I’m trying to come to terms with Chronic Illness

We are lucky to live in a world where most conditions are treatable, and as many slogans go “beatable”. For many of us our experiences of illnesses have been followed by effective treatment leading to remission. If I have a cold or flu I know there are tablets I can take that will make it go away. If I break a bone I know a cast will help knit the bones back together and leave me, hopefully, with full function in that limb again. This is a model that certainly in the UK the NHS and ministers understand.

What then if your condition has a murkier prognosis? What if there is no cure or a high chance of repeated relapse? It’s not only then a struggle often for the treatment and management needed but also a huge philosophical concept to bend one’s head around. It’s also, I’ve found, a difficult one for friends and family because they can’t “fix” it and that hurts.

Many of you will be aware of the “spoonie movement” which was originally created for those with chronic physical health conditions, hence when I was always restrained in my use of the word and felt uncomfortable labelling myself as part of that community.

However my mind is changing on that front.

I have been ill for 20 of my 26 years on this planet, I have approximately 7 conditions and have had more treatment than most and yet here I am, still chronically ill.

My issues are around my mental health, although some conditions are now in remission I still struggle with Major Depressive Disorder, Anorexia Nervosa, Generalised Anxiety Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

Right now it’s Anorexia and Anxiety that are majorly kicking my ass (to use non medical parlance), I am currently in my third full round of treatment and admittedly it is much more intensive than I have experienced elsewhere (thanks postcode lottery) but so far it’s barely scratching the surface. I have been ill so long I don’t have a “before” to remember and strive for. In fact research suggests that if an Eating Disorder is present for seven years your prognosis is not good – so with 13 years under my belt I’m not feeling hopeful.

I spoke to an Eating Disorder consultant recently who reintroduced me to the term “SEED” or Severe and Enduring Eating Disorder. One of her patients was offended by this – “I don’t want to be a seed, I want to be a flower”. I think this is very powerful and says a lot about our chronic patients – we often feel like a burden and hopeless – something I myself experienced when my CAMHS team aged 17 told me they had “run out of options”. As chronic patients we are fully aware we are difficult and complex but please don’t throw up your hands and give up on us. And please, we’ve been living these conditions for a very long time so take us seriously.

This is also why I’m seeing a strong backlash in the mental health community against the “recovery” movement and also the government’s seeming need to define “recovery” as “in work”. Recovery is fabulous and we should strive for the best for our patients but let’s not give false hope. Some of us, may never recover. We may take medication for the rest of our lives. We may have to surf the waves of our illnesses ad nauseum for decades.

12 sessions won’t fix us.

Living with a chronic illness is bloody difficult to say the least, I would offer a day in my shoes but you would know you could take those shoes off at the end of the day. I can’t. There is no real comparison.

There are points we cope well, we say “f*** you” to our bodies and fight for what WE want, even though this often ends up in a body backlash (case in point I slept 19 hours after a 2 day trip to Manchester recently”). There are points when either through medication or the boom/bust cycle many of us experience we can function like “normal” human beings. And we rarely “look sick”. When you see us and tell us how “well” we look it’s probably the first time in awhile we’ve been able to leave the house. For more on this check out the brilliant But You Don’t Look Sick.

However there are points, and I’m sorry to say I’m here now, when we get desperate, when something snaps.

I feel lost and hopeless right now. I have had 10 years on and off of almost every therapy NICE approves, I’m 31 weeks into an experimental non NICE approved group therapy, I stopped counting when I tried the 20th medication, I’ve tried everything over the counter and even tried Acupuncture. I’ve tried to sign up to experimental treatment studies including TMS, I’ve taken meds that I shouldn’t due to contraindications or legal issues because anything is better than how this feels. Which of course leads to risky behaviours.

Some doctors are sympathetic (thankfully my current one is) and if you find a good GP cling on for dear life. A conversation with a previous GP went like this:

Me: Well if you won’t prescribe me benzos, I’ve tried every other med under the sun that I can, what am I meant to do to deal with my crippling anxiety while also working full time, commuting and trying desperately to keep a roof over my head?

GP: Just cope.

