The play that wants to change the way we treat mental illness

Laura Barnett writes for The Guardian:

The Eradication of Schizophrenia in Western Lapland is based on a new approach called ‘open dialogue’, and replicates the experience of having an auditory hallucination

Can theatre offer a cure for psychosis? It’s unlikely – and it would be unwise for any theatre-maker even to try. What theatre can do, though, is convey the experience of psychosis: the hallucinations and delusions – often terrifying, sometimes comical – that define reality for those with schizophrenia and related conditions.

This, at least, is the belief shared by David Woods and Jon Haynes, co-founders of the theatre company Ridiculusmus. Their new show, The Eradication of Schizophrenia in Western Lapland, examines the effects of psychosis on several members of a fictional family, using an innovative conceit. The audience is split in two, with each half sitting on either side of a dividing wall. For the first act, each half of the audience watches one scene, while another scene is performed on the other side. Later, the audiences swap places; and in the final section, the wall becomes transparent, so that both halves of the audience are watching the same scene.

The effect, at least at first, is bewildering – and that is the point. “It’s as if you’re having auditory hallucinations,” Woods tells me when we meet during rehearsals at the Basement in Brighton, where the play is beginning a national tour. “Initially it’ll be overwhelming, chaotic. Then the audience will go out of the theatre, change sides. Slowly the voices will settle into place. In a way, it’s the same with schizophrenia. You don’t get cured, but you can recover.”…

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Mental health and race – the blight of dual discrimination

Mary O’Hara from The Guardian writes:

Black and minority ethnic people living with mental illness face a double dose of prejudice, says a new report from the anti-stigma organisation Time to Change

An overwhelming majority of people from black and minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds in the UK living with mental health problems face regular discrimination because of their illness according to a new report from the anti-stigma organisation, Time to Change. In the first survey the organisation has conducted, exclusively of people from BME groups, 93% said they had experienced discrimination in everyday life due to their mental health difficulties.

Respondents also reported high levels of racial discrimination (73% had faced it at some point and 28% in the previous 12 months), leading the study’s authors to warn about the serious issue of “dual discrimination” blighting people’s lives. The research surveyed 740 people in 2013 from a mixture of African, Caribbean, Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi backgrounds in England with mental health issues. Most alarmingly, it found that almost half (49%) had faced discriminatory behaviour from mental health staff.

“Discrimination as a result of mental ill health is reported across a wide range of every day activities,” the researchers found. “There are some slight variations across ethnic groups but the overall picture is constant: discrimination is everywhere.”

Areas of life where discrimination was common included employment, in communities, within families and during contact with mental health services. Only a fifth of people from BME communities said they felt able to speak to people about their mental health. “This suggests that most are functioning in social circles where one of the most important parts of their lives is left unspoken,” the report concluded…

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Benefits assessment led to woman’s suicide says watchdog

Eleanor Bradford for BBC News reports:

The way a woman was assessed for benefits led to her suicide less than a month later, according to a mental health watchdog.

The woman had a history of depression and was on significant medication, but scored zero points in a Work Capability Assessment (WCA), carried out by Atos.

A Mental Welfare Commission report said it could see no other factor “in her decision to end her life”.

The Department for Work and Pensions said correct procedures were followed.

The woman, who is identified only as Miss DE, was in her early 50s and had been out of work for just under two years due to stress-related depression when she was assessed for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).

ESA replaced incapacity benefit as part of changes to the benefits system, introduced by the UK government in 2007…

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Can what you eat affect your mental health? New research links diet and the mind.

Gisela Telis of the Washington Post writes:

Jodi Corbitt had been battling depression for decades and by 2010 had resigned herself to taking antidepressant medication for the rest of her life. Then she decided to start a dietary experiment.

To lose weight, the 47-year-old Catonsville, Md., mother stopped eating gluten, a protein found in wheat and related grains. Within a month she had shed several pounds — and her lifelong depression.

“It was like a veil lifted and I could see life more clearly,” she recalled. “It changed everything.”

Corbitt had stumbled into an area that scientists have recently begun to investigate: whether food can have as powerful an impact on the mind as it does on the body.

Research exploring the link between diet and mental health “is a very new field; the first papers only came out a few years ago,” said Michael Berk, a professor of psychiatry at the Deakin University School of Medicine in Australia. “But the results are unusually consistent, and they show a link between diet quality and mental health.”…

To read the rest of this Washington Post article, follow this link

Inside the UK’s mental health crisis: ‘It is my view that people will die’

Two major reorganisations and ongoing budget cuts have left many NHS mental health units running at or beyond full capacity – here, staff under pressure explain why they fear patients will suffer as a result

Overnight there have been seven admissions to this mental health crisis unit in west London, which means that 68 out of the 71 beds are full. There are almost no beds elsewhere in west London, and the senior management team use their 8.30am meeting to discuss who might reasonably be discharged to make room for incoming patients.

