🍩🍩🍩A huge thank you to the wonderful team at Doughnotts and the equally wonderful people who purchased our charity #doughnott! A total of £530 was raised! Thank you all 💙 🍩🍩🍩
An enormous thank you for Paul Martin and Trina Chambers-Mason for running the Robin Hood Half Marathon in aid of Harmless.
Both Paul and Trina were separate fundraisers but raised a phenomenal collective total of over £1700!!
The money raised will go such a long way in providing free therapeutic support to individuals in distress. For an idea of how many people will directly be supported by this money please see the breakdowns below. With £1700 we could provide 68 sessions to an individual at risk of ending their life, and this support could save them.
£25 provides one therapy session
£45 provides one information session drop in
£80 provides one talk in a school
On behalf of the Harmless team, thank you Paul and Trina for fundraising and we hope you’ve had a restful few days to recover!
image by Emma Frances Logan
Only very recently, we seem to have started acknowledging that many of us are lonely. There has been some media coverage of how loneliness causes physical and mental health conditions. But what about people who already face mental health challenges, before they became lonely or in addition to their loneliness?
I don’t think it matters whether we say it’s social isolation or loneliness – the two usually come together anyway, and for me this issue isn’t a science. Simply put, those of us with mental health problems are often really lonely too.
I am lonely. I am now in recovery from a decade of anorexia and it’s only now that I can fully admit to myself, and even fully feel, how lonely I have become. Anorexia is an isolating illness. It takes over more and more headspace until there’s little mental energy left for connecting with others. It’s also because so much of social life involves communal eating and drinking, and it’s often easier to decline an invitation than to take on the multiple challenges these situations create. On top of this, you reach a stage where you just don’t have the physical energy to go out.
I think for adults struggling with mental health problems, the loneliness can be even worse than for young people as there is much less of an immediate support network to notice, and it can take even longer to get any affordable professional help. While the increased media focus on the crisis in youth mental health support is a great step forward, adult support still seems neglected in comparison.
For me, as an adult, the loneliness has been made worse by practical circumstances. I’ve often been living alone or with relative strangers. Though my family love and care for me, they aren’t with me day to day. I’m used to turning my key in the door at night and having no one to give me a hug, or to notice from my tired face and body just how tough the average day locked into anorexia can be.
‘I was locked into my anorexic world. My identity and personality got stuck behind the glass wall’
Another practical reason why adults may become even lonelier is the greater drive to hide our struggle. I needed to hold down a job, and pay rent and bills. What would the practical and financial consequences be if I screamed out to the world that I no longer had the energy to manage anorexia and work and daily life? What would the consequences be of months out of my life for a hospital admission? Did I want to ask for my family’s help as a postgraduate, professional, experienced woman?
About three years into the illness, I realised a glass wall had gone up between me and the rest of the world. Only I could see it, though maybe some people could sense it. I was present and could see everything going on around me. I could even feel some of it. I could press my face close enough to the glass to speak through it and to do at least enough to appear ‘normal’ in social settings. But I often felt empty and hollow inside, desperate to go home, and clock-watching my young life away. It became increasingly rare that I ever truly felt an experience.
While I watched my contemporaries advancing in their careers, falling into and out of love, marrying, starting families, I was locked into my anorexic world. My identity and personality got stuck behind the glass wall. I was so young, frozen in time as the confused 23 year old I was when I first got ill. Yet I was also so old as depression and anorexia are ageing conditions. I was experiencing the things a woman twice my age has to deal with – the loss of periods, the loss of hormones, the loss of sex drive, even the loss of my hair, and the onset of osteoporosis.
So what have I done about this chronic loneliness? And what can adults in similar situations do? I’m still working this out, but I’d like to share a few things that are helping me to cope with loneliness in my anorexia recovery.
‘Loneliness isn’t something to be ashamed of. In fact, admitting you are lonely can help to tackle it’
Firstly, I’ve engaged fully with my condition for the first time in a decade. Last January, by getting whatever support was out there, I started my recovery and little chinks appeared in the glass wall even very early on. A little bit of headspace was cleared of the illness and I could use it to really talk to and listen to others for the first time in a decade, chipping away at the glass. Support can be hard to get as an adult, especially without the financial resources to access some of what’s available. But every little bit of support helps – from the NHS, counsellors, sensible support groups and forums, family, books – whatever combination you can get and whatever helps you. Even the act of trying to get help created a small chink in the glass for me.
