first year of primary school. Ian Robertson, 50, from Whistable in Kent, clung to Panda “even after my brother chewed one of his eyes out and spat it from the family Vauxhall Viva as we were heading up the M6”; he now occupies the best chair in his house. Rachel, 45, from Farnham in Surrey, was given Dog after her grandmother died, so he reminds her of precious family ties.

The origins of Ann Bradley’s Teddy are lost in family lore – it was a gift from either her mother or her grandmother – but she has gone on to comfort the 58-year-old from Swindon, as well as her daughter and now her new granddaughter. Flora, who is originally from Scotland and lives in London, has had a collection of muslin cloths, or Bubbys, for 25 years. She does not sleep as well without them, so she cannot see herself “parting ways with my beloved Bubbys any time soon”.

Linus’s security blanket made its first appearance in Peanuts on 1 June 1954, three years after the paediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott wrote his seminal paper on these “transitional objects”, as he called them; he would later ask Schulz for permission to use Linus’s blanket as an illustration of his theory.

The transition in Winnicott’s “transitional object” refers to the shift every infant must make, as he wrote, “from a state of being merged with the mother to a state of being in relation to the mother as something outside and separate”. Angela Joyce, the chair of the Winnicott Trust and a fellow of the British Psychoanalytical Society, explains that, for Winnicott: “There isn’t much distinction, from the baby’s point of view, between the self and the other; it’s a very merged-in space.” But as the baby develops, as his or her body, memory and interests in the objects and people around them mature, “many choose something that becomes special and is used at times of separation”.

A transitional object tends to be chosen in the first six months of life and to have qualities reminiscent of the mother: it is soft; it can be stroked, cuddled and bitten; and, on a symbolic level, it links to maternal care. This helps to smooth the edges of the mother’s absence. As gaps between feeds grow, Joyce explains, “space opens up between baby and mother, occupied by this special object”. Possessions such as Chris’s Boo-Boo help an infant to navigate the experience of difference and separation from the mother, inside whom they spent the first nine months of their existence, so that (with apologies to the Spice Girls) one can become two.

Winnicott also described it as “the first ‘not me’ possession”, but often the boundary between the self and the other can seem porous – as it did for Mike Graham. Graham, 72, is a retired teacher, pub landlord, political adviser and stained-glass window-maker, who lives in Cumbria with his wife and Ted, “not a teddy bear as such, but a green panda”, he explains.

“I was born just after the war when things were tight,” he says. “Because my mother couldn’t afford a teddy bear, one of her nursing colleagues made Ted out of the only material she had – a kind of green hessian, with black felt eyepatches. At present, he looks very dishevelled.” He has been in Graham’s life for seven decades: “He was a very, very significant part of my childhood for a while and he’s part of me.”

Until Graham was about eight, he chatted to Ted every night in bed. “I can remember I really thought I talked to him. He’s a superb listener.” He would tell him significant things that had happened that day, as a way of sorting things out in his mind, before falling asleep hugging Ted.

Although Ted faded into the background of Graham’s life as he grew older, his significance has never waned and reasserts itself at times of distress. Graham was living in the West Indies with his first wife, a diplomat, when he found out she had had an affair. He swiftly left the country. “I was very upset. I packed a suitcase – it wasn’t even full – and I packed him. I didn’t get the rest of my belongings for months. But he was a part of me and it was important that I didn’t lose him,” he says. Ted still represents “stability and durability. Things may change, but he won’t – and that’s still a source of comfort when times are difficult.”

In Winnicott’s theory, these possessions are about more than comfort: they lead to play, which is fundamental to the development of a healthy mind. In what he calls “the intermediate space” that opens up between mother and baby, occupied and stretched by the transitional object, the child’s imagination and creativity grow. “It is good to remember always that playing itself is a therapy,” Winnicott wrote.

