This News in Mentalists – The Literally Depressing Edition

Hello. Pandora here; yes, I do still remain in the land of the living (sorry to any Twitter followers who may have thought otherwise). I apologise in advance if this round-up is rubbish (it would hardly be the first time from me, would it?! ;)), but as some of you may be aware, I’m not very well at the minute, and it’s not always easy to find someone else to write TNIM. Anyway, here it is. Please beware of triggers relating to self-injury, suicide, murder (and, be forewarned, this case involved the death of a child, so may be particularly distressing to some) and the dreaded NHS reforms.

The Independent reports that anti-biotics may help alleviate the symptoms of schizophrenia.

A cheap antibiotic normally prescribed to teenagers for acne is to be tested as a treatment to alleviate the symptoms of psychosis in patients with schizophrenia, in a trial that could advance scientific understanding of the causes of mental illness.

The first account of minocycline’s effects appeared in 2007 when a 23-year-old Japanese man was admitted to hospital suffering from persecutory delusions and paranoid ideas. He had no previous psychiatric history but became agitated and suffered auditory hallucinations, anxiety and insomnia.

Blood tests and brain scans showed no abnormality and he was started on the powerful anti-psychotic drug halperidol. The treatment had no effect and he was still suffering from psychotic symptoms a week later when he developed severe pneumonia.

He was prescribed minocycline to treat the pneumonia and within two weeks the infection was cleared and the psychosis resolved. Minocycline was stopped and his psychiatric symptoms worsened. Treatment with the drug was resumed and within three days he was better again. Halperidol was reduced but he remained on minocycline. Two years after his psychotic episode, he was still well.

Writing in The Guardian, Clare Allan suspects a neighbour has a mental health difficulty – and wonders if such circumstances warrant external intervention.

It’s straightforward enough if you have reason to believe a neighbour is at serious risk. In that situation you have an obligation to act. But my current dilemma is more common and much more complex. In a sense, not responding is impossible; I cannot “unaware” myself of something I am aware of, walking on past is in itself a response. I’ve tried smiling, but even that felt intrusive, let alone knocking on the door and offering some curtains.

And it’s not only my neighbour I’m thinking of. I have to protect my own boundaries. For professionals these come with the role and indeed enable it. Hours and a place of work should help to protect other times and places for things outside work. When you live next door to someone you must establish such boundaries yourself. This is something that I, like many people, struggle with. It may be 3am but if someone’s in need, it’s difficult to say no. If you know that support is available, this makes things much easier for everyone. But in the age of the “big society”, professional support is being cut dramatically. Situations such as this are going to become ever more common. I do hope someone’s considered the implications.

1st March was Self-Injury Awareness Day. Another piece in The Guardian explores one woman’s experience of self-harm.

During the decade when I was self-injuring, and in the years since, I have been lucky enough to get superb NHS treatment. Lucky, because for many adults their experiences of mental health services are months-long waiting lists for specialist treatment, busy A&E departments, a service stretched almost to breaking point that can’t offer them the care that they so desperately need. Mental health professionals, nurses, doctors, teachers, family, friends – all took fantastic care of me, even when I was so ill I was fighting every step of the way against the hard work of getting better.

For a long time I thought my struggles with mental illness would always be written on my body in letters so large they couldn’t be ignored. Nowadays it’s hard to divine my history. That’s true for a vast majority of people with mental health issues, whether recovered or not; a part of our identities is hidden. The stigma attached to mental illness is very real, and has a double impact. On one hand, depression and self-injury are not things you feel able to casually mention, despite the fact that it might be a constant presence in your life. On the other, it is still hard to break through the perception barrier that suggests successful, seemingly together people might once not have been so – and might in fact currently be struggling, however they appear from the outside.

But I am one of the lucky ones. Not only did I survive – I recovered. With time, incredibly hard work, and help from more people than it’s possible to count, I found better ways of coping with depression. Once it was possible, I managed to put down the razor blades and got on with life. It was depression that almost killed me. Self-injury kept me alive for long enough to work out how to stop it.

The above story shows that good care does exist. Unfortunately, a story from the BBC starkly reminds us that mental health services are far from infallible.

Sgt Bexhell died in the intensive care unit of the Conquest Hospital in Hastings on 30 August.

He had been admitted to the Woodlands Unit on the hospital site on 28 August.

The father-of-four served with Sussex Police for 22 years.

