Filing Away the Summer

I stressed my way through my second year exams and another placement and couldn’t wait for the summer to arrive. It was going to be the big break I had needed for a long time. And what have I done with this time I was so anxiously looking forward to?

Simple answer – not a lot!

I am about a week and a half away from going into my final year of nursing and the summer seems to have been frittered away with wasted time and working. Even a two week trip home to see family was over almost as quickly as it got here.

Now I could argue that the summer has not really materialised in the UK this year, or convince myself that I obviously needed to spend time doing nothing, but this probably isn’t true.

There is an old argument that purpose is good for individuals, and it is supported by evidence – like the study that found (a little morbidly perhaps) that people within a nursing home lived longer if they had to care for their own house plant. On the other hand too much activity and life becomes a bit of a check list, where the mind is always focused on the next thing to do. A perfect example of this is my penchant for thinking about when I go back to university. In my mind I’ve probably cancelled out the next 2 weeks as simply ‘waiting to go back’.

It is likely to be an underlying fear that fuels my procrastination and desire to hoard things usually. But what fear could I have of having some free time at last? That it would soon be over?!

Looking back on my last blog posts back in mental health week I was talking about mindfulness. I pointed out that this is something that I struggle with but wish for once I could have stuck to some good advice and applied a bit more mindfulness to this summer. Maybe I need to set my own SMART goal and stick to it!

Timothy Pychyl suggests that procrastination comes from emotional dysregulation, and that mindfulness can be applied to become more accepting of emotions. It can also assist with the regulation of emotions by making us more aware of how we are feeling towards a particular situation. In a way, acting as your own counsellor.

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I spent the weekend filling my time with the great outdoors and seeing new places – two of my favourite things shared with some of my favourite people. It made a real difference to my interpretation of how well time has been spent. It brought me back to the realisation that some ‘significant’ thing does not have to be achieved for something great to have happened.

I am going to endeavour to spend the last drops of summer trying to be more mindful, before I truly have to file away the summer for the last chunk of my nursing degree.

Inspiring #quotes and #affirmations by Calm Down Now, an empowering mobile app for overcoming anxiety. For iOS: For Android:

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Mental Health in the Movies

As part of mental health awareness week I’ve posted on different topics to get a dialogue going and hopefully get some people thinking about mental health.

As I mentioned on Tuesday, one of the benefits to modern media, and especially social media, is the ability to raise awareness and reach a very broad audience of people.

One very wide-reaching media is the film industry, and mental health often features in its multitude of genres.

I, along with many others out there, have a fascination with how mental health appears in the movies. It’s a fascination that began before I started studying psychology….about 15 years ago now (which makes me feel quite dated!). I even apply mental health theories and principles to films that are not directly about mental health these days…and class it as revision!

A report published by time to change in 2009 entitled screening madness sadly pointed out that mental health stereotypes run rife in movies. The state that characters often fall into one of these four categories:

  • Comedic
  • Faking
  • Violent
  • Piteous

This is still an occurrence in the movies. A recent example was the film ‘The voices’ featuring Ryan Reynolds.


This movies main character suffers distress and hallucinations, and it is hinted that this was due to a genetic disposition and childhood trauma. Sadly, it is the story of the violence that this character commits, with a little dark comedy thrown in. On the one hand the character comes across as quite misguided in his actions rather than malevolent. It was a nice touch that his therapist right until the last believed that he was just a very unwell person in need of help, but sadly the ending of the film does not suggest that recovery is possible and that there was only one option for this individual (which is completely false!). It’s ironic that the character is generally getting on with life quite well and there is a moment in the film of apparent shared understanding, which suggests that the character could have made a good recovery with the right help…. but I guess their ending was easier for them to make, or deemed more entertaining….. I don’t know by who!

Anyway, for all I recognise that this movie hit a lot of stereotype buttons did I dislike it? No, not really.

What do we watch movies for? Sometimes to be educated or understand something in more detail, but usually it is to be entertained. And we recognise this generally.

Horror films still enjoy focusing on the old concept of asylums, despite care predominantly moving away from an inpatient setting these days (let alone the Victorian style asylums). Is this because horror film makers know that we are often afraid of what we do not know or understand?

