The sun has been splitting the stones here in Northern Ireland over the last few days. Unfortunately, some sectarian hoods from both sides of the ‘divide’ have used the so-called ‘Marching Season’ to try and split heads (and probably other bodily parts). I live in a relatively quiet, ‘mixed’ street – but it’s dubiously close to a ‘one-sided’ town, so I’ve been hiding in the house self-medicating with alcohol, paracetamol (to counteract the effects of said alcohol) and reading. The great thing about living in this part of Ireland in July is that the vast majority of people have the 12th and 13th off. So I have had the lovely A with me for company non-stop for the past two days!
I always feel the need to clarify the situation when trouble arises in this wee place, because the (inter)national media inevitably only reports the bad news. This is not how the vast majority of people behave, and does not represents the views of said vast majority. Northern Ireland is a great place these days, and these idiots and their actions are fortunately pretty isolated. Honestly, come some day, if you haven’t already. Most of us are quite nice!
Anyway, enough geopolitical tourist-touting; let’s have This News in Mentalists. Please be aware of possible triggers in this post – mainly in relation to the sadly all-too-relevant-at-the-moment topic of suicide.
First of all, sticking with Northern Ireland, our Libraries Service has hooked up with four relevant charities to create a service that aims to help people with mental health problems through the medium of reading, and which hopes to fight against the usual issues of stigma:
The Health in Mind Partnership secured almost £1million from the Big Lottery Fund’s Live and Learn programme to work together to reduce the stigma attached to mental illness by improving the understanding of mental health in the wider community and by providing opportunities to join in activities based on the themes of Information, Learning and Reading.
“We have just established and will be further developing a website to act as a central resource for Health in Mind: www.healthinmindni.net.
We will be working closely with mental health practitioners and with our partner agencies to encourage and promote the use of library resources; sometimes reading a book is enough to help people realise they’re not on their own, other people have felt this way before and that there are practical every day things that can keep our mental health intact.”
I will admit to a certain amount of cynicism regarding this, but am prepared to be pleasantly surprised. Fingers crossed!
Sandi Squicquero, a counsellor writing for the Windsor Beacon, takes a look at the differences between anxiety and panic:
He [a fictional man named Gary] felt uptight and had trouble concentrating at work. He did not think he was depressed and often enjoyed the activities he loved, football on Sunday afternoon, and going out with the guys.
He said his only problem was his uneasiness and worry. Valium made him drowsy so he quit taking it. Sometimes he would drink a beer to relax.
Gary’s symptoms would fit the criteria for GAD [Generalised Anxiety Disorder]. He had multiple worries. Despite repeated efforts to control these fears, (medication and alcohol) he had been unable to.
Marilyn’s [another fictional example] panic attacks have been established, originally associated with [a] specific work situation, and then more recently in other situations that involved being away from home. She avoided these situations.
Marilyn fit the criteria for a diagnosis of panic disorder with agoraphobia.
Whilst on the topic of anxiety, Molly McCloskey writes for The Guardian on her brother’s schizophrenia and her own issues with anxiety and depression:
Many days, I was shadowed by a free-floating anxiety; my perceptions often felt off-kilter. I would watch my hand reach for something and see it stutter, as though under a strobe light. When the telephone trilled, it seemed the air would shatter like a pane of glass. Other people assumed a hyperreal quality. I slept too much and was prone to grey, apathetic moods. My memory and concentration were sometimes terrible. My thoughts scrabbled fretfully over one another or else they dripped so slowly there seemed large blank spaces between them, and I would stare at whatever was in front of me, as though life were a dull slide show.
There were also all those summer days he [her brother] spent in bed, buried under blankets and the layers of clothing he wore. There were hours and hours of doing nothing. There were the countless times I came home to find him sitting in our living room, stroking his beard and talking quietly to voices only he could hear. What I often wished for in those years was that Mike would disappear. I didn’t want anything bad to happen to him, I just wanted him to vanish – quietly, miraculously and without causing pain to anyone.
Contrary to what I had long assumed, depression was not simply an excessively sad mood. It was a whole world view, one shaped by fear and pessimism. It also smacked of a frightening clarity, as though I had never, until now, seen life for what it was – a dark and flimsy house of cards.
Also in The Guardian, it is reported that a neuroscientist has potentially found a technique to minimise the trauma of painful memories in PTSD:
On day one the volunteers learned to associate blue squares with shocks. On day two, to reactivate the memory and open up the reconsolidation window, they were shown the blue square once without the shock .