Chronic illnesses are sneaky too. I thought I had come to terms with what I had done to myself some time ago – more around my scars. Now though, age 26 I am beginning to experience more of the physical side effects and it’s currently having a very detrimental effect on my work and relationships with friends and family because I am not strong or well enough to do basic tasks that were once a piece of cake.

Currently I am struggling massively with fatigue, constant aches and pains and raging anxiety which means headaches, uncontrollable shaking, brain fog and many more very physical symptoms – bolstering my argument that this mental/physical health divide is bogus.

Having a chronic condition means redefining your “normal” and managing your expectations. Maybe once upon a time running 10k was an option, maybe today you should applaud yourself for just getting out of bed. It’s tough. I know, I have tried but when you have low self esteem it can be hard to see boiling a kettle as an achievement.

I don’t know much admittedly but I would recommend above all:

  1. Find a sympathetic GP and work with them to build an understanding health team around you
  2. Talk to your friends, don’t withdraw or cover up what’s happening – from my experience you will be surprised how many understand and will support you. Some won’t, some may withdraw, that will hurt but ultimately show you who your true friends are.
  3. Find your “tribe”. I’ve been running support communities, mostly around mental health for the last 13 years and they have not only changed but saved my life. Find people who understand and won’t judge and lean on them when you need them.
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2014: My yearly review

Well it’s been another whirlwind of a year, it seems to have flown by at breakneck speed and all of a sudden it’s the end of 2014 and I’m wondering what I’ve actually done this year.

For once it’s been no surprise that the year has flown, it’s been busy after all and I’ve done quite a lot. In fact this year I’ve not only started a new job but also moved house and been on the holiday of a lifetime. And that’s on top of my usual way more than 9-5 with some volunteering and a lot of campaigning thrown in for good measure.

So here’s a bit of an overview of my year which will be followed by a blog summing up some of my heroes of 2014.

January

2014 didn’t get off to the best start as I ran around the town I was living in and London desperately trying to get ahold of some medication. Being on long term medication feels like second nature after all the years and it does go along way to levelling me out and keeping me functioning but definitely has it’s downsides. Being on a relatively unusual medication and trying to get a GP appointment near Christmas and while working full time is not a good combination and I still manage to mess up my planning from time to time.

It did get considerably better thankfully, January was the month my Chrissy B appearance talking about growing up with mental health issues was aired.

chrissyb show

I also found time for my parent’s annual Burn’s Night party at the end of the month which was, as usual completely tartan and tasteless and a good way to celebrate the end of a very long month.

February

In February I finally got a chance to do Mental Health First Aid training with colleagues from NHS England. I think it’s great that my employer gave us all the chance to do this course and, upon competition, publicised the fact the office now had both physical and mental health first aiders. As many mental health issues surface or are even caused by work I’d love to see more workplaces taking this step. It was also an opportunity to bond with colleagues, many of whom opened up about their own experiences.

I also had the opportunity to co-facilitate a special online talk for the sadly now defunct MindFullUK during Eating Disorder Awareness Week. Having spent a few years now doing something similar for YouthNet on a regular basis it was interesting to try this method with a new group of young people.

March

As the NHS Expo was held in Manchester this year I had a great excuse to start the month of March with friends Rachael and Claire and their assortment of rats.

March was also pretty amazing in that I was given a regional award at the Vinspired Awards in the “Most Outstanding Social Entrepreneur” category for my work on the WellHappy app. I even got to attend a fancy awards ceremony at the 02 with my partner Ryan, parents and colleagues from myhealthlondon.

Boyfriend looking quite proud don't you think?

Boyfriend looking quite proud don’t you think?

April

In April I had the opportunity to speak to the Clinical Senate at the Kings Fund about young people, mental health and technology. Even though it’s a talk I’ve given so many times I could probably recite it in my sleep I received an inordinate amount of praise for this one. It got me thinking about the audiences I tend to speak to; usually a group of people who have signed up because they already have an insight and interest in what I’m speaking about, in other words, preaching to the converted. This is something that’s troubled me a lot this year; how do I reach a broader audience including some of the sceptics and naysayers?

I had the opportunity to learn a huge amount when I received Dementia Friends training from Katie Nichol and since then have, unfortunately, had the opportunity to put this learning into practice. I’d recommend the course to everyone as Dementia is something we will all be affected by at some point in our lives.