Saskia was happy and playful at home, growing up in a loving and supportive family, but school was difficult. She was highly academic, but struggled socially. In her 20s, she was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome. Annie was not only a comfort, Saskia believes, but also helped her develop her artistic side. “I was a quirky, creative kid. I talked to Annie, played games with her, wrote stories,” she says. This kind of play, she thinks, teaches children “to see the world through the eyes of someone else. I always wonder if the toys and stories helped me with empathy, which is difficult for a lot of autistic people.”

While Saskia and Graham no longer cling to Annie and Ted as they used to, Anindita Roulet’s need for her Kaporji remains as strong as ever. Roulet, a 46-year-old English tutor, lives with her husband and her two teenage children outside Paris. She was born in London but moved to India to live with her grandparents in the east Indian city of Jamshedpur when she was one year old, because her parents were struggling to manage. She has no memories of it, but says: “I’ve seen some photos and I certainly look like I was having a whale of a time. It’s quite an idyllic life and a deeply affectionate family. I suspect I was spoilt rotten.”

So it continued: “After one piece disintegrated, another would replace it – always a piece of my granny’s sari and no one else’s,” she says. “My mum would stick pieces in the washing machine to get it softer and softer, so that when I needed a replacement it wasn’t too stiff.” Her memory of the year spent with her grandmother faded, but her attachment to her Kaporji did not. When a sari ran out, her grandmother would send more or they would be collected during visits back to India every few years. “I’m still sleeping with it. I know it’s ridiculous, at 46, but I can’t quite give it up,” she says.

“It’s very soft and I hold it in a fist in my right hand. My fingers sink into it and it feels really reassuring. Most nights, I will lose it for a moment as I loosen my grip in my sleep, but I always retrieve it and wake up with it in the morning,” says Roulet. Her husband thinks it is hysterical, but she has never let any man come between her and her Kaporji. “I very clearly explained I’m not clingy when it comes to the person sharing my bed, but definitely when it comes to my Kaporji. I don’t think I left any room for argument,” she says, laughing.

She did not remain as close with her grandmother, whom she saw only every few years and who has since died from dementia, but they always shared this bond, although they never spoke of it. “At the end, she was forgetting things, but every time I visited she would open her drawer and take out a sari. She never forgot that,” she says. “I’m very grateful for the fact that I have this connection, this thread – several threads – that run through our lives together.”

The meaning of these transitional objects can resonate in adulthood for others, too. Occasionally, Graham will talk to Ted, who now sits on a bookcase near his chair. “Now and again, something will happen of significance and I’ll sit him on my lap and say: ‘What do you think about that, Ted?’ Or it can be a silent chat. I don’t have to say any words. It sounds daft, but I’m not ashamed of it; I realise what a part of me he is,” he says.

For Saskia, it is the memories evoked by her doll that have significance. “My mum working so hard, and late, still thinking of me on her way home. Family holidays, stupid games with my brother. My nan, who had arthritis, knitting her a scarf and trying to sew her head back on,” she says. “The older you get, the more meaningful these objects become in a different way.”

“It was February and it was snowing and I had no towel. I stripped down to my underpants and went into the freezing sea; I swam out there and got it back, because it all came rushing back to me – I understood, I just knew where she was. Maybe I was reliving that loss, of throwing my Boo-Boo into the fire. Until this conversation, I’d never put the two together.”

The meaning of these objects lives on long after we have outgrown them – whether we realise it or not. What made Linus compelling, according to Schulz’s widow Jean, is that, through him, her husband was able to indicate that security is not just about a little child with a blanket. “There is one comic strip that I love,” she says – one that is on display in the London exhibition. “Linus is fighting with Snoopy for his blanket and when he finally gets it back, he says something like: “Security must be won over and over and over again.”

Some names have been changed

Ruby Wax: why being kinder to ourselves is good for society

Compassion comes from the Latin word compati – to suffer with. It doesn’t just mean sending someone a Hallmark card with a baby pig wiping away a tear on the front and, inside, a message saying how sorry you are. That would be filed under “pity” or “patronising”. With compassion, the first step is to feel the pain of another; the second big step is to be motivated to relieve it. It’s the will to act more than just feeling someone else’s pain – to actually do something about it.

