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

 

Could you write a blog for us?

Harmless would like to invite you to contribute to our blog. Our blog is important to us because it helps us convey a range of issues around self harm and suicide to the public. It helps us reach people in distress and promote better understanding about these issues amongst our readers.

It helps us tell you about our work, upcoming events, dispel myths and offer advice. But we also want it to challenge stigma and to offer real stories about self harm and recovery so that people reading this can feel connected to what we do and who we help.

If you would like to write a blog for us about your experiences, then you can submit this to info@harmless.org.uk with the title ‘blog post’. In your email, please tell us what name you would like us to use for you. You can say as little about your identity as you want.

The blog should be about 200 -300 words in length and shouldn’t be graphic in any way, but should offer the reader an insight into your experiences that mighty help them relate to self harm, distress, or suicide. The blog could be about what you’ve felt or experienced, what’s helped, or not helped… What needs to change, or what he stigma around these issues has been for you.

It is vital to harmless that we represent your voice and your experiences, so if you feel you can contribute to this blog, please do.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Do you have any items you may no longer need?

As some of you may know, Harmless and The Tomorrow Project have recently moved into our new home!

Do you have items you may no longer need?

De-stashing the house ready for Christmas?

We want our spaces to be welcoming, comfortable and supportive and we are reaching out to anyone who may be able to offer us a helping hand with a few items, such as;

Cutlery

Hand towels

Tea towels

Cushions

Pictures/Canvases

Children’s toys

Art and craft materials

Please do get in touch if you are able to support us with any of these!

Phone: 0115 880 0280

Email: info@harmless.org.uk

We thank you for your continued support

How easy do you find it to switch off? Science says it may depend on your age group.

According to market research conducted in 2015 by Mintel, young adults aged between 16 to 34 are the ‘most stressed’ age group, and experts are pointing the blame directly at this group’s high levels of social media exposure. The average UK home now owns 7.4 devices which are connected to the internet. When broken down, that’s an average of 1.7 smartphones, 1.3 laptops and 1.2 tablets, one games console, 0.6 desktop computers and 0.5 connected TVs per household. These high levels of connectivity are making it harder for us to disengage.

Technology has transformed our 9 to 5, giving us better opportunities and communication tools, but it’s also made it harder to unwind. Thankfully, there are some simple steps you can take to enhance your downtime and reduce stress.

  1. Retrain your brain. When bored or stressed, it’s easy to crave a quick fix in the form of clicks and likes, but breaking this habit will mean your happiness isn’t dependent on the number of shares your latest tweet received. If you crave social interaction, spending time (in person) with family and friends will give you a long-term boost, and get you away from the screen.
  2. Take a walk – and leave your phone in your pocket. Research by the University of Essex has found that exercising in pleasant surroundings has a greater effect in reducing blood pressure than hitting the gym and plugging into another screen. Green spaces and fresh air, ideally close to water, were shown to significantly improve self-esteem and enable participants to relax more effectively in the evening.
  3. Treat your commute as ‘me-time’ not an opportunity to work remotely. Professor Mark Cropley, author of The Off-Switch, advises: “The shortest route to changing your thought pattern is to find a task that is the total opposite to your work and completely absorbs the mind. For an accountant who looks as a screen for ten hours a day, for example, cycling home – a physical activity where you have to be aware of traffic around you – is ideal.”
  4. Practise mindfulness. Limit distractions such as the TV, radio or flicking between apps and take the time to focus on your food, notice your surroundings and tune into how you are feeling. Identifying feelings of stress and when and why they occur will enable you to take control of them. If you feel stressed, meditating on an object, taking in its texture, appearance and smell can help you remain calm.
  5. Read a book in bed – not your tablet. Oxford scientists have declared that we now get up to two hours’ less sleep than we did 60 years ago, and this could be due to our use of bright screens at bedtime, which prevent our brains from releasing melatonin, the hormone that tells our bodies it’s night time. Turning off your tablet an hour before bedtime, can help keep our body clock in check. “Make sure you read with traditional lighting, so called ‘warm’ light with more energy in the red end of the spectrum,” adds psychologist Lynn D. Johnson.“That convinces the brain it is sundown and time to quiet down.”
  6. To aid sleep further, take a bath. Not only does soaking in the bath encourage you to put down your smartphone, but the hot water will raise your body temperature slightly so that when you get out the quick cooldown mimics the natural temperature drop triggered by the brain before sleep. To get the most out of your bath, practise meditation, read a good book or listen to music rather than switching on Netflix. Essential oils like lavender and eucalyptus are also renowned for their calming, therapeutic effects. Focus on your breathing, and cherish the opportunity to have time and space all to yourself.