I also got a chance to attend the launch of the YoungMinds HedMeds project which had been something of a labour of love and personal interest for me. Along with a dear friend, Annabelle, we opened up the event and even preceded Jo Brand who very kindly called us a hard act to follow!

Some of us with Dr.Ranj

Some of us with Dr.Ranj

May

May was a big month that began with me presenting at the Patient Information Forum conference alongside Macmillan.

This was followed by an interview for my current role at BuddyApp..the beginning of big changes.

Then the biggest media appearance of my life, a live slot on Newsnight to talk about self harm with myself and Tanya Byron taking on the legendary Jeremy Paxman. I was approached by YoungMinds and asked if I would like to appear..only a few hours before broadcast. It was probably one of the most surreal moments of my life to be sat in the BBC green room and having a chat with Mr.Paxman.

Kat Cormack on Newsnight

I am very used to being on the receiving end of calls for help, queries, comments and young people generally asking for help and advice but this has increased by an order of magnitude since my appearance. As I may have mentioned these messages usually start with the same phrase, “I’m really sorry but I don’t know who else to talk to”. While I’m glad that I’m seen as approachable it does sadden me that young people still struggle to find people to trust and open up to and how few positive mental health role models that they can easily access there are.

June

In June I received some good news about my health when I learnt that, by some miracle, my bone density is still at a reasonable level, certainly better than I could have hoped for. Throughout the year I’ve had countless run ins with the medical world from a personal perspective, thankfully most of them positive.

June was also the month where I prepared myself for leaving the NHS and my lovely team at myhealthlondon. This was bittersweet, I was going on to a fantastic new role but leaving so much behind. Having worked in the NHS for 18 months I learnt so much about what happens “on the inside” and it gave me a really helpful perspective for when I’ve got my service user hat on and am wondering why things aren’t happening the way I had hoped in my treatment. I also met the most amazing people during my time working for the NHS, too many to name here, and thankfully I’ve managed to stay in contact with most of them.

myhealthlondon team

I’ve argued for a long time that the people who work for the NHS are some of the best people you will ever meet, their kindness, compassion and work ethic can be incredible but they are bound by a system that can be slow, bureaucratic and seemingly impossible to navigate so it’s no wonder things don’t always work.

Something that really fascinated me during this time was the way the NHS is perceived by both the general public and the media.

I feel as though people see the NHS as one big, monolithic organisation, especially when they are commenting on their experiences, “The NHS did this/didn’t do this” etc. This is a serious misunderstanding as the reality is the NHS is a jigsaw (and the pieces don’t necessarily fit well), made up of hundreds of different providers and a huge number of staff. In fact the NHS is the biggest employer in Europe and can be almost impossible to navigate..even if you work in it.

Throughout my time in the NHS we also noticed a change in the media’s attitude towards us. It got to the point where everyday there was a new story coming out, almost all negative and this has a huge effect on staff morale as you can imagine. And yet when we reached out to the media to get good news stories they were passed up time and time again. Bad news may sell more papers but it’s disingenuous and can be downright dangerous in painting an unrealistic picture that scares people off and causes them to lose faith in what is still an incredible British institution.

Obviously I have had a huge range of experiences having used NHS mental health services in particular on and off for a decade. Some have been great, some terrible but it’s been a spectrum and I can’t just focus on one end. I also look at countries like the USA and think about how terrifying it must be to have to pay so much for what I would argue is a basic human right; the right to life. I look at my friends who have poor or no insurance and gasp in horror at their medical bills festooned with zeros and wonder what my own care has cost and wonder where I would be if I had been born on that side of the pond.

July

On the 1st of July I started my new role at BuddyApp. This has been such a huge but positive move for me. I left one of the world’s largest organisations to go work at a start up with less staff that I could count on my fingers and of which I am the only female so that was quite a shock to the system.

I can honestly say that working at Buddy for the last six months has been a pleasure and I have particularly liked working in a small, dynamic team and the chance to work on the edges of the NHS, working directly with front line staff.

There have been challenges certainly, getting the NHS to buy into and embed something innovative is a slow process, definitely more of a marathon than a sprint, but it’s worth it. Because when it does work, we help patients get better and support clinicians in doing their job, what could be better?

