World Mental Health Day: The Five Ways to Wellbeing

Saturday 10th October 2020 saw this year’s World Mental Health Day. The Theme? Mental Health For All.

In our Harmless Let’s Talk Training sessions, we often mention the Five Ways to Wellbeing – a well-researched framework for keeping up good mental health. Created by the New Economics Foundation, it gives us an idea of five important areas that we can all practice ‘topping up’ in order to have good mental health and wellbeing.

We have made some lovely short videos for you to explore, with us, the Five Ways. Think of them as an ‘Emotional Five a Day’ – I know I do!

As ever, take care of yourselves. Although the 10th October has now passed, let’s make sure we’re continuing to work together every single day of the year to build good Mental Health For All.

  1. Connect

2. Learn

3. Take Notice

4. Give

5. Be Active

~ Claire Dixon (Training Service Manager (Sales) and Specialist Trainer)

It’s Safe to Talk about Suicide

I wanted to share a useful resource developed at the University of Exeter Medical School in collaboration with the Alliance of Suicide Prevention Charities (TASC). This document has been adopted by the Nottinghamshire Suicide Prevention Steering Group, and is now being used around Nottinghamshire to share evidence-based information to raise awareness in the general population that it is safe to have a conversation about suicide when you’re worried about someone. If you would like to view a copy of this document visit the following URL-

This short leaflet provides vital guidance on what you could say or do if you’re worried someone may be thinking about suicide. It covers four key areas:

  1. Sometimes we may get a gut feeling when something doesn’t look or feel right about an individual. We may be concerned that they could be thinking about suicide. This document will help you identify warning signs that someone may be contemplating suicide.
  2. The safest way to know if someone is thinking about suicide is to ask them. Often an individual with thoughts of suicide needs someone to start the conversation as they may be cut off from everyone around them or maybe they are desperate for help but afraid to ask, or don’t know who to turn to. By asking the question, we giving an individual permission to talk about it, letting them know they do not have to fight these thoughts alone. This document covers why it’s important to ask, and challenges common fears about asking.
  3. Talking about suicide. This can be a tricky and scary conversation to start. If you’re worried about how to approach the conversation, this document covers what to say
  4. The document also covers signposting and what to do next. There are a range of suggestions of different kinds of support available to those thinking about suicide. It’s important that we try all avenues and don’t give up.

I hope you find this document useful.

~ Leanne

Food and Mood – by Lisa

If there is one thing that never fails to put me in a positive mood…’s cake!

I love cake, I love to eat it and I love making it. Cake has had a place in my life for as long as I can remember. We only ever had cake for very special occasions when I was a child. Now as an adult, there is always an opportunity to have cake and for me, the best way is to share it.

If ever I feel bored, lonely or sad, then I’ll make a cake. I love to experiment and try new flavours and there is nothing more homely for me, than the aroma of a freshly baked cake filling the kitchen. We use cake as a comfort: I’ll bake a cake to cheer people up, and we use cakes to celebrate occasions like birthdays, weddings etc. in fact we don’t really need an excuse to have cake in our house. It is just something we love to share together when we all get a chance to meet up.

When my children were small I made all of their birthday cakes. This was mainly because it was cheaper and I could make it so much bigger to share around the seven of us. Whilst I was no expert, I really enjoyed the challenge of creating my own masterpieces to meet with their requests. Over the years I have made numerous cakes for my friends and family and always feel a sense of pride when I hand the finished result over. For me, baking and decorating a cake for someone gives me a chance to switch off from everything else and put all of my time and love into making something tasty!

Here are a few of my creations:

Our Belly and Our Brain

Before lockdown I delivered a training session discussing mental health intervention and a delegate on training working as a nutritionist providing feedback suggesting that we should focus more time in the session on our mental health and how our diet directly impacts it.She told me that our digestive system produces over 90% of all serotonin (the ‘Happy’ hormone) and is often dubbed as the ‘second brain’. With this in mind, I researched the benefits of having a healthy digestive system for our mental health. I learned that out gut can affect immunity and resilience to stress and in general helps us to absorb vitamins, minerals and nutrients which is vital for our brains to thrive.

On reflection, when I have felt stressed or anxious, I often feel it in my gut, this is because when we are anxious our digestive systems speed up or slow down, depending on how we are feeling. To make sure we are keeping our brains and our bellies happy we need to make sure we are eating gut-friendly foods including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, pulses, and basically plenty of fibre and lots of fluid along with regular exercise.

To learn more about our digestive system and our gut check out this TED talk from nutritionist Ruairi Robertson as he discusses the link between our gut and our brain

~ Leanne


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:

Learning to experiment with sound

Did you know, our Trainer Aja is also a Noise Musician (expression of noise in a musical context). She has put together a video demonstrating how you can play with any household object and learn, through software, to adjust sounds and make music! For Learning Week, why not have a go at starting to experiment with sound and production? Follow Aja’s guide through Ableton Digital Audio Workstation in the video below:

Being Mindful – Where to Start

I wanted to share what I have learnt from my own experience with mindfulness with you. Mainly that you are probably already naturally doing many things mindfully during your day to look after yourself and that’s a good place to start, take note, feel positive and confident about those things.

Mindfulness often starts with learning how to focus on your breath or being fully immersed in eating a raisin/grape(!) But there may be plenty of things you are doing already that show you have the skills and ability to do something relaxing and positive that will bring you so much benefit. And it doesn’t have to be regimented or a big effort. Small bites and little steps to looking after yourself is a helpful approach.

