Welcome to Food & Mood Week

One of the most obvious yet under
recognised factors in the development
of mental health is nutrition. Just like the
heart, stomach and liver, the brain is an
organ that requires different amounts of
complex carbohydrates, essential fatty
acids, amino acids, vitamins, minerals
and water to remain physically and emotionally healthy.

Nutrition can play an important
role in the prevention, development
and management of diagnosed mental
health conditions. So this week the Harmless team will be dedicating our blog content to the topic of Food and Mood.

Discrimination has no place at Harmless

Self harm does not discriminate. 

Neither do we.

This has always been our tag line since our service began in 2007.

Now more than ever it is pertinent that we address inequality. 

To echo The Samaritans

 ‘In the midst of a pandemic which is disproportionately impacting the Black community, the recent killings of George Floyd, Tony McDade, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and Nina Pop have propelled a collective pain so great that we must initiate change now.

Some of us have been carrying this pain for our whole lives. Others may just now be understanding the extent. Either way, the violence responsible for these tragedies is not new. Systemic racism permeates our society, creating massive institutional barriers and often fatal endings for many Black people in our country.

The field of mental and behavioral healthcare is no exception. Though many work tirelessly to fight inequity and injustice, the racial disparities in our country are real. Although we are listening and learning, we know that is not enough’.

As a suicide prevention service we pay attention to the people who need our help and in working towards enabling the system to better serve justice to our clients. Often, within an inherently prejudicial system. 

This year we have focused upon raising awareness of female suicide, an area in which we feel strongly that there is inequality for women and men alike. 

Given the LGBTQ+ elevation in risk we too stand with our LGBTQ+ friends in a call for justice and fairness at a time where trans equality is being politically undermined.

Let these factors which set us apart, unite us in one voice unified by #BLM and continue to educate ourselves about what we as individuals and as services can do better.

Self harm does not discriminate- neither do we. 

Stand with us as we endeavour to work for a mental health system that has parity of esteem and help us to continue to stand against inequality and continue to save lives.

We will be taking a closer look at inequality and discrimination in a series of articles and discussions bringing issues pertinent to our clients, to the fore.

Dreams are Important

I studied the life and work of Marc Chagall at Art college. One of his paintings is titled ‘Dream’ and most of his work is influenced by his internal experience. Chagall had a difficult early life and it is believed that his paintings represented hope and a means of escape from the harsh realities of our world. Our dreams are important as they represent our emotional and intellectual internal state of being.
Dreams help us to:

  • Make sense our current experience
  • Identify triggers to emotional distress
  • Process the emotion attached to distressing or difficult experiences
  • Reinforce skills learned during the day
  • Allow our minds to access creativity that may not have been accessible during the day.

It is no wonder that many of us have experienced a heightened awareness of our dream life during the Covid 19 Pandemic. Have you noticed that we all feel the need to tell somebody about our dreams? My daughters have been telling me about dreams about interacting with friends who they’re not currently seeing, dreams based on past and future events, dreams that seem purely fantastical and some slightly distressing dreams. Communicating our dream life to someone helps to reflect and make sense of it, and in that moment we re-live the experience of dreaming.

Dreaming is one of the few things that connect us to all other human beings, our ancestors and future humans too! Writers have dreamt of plots and characters, inventors and artists have dreamt about their future creations and philosophers and activists have dreamt about a better future.

Dreaming is our parallel world. If we feel safe enough to, we can make time to explore that world and the ways it can help us to move forwards.

Rani,

Specialist Therapist

Tom’s reflection on dreams working in a bereavement setting

When I was younger and first encountered dreams in an academic, psychological way, it was primarily focused on the psychodynamic Freudian theories. Frankly, my perception of it was one of scepticism. My scepticism of it came from the idea that the meaning of our dreams is subconscious and symbolic which meant it relies on someone else interpreting them. It felt wrong to rob someone’s own meaning of their dream from them. This is why when people I work with mention dreams I always use it as an opportunity to explore their dream and find their own interpretation of it.