If they made a movie about my boring mundane little life I would probably be changed, and stereotyped, innumerably. And why does this happen? Because it is easier to create a stereotyped character because an audience quickly recognise them and know what they are about (or think that they do). We create these schemas in our mind, after all, to make life easier and quicker to understand for ourselves. And telling the whole truth (in my case certainly) would be very mundane. It is brilliant film makers that turn real life into entertainment – the film Boyhood jumps straight to mind. Incidentally Boyhood also deals with themes of mindfulness too!

Additionally the film industry often stereotypes other groups – women stand out quite often. Do we need all films to be realistic?

It could also be argued that films, no matter how outrageous the stereotypes, get us thinking and talking about mental health. On the other hand this discussion often needs to be based on a better education to make the dialogue useful. Time to change point out

A YouGov survey commissioned for the report found that almost 50 per cent (49 per cent) of the public have seen people with a mental illness acting violently in films. The survey also found that almost half of people polled (44 per cent) believe that people with a mental illness will act violently.

So do we need to start tackling stigma in the real world before we attack the film industry? How damaging can stereotypes be? In the film The Dark Knight batman describes the joker (the catalyst in the chaos Gotham finds itself descending into) as a ‘schizophrenic clown’ – at the time, this comment passed me by (despite the fact that it couldn’t be more incorrect!) but is that because the label is not applied to me? Would I have felt upset if it did apply more directly to me?

There is a small collection of academic evidence that would support the use of film, movie or cinematherapy for supporting people through difficult life events and relationship work. Webmd summarise this and what it entails as well as the uses it might have.

There are some wonderful films that deal with mental health issues.  Mindreel, supported by Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival, would be a good resource to get a more balanced idea of real mental health experiences. The Royal College of Psychiatrists also highlight some more mainstream films with their discussions of minds on film. Personal choices would include Still Alice, Birdman, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Donnie Darko, A Beautiful Mind, Girl Interrupted, The Virgin Suicides and many more. Despite this personal opinion it is worthwhile for us all to think more about that we are watching and how the movies compare to the real world. Real life is not over glamorised, always dramatic and action packed – we often forget that when we spend too much time detached from real experiences.

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Why is being mindful so hard to achieve?

This week I’ve been focusing on topics around mental health, for mental health awareness week. This year the Mental Health Foundation has focused on mindfulness.

If you have ever tried it you might already know that simply to keep your mind present in the moment is actually really tricky! Some think this Buddhist concept just involves focusing on breathing or clearing your mind – but this over simplifies things too much. As mentioned, it is about being present. This means focusing and concentrating on your body, thoughts, feelings and what’s going on around you right now without any thoughts of the future or past creeping in. And if you can manage that you then have the task of being non-judgemental about what’s going on.

Being mindful is not all about positive thinking – I often find it such a shame when a mental health professional, or someone who knows an unwell person simply tells them to think positive, or focus on the positives. I have a lecturer who, to prove how unrealistic this is, will ask a room full of about 300 students how many people are thinking positive all the time…. and he might get 5 or 6 optimistic hands raised (fair play to them!). NO ONE THINKS POSITIVELY ALL THE TIME. And as soon as you tell someone not to think of the negatives where does their mind drift to? Of course the thoughts you told them not to think of….like that big red button we are all told not to push! Being mindful is about considering all the thoughts you have normally and not judging them. Not constantly walking around thinking of nothing but clouds and fluffy bunnies…. no work would get done!

For those afraid of lying or sitting down to meditate (if you’re anything like me then you are able to fall asleep, rather embarrassingly, in either position…) you will be glad to hear that it can be practised walking, or practicing yoga or tai-chi – in fact I find it easier to focus when my body is moving than staying still.