If I’m in pain and you just feel my pain, it’s not going to help my situation. How can you possibly help me if you’re in so much pain from my pain? Now I’ll need to help you to cope with my problem. Also, we sometimes jump at the chance to feel someone else’s pain for the wrong reasons; we don’t want to feel our own so we distract ourselves with theirs.

But when being compassionate, there are no rules. Any time you’re moved to do something to help, that’s enough. Even if you don’t do anything but are by someone’s side and stay present in the midst of their agony, that’s enough.

Yet if we don’t learn to be compassionate to ourselves first, we can’t feel compassion for others. A mother has to teach her child to soothe themselves, but she can only do that if she can soothe herself; otherwise, there will be two people drowning. Most people wince when someone talks about self-compassion. We’re so used to whipping ourselves with our own critical thoughts – “I should have … I didn’t…I’m a loser” – that we’re the last people we would throw a bone of kindness to. Some of us treat our pets better than we treat ourselves.

Once we feel unsafe, there’s no more Mr Nice Guy. We become terrified that, if we show any kindness, we’ll be taken advantage of. That’s why, in our culture, being nice isn’t highly rated. Toughness is in vogue and has been for a very long time. This could be why we have a fascination with other people’s misfortunes, why the videos that get a billion hits on YouTube are usually of a baby falling into a chocolate cake or “kitty gets pushed” (my favourite). In truth, we’ve always loved watching other people’s pain, from gladiatorial contests at the Colosseum to the humiliation and shame we see on The X Factor – which isn’t a million miles from a lion eating a slave. At least the slaves didn’t have to sing.

TV reality shows are based on slinging out the loser and cheering as they endure the walk of shame – out of the building, never to be heard of again. (Unless they humiliate themselves in some new way, such as eating a cockroach on reality TV – that usually guarantees a sure-fire come-back.) Compassion doesn’t win many viewers.

We need to learn how to do compassion. It won’t grow by itself in our “every man/woman for himself/herself” world. If we don’t learn it, we’ll go straight back to our more savage, animalistic behaviours. Don’t forget that millions of years ago we evolved from reptiles. ( I’m sorry if there are Mormons reading this, but it’s true.)

I was in Cape Town recently to teach mindfulness to young girls from townships who had been badly abused. As soon as I started, I sensed that they were uneasy and the last thing they wanted to do was observe their thoughts. Mindfulness, in my opinion, isn’t appropriate for severe trauma. When the trauma is resolved, or has eased off, you can try it. Otherwise, it can reopen the wound.

I decided to change tack and asked if any of them had ever had a makeover. They hadn’t, but excitement ricocheted through the room. I came back the next day with my makeup. There they all were, lined up and totally focused, any sign of agitation gone. Here was something that made them feel important, as if they mattered. When I did their lipstick, I’m sure that touching their lips would have normally flipped them out. This was probably the first time someone had touched them without taking advantage of their innocence. They all took selfies and I could tell they didn’t just look but felt beautiful, maybe for the first time. I don’t do a lot of compassion in my life, but this really gave me a hit of happiness. I didn’t realise it was so easy.

‘For-Now Parents’ and ‘Big Feelings’: How Sesame Street Talks About Trauma

ASTORIA, NEW YORK—Inside the Sesame Street studio in Queens, Elmo is playing “monsterball” with his friend, a new Muppet named Karli who has lime-green fur and two ponytails. (Monsterball, for what it’s worth, appears to be the same as soccer, but with a furry ball.) Puppeteers, with their hands raised high and their heads cranked to the side to stay out of the camera’s shot, run around, making Elmo and Karli kick, laugh, and throw the ball.