So July was mainly spent settling in, meeting colleagues and clincians for the first time and a few events thrown in for good measure. My favourite was probably the NHS England Youth Forum’s “Celebrating Positive Youth Mental Health” event which I attended with Miranda Bunting whose blog you can read here.

August 

In August I took part in another Cormack family tradition; Cropredy festival. Big events can be a challenge for me especially when it comes to my anxiety but last year I decided that this would be the one weekend every year when the mental health issues would just have to sit in the backseat and sulk. This year I kept this resolution going and had a great time as you can probably tell from this picture of me and my brother.

Cropredy festival

Sadly August was somewhat marred by ongoing issues in our housing situation, most notably problems with our neighbours. Having moved into our flat two years previously and built a wonderful home for ourselves, my partner and I found the last year unbearably stressful due to issues next door which culminated in a police raid-a pretty traumatic experience for anyone.

For me a home should be somewhere that you feel safe and by the time we decided to get the hell out of dodge this was no longer the case. It has been a huge step and at times a bitter pill to swallow but, for the sake of our sanity, we left and moved in with my parents.

After 7 years away from my hometown it’s obviously taken time to adjust but I’m lucky that I still have some great friends in the area and above all a ridiculously supportive family who have taken in both myself, my partner and our ridiculous and noisy cat. It makes it easier knowing that this is a temporary solution and I’m grateful to have this time to settle, relax and rebuild.

September

September was dominated by the holiday of a lifetime as me and my family embarked on our Trans-Siberian Railway adventure. There’s definitely an entire blog post to be made out of this at some point considering we crossed China, Mongolia and Russia in 16 days and saw and experienced so much I don’t even know where to start. As someone who commutes 5 days a week as it is the idea of being on a train for the lion’s share of a fortnight initially didn’t appeal much but believe me the tube and this experience just don’t compare.

Rocking my YoungMinds Vs tshirt on the Great Wall of China

Rocking my YoungMinds Vs tshirt on the Great Wall of China

Some highlights include seeing the Terracotta Warriors, standing on the Great Wall of China in my YoungMinds Vs tshirt, drinking the water of Lake Baikal and being chased around China by people who had never seen redheads. I think my brother, all 6 foot of his bearded, tattooed and pierced self was a bit much for some of them. My brother was a bit bemused by this too, as well as many of the tshirt slogans we saw.

A confused James

Upon my return the rest of September was mostly spent given presentations at The Kings Fund, Westminster Briefing (The role of technologies: what young people want from services today) and attending the NHS AGM and NHS Citizen event where I may have caused a bit of a stir by wearing a protest t-shirt from 38degrees on stage with the NHS board of directors..oops..

October

In October I went to the launch event for the London Health Commission Better Health for London report which was held at the House of Lords and involved a lot of alcohol (how the other half live!).

The highlight of October and in fact one of the top events I took part in during 2014 was CLASP’s Walking Out of Darkness event. Over 300 of us descended on London for a 10 mile walk to raise awareness and funds for mental health and in particular, suicide. We raised a staggering £30,000 and are already planning the next event, you can join us on May 16th and raise money for whichever mental health charity you choose.

claspwalk

I also became a trustee for CLASP and have had the pleasure of working with the CEO and founder of CLASP, Kenny Johnston.

November

November truly felt like conference season was underway with me speaking at both Health 2.0 and HANDI Health Apps during EHILive about Buddy app including my experiences of using Buddy in my own treatment.

I also filmed a short piece for Techforgood.tv which you can now see here.

On top of a lot of travelling during the month I also found time to attend the Social Enterprise UK Awards around the corner from our office in Old Street. It was great to do something fun with my colleague James Ryan and I loved the atmosphere, social entrepreneurs in the UK are a fairly close knit and very supportive bunch and I’ve really enjoyed entering this world in 2014.

Social Enterprise UK Awards

December

Far from winding down towards the end of the year it feels like there was even more going on than usual during December.