The Woodlands mental health unit closed in October 2009 and reopened nine months later.

Another patient, John Blair, 40, was found hanged at the Woodlands mental health ward on 19 October 2009 and died three days later.

In fairness, the article and the inquest on which it reports do make clear that Sgt Bexhell was ‘correctly’ monitored prior to his suicide, but despite this he did not have a care plan nor adequate risk assessment. Whatever the specifics of his and Mr Blairs’ deaths, the story is a very sad one, and I would extend my deepest sympathies to the family and friends of both men. RIP.

In Orlando, Florida, there has been a truly horrific murder of a toddler by her mother. The Orlando Sentinel reports that whilst it was originally believed that Nioshka Bello, the mother of the baby girl, had a serious mental health problem, experts are now questioning the validity of this theory.

When [Jeffrey] Danziger [a psychiatrist] interviewed her recently, he testified, she pretended there was another person in the room and began yelling at him. She claimed to see bloody, horned demons, he said, and insisted she was not Nioshka Bello.

When [Daniel] Tressler [a psychologist] last interviewed her, staffers at the state hospital told him her behavior was more normal, that she chatted with people and watched TV. But once he showed up, she pulled a blanket over her head and said people were trying to hurt her, he testified Monday.

“Yes, she has a history of mental illness”, Tressler said, “but now she’s acting.”

On Monday, Circuit Judge Jessica Recksiedler listened to an audio recording of Bello’s15-minute confession and ruled that the defendant knew what she was doing when she waived her right to remain silent, and thus, prosecutors are free to play the confession for jurors.

Bello, now 24, is charged with first-degree murder in the death of her daughter, Janessa Sandoval. Last week, the judge found Bello competent to stand trial.

Falsifying mental illness as a defence for such a nauseating crime is an act of repugnance that only serves to reinforce existing myths and stigma. More importantly, however, a poor innocent child has lost her life in horrendous circumstances, and I can only hope that Janessa is at peace.

Politics.co.uk has a story on protests against the Health and Social Care Bill, following the House of Lords’ decision to uphold the government’s modified reforms.

This evening’s TUC-organised rally will see campaigners opposed to the coalition’s proposed changes unite in Westminster’s Central Hall, however.

Around 30 speakers, including comedians, politicians, union leaders and senior health workers, will address the crowd.

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber will say that the protesters are speaking for the spirit of public service itself.

“The government’s bill represents the biggest threat our NHS has ever seen,” he is expected to say.

“It will mean £3 billion spent on change instead of care, NHS patients pushed to the back of the queue by those with fatter chequebooks, and a postcode lottery of provision.

“David Cameron said that the health service would be safe in his hands, but now we have the biggest, most dangerous upheaval in the 64-year history of our NHS.

“The NHS is one of Britain’s defining achievements, and we will not allow this government to destroy what has taken generations to build.”

Elsewhere, though, an altogether more positive Bill looks set to pass. Business Ghana reports on how work to codify rights for people with mental illnesses in the country seems to finally be getting somewhere.

“The Mental Health Law now requires the Presidential assent and we are hopeful this will occur without delay,” it said in a statement issued by Mr Yaro Badimak Peter, Executive Director of BasicNeeds-Ghana in Accra.

The statement said “it is clear that the coming into being of the law ushers in a new chapter in mental health care policy and service delivery in Ghana. It will ensure the integration of mental health in all health services and policy initiatives more than before and would significantly end the tokenism and after-thought that the mental health sub-sector has had to contend with over the years.

It said “more importantly this law adds the impetus for development programmes to factor in the needs, rights and aspirations of poor people with mental illness and their families. It will also encourage civil society organisations that have shied away from mental health to come aboard and provide service user groups the needed legal and moral backing to pursue their rights and ambitions within this law and other relevant legal frameworks.”

Here’s one that many TWIM readers could have predicted: Pro Bono Australia explains that the internet, and in particular social media, is vital to the lives of many people with a mental health issue.

Many people with a mental illness are turning to the internet and social media to manage their lives, overcome isolation and stay connected, according to new research by the national mental health charity SANE Australia.

The research surveyed 605 respondents via an anonymous online survey, and found that people with a mental illness are enthusiastic users of the internet and social media to manage their lives and make social connections.

It also found that 93 per cent of the respondents were confident using the internet, and that 95.8 per cent had access to the internet at home.

