In the media: How shame can take a toll on your emotional health

The June 2015 cover of Women’s Health magazine featured a slender Gwyneth Paltrow and the words “BIKINI BODY In 2 Weeks! Tight Butt, Lean Legs, These Abs!” with an arrow pointing to Paltrow’s washboard middle. Covers like these have drawn their share of criticism. The idiom “bikini body” suggests there is only one kind of person who can fit into a bikini. It’s an example of body shaming.

That term can be imprecise. What exactly is shame anyway? And can we cope with it?

Author and academic Jennifer Jacquet defines the concept in her book “Is Shame Necessary?”: “Shaming, which is separate from feeling ashamed, is a form of punishment, and like all punishment, it is used to enforce norms.”

Stray from society’s expectations and risk being shamed. Jacquet notes that shame differs from guilt because, in “contrast to shame, which aims to hold individuals to the group standard, guilt’s role is to hold individuals to their own standards.” Sometimes shame can be healthy. Sometimes it can be harmful. Its value is a function of the norm being enforced.

If we demean a friend, it is reasonable for us to feel ashamed—we violated the norm of decency. As psychologist Brené Brown said in a TED talk, “We’re pretty sure that the only people who don’t experience shame are people who have no capacity for connection or empathy.”

Shame becomes harmful if it’s used to enforce an unhealthy norm, and there is no shortage of unhealthy norms. Type, “I feel ashamed of my” into Google, and the search engine will autocomplete with “body,” “job,” “past,” or “sexuality.”

Brown explained that unhealthy norms tend to be gendered—to conform to female norms, she said, women must be “nice, thin, modest, and use all available resources for appearance.” For men, it’s more simple: avoid acting weak. Men are expected to control their emotions, prioritize work, and pursue status. We are prone to feeling ashamed when we stray from these norms.

Shame can be most harmful when it becomes internalized; when it shifts from being about what we’ve done to being about who we are. Psychologists refer to “toxic shame.” as the feeling that we are wholly inadequate and fundamentally unworthy of love. [Editor’s note: when I feel like this, I turn to the Self-Esteem pack. It helps.]

Toxic shame can take a huge toll on our emotional health. “Shame is highly, highly correlated with addiction, depression, violence, aggression, bullying, suicide, eating disorders,” Brown says. The antidote to feeling shame is a willingness to be vulnerable, Brown says. To be human is to be imperfect— to have scars and stretch marks, and to cry when sad or afraid.

Brown suggests we seek the empathy of friends and loved ones. “If you put shame in a Petri dish, it needs three things to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence, and judgment,” she explains. “If you put the same amount in a Petri dish and douse it with empathy, it can’t survive. The two most powerful words when we’re in struggle: me too.” Importantly, people also can work to change harmful norms. In a 2015 online survey, Women’s Health asked readers what words or phrases they might avoid printing on the magazine’s cover. Options included “slim,” “lean,” and “bikini body.” Respondents overwhelmingly objected to “bikini body.”

In a sense, readers chose to enforce a new norm. In their determination, the magazine should encourage health, fitness, and a positive body image. Wrote one reader, “I hate how women’s magazines emphasize being skinny or wearing bikinis as the reason to be healthy.”

In an open letter responding to the survey, editor-in-chief Amy Keller Laird said the term “bikini body” would be banned from the magazine’s cover. “Dear ‘Bikini Body,’” she wrote. “You’re actually a misnomer, not to mention an unintentional insult: You imply that a body must be a certain size in order to wear a two-piece. Any body—every body—is a bikini body.”