For the full article https://uk.lush.com/article/how-pull-plug-stress

It’s OK to have a bad day

(A really wonderful blog post by Orlagh Grace at Orlaghslittlecorner.wordpress.com)

I feel there is so much pressure to make everyday a ‘good day’ a ‘productive day’ a ‘I did something amazing today day’. But reality is it’s OK not to have a good day everyday. Cause life is tough sometimes, and somedays can feel like the whole world is crashing down on you with no way out  (and crying about it can be a good thing! You gotta let it all out every now and then!).

You are allowed to have a bad day. Cause sometimes that’s the day where mistakes are made and lessons are learnt, or its sometimes when problems arise and you learn to become stronger and more equipped at dealing with them.

Whatever a good day is to one person is different to another person. So make your day whatever kind of day it needs to be. Be happy if your feeling the happy vibes, and vice versa. And if you need to talk and someone asks if you are alright -then talk (it can help so much)! Don’t feel pressured to make everyone believe you’re having a good day if you’re not.

And I totally get it; that social media is a killer, everything looks so much better on people’s insta, or snaps or fb pics. But you gotta know that most of that stuff, is just the stuff people want you to see. What you need to know is that, that person is actually living a life which has many ups and many downs- just like everyone else. And even if they don’t advertise it that way, it doesn’t mean its ‘peachy’ for them all of the time. But I know that seeing all these productive, ‘something amazing happend’ and super good posts all the time makes you wonder ‘why is my day not like that?’.

Reality is your day may not be like that and may not be a ‘good day’ kinda day. However having said what I have said, I do like to try and look for positives in every situation. I am a believer that “not everyday is a good day, but there is something good in everyday.” Truthfully you have got to look super hard sometimes, but there will (99% of the time) be some way you can pull something positive from whatever situation or day you’ve had.

So when someone asks you how your day was, a friend, parent, partner -whoever, be truthful cause it’s ok not to have a good day everyday. But also make
sure you can evaluate your day and differentiate the negative parts from the positive! Grow from every experience you have .

Now go out and have your day-whatever day it may be!
Be positive. Be kind. Spread some good vibes

Click here for the link to Oralghs website for loads more wonderful posts to brighten your day. 

Creating a safe place for those who need it

Sometimes, people want us to tell them outright why they self-harm or have thoughts of suicide. We could present them with research, evaluations, meta-analyses or literature reviews into risk factors etc., but this is often not helpful for someone experiencing a crisis. While we work with these resources in mind with research and clinical best practice baked into the foundations of the service through safety planning, risk management, safeguarding as well as providing our many excellent CPD accredited training courses, here, we provide people with a safe place to explore their self-harm and suicidality for themselves, free of fear of a negative response, fear or panic.

More often than not, the process of helping someone understand for themselves facilitates not only recognition of why they self-harm or feel suicidal, but presents a turning point that that person identifies for themselves with our continued support. After all, while we’re a service that prides itself on its ability to support people who self-harm or have thoughts of suicide, each person is the expert of their own lives and minds. It’s our hope (and privilege) that people entrust their feelings with us so that we can help them manage self-harm and suicidal thoughts in a way that fits them.

Indeed, Harmless has recently presented at Parliament, represented itself on various national news platforms with the support of some of our clients, and won several awards for our efforts in understanding and preventing self-harm and suicide. While we do not evaluate ourselves on the size of our trophy cases or how many news outlets we speak to, it emphasizes that we are a service that people can rely on for information and support around self-harm and suicide; our clients, families, and professionals alike. With Harmless having just reached its 10 year milestone, I’m proud to work in a service that has gone from strength to strength over the past decade in supporting people who self-harm or have thoughts of suicide.

Many thanks,

Bevan Dolan, Suicide Crisis Project Worker

Would you like to work for Harmless as part of our clinical team?

We are currently recruiting for a Specialist Therapist to join the Harmless team. The deadline for applications is Monday 27th November 2017 at 12pm, with interviews to take place in the week commencing 4th December 2017.