Participants who were subsequently given extinction training (repeatedly showing the blue square without an electric shock) in the 10 minutes immediately after the reactivation of the memory did not show any fear of the blue square (measured by how much they were sweating) the next day. Participants given extinction training outside the reconsolidation window, however, continued to sweat whenever they were shown the blue square.
Schiller tested the same participants a year later to see whether the effect persisted, with the same result. While this research does not prove that old memories from decades previously can undergo extinction and reconsolidation, patients suffering PTSD were tested and there did appear to be some positive effect upon old, painful memories.
The author of this article continues by pondering the philosophical ethics of such treatment. She speaks to a woman with BPD who says she would love to undergo this kind of ‘memory extinction’ for her memories of childhood abuse. On the other hand, the writer is concerned about how the above techniques would impact on creativity, and the general experience of what it is to be human.
What are your views on this story and the developments it reports?
The Independent reports on the correlation between the economy and suicide rates. Unsurprisingly – but horribly tragically – the figures show a worrying increase in people killing themselves across Europe:
Britons fared worse than average, with an 8 per cent rise in suicides between 2007 and 2009 – a shock after almost a decade of annual declines, according to research in The Lancet.
The mental health of people in countries worst hit by the crisis such as Ireland and Greece suffered most. In Greece, 16 per cent more people killed themselves in 2009 than 2007, a large increase, even before the huge financial bailouts hit jobs, pensions and public services. The Irish have suffered a similar fate, with a 13 per cent rise as people face up to home repossessions and dire long-term prospects.
The research is the first large-scale analysis of the impact of the recession on health, and it strongly suggests governments have failed to learn the lessons from previous economic downturns.
Countries that have a fair benefits system and strong programmes to help people back into work quickly have historically avoided suicide spikes during recessions.
Fail Mail reports that GPs frequently suffer from alcoholism, anxiety and depression:
Writing in today’s British Medical Journal, they [the researchers] said an assessment of mental health needs should be conducted urgently across the profession, not just among doctors already seeking help.
The study looked at existing research, a counselling service for doctors and policy documents from the Department of Health and the General Medical Council.
According to previous research, doctors’ mental health problems include anxiety, emotional exhaustion, clinical depression, substance misuse and suicide.
Studies by the Nuffield Trust identified that long hours, heavy workloads and pressure were major factors for psychological disturbances among doctors at all levels.
The Sydney Morning Herald has a thought-provoking story on how even people at ‘high risk’ of committing suicide or, indeed, harming others, rarely actually end up doing harming either themselves or others:
In a study released this week a clinical senior lecturer at the University of NSW, Dr Matthew Large, found there was no factor, or combination of factors, that could clearly predict which patients would commit suicide in the year after they were discharged from a psychiatric hospital.
Hospitals and psychiatrists may differ in their view of who is at high risk of suicide, but they often include patients who have previously harmed themselves, who lack support networks or who are severely depressed.
The problem, Large says, is that the great majority of patients who have these and other ”risk factors” will not go on to commit suicide. ”It is a needle in a haystack problem,” he says.
Risk assessments in hospitals have led to misallocation of resources and to a great deal of guilt among friends, families and medical professionals.
When the Mental Health Review Tribunal assesses whether a patient should be given compulsory treatment, its members must take into account that person’s risk of harming others. Yet only a minuscule proportion of people with a mental illness will become violent.
A practising psychiatrist and honorary associate at the University of Sydney, Christopher Ryan, says detaining people on that basis is a form of ”sanism”, which would be unacceptable if applied to sufferers of any other illness.
OK. Enough? What about a wildcard? To deviate from any doom and gloom inherent in the above, I present you with a kitten video. Don’t say I never give you anything.
Also, there’s the happy news that everybody’s favourite
evil monopoly-seeking despots socially responsible and morally upstanding news company, News International, have retracted their bid to take over another huge whack of BSkyB. The UK media is just that little bit safer tonight as a result.
I’ve been remiss in the sense that I am only now posting the results of the Caption Competition from the other week up. Sorry about that. This was our wonderful image:
Congratulations to sanabituranima for her winning quip of…
Excessive dedication to the “5-a-day” message causes tragic death in China.
…and commiserations to our runner-up, WillFindHope, for this:
Government officials respond to suggestions that members of the public are falling in the current system: “If we can’t see it, it’s not happening.”
*turns back and gazes elsewhere*
Thanks to everyone who give it a go! I’ll stick up another This Caption in Mentalists just as soon as I find something I find vaguely worthy of your witticisms
This Week in Mentalists has authors scheduled to write it until the end of this month; however, slots for this series – ie. each Wednesday’s This News in Mentalists - are open from next week (Wednesday 20th July) onwards. Can I please have a few volunteers?
Thanks folks – that’s all for today. Take care!