Outside, it’s a chilly gray December Monday, but on set the monsterball park is brimming with plant life, and butterfly puppets held up on long metal wires flap their wings. Looking on are Elmo’s dad—yes, he has a dad now, as of 2006—and two of what Sesame Street calls “anything Muppets,” puppets with no particular character attached that are made as templates and can be adapted as needed. These Muppets—a fuzzy teal monster in an athletic jersey and a gray monster with pink and purple feathers for hair—have become Karli’s foster parents, Clem and Dalia.

In between cheering for Elmo and Karli, Elmo’s dad (whose name is Louie) asks Clem and Dalia: “How has everything been going, since becoming her foster parents?”

Clem hangs his head and sighs. “Changes like this can be really rough for kids. And for adults, too,” he says.

Next to me, Kama Einhorn, a writer and senior content manager at Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit behind Sesame Street, drops her head and mimics Clem. “Things are really rough,” she says in a deep, exhausted voice. This, apparently, is not exactly what Einhorn had in mind.

Between takes, she confers with the puppeteer playing Clem, and gives him a note to pep it up a little. He was being too morose, Einhorn explains to me. That’s not the vibe she wants this segment to have.

In the final version of this video—part of Sesame Workshop’s new set of materials on foster care, released today—Clem’s head is held high, and a measured acknowledgment that sometimes things can be tough gives way to excitement when it’s decided that Elmo can join Karli, Clem, and Dalia for “pizza-party Tuesdays,” because as Louie says, “everything’s better with a friend by your side.”

The foster-care resources—which include an interactive storybook and printable activities, as well as videos featuring Muppets—are the latest in a series of packages that Sesame Workshop is producing to support kids going through traumatic experiences. These online resources—which won’t be featured on the television show—are intended for use by parents and caretakers, and also by therapists, social workers, and anyone else who works with such kids.

Sesame has been making various supplemental-resource packages for decades now, though they started taking their current, online form around 2010. Many of the packages on the site have nothing to do with trauma but are geared toward topics that affect every kid—healthy eating, tantrums, sharing, math. Starting in 2013, Sesame began to focus on tougher topics, starting with a package for kids whose parents are incarcerated. (All of these resources are available in both English and Spanish.) Over the past year or so, the organization has chosen three topics to focus on: family homelessness, the resources for which were released in December 2018; foster care; and substance abuse, the resources for which are slated to come out in October.

Through its Sesame Street in Communities initiative, Sesame Workshop partners with organizations around the country that work with young children. Sesame picked these issues—homelessness, foster care, and substance abuse—because it heard from these partner organizations that they didn’t have many resources addressing these things from a child’s perspective, a spokesperson told me.

“Historically, I think we’ve tended to believe that young children won’t remember or don’t really have the ability to make sense of what’s going on, and therefore it doesn’t impact them. And that’s clearly not the case,” says Phil Fisher, a psychologist at the University of Oregon who studies child development under adversity, and who was not involved in creating the Sesame Street resources.

Keeping the developmental level of the audience in mind,, Sesame Workshop puts a lot of work into conveying these concepts in ways that kids can understand.

Leaders at Sesame Workshop start by assembling a group of advisers, who work professionally on the topic at hand or who have a personal stake in it. The advisers get together with the Sesame team for a focus group and, as Einhorn puts it, “download to us what they know about the topic.” Writers at Sesame take the themes of these conversations and incorporate them into video scripts, activities, and a digital storybook. As the resources take shape, Sesame repeatedly sends them to the advisers for further comment, in a feedback loop that lasts up until the point of filming.

“We spend a lot of time fine-tuning language,” Einhorn told me. “How do our Muppets [portray] it? How do we make it playful? How do we have this light touch for a heavy topic without diminishing the topic?”