Secondly, I’ve admitted my loneliness and acknowledged that it’s not my fault. I’m not a social failure; I’m somebody who has been very ill. Loneliness isn’t something to be ashamed of. In fact, admitting you are lonely can help to tackle it. When I reached out and told a few acquaintances that I was lonely, that I’d been through a tough time, they reached back out to me and I found I had some friends. Most people will respond with kindness when someone says they are lonely. It just needs more of us to admit it! If we all admitted it, maybe none of us would be lonely anymore.
Thirdly, I’m pushing on in recovery. For some people with a mental illness, recovery might mean overcoming mental difficulties as much as possible and restoring seriously damaged physical health, as for anorexia sufferers like me. For others, it might mean coping with an unchangeable chemical imbalance through medication and/or therapy. Recovery might more often mean confronting and tackling a problem to the best of our ability, rather than completely eliminating it. Much depends on the specific condition and the individual involved. What I do know is that with every step forwards I take, I have a little more social energy, a little more zest for life, and I’m now removing whole panes of glass, not only little pieces. Soon I’d like to have no wall at all
It’s no secret that workplace stresses are, for many people, something that has an impact on their mental health. According to the mental health organisation Mind, 14% of people said they had resigned from their role due to the effects workplace stress had on them, while 42% had considered it at some point. The same research confirmed that over half of the employers, 56% to be precise, said they want to do more to improve staff wellbeing, but don’t feel they have the right training or guidance to do so.
So, what are some of the signs that employers should be looking out for when trying to identify struggling employees and how can they work to improve things for these staff members?
How To Identify the Symptoms
One of the very first steps in promoting a positive mental health atmosphere for your employees is being able to recognise when an employee needs your help. A good first step to take is to issue an anonymous wellbeing survey to staff.
In doing this, you get an overview of the mental wellbeing of your workplace and can see any trends in how employees are feeling and identify any company-wide issues that may be putting an irregular strain on multiple people. It is vital here that staff don’t simply give yes or no answers. Make sure they are encouraged to elaborate on their answers by reinforcing that it is anonymous and that they won’t be personally identifiable.
After all, the only way that you can make actionable changes in the workplace for your staff is if you know what they feel.
How to Recognise If Someone Is Struggling
When it comes to recognising struggling employees, it can be tricky, given that everyone is different, not everyone shows any signs and some people are very good at hiding what they are feeling. There are, however, three core symptom areas that you should be looking out for. Significant changes in any of these areas could be an indication that someone is struggling mentally.
These symptoms can be the most difficult to detect in someone. Changes in someone’s mood is normal – when it becomes a problem is when these changes seem overly sudden or out of character for that individual. Indecision, aggression, bad memory recall and low self-confidence, for example, are all signs that someone may be suffering mentally and could use your support.
One of the perhaps more obvious signs that someone is suffering may be in the physical symptoms they exhibit. For example, if they appear overly sluggish, suddenly gain/lose weight or start suffering from sudden and unexplained aches and pains, these may all be symptoms of deteriorating mental health.
If an employee suddenly exhibits signs such as extreme eating habits, suddenly taking increased absences, withdrawing from social media or no longer caring about the appearance, they may be showing some serious signs of mental illness.
How to Discuss an Employee’s Mental Health
As a manager or employer, you must support your staff who need help with their mental health. Once you’ve reached out to the employee in question, you must prepare yourself for the meeting.
It is also important that you are not a licensed mental health professional. Do some research to have a basic understanding of how your employee might be feeling or the best way to approach the discussion, but avoid making assumptions or attempting to ‘diagnose’ them.
As their manager your job is to calmly address the issues you’ve seen and the concerns you have, as well as listening to what that employee has to say. The employee may already be aware they need to seek help, may simply be seeking guidance on the next steps or may even already know how you can help them.
The most important things here are this: listen and have an open dialogue.