As you can probably tell, I am not a big fan of dream interpretation coming from a position whereby I as a listener infer what the client’s dream means and represents. We are in a better position to understand our own dreams as we have our own lived experience, belief system and relationships with the things and people we dream about. Dreams can be very powerful and vivid and how a client interprets them gives me and hopefully the client as well insight into themselves.

Usually, dreams relate to what is experienced in reality,  so giving people a safe space to question, think through and express how the dream makes them feel, what it means and how it impacts on them can give them validation and understanding.

When people I have worked with in a bereavement setting talk about dreams, it often relates to the person they have lost or the circumstances of how they have died.  Sometimes the dreams are upsetting and disturbing, but often they are not.  These dreams can instil comfort, pleasure, happiness but inevitability cause sadness and longing as well. Grief is as unique as a fingerprint, and so are dreams. They are different from person to person, dream to dream.   Some people believe these dreams are messages or communications from their loved ones whilst others believe their dreams are purely memories.  I feel whatever the biological reason for dreaming is, of which there are many theories, the purpose, relationship with and value of dreams lays with us, and only us.

Dream Catcher Painting by Imanshu Jain | Saatchi Art
 “Dream Catcher,” by Imanshu Jain

Tom

Suicide Bereavement Support Officer

Why am I having so many weird dreams?

Has anyone else been having vivid dreams lately? 

I’ve heard so many people talk about how since the start of lockdown, they have been having more dreams than usual. Google Trends (2020) reported that in the US, the number of Google searches for ‘weird dreams’ has doubled since this time last year, suggesting that not only are people dreaming more often, but they can remember them when they wake up.

Not only are vivid dreams increasing, but so are mental health struggles. The United Nations have said that due to the poverty, anxiousness, isolation, bereavement, and illness that COVID-19 is bringing, a mental health crisis could happen (Routers News Agency, 2020). This is already being made apparent in the referrals to mental health services – Harmless and the Tomorrow Project have received a 200% increase in referrals. 

Here’s how these two things could relate to each other. 

Researchers have found that dreaming could function as a way to regulate emotions (Scarpelli et al., 2019). Struggling with our mental health often results in excessive negative emotions, such as sadness, anger, confusion, anxiety, or grief. Large numbers of us are currently experiencing these emotions in response to the pandemic. So in theory, an increase of these emotions could be the cause of an increase in dreaming. The reason why we’re all having so many “weird dreams” could be due to our brain trying to cope with the many intense emotions we’re feeling at the moment.

But, why do we still feel so tired?

When we enter REM sleep (the stage of sleep in which we dream), our brain waves are almost as active as when we are awake (Purves et al., 2001). Our heart rates also increase, as does our breathing. This means that we may not feel rested when we wake up after having a lot of REM sleep and vivid dreams.

Hopefully that answers some questions that you might have been having lately about weird dreams! If all the emotions you’re feeling right now are getting to be too much, resulting in feeling suicidal, then please be reassured that the Tomorrow Project are here for you. We aren’t going anywhere.

Laura

Suicide Crisis Support Officer 

References:

Google Trends. (2020). https://trends.google.com/trends/explore?q=weird%20dreams&geo=US

Purves, D., Augustine, G. J., Fitzpatrick, D., Katz, L. C., LaMantia, A. S., McNamara, J. O., & Williams, S. M. (2001). Sleep and Wakefulness. Neuroscience. 2nd Edition. Sunderland, MA: Sinnauer Associates Inc, 26.

Reuters News Agency (2020). Health Experts Warn of COVID-19 mental health crisis. The Telegraph.  https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2020/05/14/health-experts-warn-covid-19-mentalhealth-crisis/

Scarpelli, S., Bartolacci, C., D’Atri, A., Gorgoni, M., & De Gennaro, L. (2019). The functional role of dreaming in emotional processes. Frontiers in psychology10.