So what are the benefits of this challenging undertaking? Surely the mental health foundation, and the NHS, wouldn’t be telling us this was a good thing to do just because it has been done for a very long time and some new age types say it makes you feel mellow? (sorry for that outrageous stereotype, but I bet it painted a picture in your mind!) There is a growing wealth of evidence to show that mindful based activities and therapy can prevent recurrences in depression, reduce anxiety and stress and have benefits on other aspects of life such as behaviour in schools. I suppose the argument that can be raised with the research cited by the mental health foundation on that page is that there may be a bias, in that it appears to be conducted by the Oxford Centre for Mindfulness , but an academic search on this topic leads to thousands of peer reviewed articles on the topic focusing on a variety of groups and different outcomes.

So why can it be so tricky? For one, when we are feeling mentally unwell especially, we fall into negative thinking patterns like this that can make it difficult to be mindful and non-judgemental of ourselves:

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(Graphics sourced through pinterest from Grounding Yoga)

I posted yesterday about social media and the positives that it can bring, but modern technology can itself be a barrier to being mindful. Our inability to switch off from gadgets, some believe, has changed the way our brains function. Over time our brains are rewarded with dopamine for having a short attention span creating what some deem a partial continuous attention. There is a suggestion though that with the practice of mindfulness this can be overcome.

Finally, and I think this is the biggest challenge for me, is getting your mind to stay still! This is addressed in a wonderful topic from

Surprisingly enough, trying to stop your mind from thinking is like trying to stop the wind–it’s impossible. In the Eastern teaching the mind is described as being like a drunken monkey bitten by a scorpion because, just as a monkey leaps from branch to branch, so the mind leaps from one thing to another, constantly distracted and busy. So, when you come to sit still and try to quiet your mind, you find all this manic activity going on and it seems insanely noisy. It is actually nothing new, just that now you are becoming aware of it, whereas before you were immersed in it, unaware that such chatter was so constant.

This experience of the mind being so busy is very normal. Someone once estimated that in any one thirty-minute session of meditation we may have upward of three hundred thoughts. Years of busy mind, years of creating and maintaining dramas, years of stresses and confusion and self-centeredness, and the mind has no idea how to be still. Rather, it craves entertainment. It’s not as if you can suddenly turn it off when you meditate, it just means you are like everyone else.

Creating focus takes time, patience and a little energy but it pays off (and what are we losing by trying it? 5 or ten minutes here or there?).

If you are keen to give this a try why not use one of the suggestions from left brain buddha on how to bring mindfulness into your normal routine, follow the resources on the mental health foundations page, try a free online course here in association with mental health awareness week, or find videos on the topic on youtube. I hope some of you will find mindfulness useful and let me know about your experiences and any tips you would like to share.


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The benefits of social media on mental health

In a few short hours I will be doing a presentation at my university about this for mental health awareness week – to say I am feeling some anxiety may be an understatement, but it’s all for a good cause! This information was put together with the help of the great team I am working with for mental health awareness week.

I want to focus on the positives (and a focus on depression in particular), not only because that’s what I will be talking about, but also to show that the modern era and technology have not been all doom and gloom!

It can be argued that social media has benefited mental health issues, especially in relation to depression.

There is a wealth of subjective accounts of individuals who turned to social media either because they felt let down by mental health services, such as Hannah Giorgis in her post for the Guardian or because they were afraid to open up elsewhere. The poster Scoobysue on stated that “On a social networking site you are an anonymous body who can drop in and out of a conversation/friendship as it suits you.” She suggests this medium of making friends can be easier for creating and maintaining friendships when someone is unwell, which can be a positive factor in recovery.

A pilot study by Dr. Alice Good suggests that sites like Facebook can benefit depression by providing a method of positive reminiscence. Looking through old posts and pictures here can be similar to looking through an old photo album or home video in terms of boosting our mood. Dr. Good suggests that these type of sites are more beneficial when used actively as opposed to passively looking at the posts of others.

According to a survey by Time to Change, released for Time to Talk Day, 47% of people aged 21 and under said they find it easiest to talk about their mental health problems online (compared with 49% who said face to face and 4% who said over the phone). When talking specifically about Tumbler for example, many users said that it had a positive effects on them either talking about their depression or mental illness, or that it was a way that helped them to manage it.