Steps You Can Take to Improve
There are many ways that you can adapt and make common adjustments to accommodate staff experiencing ill mental health.
Some of the most minor may include minor adjustments to their working schedule, environments or their responsibilities. For example:
Allowing more breaks when needed, not on a pre-determined schedule
Allow (within reason) flexible starting and finishing times
Offer a phased return to work
Allow part-time working temporarily
Review their workload and make any changes
Spread some of their work amongst the team for extra support
Provide partitions, room dividers etc. to offer barriers between workspaces
Offer homeworking for some of the week
Allow them a little more ‘personal workspace.’
Position them as far away as possible from noisy collages or machinery
Provide a private space for them to use when they need privacy or feel overwhelmed
By making some of these small changes, you are going to make your employees feel more supported and appreciated during what is likely going to be a difficult time for them. By making this extra effort for your employees, you’re also ensuring that they will be more motivated in the future once they recover, as well as helping your company’s reputation as being an employer who cares.
On GCSE results day this week, I couldn’t help but cast my mind back to the daunting day last year as I walked through the school gates with my parents, trying my best to read my teachers’ faces thinking: are my results catastrophic? Have I failed? My teacher is refusing to make eye contact, I must have bombed it… and so on.
I remember feeling through the envelope, trying to guess the results, as I rushed through the rain to find a quiet spot where I could face what felt like monumental news to me at the time. It felt like my world would come crashing down if I did not hit the marks. My future rested on what was in that envelope, my happiness relied on those letters and numbers. This is what rushes through many 16-year-olds’ minds. This is what it feels like for the majority of young people collecting their results this week. This is the reality.
A survey carried out by the NHS in 2017 found that 17 per cent of people between the ages of 17 and 19 have a mental health disorder. This is commonly attributed to increased social media use, but adults all too often fail to notice the common denominator which affects children of all genders and backgrounds on a daily basis: the flawed education system.
We know that people should not be reduced to being just a number or part of a statistic, yet that’s how the British education system treats us. In the UK, a 17-year-old must cross a threshold of grades before they can even consider certain prestigious universities.
Universities as well as schools repeatedly tell teenagers that we are not good enough because our grades are not good enough, and no matter how hard we try, we’re taught that any perceived academic failure could affect the rest of our lives.
We are told that there is no point applying to Oxford or Cambridge because our grades are not good enough to even get us through the door for an interview. According to the Oxford University website, only 47 per cent of applicants are actually given the opportunity to reach the interview stage because many applicants are rejected upon an initial glance at their grades, and are not given the chance to speak for themselves or show who they are as a person.
This does not need to be the only way. Over in the US, for instance, things are done very differently. For example, if you visit an Ivy League university in the United States, they will tell you there are “no minimum grade requirements”. The application process for American universities is far more holistic and well-rounded than the British Ucas system. The same is true of many other countries’ university systems.
Instead of limiting students by reducing them to numbers on a page, the American system pushes them to highlight their strengths beyond the academics throughout their application – often in musical skills, volunteering or personality traits. They value ambition and creativity and the desire to succeed. They encourage anyone to apply to the most prestigious institutions because they know there is more to an applicant than a bag of grades.
Now that British universities are finally offering unconditional offers, people are actually criticising this move. In fact, unconditional offers may actually be a step in the right direction. At least students would finally be able to receive an offer from a university they are allowed to fully celebrate, rather than spending months with a niggling voice in the back of their mind saying, “what if I don’t make the grades?”
Contrary to what some seem to assume, unconditional offers don’t make students feel “complacent”, they make them feel wanted; they give students a light at the end of the tunnel and the chance to take a break from the hamster wheel of a British education. They allow students to take their final exams with a passion for their subject rather than bags of fear and anxiety for a change.
I’m not suggesting we allow the youth to run wild, or to ban examinations. In fact, I believe there should be better discipline within schools. However, we must review the values of our education system and raise awareness of the weight academic success and grades carry in students’ minds, and how this stress is significantly contributing to the 17 per cent of us dealing with a mental health disorder.
No matter how much teachers and parents encourage students, not much is going to change with these fundamentally flawed attitudes and a system obsessed with grades, unable to value a whole person.
That is why I am trying to give young people a voice with a campaign called Could Do Better.