Are you bereaved by suicide? We need your help.

We are working on a video project – we’d love you to take part.

In this new project we are inviting those who have been bereaved by suicide to join us in a video project of remembrance.

We will be asking those who would like to take part to contribute a video message – where they address their loved one directly and speak to them as if they could hear.

The contributors will record their own video messages on their iPhones or mobile devices and send them to our service who will then edit them together to create a visual act of remembrance.

The videos can include acts of remembrance and memories, conveyance of feelings, regret, remorse, wishes – whatever you wish you could say to the person that you lost.

The videos do not have to be long but should be as honest and direct as you feel they need to be- we want to capture the range of human experiences and losses – we want this to be an audio visual testimony to what comes after loss to suicide.

The messages will be recorded in the first person. Referring to you (deceased) and I (contributor).

You can record the video on a regular iPhone or equivalent- just check that there’s a quiet background before recording. And then you can send to us via email info@harmless.org.uk

If you struggle to send that way then you are invited to send by WhatsApp or a video free transfer app such as wetransfer.

Dreams & Meaning

My Experience

I’ve certainly had some very random and vivid dreams over the past few weeks! Here are some examples of what I’ve been dreaming of:

  1. I dreamt that a dog protected me. I was in a street near a lampost and there was a golden dog next to me protecting me, barking at someone who was trying to approach me. (A dog in a dream is the symbol of protection, this dream is a simple warning. You should try to protect something in life. If the dog is friendly, then this suggests that someone or that someone is actually protecting you. A dog can also mean faith and companionship.)
  2. Needles in my mouth – I swallowed lots of needles and I was trying to get help from the hospital but no one seemed to believe me or take me seriously. My viewpoint changed from close ups of the needles in my throat to viewing myself as third person to just being me, like watching a film almost which all my dreams seem to be like! (Seeing needles in your mouth indicates pressure in your life. Especially around communication.)
  3. For a few nights I dreamt of buying my dream house which was near this old abandoned Disneyland in a canyon in Mexico which also happened to be next to Nottingham and Kettering (where i grew up) all these places were combined to make one place. The house had no stairs, there was a huge glass panel at the front and it was at the top of dark wet rock. The living room was outside and had medieval black wet stones around the top but was contemporary and minimal in design on the inside. I loved this house and I felt a sense of achievement to live there and amazed to have found it but at the same time I knew it was temporary somehow.  (Dreaming of an apartment, Congo or flat indicates the basic requires for your life: shelter, warmness, eating, feeling safe. The meaning of this dream is associated with your finances. The apartment represents your life quality, items you have produced during your life and the way that you feel about your achievements.)
  4. Last night my dreams were very fragmented – a model . drag show / cabaret, I was in a hotel (I’ve been getting lots of dreams of being in a hotel) and all my possessions were in there, people crowded the street and broke through and stole everything I had, I was screaming not to but quickly realised I had to accept it and forced myself to be ok with it. Then I was out in the streets. It was chaos with people everywhere and I realised I might be dreaming and when I did this I put my hands down to check if I could fly (which I did) and I flew up above the buildings and then woke up. I remember inthe dream people noticing my flying and thinking I was an angel of some kind – I was just grateful to get away from them as they wanted to harm me in some way. Then I was on a reality TV show and I did not fit in at all and I remember everyone being in a room with a small bridge on yoga mats and we had to do tasks. I felt really uncomfortable and out of place, like I should have been selected to go on there! Also, something about red lipstick (flying dreams serve as a sort of escape from the pressures of the real world (which is represented by the ground).