I gave a presentation at UCL to Clinical Psychology students about the pros and pitfalls of peer support and social media for people experiencing mental health issues. During this I was reunited with the fabulous Tanya Byron who I shared the screen with during my Newsnight appearance. I also had the chance to have a sneaky drink with the lovely Grace who I know from VIK days, I think the students were a bit surprised to see me in their bar after the talk but it was the last day of term so I blame getting caught up in the atmosphere!

I also sat down with young people from YoungMinds Vs project (the next and very exciting generation of activists, definitely worth checking out) and Norman Lamb to discuss youth mental health, you can find more information from our afternoon with the minister here in a great blog written by two of the young activists.

On a personal note the most touching experience I had this month was helping out one of my role models Monique-Amy Newton in her annual “Help the Homeless” event. Sadly I was only able to attend one evening but we gave out clothes, food and toiletries to a large number of people both on the streets and in hostels. Their gratitude for a bowl of soup or pair of gloves was humbling and really put my own life into perspective.

Helping the homeless at Christmas

TL; DR: Overall it’s been a whirlwind of the year. I’ve had some of my greatest experiences and biggest challenges. I’m very thankful to have some time off between now and 2015 when it all starts again. Hopefully onwards and upwards to better things.

Thank you so much for everyone who has supported me this year, it has meant the world. I’ve stayed in contact with some great people and met some truly inspirational movers and shakers in the health and social care world. It’s people like these that give me the courage to keep going, keep standing up for what I believe in and keep fighting the good fight.

A particular thank you to my family, the never ending support of Ryan Jackson and a particular thanks to two ladies who have had me both in tears of laughter this year, founder of Diabetics With Eating Disorders (DWED) Jacq Allan and Kat Pugh who runs the wonderful #EndTheWait campaign for earlier intervention in Eating Disorders. I’m very lucky to be surrounded by powerful, disruptive, caring female role models.

Our first focus group

On Friday i ran the first focus group with young people for our Wellbeing app for young Londoners. Although we didn’t have as many people as we expected the day was still a great success and we were inundated with suggestions and ideas.

We split the group into three sections to cover three of the biggest areas we identified previously: the look and feel of the app & website, the content it needs to have and how to launch it so that it reaches as many young people as possible.

We had some really innovative ideas for all areas and are currently feeding back young people’s responses to our designers and developers: we want to make sure that young people are not just given an opportunity to express their ideas but that those ideas are taken seriously, taken on board and made into reality.

The focus group was a great pilot and we will be running more over the next few months both on and offline so if you would like to find out more or even get involved please don’t hesitate to contact me at Katherine.Cormack@london.nhs.uk

Talking Taboos: Self Harm

There is a phenomena that lurks, mostly hidden away, and that affects more young people than i think anyone really dared, or wanted, to imagine. The number has been growing for years. In fact it affects one in twelve young people and yet is one of the most misunderstood and mistreated issues they face today.

The issue i’m talking about here if you hadn’t guessed is Self Harm.

At YoungMinds and the VIK project we have known for a very long time that self harm is a huge problem for many young people. We campaign to raise awareness about self harm and reduce some of the stigma that surrounds it and do this by giving training to professionals, speaking and writing publicly about our experiences and feeding into research. So when  YoungMinds were given the chance to do a major piece of research on self harm they jumped and together with CELLO they produced a year long piece of research entitled: “Talking Taboos”.

I was lucky enough to attend the launch of Talking Taboos at Portcullis House on the 23rd of October. The launch was a fantastic success with a wonderful audience that were full of questions for our panel of experts:

Image

The panel

 

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Lucie Russell, YoungMinds

The report, aimed at exploring society’s perceptions of self harm as well as young people’s experiences also goes on to give key recommendations to try and bring self harm out of the shadows and break down the barriers so many face in seeking help. In a world where there is so much fear around self injury it is great to see such clear, straightforward steps we can begin to take to improve this area.

The report showed a widespread lack of understanding and training around self harm for near enough all frontline staff in young people’s lives; from parents, to teachers to GP’s. However it also showed that so much of the time it is not a wilful ignorance.

 

97% of young people say that they believe self harm should be addressed in schools and 80% of teachers want clear, practical advice and materials that they can share with pupils.