Link to full blog: https://www.headspace.com/blog/2017/11/02/shame-emotional-health/

Lest we forget

The story of the poppy

During the First World War (1914–1918) much of the fighting took place in
Western Europe. Previously beautiful countryside was blasted, bombed and
fought over, again and again. The landscape swiftly turned to fields of mud:
bleak and barren scenes where little or nothing could grow.
Bright red Flanders poppies (Papaver rhoeas) however, were delicate but resilient
flowers and grew in their thousands, flourishing even in the middle of chaos and
destruction. In early May 1915, shortly after losing a friend in Ypres, a Canadian
doctor, Lt Col John McCrae was inspired by the sight of poppies to write a now
famous poem called ‘In Flanders Fields’.
IN FLANDERS FIELDS
In Flanders’ fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place: and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders’ fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe;
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high,
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders’ Fields.

The dates for the *NEW* catch up café are here!

At harmless and The Tomorrow Project, we have created a warm, welcoming and encouraging environment for our clients to come and chat amongst each other, along with our friendly staff.

The cafes are aimed at those 18+. Our staff will be on hand to provide information on how our service can support you and those you know.

These Catch up Cafes will be the first to be held in the new Harmless HQ.

Please head to Harmless events to see what else we have going on!

http://www.harmless.org.uk/whoWeAre/events

We will remember them

Remembrance Day and Remembrance Sunday, we remember and mark the end of the First World War in 1918, paying tribute to those who have fallen in their line of duty.

The Sunday closest to Remembrance Day is known as Remembrance Sunday where men, women and children all across Britain hold and attend ceremonies to remember the millions who have died at war.
The First World War’s hostilities formally ended at 11 AM on the 11th day of the 11th Month in accordance with the armistice signed by allies and German representatives.
The United Kingdom marks this time with a two minute silence. On the 11/11 many people across the UK will be pausing in our day to day tasks and at 11am will be joined in silence, pausing to remember those who were so brave.

Send a card, Save a life!

Harmless’ Christmas Cards are now on sale!

Help support vital self harm and suicide prevention services by sending a festive card this holiday season!

Premium quality cards come in packs of 8 with 2 designs and self seal envelopes.

£4 per pack

All the money raised will go directly towards supporting the ongoing work of Harmless and The Tomorrow Project and saving lives.

Buy yours in our online store: www.harmless.org.uk/store/Christmas-cards 

In the news: The rise of mental health in hip-hop lyrics

Hip-hop is having a watershed moment for mental health. In the last two years, some of the biggest rappers have peeled back the curtain on their personal lives to shine a light on their struggles with mental health issues.

Take Kanye West’s album “The Life of Pablo”, where he mentions both seeing a psychiatrist and taking Lexapro, an antidepressant used to treat depression and anxiety disorders. Or Kid Cudi, who publicly announced he’d checked into rehab for depression and suicidal urges, writing that “anxiety and depression have ruled my life for as long as I can remember and I never leave the house because of it.” Even rap veteran Jay-Z has advocated the importance of therapy in recent months.

In the midst of hip-hop’s dive into mental health awareness, it’s perhaps unsurprising that many mainstream artists have also opened up about practicing meditation. Big Sean, Vic Mensa, Mac Miller, Earl Sweatshirt, J. Cole, and Drake, to name a few, have credited meditation as impacting areas of their lives and creative output. And, of course, Def Jam Recordings label founders Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons attribute much of their success to meditation.

“[T]he person I am was shaped by the experience of the years of meditation,” says Rubin, who produced albums for everyone from Beastie Boys to Kanye. “I feel like I can see deeply into things in a way that many of the people around me don’t, or can’t.”

“Meditation is a guaranteed way to not only dip into, but stay connected with, your creative spirit,” echoes Simmons. “People have this misconception that meditation will chill you out and make you soft, but the opposite is true. I meditate every morning when I wake up and almost the second my session is over I’m eager to tackle whatever is on my plate for that day.”

But perhaps the rap game’s biggest meditation advocate is one that currently holds the title as Greatest Rapper Alive: Kendrick Lamar.

Kendrick has plugged meditation on four (!) of his tracks. Take these lyrics from “untitled 03 | 05.28.2013”:

Meditation is a must, it don’t hurt if you try
See you thinking too much, plus you too full of yourself
Worried about your career, you ever think of your health?