When talking to kids about any kind of traumatic experience, experts emphasize the importance of helping them name their emotions and understand that they’re normal. “Just like [how in order] to read you’ve got to know letters, if you’re going to talk about things that have happened to you, you’ve got to have feeling words,” says Ann Thomas, the president and CEO of The Children’s Place in Kansas City, Missouri, a treatment center for kids who’ve gone through trauma. Thomas consulted on both the foster-care package and more general traumatic-experience resources for Sesame Workshop. “They don’t know what this swirly uncomfortable stuff is. It’s like a knot inside of them. We have to start untangling that knot.” Sesame’s videos, Thomas says, not only give children those feeling words, but they model for adults how to help kids sort through their feelings out loud.

For example, in one of Sesame’s trauma videos, an adult named Alan, the proprietor of Mr. Hooper’s store, does just this for Big Bird, who arrives in the store looking upset. Alan asks how he’s doing, and he replies, “Not too good. I’ve got all these feelings.”

“Are they big feelings?” Alan asks. “Like sad, or angry, or confused? Anxious?” Big Bird responds “yeah” to each emotion. “It’s all those feelings, and they’re all mixed together, and I don’t know what to do!” the Muppet says. Alan goes on to teach Big Bird an exercise of imagining his safe place—his “comfy cozy nest”—in order to feel better.

Adriana Molina, an adoptive mom of two children—a daughter, 3, who was formerly in foster care and a son, 10, who is her wife’s relative—has learned to pay attention to the transitions in her kids’ lives. “When [our son] came into our lives, we thought he was going to come for a visit, and he ended up staying,” Molina, the director of Project ABC, a program in Los Angeles that works with young kids and their families, told me. “We didn’t know to give him as many of the words for This is what’s happening, or This is what’s changing.Whereas with [our daughter], she’d only been in one foster home her entire little life. We were able to ease into that process and do some visits in her space. Slowing things down was a very concrete learning” experience, she said.

Molina was an adviser for Sesame’s foster-care resources, bringing both her personal and professional experience to the process. “‘For-now parents’ is a lovely, neutral place to be,” she said. “The language of being in foster care is it’s where you are now; it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s where you will always be.”

But that concept of temporariness is often hard for young kids to grasp, according to Anderson. “Preschoolers have such a limited time frame and sense of past and future,” he said. “And something like homelessness, even if it’s temporary, it might be temporary in terms of months, which would seem permanent to a child. That’s a very difficult thing to deal with.” Ideally, he suggests keeping conversations with very young children in the realm of yesterday, today, and tomorrow. The idea that things are a certain way “for now” and might be different in the future is “not a real reassuring kind of notion because preschool kids really crave stability and security.” But, he says, “it’s honest,” and for kids going through something such as homelessness or foster care, “I guess that’s probably as good as you can do.”

After all, uncertainty creates anxiety even for adults. And trying to shield kids from the uncertainty shaping their lives, Molina said, doesn’t work. “Part of what creates the anxiety is when they’re being told one thing, but they have a sense of something else,” she said.

Thomas adds that if grown-ups don’t explain what’s happening to children, kids will create their own explanations, which might make them feel even worse than the truth. “When bad things happen, it’s very natural [for young kids] to assume they caused it,” she says. “It’s natural to have magical thinking at this age.” Her advice is similar to Anderson’s—don’t lie about what’s happening, even if you have to be ambiguous (telling them they’ll see their parents when they’re “bigger,” for example), and “grounding them back in what’s working today,” Thomas says.

The digital storybook about Karli addresses this magical thinking directly: “A lot of grown-ups are helping your mom,” Karli’s foster mom, Dalia, says in the book. “It’s a grown-up problem and it’s not your job to fix it. None of the bad things that happened at home were your fault.”

No character ever explicitly discusses why Karli is in foster care, but Einhorn told me that the Sesame Street team wrote the character with the idea that her mother is away getting treatment for substance abuse. Karli will be featured again in the substance-abuse resources that are slated to come out this fall, though they won’t reference foster care, and the foster-care resources likewise don’t reference substance abuse.