When we walk out of our school gates for the last time the scars don’t fade. Our mental health is only a school’s problem for seven years but it is our problem forever.
Romy McCarthy is a student at North London Collegiate School
At this point in my life, I didn’t expect to be on the hunt for a job… again. I’ve spent most of the last decade hopping from job to job in the Bay Area, each time optimistic that the latest company would be “the one.” The one that I actually want to commit my life to. The one I want to stay with forever. The one that will make me truly happy. But somewhere between my first hour and third year on the job, I begin to suspect that ultimately, it just won’t work out.
Now, as I write then rewrite multiple versions of the same cover letter, I find myself thinking about how eerily similar finding a satisfying job is to finding a satisfying relationship. In both situations, you’ve determined a set of criteria that the other side must already possess or be willing to provide. You typically “interview” around before you find one that you see a real future with. And even when you are convinced that you’ve found the one, the relationship can still bitterly dissolve less than a year later. Why does this keep happening?
I’ve written before about the paradox of choice, the idea that maximizers—those of us who won’t settle for anything but the absolute best—are not as happy as satisficers who don’t need the absolute best and are perfectly satisfied with great options. If you’re constantly pursuing perfection, it’s easy to see how regular stressful days at work might jumpstart a new job search.
But this paradox doesn’t always explain why one year into a seemingly satisfying relationship or job, you suddenly get bored or want to quit. Instead, the answer might lie in another paradox—new research suggests it’s our longing for happiness that may be preventing us from achieving it.
Researchers at Rutgers University and the University of Toronto Scarborough recently conducted four studies to investigate how people perceive and pursue happiness. One experiment set up happiness as a goal to be achieved by asking participants to list things that would make them happier or telling them to try to be happy while watching a boring film. In another experiment, happiness was treated as a goal that was already accomplished, with participants being shown a funny movie while they listed items that already made them happy. Afterwards, both groups shared how much free time they felt they had.
IS THERE A CORRELATION BETWEEN FREE TIME AND HAPPINESS?
The answer, according to the findings, is yes. As it turns out, the people who saw happiness as a goal (boring movie watchers) felt they had less free time than those who had already achieved happiness (comedy movie watchers).
From the researchers: “Time seems to vanish amid the pursuit of happiness, but only when seen as a goal requiring continued pursuit, ” which suggests the more we pursue happiness, the more our perception of how much leisure time we have, and in turn, wellness, becomes skewed. After all, free time is the only time where people can truly enjoy life experiences—which is why a three-hour commute to work (where you’re packed like sardines) can take a significant toll on your mental and emotional health.
What the findings also suggests is that it is a literal waste of time to try to turn happiness into a goal or something that you will one day achieve. In fact, this mindset encourages us to trade experiences for material possessions in an effort to save time but still “buy” happiness, which is a scientifically proven poor substitute for genuine happiness. Moreover, the researchers found that when we feel like we don’t have enough time, we stop doing rewarding activities like volunteering or helping others, which again, has also been proven to increase joy in our lives.
It’s only now that I realize that each time I start a sentence with, “‘l’ll be happy when…” I am robbing myself of the potential happiness of that moment… How hard is it to remember something funny that happened, a positive feeling, or feel grateful to be alive in this current moment?
Maybe it’s time to admit that my ongoing desire to find the perfect job is the exact reason why I’ll never find it. And rather than continuing my regular pattern of wishing and waiting to be happy, I put on a comedy movie and count my blessings instead.
Many gardeners already know the uplifting feeling you get from being muddied of hand, nurturing plants from seed to bloom and watching the seasons change. It is something the NHS is increasingly taking notice of, too, as a way to improve and manage mental health, along with other conditions.
A GP surgery – Cornbrook medical practice in Hulme, Manchester – has started prescribing gardening to people with anxiety and depression. Patients are given plants to care for, which are later planted in the surgery’s communal garden – a place where they can join in an activity with others and strengthen social connections.
