In the Press: ‘Pupils are so distressed that they think the only way out is death’

Teenagers are attempting suicide because they can’t cope with the stress, and that is partly down to the fact that education has become a conveyor belt of expectations, warns one parent

My 18-year-old daughter has just texted me to say that one of her friends has tried to kill herself and my daughter is on her way to the hospital to see her. Earlier this year, another one of her friends killed himself, despite embarking on what was to have been a happy and exciting gap year.

And at the weekend, my son went to visit his friend who had tried to kill herself and is still in a psychiatric hospital, where I hope she is receiving the help she needs. Her sudden absence at school was unexplained and he had been trying to get in touch with her for weeks. Once he found out what had happened, he immediately made arrangements to see her and spend time with her. She is 16.

One family, two children, three friends who reached crisis.

And our family cannot be the exception. I just hope it is not the norm. The pressure on children is immense. The endless testing, the feeling that if you fail your GCSEs your life is over, that if you fail your A levels you are useless, that if you get anything less than a 2:1 you might as well not have bothered going to university. All ratchet up the pressure to achieve, the guilt, the feeling that you should always be working. No wonder teenagers drink themselves to oblivion or take drugs, seeking to escape by other means.

It starts at nursery, the constant comparisons, the measuring of achievement, the target setting. And all fun is sucked out of learning by the time you are 7, very aware of the stress of Sats and the pressure on your teacher. Children pick up signals from their role models. They know the stakes. And then through the rest of primary school, to Year 6, where the school’s reputation is on the line, to GCSEs, on which your future life is said to be riding, and on to A levels, where you are berated for not working hard enough almost as a constant for the two-year duration. The pressure of A-level results day is such that another girl at a nearby school killed herself on the day – before even opening the envelope. And, of course, her achievements were stellar.

Young people in crisis
Urgent action is needed nationwide for change. Change in how we assess children, change in the support available to them, and change in how easy that support is to access. Schools do their best, but recent reports have said that children are waiting up to 18 months to be seen by the NHS for mental health problems. This is too long. A year and a half can be an eternity to a young person who is struggling. And it is an absurdity to a young person in crisis. It should not be a surprise that desperate acts are becoming more common. The key to stopping any destructive behaviour, be it self-harm or self-criticism, is action – and action is what we need now. Young Minds has outlined what the government should include in its forthcoming Green Paper on children’s mental health. The government must listen to the good sense talked by an organisation that works at the front line of children in crisis. And that is the key. These are children. Children who are so distressed that they think the only way out is death.

We must help our teenagers develop resilience, a skin thick enough for them to survive living in the eye of social media, and optimism about their future. In Brexit Britain, where many teenagers feel betrayed, optimism is hard to come by, but social media can serve many purposes, including one of support and camaraderie. I have not met a friend of my children’s who did not look out for their fellow teens and who was not there when needed. Behind every teenage selfie is someone capable of compassion and good sense.

This is not the snowflake generation. This is a generation of children who have had to learn to live in the critical eye of the social network, with the constant comparisons, with the pressure always to be on point. The commodification of education has created a conveyor belt of expectations, and they believe that if you do not meet those then forget it, your life has no value. Play up, play the game, or game over.

Our children are worth more than this and we should value them for what they can bring to the world. The distress some of them live with cannot be ignored – we must acknowledge it and act now to give them the future they deserve.

Karl Ingram is a pseudonym. He is a parent of teenage children in London

Link to the original blog: https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-views/pupils-are-so-distressed-they-think-only-way-out-death

 

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

 

Harmless appear in national news

Harmless have appeared in numerous news stories surrounding the sharp rise in recent reported cases of self harm in young girls aged 13-16.

A few of our clients and our CEO, Caroline Harroe, have taken part in various national news stories around this recent statistic.

Yesterday we filmed a piece for Sky News which has featured on the Sky News channel and online at various times throughout today.

You can watch this news story at this link: http://news.sky.com/video/girls-self-harming-more-due-to-social-media-11087600

We have also been filming today for ITV national news which was broadcast on today’s lunchtime news bulletin. This story will also feature on ITV Central News at 6pm this evening. Make sure you tune in!

Instagram users… We need YOU!

Harmless and The Tomorrow Project are now on Instagram, show your support and give us a follow.  

We will be introducing the team, sharing tips and stories, raising awareness, challenging stigma and discrimination and providing another pathway for users to contact and refer into service. Hope to see you there. We’ll follow you back!

@Harmless_UK & @TheTomorrowProject_UK

Mental Health Today – Wales #MHTWales17

Last week I was invited to speak at the Mental Health Today conference in Cardiff. I set off on the Tuesday afternoon to make my way and was greeted to Wales with sun filled valleys and lush, green hill tops- what a sight!

As I entered Cardiff the scenery changed to a hive of activity, with tall buildings and busy people. I found my way through the traffic to my destination, the Premier Inn. With the extra excuse of it being Mental Health Awareness week I made sure I had a delicious hot meal and enjoyed a bubble bath with my first Lush (Handmade cosmetics) bath bomb.

With approximately 400 people attending the conference I was excited to mingle and meet new faces. The day of the conference was one of inspiration and hope. So many people and so many experiences to share! One particular presentation from Cyfle Cymru really stuck out for me, with a service user sharing their story with us. He mentioned the importance of creating space to do the things we want to do and taking the time to understand what getting well meant. I felt this message was such an important one for all of us to take note of. If we are to thrive it is essential we let ourselves explore what this looks like and how it will be done.

Before long it was my turn to present. Many people tell me I am confident when presenting, something I still struggle to accept after many years of managing my anxiety. As many of you may agree it is surprising just how much can go through your mind before you step up to speak. One of the last thoughts I had, whilst taking deep breaths and walking up to the stand, was how awe-inspiring it was to have so many people gathered together in one space all with the same mission to help improve the lives of those with mental health conditions- and I was lucky enough to contribute to this.

The whole day radiated hope and drive for constant change and I look forward to experiencing more of this atmosphere again at our own National conference on the 1st March, From Harm to Hope.

For more feedback on what took place at Mental Health Today and to read the interview I had on how best to support those who self harm please click here.

For more information on our own conference, From Harm to Hope email: admin@harmless.org.uk

CLICK HERE TO READ THE ARTICLE

Harmless on BBC East Midlands Today news yesterday evening

Val Stevens, our Specialist Self Harm and Suicide Prevention Therapist, speaking out yesterday in response to ‘the number of young girls in Leicester needing hospital care for self harm has more then double in the last three years’. BBC East Midlands watch from 2:20…

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b08pl2jz/east-midlands-today-late-news-09052017 

 

World Health Day- 7th April 2017

World Health Organization (WHO) is leading a one-year global campaign on depression. The goal of the campaign is that more people with depression, everywhere in the world, both seek and get help.

What’s it like living with depression…

I suffer with depression and anxiety and have done for the majority of my life. My way of describing depression is as if someone has poured a large jug of water into your head and your brain is drowning but on the outside no one would know.

Matthew Johnstone author and illustrator of, “I had a Black Dog” decided to write the book as a visual articulation of what it is to suffer depression. His wish is that his story is shared with partners, parents, siblings, friends, even doctors and therapists to help articulate what you or someone you know is going through. He also highlights the importance of recovery explaining that everyone’s path to recovery is different. 

Never, ever give up the fight; Black Dog can be beaten. As Winston Churchill said, “If you find yourself going through hell, keep going.”

What stats have to say…

Depression: let’s talk

To find out more information and what you can do to help visit…

http://www.who.int/campaigns/world-health-day/2017/toolkit.pdf?ua=1