 

Those are overwhelming numbers that cannot be ignored. There is a strong desire for knowledge and to open up a dialogue with young people and i would love to see more schools actively engaging with young people about mental health and emotional wellbeing at the very least.

We need to help GPs to understand too. Four out of five do not feel that they have the right language to speak to young people about self harm. That worries me.

We need a new era of openness and tolerance and not only that but empathy for our fellow men, women and children who are suffering silently because of ignorance and stigma.

Self harm is a widespread problem and just like mental illness it does not discriminate between genders, or races or even age ranges. We have all at some point or another i imagine done something that could be seen as self destructive and everyone has less than perfect coping mechanisms. It might take the form of smoking, or drinking too much, or self harming. Either way we need to stop obsessing about the fact it is happening and start asking “why?”.

 

 

 

The report can be read in full here: Talking Taboos

And for more information and advice on self harm i would strongly recommend checking out LifeSIGNS which is run by people with direct experience of self injury.

APPG on Children’s Health at the House of Lords

On the 22nd of October i had a very exclusive ticket to the House of Lords to speak and give evidence at an All Party Parliamentary Group for Children. This was apparently the second meeting of the group although the first for me and the question asked of us was “are children and young people getting the opportunities they want” in terms of good health and was looking at access to healthcare.

We heard from:

Baroness Massey who was kind enough to chair the event.

Dr. Chris Hanvey, the chief executive of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.

Caroline Noakes, MP and chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Body Image who told us about her work and area of interests which include self esteem, body image and mental health. It was great to hear from an MP so involved in raising awareness of these issues which affect so many young people.

Professor Helen Cross, the Prince of Wales chair of Childhood Epilepsy and three young people from the charity Young Epilepsy. I was so impressed by the young people who spoke about their experiences of other peoples ignorance and the discrimination and lack of understanding they had faced in receiving help for their conditions.

Young people and staff from West London Mental Health Trust’s Wells Unit who spoke openly and honestly about their experiences of both the justice and mental health systems and what they think would help young people stay mentally healthy, especially vulnerable young people who had become caught up in gangs.

We also heard from a representative at ChildLine who talked us through some really eye opening statistics. I was amazed to hear that since it was founded in 1986 ChildLine has counselled over 2.9 million children.

They spoke about the 69% increase in calls about self harm and 39% increase about suicide and told us that depression and mental health concerns feature in the top 5 concerns for 16 and 17 year olds calling them.

I was the last young person to speak at the APPG, this felt like a really big responsibility, especially after hearing from the other young people at the event but i wanted to make sure that i got across how young people who use mental health services often feel.

I also pointed out that, as i was the last person to speak, it showed that there continue to be wide ranging and very damaging problems within children and young people’s healthcare regardless of whether this is mental or physical health. I pointed out that this was an issue rampant across services and young people frequently felt dismissed, ignored and patronised by services and professionals.

I also spoke about the work i had done in the past and my experiences of services which is what led me to get involved in YoungMinds in the first place. I spoke about the work i do now with YoungMinds and NHS London and the app that we are developing specifically for young people in London and the State of Mind manifesto.

The group wrapped up the meeting with a quick Q&A session, we would have loved to have speak longer but we had to finish at 6:30. I must admit to being exhausted by the end of the day but it was definitely an incredibly worthwhile experience and i am glad that i was able to speak at such a high level about mental health and young people. I just hope that what i said can in some way help to make a difference, if only in opening people’s eyes to some of the experiences of young people.

Celebrate World Mental Health Day in London

Celebrate World Mental Health Day in London

It’s  World Mental Health Day tomorrow. The event which is marking it’s 20th anniversary will this year  focus on Depression, something that affects a huge number of us here in the UK and worldwide and from what i can see is only getting worse.

As i’m currently working for YoungMinds and NHS London i thought i would do a little bit of my own research to see what London is doing to celebrate the day and how you can get involved.

Of course i may well have missed bits here and there so if anyone knows about something i’ve missed drop me a line in the form of a comment and i’ll add it to the list.

 

Camden

There will be a “Real Talk” event for 14-19 year olds running from 5:30-8:30pm at Camden Town Hall Council Chamber and the topic for debate is “Mental Health in Camden”. I will have a stall at the event and lots of information about YoungMinds and the VIK Project. There will also be some fantastic prizes, music, hot food and a goody bag for every participant. You do need a ticket for this event.