There are other similar schemes, such as Sydenham Garden in south London, which takes GP referrals for its therapeutic sessions. “Research shows that outdoor exercise or ‘ecotherapy’, such as gardening or walking, has huge benefits for wellbeing and can even be as effective as antidepressants in treating mild to moderate depression and anxiety,” says Aimee Gee from the mental health charity Mind. “This is thought to be due to a combination of doing more physical activity, which is known to have many physical and mental health benefits; getting more regular social contact with people, which can reduce loneliness and boost self-esteem; and being surrounded by nature, which can boost your overall mood and sense of wellbeing.”
The colours, sounds and smells of a garden, she says, “boost our wellbeing, while nurturing a garden or allotment provides the satisfaction of completing tasks and a stronger connection with the natural environment, both of which are associated with improved self-esteem and decreased levels of anger”.
Monty Don, the gardener and TV presenter, has credited gardening with helping with the depression he has experienced. In a column for Gardeners’ World earlier this year, he summed up the optimism gardening instils: “When you plant something, you invest in a beautiful future amid a stressful, chaotic and, at times, downright appalling world.”
Even if that doesn’t convince you of the magic of gardening, there is a strong possibility that other forms of non-clinical “social prescribing” might be on their way to your surgery soon; other alternative treatments include arts and crafts, walking and singing lessons.
To welcome something doesn’t mean we have to like it, and it doesn’t mean we have to agree with it; it just means we have to be willing to meet it. We temporarily suspend our rush to judgment and are simply open to what’s occurring.
With welcoming comes the ability to work with what is present and what is unpleasant. After a while, we begin to discover that our happiness isn’t determined simply by what is external in our life but also what is internal. To be open means to embrace paradox and contradiction; it’s about keeping our minds and hearts available to new information, letting ourselves be informed by life. Openness welcomes the good times and the bad times as equally valid experiences. Openness is the basis of a skillful response to life.
Openness welcomes the good times and the bad times as equally valid experiences. Openness is the basis of a skillful response to life.
At the deepest level, this is an invitation to fearless receptivity. To welcome everything and push away nothing can’t be done as an act of will. This is an act of love.
Six Steps to Open Up to the Present Moment
Mostly, we think of mindfulness as bringing a very precise attention to what’s happening, as it’s happening. In this way, we bring an almost laser-like attention to our practice. We bring a careful moment-to-moment attention to sensation, to thoughts, to emotions. But sometimes this kind of precise attention can create a sort of tension or struggle in the mind.
This is when it’s more useful to try a practice that cultivates an open, boundless awareness. To develop a mind that is vast like space. To allow pleasant and unpleasant experiences to appear and disappear without struggle, resistance, or harm.
So, let’s try this practice for welcoming everything and pushing away nothing.
- Settle back into your seat, relax, and come into the breath and body. Maybe let your eyes close if that feels comfortable for you. Let your breathing be very natural.
- Begin by being aware of the various sensations in your body: pressure, movement, tingling, the feel of the air on your hands and face. Just feel the waves of sensation.
- Now, let go of the idea of arms and legs and a body. Become aware of the area above your head. How far does that space extend? Let your awareness sense what’s to the left of you. What’s to the right of you? Let your awareness come into the area below your body. Is there any vibration in your feet or the floor? Let your awareness extend to the area behind your body, so it fills the whole room. Let your awareness be aware of what’s in front of the body, extending out as far as it possibly can, so that there’s this sense of openness, of boundless space; and all of the activities of body, heart, and mind are appearing and disappearing in that open, welcoming space.
- Allow all experience to arise without any interference—no inside, no outside. Relax your ownership of thoughts. Look and see the difference between being lost in thought and being mindful of thought. It’s like when a sound occurs in the room, or a bird flies by, you just notice the sound of the bird; you don’t think it’s you. Let it be that way with your thoughts and sensations, everything coming, everything going in a vast, open space. It can be helpful to think about what happens when you walk into a room: Most people see the chairs or tables or the objects in the room and fail to see the space.
- Let yourself be aware of the space surrounding all the activity, all the coming and going. Remember, whatever we can give space to can move. Keep allowing all the thoughts, all the sensations, all the feelings to rise and disappear in the vast spaciousness, like clouds in the sky.
- Finally, let your attention come to the awareness itself, vast, transparent, clear, not disturbed by anything that’s coming and going. Welcome everything, push away nothing.