Common Dream Meanings

  • Being chased is one of the most common dream symbols in all cultures. It means you’re feeling threatened, so reflect on who’s chasing you (they may be symbolic) and why they’re a possible threat in real life.
  • Falling is a common dream symbol that relates to our anxieties about letting go, losing control, or somehow failing after a success.
  • Teeth are common dream symbols. Dreaming of losing your teeth may mark a fear of getting old and being unattractive to others.
  • Being trapped (physically) is a common nightmare theme, reflecting your real life inability to escape or make the right choice.
  • Water comes in many forms, symbolizing the unconscious mind. Calm pools of water reflect inner peace while a choppy ocean can suggest unease.
  • Animals often represent the part of your psyche that feels connected to nature and survival. Being chased by a predator suggests you’re holding back repressed emotions like fear or aggression.

Why are we all having such vivid dreams?

This could be down to a couple of reasons. One is that regardless of if we or someone we know has the Coronavirus, we are all still hugely affected by it. Whether that be from relentless messages on the news talking about it, to the restrictions of socialising, being made furlow or changes in pace of work – our whole routine and freedom has changed. Due to this collective change in circumstances and that we use dreaming as a way of processing information and healing stress and trauma physically and mentally from the day – it would make sense that our dreams are much more vivid. Another reason could be that we’re actually sleeping more now – as we’re not being woken up by our alarms which disturbs us during a deep sleep it allows us to enter REM sleep. REM sleep is often associated with very vivid dreams due to the increase in brain activity. Because the muscles are immobilised yet the brain is very active, this stage of sleep is sometimes called paradoxical sleep.

Lucid Dreaming

A lucid dream is a dream during which the dreamer is aware that they are dreaming. During a lucid dream, the dreamer may gain some amount of control over the dream characters, narrative, and environment; however, this is not actually necessary for a dream to be described as lucid. If you want to find out more about lucid dreaming – check out the link here:

https://www.healthline.com/health/healthy-sleep/how-to-lucid-dream#how-to-lucid-dream

Aja Ireland,

Trainer

Neuroplasticity: our elastic brains

Earlier this week, I did a Facebook Live video on the HarmlessUK page about neuroplasticity. Now, this is not something I know a huge amount about, but it is something I am learning more about. I find it fascinating that so many of the everyday things we do to improve our mental wellbeing have such a physical impact on not just our bodies, but our brains.

Neuroplasticity is the mind’s ability to change the physical brain. Its structure and function can change in response to all of the experiences we have. We can rewire and build neuropathways and connections through our entire lives – so any skill, with some patience and practice, can be learned.

How Neuroplasticity Changes the Brain

“Fire together, wire together”

This is a principle that is certain neurons keep firing at the same time, they’ll eventually develop a physical connection – this is called experience-dependent plasticity,

I found an article that spoke about Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz, a practicing neuropsychiatrist, who has created a successful four-step approach around ‘four Rs’ which speaks about neuroplasticity in the context of mental health recovery:

1. Relabel

The first step is to relabel a given thought, feeling, or behaviour as something else. An unwanted thought could be relabelled “false message” or “brain glitch.” 

2. Reattribute

The second step answers the question, “Why do these thoughts coming back?” The answer is that the brain is misfiring, stuck in gear, creating mental noise, and sending false messages. 

3. Refocus

The third step is where the toughest work is, because it’s the actual changing of behaviour. You have to do another behaviour instead of the old one. Having recognised the problem for what it is and why it’s occurring, you now have to replace the old behaviour with new things to do.

4. Revalue

It all comes together in the fourth step, which is the natural outcome of the first three. With a consistent way to replace the old behaviour with the new, you begin to see old patterns as simple distractions. You devalue them as being completely worthless. Eventually the old thoughts begin to fade in intensity, the brain works better, and the automatic transmission in the brain begins to start working properly.

This is all easier said than done, but it does make a lot of sense!

Enjoy your learning ~ Claire

Read more here:

https://www.bustle.com/articles/165306-can-you-rewire-your-brain-5-scientific-ways-to-change-emotional-habits

https://www.americanexpress.com/en-us/business/trends-and-insights/articles/the-neuroscience-of-changeor-how-to-reset-your-brain/

https://home.hellodriven.com/how-neuroplasticity-changes-brain.html