For tickets to Real Talk email Lizzie.Streeter@camden.gov.uk or call 020 7974 2943.   

North East London Foundation Trust

To mark World Mental Health Day, North East London NHS Foundation Trust is hosting a ‘Depression and Dementia’ awareness event on Wednesday 10 October at Queen’s Hospital in Romford.

The event will highlight how factors such as exercise and diet can affect mental health and how people can make positive changes to their everyday lives to look after their mental health and wellbeing.

http://www.nelft.nhs.uk/news_publications/110

Bipolar UK

Bipolar UK’s London office will be hosting a lunchtime welcome between 12 noon and 2pm. This is your opportunity to celebrate this special day, meet the team and learn more about bipolar and what the charity do do. 

http://www.bipolaruk.org.uk/world-mental-health-day.html

Haringey Council

I’m very impressed by Haringey Council who are actually running a whole week’s worth of events in order to celebrate World Mental Health Day and help local people experiencing mental health problems. The list of activities is detailed on their website.

http://www.haringey.gov.uk/index/social_care_and_health/mental-health/worldmentalhealthday.htm

London School of Economics

On October 8th in collaboration with the Central & North London NHS Trust and LSE Student union are holding an event on the Houghton street campus, in the Student union building to raise awareness of mental illness amongst students. There will be information stalls and a film show “Open Secrets” following by a group discussion.

http://lsesu.tumblr.com/post/32927625078/lsesu-is-marking-world-mental-health-day-8th-oct

JAMI (Jewish Association for Mental Illness)

JAMI will be manning stalls in the community, raining awareness about mental health for World Menatl Health day.

Barnet

All day event at Brent Cross Shopping Centre (Centre Court) Stalls, information, volunteers/advisers, short talks on mental illness.

On the 11th of October Barnet’s Mayor Brian Schama will be attending an event titled “No Health Without Mental Health”.

http://www.times-series.co.uk/news/topstories/9959339.Mental_health_awareness_day_supported_by_Barnet_Mayor/

Dagenham

Dagenham are holding an event for World Mental Health Day, called Opportunities, which will highlight the Employment, Education and Training opportunities in the local communities for people with mental health issues, as well as raising awareness and addressing stigma.

http://www.time-to-change.org.uk/your-organisation/events/wmhd-opportunities

Hammersmith Lyric Theatre

An event will be held in the Lyric Square and Lyric Theatre in Hammersmith on Wednesday 10th October 12-4pm. The purpose of the event is to combat the stigma associated with mental health, promote awareness of mental health and provide information on services available. The event will have something for everyone: a play produced by the Creative Minds Youth Project, speakers, film screenings, advice & information, and stalls and workshops on mental health.

Time for Tea

Gillet Square, 14th October.

Time for tea is a one day festival spread over three locations in Dalston for World Mental Health Day in association with: Hackney Community Services East London NHS Foundation Trust Gillett Squared Studio Upstairs and Time to Change.

http://www.studioupstairs.org.uk/featured-news/time-for-tea-festival/

 Time to Change

Time to Change are running a roadshow event at a local community centre – MyPlace Community Centre in Harold Hill Romford which is linking in with an art exhibition that is delivered by people with Mental Health conditions to raise awareness of mental health to local people in Havering.

http://www.time-to-change.org.uk/your-organisation/events/mental-health-awareness-day-10th-october-2012

Rethink Your Mind

Rethink Your Mind had a fantastic London launch event that  i was lucky enough to attend last month. They asked people to send it positive, creative work with the sentence ‘With good mental health I have…’ to start them off.

 They will be revealing the winner of their competition and showcasing some of the creative work that has been sent to them.

http://www.rethinkyourmind.co.uk/

Mental Health Foundation

Tea and Talk events: All you have to do is get together a group of friends, family or colleagues, put the kettle on and invite them to make a donation to the Mental Health Foundation, it’s as simple as that!

http://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/get-involved/as-a-fundraiser/teaandtalk/

MindApples

The wonderful Mind Apples will have one of their trees down at Southwark Cathedral on World Mental Health Day. Check it out and add your 5 a day!