Current research reports there has been an increase in reported interpersonal connections due to the rise in usage of social media technology (Ellison et al., 2007) and other benefits such as increasing the perceptions of relationship closeness and connectedness among users (Jacobsen & Forte, 2011). Caroline Novas states that social media sites like Facebook enhance the communication skills and social connections of adolescents, which are both linked to positive mental health. She goes on to state that it can enrich pre-existing friendships and provide teens with valuable learning experiences, methods of expression and developing self identity.

There are specialist forums, such as Mind’s elefriends; which are well moderated and provide a safer environment for individuals with depression and other mental health issues to share their experiences and meet other supportive people. Also I could not go without mentioning some of the great blogs on WordPress and other sites that share such experiences and help many individuals.

Mediums like Youtube also provide a way for people to instantly access visual information on depression and listen to the stories of others who have been there and recovered. This in itself could help with the feeling of isolation that comes over someone with this illness.

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Social media can also have a positive effect in raising awareness to issues affecting individuals with depression. An example is the #headclutcher campaign on twitter that hopes to enlighten the general media to the fact that images like this:


Do not really represent real people with depression, or mental health problems in general.

A great blog post from the millers tale humorously highlights this point by stating that people with mental health problems do not spend a lot of time in corridors as the media might have you believe:


Or invariably crouched down in the corner of a room somewhere:


I don’t know about you but when the world is getting to me I like nothing more than to strip off (oh yes, most of the “in the corner” images are in some state of nakedness!), sit in the corner, usually in the dark, and clutch my head in despair…..

Social media creates new opportunities for people to connect, whether that is with people they know that are far away, old friends they thought they had lost, share the good times together or just to reach a large audience to raise awareness and provide information on mental health issues.

Obviously this is a brief one sided argument (another member of our group will be discussing the negatives today during our presentation to provide a balanced view) but I would love to hear if you have any thoughts or experiences of the positives of social media and mental health. Kind of appropriate seeing as we are all currently using it by being on WordPress 😉


Ellison, N. B., Steinfield, C., & Lampe, C. (2007). The benefits of Facebook “friends:” Social capital and college students’ use of online social network sites. Journal of ComputerMediated Communication, 12(4), 1143-1168.

Jacobsen, W. C., & Forste, R. (2011). The wired generation: Academic and social outcomes of electronic media use among university students. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 14, 275-280.

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Mental Health Awareness Week 2015

This week is mental health awareness week, from the 11th – 17th of May. It’s something close to my heart, not only as I’m becoming a mental health nurse but also because of the experiences of those I know and myself.

Over the years the Mental Health Foundation has focused on many topics for mental health awareness week. Starting 15 years ago, back in May 2000 themes have covered mental health stigma, friendship, work-life balance and stress in the workplace, mood, exercise, alcohol, anger, fear, loneliness, sleep, altruistic behaviour and anxiety. This years focus is mindfulness.

If you are familiar with yoga, or Buddhism, you might already be familiar with mindfulness. On the other hand you might have never come across the word before.

At the mention of any sort of meditation people normally imagine someone sitting cross-legged somewhere like this….


The concept of mindfulness simply means being present in the moment – and it can be done in a number of ways. To be non-judgemental of the thoughts, feelings and sensations that you currently have can be very difficult to achieve, especially if you currently have mental health problems. Despite it being tricky to master, there is support out there to help you through it.

This week I hope to post on mental health and social media (focusing on the positives!); why mindfulness is so hard to achieve and the benefits of it when you get there; mental health in the movies; normalisation and the nature of resilience; and the benefits of yoga and exercise on mental wellbeing. I might even be daring enough to talk about my own journey with mental health, seeing as I certainly should be trying to dispel the stigma!

One of the important things mental health awareness week tries to promote is that those experiencing mental distress are not alone. There are sources you can reach out to and people willing to help you help yourself. Mental illness often is not as simple as taking a pill to cure the problem, but the body and the mind are very strong things. To be carrying on if you are feeling distress proves you are a strong person, and you can recover.

For anyone at this point looking for further information on where to get help you can search for self help sources on-line including communities such as elefriends, speak to an understanding GP or nurse, or call a support line like the Samaritans (0845 790 9090 in the UK) or Lifeline in Northern Ireland (0808 808 8000).

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