In a 2016 interview for GQ Style, Kendrick elaborates on his meditation routine:

“I have to have at least 30 minutes to myself,” he says. “If it’s not on the daily, every other day, to just sit back, close my eyes, and absorb what’s going on. You know, the space that I’m in [and] how I’m feeling at the moment.”

Kendrick cites the frenetic busyness of his career as a motivator to practice being more present. “When you in music—and everybody knows this—the years are always cut in half, because you always have something to do,” he says. “It just goes and then you miss out on your moment because you’re so in the moment you didn’t know the moment was going on.”

After realizing that music was consuming his thoughts and attention, Kendrick turned to meditation for time and space away from his work: “That 30 minutes helps me to totally zone out and not think about my next lyric. You know? It gives me a re-start, a jump start, a refresh. It lets me know why I’m here, doing what I’m doing.”

Competition is ingrained in hip-hop’s DNA; there’s tremendous pressure to claim the “best rapper alive” throne by breaking the mold on verbal gymnastics, pushing artistic boundaries, and resonating with audiences through culture and emotion. Slap on deadlines from record labels, plus scrutiny and sensationalism from the public eye—it’s a paralyzing weight for anyone to endure.

“There’s a great deal of bullshit that people think about when they make music, things that don’t matter,” Rubin says. “[Meditation] kind of wipes that away, and you focus on the real job at hand, as opposed to thinking about what the management wants, or what the record company’s saying, or what somebody at a radio station might think.”

While the dusty notion that hip-hop is all about cars, money, and clothes may still ring true for certain acts, there’s no denying that the genre has evolved. By unmasking both the stigmas attached to mental health issues and stereotypes about meditation, the rap game is well set up for a healthier and happier road ahead—for artists and fans alike.

Link to full blog here: https://www.headspace.com/blog/2017/10/13/mental-health-hip-hop/

In the news: Police receive new powers to search people with mental health needs

Guidance issued to police will see many new changes in the way police respond to call outs from December 11. Police will now be expected to “keep” individuals at a ‘place of safety’ (including, potentially, their home) rather than move them to hospitals or police station, which what has typically happened to date. 

Police are to receive new powers next month to search people with mental health needs. The new search power allows police officers to search people in distress when section 135 or 136 (‘sectioning’) orders are imposed. Mental Health Today were first last week to reveal 1,000 people vulnerable people were detained in police cells last year. New guidance released by the Department of Health reveals police will now be given the powers to carry out searches for “their own safety”. 

Guidance issued to police today will see many new changes in the way police respond to call outs from December 11 onwards:

• section 136 powers may now be exercised anywhere other than in a private
dwelling

• it is now unlawful to use a police station as a place of safety for anyone under the age of 18 in any circumstances

• a police station can now only be used as a place of safety for adults in specific circumstances, which are set out in regulations

• the previous maximum detention period of up to 72 hours has been reduced to 24 hours (unless a doctor certifies that an extension of up to 12 hours is necessary)

• before exercising a section 136 power police officers must, where practicable, consult one of the health professionals listed in section 136(1C), or in regulations made under that provision

• a person subject to section 135 or 136 can be kept at, as well as removed to, a place of safety. Therefore, where a section 135 warrant has been executed, a person may be kept at their home (if it is a place of safety) for the purposes of an assessment rather than being removed to another place of safety

• a new search power allows police officers to search persons subject to section 135 or 136 powers for protective purposes.

Link to full blog here: https://www.mentalhealthtoday.co.uk/breaking-police-receive-new-powers-to-search-people-with-mental-health-needs

 

 

In the news: The counsellors on the frontline of the student mental health crisis

I am walking through Nottingham’s Arboretum park on a bright cold afternoon with 10 other people, all of us in complete silence. At first I find the whole thing so awkward I have to suppress an embarrassed laugh. But as we make our wordless way through the dappled shade, I feel an atmosphere of calm and thoughtfulness envelop us like a protective cloak.