Executive director of SANE Barbara Hocking said that the majority of people with mental illness in the survey use the internet to manage their finances, shop and engage with government agencies such as Centrelink.

“Importantly, the majority (72.7 per cent) told us that the internet made it easier to maintain existing relationships and to make new ones,” Hocking said.

The report also revealed that four out of five respondents also have a Facebook account, and one in three have a Twitter account.

I know some TWIM readers have had art therapy. Does it work? One lady, on a video on the BBC website, found that art helped her recovery.

Ellie, from Cardiff, said she suffered a relapse in her mental health “of the worst kind” while making her film, detailing her drink and drug problems, and the power of art in helping her recover.

She said: “The encouragement and friendship I had from the people who I met and worked with on the digital stories project gave me an incentive to struggle through a very dark time.

OK, there were some good stories in this TNIM, but there was a good bit of depressing stuff in there too. That’s done wonders for my already fabulous mood – not – so I apologise to readers if it’s been a bit too sad. Let me see if I can find a cheerful wildcard…

Let’s try this. Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean Google’s not watching you.

How to Keep Google from Tracking You

Here’s a second one. I have a particular hatred for the misuse of the word ‘literally’ (see number 14 here if you’re somehow querying this). Further, although I love my iPhone, I have no allegiance whatsoever to Apple, and as such find myself bemused by the fuss surrounding the iPad (especially all the fuss about the latest model, but not just that). The cosmic collision of these two issues therefore made me chuckle. Literally.

jPad

Both of the wildcards are courtesy of the ever-excellent tastefullyoffensive.com.

Parting gambit: who will volunteer to write Saturday’s TWIM for me?

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About Pandora

Award-winning ex-blogger. Complex PTSD, (predominantly depressive) bipolar disorder with psychotic features, and a side order of severe anxiety. So basically mental.

13 Responses to “This News in Mentalists – The Literally Depressing Edition”

  1. Glad to hear you’re still alive, thanks for the roundup.

  2. I’ll do Saturday’s TWIM if you’re still short of a volunteer :)

    I love those wildcards. I literally want to smack people with a kipper when I see them misusing the word “literally”.

  3. Thanks Pan for this especially when you’re feeling so bad. It’s so good to keep up with the news and loved the wild cards – what a bonus to get two!

  4. Glad to read you Pandora, fabulous round up!

  5. Great round up Pan, you’ll not believe me but you are still capable and humorous- even at your lowest (feel better soon). Great wild cards- esp loved the second one but then i hate Apple so I guess I am biased… Android rules, (as does the jPad!!) ;o)

    Best wishes
    Kate

  6. well done Pandora! think I’m quite well at the moment so, gulp, I’ll have a go this weekend

  7. I already do at least two of the precautions in the first wildcard. *points and laughs at Google* your assimilation efforts are futile! Futile, I tells ya! *shakes fist*

  8. Great round-up! Thanks for cheering me up with those wildcards. :D

  9. Hi Pan, I’m so sorry you’re feeling so unwell right now.

    I wondered if you might find it beneficial if someone helped you out with the responsibility with this place? If so, I would like to offer my services, give I am (thanks to the wondrous Lamotrigine) the picture of mental health these days. I could perhaps take responsibility for finding volunteers, stepping in if necessary to write posts? Then you can concenterate on your own needs.

    Of course, if you feel this would be helpful, it would be strictly temporary until you are feeling better, and I’m sure we all extend our heartfelt wishes that this will be soon. :)

    Xxx

    • Aww where did the thumbs go? I wanted to thumb up this post because it made me smile, and I can’t. *clicks where the thumbs used to be*

  10. I’ve nearly been in Woodlands a couple of times. In fact my very first hospitalisation was around the time of those deaths. I remember they were on the news and suddenly our wards had loads of ex-Woodlands patients in them. They were no more or less scary than any of the ones I’d already met. I was keeping to myself anyway.

    Woodlands was shut for a while, but they’ve renovated and rejuvenated it now. They reassessed the whole unit, fixed their holes. I hear everyone has a single room with en suite. I’m sure the food remains as terrible as always.

    Just my 2p.

  11. Australian research very interesting, MP’s in particular have been quite judgmental of anyone with health difficulties or disability using the internet when it is so vital to so many

  12. “Brain scans will be carried out at the start and end of the 12 month trial to compare loss of grey matter – an effect of schizophrenia” – effect of antipsychotics more likely, how come brains haven’t shrunk before commencing on meds

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