All the packages are self-contained, so kids won’t need to see both in order to make sense of Karli’s story. Though as Einhorn put it, “trauma is trauma,” and there are some recurring themes in the content. Many of the resources emphasize the importance of relying on a broader community for support. And activities such as breathing exercises or artistic expression show up repeatedly. Karli draws out her feelings in the foster-care storybook, and colors a concentric heart in one of the videos to show that “a heart can grow” with love for her foster parents and new friends, even as she feels sad about missing her mom. In one of the homelessness videos, a Muppet named Lily draws dots on a chalkboard to represent all the people who love her, and connects them to form a heart.

Fisher, the University of Oregon psychologist, looked at the homelessness and trauma resources before we spoke, and said that “the messages that were employed were trauma-informed and evidence-informed, and have been found to be effective.” What’s less clear, he said, is if exercises that are effective in a therapeutic context will still work when delivered through a screen.

That’s something Sesame Workshop is studying—a spokesperson told me that the organization is currently conducting a randomized controlled trial on the effects of their trauma resources, but the results won’t be out until later this year.

“The Muppets can often do what humans can’t,” Einhorn said. “They’ve got this special power.”

I met Molina and her son on set in December when the foster-care segments were being filmed. (Several advisers were invited to the taping.) Her son was shy when I asked him what he thought of the monsterball scene we had just watched. “It’s pretty cool,” he said. He perked up as his mom described to me the process of adopting his sister from foster care, and he interjected a few times to add details to the story. Still, the Muppets made an impression, it seems. Recently, Molina told me that when she and her son got home from the trip to New York, “he spent two weeks trying to perfect his Elmo voice.”

“We are facing a crisis”: Lady Gaga delivers passionate speech on mental health and suicide

Lady Gaga delivered a passionate speech on mental health and suicide, saying “we are losing a generation of young people”.

The ‘Shallow’ singer addressed the SAG-AFTRA Foundation’s 3rd annual Patron of the Artists Awards, at which she was honoured. Her 23-minute acceptance speech for wining the Artists Inspiration Award covered her own mental health issues, her fears for young musicians and artists struggling to voice their struggles, and her plans to build future programmes.

“We are losing a generation of young people who do not believe that their voices are worth hearing, that their pain has no end,” she said. “And that their contributions are not valuable enough to move the needle in society and culture. We are facing a crisis of epic proportions and the cause of that crisis is our inability or unwillingness to be open and honest about one thing – mental health, today.”

While the singer urged people to focus on kindness, she also noted the reluctance people still have to discuss mental health issues publicly.

“When I give speeches about kindness, people have lively engaged discussions but when I speak about mental health, even or especially when I’m speaking about mine, it is often met with quietness,” she said. “Or maybe a somber line of fans waiting outside to whisper to me in the shadows about their darkest secrets.

“We need to bring mental health into the light. We need to share our stories so that global mental health no longer resides and festers in the darkness. It is dangerous and we know this because amongst other shootings and acts of violence.”

This isn’t the first time Gaga has spoken out about mental health. In October, she penned an emotional essay about the urgent need for more mental health services across the globe – as well as calling for the stigma surrounding mental illness to end.

At the awards ceremony, Gaga set out her plan for a specific mental health programme that doesn’t simply respond to emergency situation or focus on medical answers.

“By the year 2030, I wish for everybody to have their person that they can talk to who is an expert and can help them. I am beckoning for this because it is perceived by many that mental health is only talked about in the midst of crisis or when something needs to be fixed. I want teams in place to provide prevention.

“We need to not only think in terms of doctors, billable hours and hospital stays but protective and preventative care for ourselves and each other, holistically. Do you have a mental health team? Who is on it? Who are the people you can turn to? What are the activities that can reduce our stress?”

She also paid tribute to her mental health team, saying “I have learned now are treatable and I can stop living in fear and begin living with bravery.”

“And after working as hard as I possibly could to achieve my dreams, slowly but surely the word “yes,” “yes,” “sure,” became too automatic,” she continued. “And my inner voice shut down which I have learned now is very unhealthy. I was not empowered to say no.”