The others in my group are undergraduate students, chaplains and other staff of Nottingham Trent University (NTU), all taking part in a mindfulness walk, intended to bring some space and quiet reflection into students’ hectic lives. Guided by the chaplains (who speak occasionally), we pause as a group to consider questions in the booklets we have been handed: “who am I?”, “where am I going in my life?” and “what brings me a sense of excitement?” Left to our silence, we note down our answers. Stopping by a rubbish bin, we ask, “What rubbish am I carrying with me in my life?” We tear off our answers and throw them in the bin. It sounds silly, but weeks later I still feel lighter for casting off that scribble on a scrap of paper.

Back in the bustling City Campus of NTU, students and staff weave their way around each other, a mass of hoodies and headscarves, skullcaps and backwards caps, hipster beards and hi-tops. Posters advertise a programme of free yoga, craft classes and eating-disorder information sessions: my visit coincides with Wellbeing Week, designed to raise awareness of mental health and encourage students who need help to seek it. This is just one part of NTU’s strategy to meet a dramatic rise in the need for support.

Last month, the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) published a reportrevealing that nationally, the number of first-year students who disclose a mental health problem has risen fivefold in the past decade. A record number of students with mental health problems dropped out of university in 2015, the latest year for which figures are available. In the same year, 134 students killed themselves, the highest number on record. Similarly, the number of UK students seeking counselling has rocketed by 50% in the past five years, to more than 37,000, according to figures obtained by the Guardian. This trend is reflected at NTU: wellbeing services received 38% more referrals last year than in 2014/15.

There are many reasons mental health problems may arise at university. It is a time of transition: people are no longer living in the family home, but not yet fully independent either. Added to this, some might experience the big fish – small pond effect, where teenagers who are used to being recognised for their achievements find themselves in a more competitive yet more anonymous environment. Difficulties that have been repressed throughout school can bubble up when students leave their support network behind. As Glenn Baptiste, a mental health adviser at NTU says, “Sometimes it might look like it’s a problem that’s occurred within university, but that’s not always the case. If students come here with ongoing issues that they’ve not discussed, the university environment can make life difficult.”

Student Services manager Alison Bromberg says the most common mental health problems reported by NTU students are anxiety and depression. Bromberg can see how the challenges young people face today play their part in this rise – the burden of student debt, economic uncertainty, global political upheaval, apocalyptic climate change – “but,” she says, “I also think that a lot of work has happened and is still happening to reduce the stigma around discussing mental health and emotional needs. I think it’s making it more possible for people to come forward and ask for that support.”, global political upheaval, economic uncertainty, student debt

 

Rosie Tressler, CEO of student mental health charity Student Minds, tells me, “The 2016 Student Academic Experience Survey provided strong evidence that [undergraduates] have lower levels of wellbeing than the rest of the population, with roughly one-third reporting psychological distress, and we know that the median age of higher education students overlaps the peak age of onset for mental health difficulties.” In other words, evidence suggests many people with mental health disorders first experience symptoms between the ages of 18 and 25.

 

When I asked students around the country about their experiences of mental health, they talked about stressful deadlines, difficulties forming new relationships, balancing a job with studies, financial worries and social pressures. They also painted a picture of patchy provision: while some received prompt and effective help, others described underfunded services, excruciatingly long waiting times and dismissive attitudes. One student talked about desperately trying to get a counselling appointment when booking opened at 9am, only to find that all the slots had gone when she got through at 9.03am. A final-year student at another university wrote that she is experiencing increasing anxiety and can’t get help: “A good counsellor I saw in my first year has left, and they are not recruiting any more, so there are lots of students chasing very few appointments. They refer you on or offer leaflets. It seems very inadequate.”