To download the job description, please click here.

To download an application form, please click here.

JOB TITLE: Specialist Therapist

HOURS: Up to 37.5 hours per week

SALARY: £23,250 per annum

START DATE: 8th January 2018

This position has been funded by the Big Lottery Fund.

Harmless are pleased to offer an exciting opportunity to join our passionate team and help us save lives.  We are looking for a dynamic individual, who is willing to develop their skills; work outside the box and challenge themselves in order to do whatever is required to help people attain recovery.

This role is particularly well suited to a therapist early in their career looking for a long term opportunity to develop as a specialist therapist.

Application Deadline: 27th November 2017 at 12pm. 

Interviews will be held in Nottingham w/c 4th December 2017. 

Please send your completed application form by the deadline to info@harmless.org.uk.

If you have any questions regarding the role or the application process, please contact us by calling 0115 880 0280 or email info@harmless.org.uk.

Announcing our first confirmed workshop for our forthcoming conference, From Harm to Hope, on 1st March 2018 at the Nottingham Conference Centre.

Each year World Mental Health day provides an opportunity “for all stakeholders working on mental health issues to talk about their work, and what more needs to be done to make mental health care a reality for people worldwide”. This year’s theme set by the World Federation for Mental Health is mental health in the workplace.

In keeping with this year’s theme, our first confirmed workshop will be held by Pam Burrows – People Booster. This workshop will be introducing the concept of an organisational C.A.R.E. model focusing on the sustainability of your organisation by the maintenance of workforce wellbeing. The workshop is ideal for those wanting to focus on their own wellbeing in the workplace and strategies for driving wellbeing across our workforces.

Delivered in her usual engaging, funny and dynamic style, this workshop will offer food for thought, alongside useful strategies for you to take away.

If you would like to book tickets to our conference, or would like more details, please visit: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/from-harm-to-hope-self-harm-conference-tickets-38725331509

The Hen Chow ‘Farm and River Route’

On Sunday 15th October, I was privileged to be part of the 2nd Hen Chow ‘Farm and River Route’, a 2.5 mile route to help raise funds to improve mental healthcare for young adults.

We had the option to run, walk or ride (yes you heard it right, you could ride in an amazingly cool tractor-trailer). But whether you chose to walk, run or grab that cheeky ride, it did not matter. It was also not important if you were wearing your best running kit, yours jeans or you were pushing a baby pram. It only mattered that you were there, and that was something that we all shared in that moment. Everyone that participated (and there were so many!) knew they were part of something special. Yet, that was done with the natural ease of something you do every day – step by step, we create momentum, we move. We go forward.

There is an old Chinese saying that goes something like this – walk alone, and you’ll go fast. Walk together, and you’ll go far.

And we did. Once again, everyone came together on that morning, showing that just as being kind and compassionate, we can also be the driving (no pun intended, I will however remind you again of the amazing tractor available) force behind change.

Thanks for reading,

Ana

Project worker for Harmless & The Tomorrow Project

 

Self Harm Conference – 1st March 2018 – Tickets now on sale

From Harm to Hope – Self Harm Conference

 

Thursday 1st March 2018

Nottingham Conference Centre

 

£150 per delegate, or 2 for £200*

 

Click here to book tickets: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/from-harm-to-hope-self-harm-conference-tickets-38725331509

We are pleased to announce that Harmless’ third national self harm conference will be held on Thursday 1st March 2018, Self Harm Awareness Day. This year’s theme is ‘self harm: suicide prevention starts here’.

As in previous years, the conference will be shaped around the following five strategic areas:

Collaborative partnership,

Service user representation,

Effective practice,

Driving change,

Overcoming stigma and discrimination.

 

Our conference gathers together leading academics and experts in the fields of self harm and suicide. Speakers already confirmed:

Professor Louis Appleby, who leads the National Suicide Prevention Strategy for England.

Dr. Alys Cole-King, a Liaison Psychiatrist and Specialist in suicide prevention.

We will be confirming all speakers, workshops, and our agenda closer to the event. Please book early to take advantage of our ticket offer.

Click here to book tickets: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/from-harm-to-hope-self-harm-conference-tickets-38725331509

 

*Excluding Eventbrite booking fees. We also offer discounted tickets for charities and students – to book these please call our office directly on 0115 880 0280.