The ATOS Closing Ceremony

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Ever since the Olympics started i must admit i have been a little bit obsessed. I certainly wasn’t expecting this to happen, i have a history of  being pretty apathetic about large sporting events. That it was being held  in a city i lived closed to and had just started working in i expected the whole thing to be a bit of a hassle but i think the opening ceremony drowned any pessimism or apathy i may have had and from then on i was gued to the television watching these amazing athletes and feel a bit of pride slip back into our lives as British people.

I always knew though that when the Paralympics started i would be much more invested. Not only have my own mental health problems frequently been referred to as a disability, i have numerous friends with varying levels of disabilities. This became an even bigger part of my life when i began a relationship with someone with a long history of teaching SEN children and then when i worked for 18 months as healthcare support worker for children with complex physical needs.

I would have loved to get tickets, especially for the Paralympics but alas i have been far too busy and not nearly organised enough.

Last Friday however i found myself at a ceremony, not your usual one either, but the Closing Atos Ceremony held in protest of  ATOS and their participation in the Patalympic Games (they are one of the biggest sponsors of the Games). Well not so much found myself. The minute i heard that this protest was being held so  close to my place of work that i could get there and back in a lunchbreak i knew i had no excuse. I had to go and be counted.

Now i’ll admit i am politically minded, to be honest, in our society i think you have to be. I know my rights and fight for the rights of others. So it was understandable that i would gravitate towards such an event and understand the roots of its frustration which is an area that only affects me but the lives of my loved ones and the profession in which i work.

However what surprised me far more than the sheer number of people that descended on the headquarters of Atos on Friday, was the number of people, when i explained myself plans, asked “what’s ATOS” and were completely unaware of who they are let alone what they stand accused of by many.

So let me give you a little introduction to the cause of the outrage, a kind of “Blood on your hands 101”.

Paralympic sponsor engulfed by disability tests row .

Empty words don’t fund a full life for disabled people.

ATOS fatcat lands 1m bonus .

Some will claim they are only doing their job; for me that sounds a bit too like “I was just following orders”. The tests that are being used are deeply flawed and this is having a huge consequence to the lives of thousands across the country. By branding people on benefits en masse as “scroungers, cheats and thiefs” you have poisoned society towards some of the most vulnerable people in our society who often had little enough to begin with. Hate crimes against the disabled are soaring while help is being slashed. People are literally dying over this.

Unfortunately with my lunch break fast drawing to a close i had to leave and as i was a van and several more police officers were arriving. By the time i got back to the office i found out via Twiter and UK Uncut that protestors has barricaded themselves into the Department of Work and Pensions and things were starting to turn a bit nasty.

By the time i got back home i was sent footage shown on both ITN & Five News.

This is more a general overview of the protest

http://www.facebook.com/#!/photo.php?v=10151197625724493

This contains scenes of some of the more heavy handed behaviour displayed. And shows two women pushed out their wheelchairs. Personally i found this footage extremely upsetting, not in the least because i met and talked with several of the people you can see in the video. So pleased be warned it is pretty ugly and may well be upsetting so please bear this in mind if you chose to watch it.

http://video.uk.msn.com/watch/video/atos-protesters-clash-with-police-at-dwp/2gz10s88?from=

And a live feed from the day.

But my experience of the event was entirely positive and i am devastated that what everyone protesting hoped would be a peaceful, creative event was marred with arrests and violence.

What i saw was a group of fiercely passionate, proud people who stood in front of the gates of their personal hell and demanded to be heard. Spirits were high, people were talking to each other, engaging, dancing even!

I was interviewed by the Socialist Worker. I was asked if i thought this was a turning point in rights for the disabled.

I had to reply that this is something, this is a good thing but it’s not the start and it won’t be the end. Anger & discontent has been rising for a long time now and i have been attending similar protests for years, i have been to several Hardest Hit marches and regardless of the number of people that turn up and shout until they lose their voices its hard not to feel ignored. We have to keep fighting in order for our voice to be listened to, not just heard, and for things to  change for the better for the most vulnerable in society.

This was definitely a sentiment i heard repeated over the day, we are here, we will keep coming back, we will keep making our voices heard.