Alex, 21, was a student at a Midlands university when she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, anxiety and severe depression. She says services are able to deal only with the most seriously distressed students: “Because of the strain on the service, if you weren’t suicidal at the current time, you weren’t helped. You had to be five minutes from death or you had to wait weeks. You had to be at your worst.”

The counselling she was eventually offered was helpful, but she felt the eight-week wait was too long and the six weeks it lasted too short. For long-term therapy on the NHS, she was told she needed to wait a year, by which time she would have graduated and moved home. “So it’s kind of pointless,” she says. For others, such as George Watkins, 21, who is at Cardiff and has had anxiety and depression for eight years, the experience has been more positive: “It is since coming to university that I have made the most progress. I came off the crippling medication, came through suicidal patches and have now come more or less out the other side.” After having a breakdown around the time of his GCSEs, Watkins didn’t leave his house for six months, and then didn’t leave his small town in Dorset for three years.

At NTU, Alison Bromberg still thinks there is cause to feel optimistic about the future. “I do. I actually do. It feels as if we’re embracing a much more holistic framework across the sector.” She cites proposed changes to the university curriculum, such as creating course content for all students on subjects such as coping with change and understanding stress and anxiety. “We’ve got to make sure mental health becomes everybody’s business. That’s the journey we’re on. And I think we’ve come a long way.” 

Click here for link to the full article: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/oct/28/campus-confidential-counsellors-student-mental-health-crisis

 

In the news: Recognising that mind and body are not separate opens door for new treatments

Descartes’s notion of dualism – that the mind and body are separate entities – is wrong, but has proved surprisingly persistent, and until recently dominated attempts to understand mental illness. When the brain stopped working properly, a psychological origin was sought. Undoubtedly, life’s experiences and our personalities shape the way our brains function. But there is now a compelling body of evidence that brain disorders can also originate from things going awry in our basic biology. Particularly intriguing is the discovery that the brain, once thought to be separated from the immune system by the blood-brain barrier, is powerfully influenced by immune activity.

The latest trial, focused on schizophrenia, is backed by converging evidence from several fields that immune cells in the brain, called microglia, play at least some role in this disease. Prof Oliver Howes, the psychiatrist leading the work, discovered that these cells appear to go into overdrive in the early stages of schizophrenia. Genetics studies have linked changes in immune system genes to increased risk for schizophrenia and anecdotal evidence, including a recent case report of a patient who developed schizophrenia after receiving a bone marrow transplant from a sibling with the illness, also triangulates on to the immune system. “It’s all challenging the idea that the brain is this separate privileged organ,”said Howes.

Schizophrenia is not a special case. Scientists are showing that immune activity may play a role in a broad spectrum of mental disorders, ranging from depression to dementia.

People with diabetes, an auto-immune disease, are 65% more likely to develop dementia, according to a 2015 study. Other research has found that Alzheimer’s patients who suffered regular infections, such as coughs and colds, had a fourfold greater decline in memory tests during a six-month period compared with patients with the lowest infection levels. And there is tentative evidence that some patients with treatment resistant depression may benefit from antibody treatments. Perhaps most striking has been the discovery of an entire network of vessels beneath the skull, linking the brain and the immune system, that had surprisingly been overlooked until very recently.

“It has been a fundamental problem that the brain and mind have been seen as somehow separate entities, and that physical and mental healthcare are separate,” said Belinda Lennox, senior clinical lecturer in psychiatry at the University of Oxford. “It has denied the psychological factors that play a vital part in all medical disorders, just as much as it has denied the importance of the biological factors in mental illness.”

Whether the latest trial will yield a successful treatment is difficult to predict and the psychiatry’s record warns against premature optimism. However, recognising that biological factors, such as the immune system, can have a powerful influence on the brain and sometimes explain why things go wrong, will be essential to finding new and better treatments.

Link to full blog here: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/nov/03/recognising-that-mind-and-body-are-not-separate-opens-door-for-new-treatments-schizophrenia