I have attended meditation and mindfulness sessions to help my own mental and physical health. I find attending a structured course helpful, but as soon as I’m on my own my motivation evaporates, and I struggle to focus. Something I live with is regular nightmares and flashbacks from a past trauma, so when focusing with eyes shut, on my own, laying down this isn’t comfortable or helpful for me. But I am now aware and mindful of that, and can work around this. It’s about taking your time and noticing what works.

One thing that I’ve really benefited from is a realisation that there are actually many things that I am already doing that are in a way mindful, and for me were a good place to start in terms of expanding and continuing that mindful practice (because you do have to practice!) and something to celebrate. I encourage you to notice your natural pauses throughout your day, those things that slow down your breathing and fill you with warmth or positivity, things that help you to stay calm and feel okay. It doesn’t have to be something that takes lots of time, it could be seconds but once you notice those things you can start to do more of them.

Here are a few mindful things that I have found helpful, that have kept me grounded and given me calm during tough times and the things in my toolkit that I know are there if I need them:

  • A hug. From a loved one, or in these times when you may be on your own in isolation giving yourself a hug is a comforting thing to do (this is also a mindful movement – so you get a bonus mindful point with that one and it’s a nice gentle stretch!)
  • Watching the birds pottering around outside. Noticing things: clouds, faces in random places, new or lovely noises (bird song? The wind? The sea – if you’re lucky to live by the sea.), the shape/colour/size/smell of new plants/leaves.
  • Fun explanation of Mindfulness:

Thank you for reading. Stay home, stay safe and take care.

~ Kirby

Online Safeguarding Software – Impero Guest Blog

Online safeguarding software will protect students both during lockdown and when schools reopen

Justin Reilly, CEO, safeguarding specialist, Impero

Working as a teacher and school advisor for most of my career, I have witnessed first-hand the essential safeguarding role teachers play. Teachers invest countless hours engaging with their students to form a bond of trust, and besides parents, teachers have the highest chance of identifying concerning patterns and warning signs early.

More than half of British schools log these concerns using paper-based filing systems. However, the national lockdown has laid bare the inadequacies of this system: teachers are unable to access their usual systems, meaning that new incidents are logged as isolated incidents (if at all) and kept offsite. Consequently, child protection referrals have dropped by more than 50 percent (as reported by The Guardian).

We must ensure that teachers are ‘safeguarding enabled’ as children’s wellbeing, and in some cases, lives, are at stake. To do so, we must turn from the filing cabinet to the cloud: we recently launched a free-forever online safeguarding solution for schools across the country, allowing them to report incidents, review records and easily collaborate with other professionals. The solution is called Back:drop, and it is available now. Crucially, it will provide staff with a continuous safeguarding record, so when schools reopen, teachers can start connecting the dots, spotting concerns and getting every child the help they may need.

What is Impero Back:drop?

At Impero, we were already in the late stages of developing the Back:drop software when the Covid-19 pandemic hit. The associated lockdown made it clear that our technology needed to be made available to all schools as a matter of urgency.

Teachers and staff members, who are currently fulfilling most of their responsibilities from home using the internet, can connect to Back:drop from any web-connected device. Staff can easily log concerns, and they are then stored in the cloud where they can be reviewed by other staff, optionally shared with parents, and forwarded on to external agencies where necessary. Rather than leaning on emails or other unfit-for-purpose systems for safeguarding, this dedicated platform is secure, purpose-built, and accessible and staff can use it just as well while working from home as they can in the classroom.

Back:drop will remain free forever, providing a safe and robust alternative to paper slips, ensuring that no child is overlooked or neglected as a result of an administrative error.

Preventing self-harm and suicide

Safeguarding is more vital now than ever, but it cannot be conducted effectively if schools rely on inaccessible paper-based systems or scattered, decentralised stopgaps. Back:drop is free, secure and online, and we hope that schools adopt it to ensure that every child gets the help they need – both during the lockdown and once classrooms reopen.

Teacher’s reflection on UK Lockdown

Teaching during lockdown has produced some unique challenges. Whilst it has shown how flexible we can be in rapidly switching to online learning platforms, it has once again highlighted the issue of social inequality with regards to accessing education. Not every child has access to a tablet or laptop, and in many cases are sharing these devices with their siblings, both for education and for entertainment.

On a personal level, I have found this troubling. I, like I’m sure all teachers did, came into this job because I care about children. I want the best for them and for each child to realise their potential. Not seeing my class, engaging with them, making sure they are ok educationally and personally, fills me with anxiety. Are they ok? Am I doing my best for them? I have to bring myself back to understanding my spheres of influence, and by providing regular resources, entertaining content and by keeping in touch with parents via online platforms. I’m doing what I can. Which is all anyone can do in these unprecedented times.

My advice for parents of primary age children during lockdown is just read, read and read some more. Share your favourite stories from childhood. Use Newsround to keep up to date with the wider world. Go out into the garden, find some insects or flowers. Categorize these through similar features or use books and internet resources (if able) to identify them and learn about the world in your back garden. Follow some recipes and cook together. All of these activities teach valuable life skills including developing a wider vocabulary, practical math skills and the ability for children to work scientifically. More importantly, they are activities that bring you together, because now more than ever, being there for each other is the greatest thing we can do.

Some useful apps and online tools

  • Class Dojo (school-based chat system for enabling children to access work, and allow school communication with parents)
  • Read Theory (online system which contains lots and lots of reading comprehension through different text types and quiz-style comprehension questions)
  • Epic (website which has access to lots and lots of books to encourage reading for pleasure. Children have the opportunity to have the book read out loud to them by the website)
  • Times Table Rockstars (for various times tables-based activities and games, to make times tables fun)
  • Purple Mash (teachers can set various curriculum-based challenges that children can complete and respond to via the website)