Operating with just three free beds in the unit is either a mark of commendable efficiency, or a sign of the terrifying pressure the system is under, and even the consultants are not sure which it is. A senior manager concedes: “We are sailing very close to the wind.”

Ward managers are asked to assess if anyone on their lists could be sent home. “We’ve already sent home everyone we could,” one says, scanning his list. “There’s a remote chance we could discharge Maria,” a ward nurse, says doubtfully. “Have there been any improvements in Mikhail?” the senior manager wonders, but there haven’t. “Is there no one else?”

Occupancy levels for acute adult psychiatric beds elsewhere are often running at 100%, and this level of intense demand is not considered particularly extreme. But the pressure on beds is not the only sign of strain the team faces. One senior nurse complains that the trust’s mental health teams have been so radically and repeatedly restructured over the past two years that it is her view that “people will die”. A psychologist describes feeling “despairing” and “heartbroken” at the eight-month waiting list for his services. Some patients are angry at being discharged from hospital and given what they feel is inadequate follow-up care.

Three days with the teams working with patients experiencing a mental health crisis in west London reveal some of the profound pressures the NHS’s service is operating under. But it also reveals how overworked staff are managing to look after a challenging group of patients with immense care and dedication, despite the combined pressures of those restructurings and ongoing funding cuts (which are still officially supposed to be referred to as “efficiency savings”)…

To read the rest of this article from The Guardian’s Amelia Gentleman, follow this link

Child mental health issues ‘missed’

Thousands of young people may be “slipping through the net” because adults do not spot the warning signs of mental health problems, experts warn.

MindEd, a new website, backed by groups including the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, is being launched to raise awareness.

A survey of 2,100 adults found a third were unsure of signs of depression in children.

More than 850,000 children in the UK have a mental health problem.

The survey, carried out on behalf of the child and adolescent mental health groups behind MindEd, also found half of those questioned would be worried about saying anything if they did suspect there was a problem, for fear of being mistaken.

Two-thirds would back extra government investment in children’s mental health services to equip professionals with the skills to identify and treat these children earlier….”

To read the rest of the BBC News article, follow this link

Mental health cuts ‘risk lives’

“Six mental health organisations in England are warning that NHS cuts are putting lives at risk.
It comes as figures reveal that early intervention schemes to help young mental health patients have been reduced over the past 12 months.
Mental health trusts are being asked to save almost 20% more from next year’s budgets than hospitals.
NHS England says it has put procedures in place to ensure mental and physical health are treated equally in future.
The Mental Health Foundation, Rethink Mental Illness, Mind, the NHS Confederation Mental Health Network and the Centre for Mental Health and the Royal College of Psychiatrists have released a letter on Wednesday warning that planned cuts for next year will put lives at risk as the system is already underfunded…”

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There is a culture of acceptance around mental health issues in academia

“I’ve seen PhD students with depression, sleep issues, eating disorders, and thoughts of suicide. Mental health in academia is an issue that needs to be addressed”

“It is all too common to see PhD students work themselves to the point of physical and mental illness in order to complete their studies. It is less common to see PhD students who feel that they are under such pressure that the only option is suicide. But it does happen. There is a culture of acceptance around mental health issues in academia – and this needs to change.

Following the completion of my PhD and a short stint as a postdoc, I have recently taken up a new job as a researcher development officer at a research-intensive university. Teams like ours are fairly common in universities, thanks to funding provided following the publication of theRoberts Report in 2002.

The team I work on provides personal and professional development opportunities to the researchers at the university; including the PhD students, postdocs, and lecturers. Like most researcher development teams, the majority of our training focuses on the postgraduate students. We run an annual programme of training sessions and workshops designed to help students transition to the life of a researcher, make it through the official (and unofficial) milestones of their PhD, and emerge as well-rounded, employable people with a range of career options.

When the situation calls for it, we are shoulders to cry on.

Yes, I now get paid to relive the worst experience of my life, and hope that I can use that experience to help others. On a daily basis, I meet PhD students who feel underequipped in one way or another.

Best case scenario: they are doing well in their PhD, and have come to the researcher development programme for advice about the next steps in their lives and careers. They come to us for some advice about volunteering, becoming a mentor, obtaining work experience, making use of their existing networks, what it’s like to have a career outside academia and so on.

More often than we’d like, they arrive for a session about “building and maintaining an effective relationship with your supervisor” with puffy red eyes, lack the confidence to participate in the session, and leave at the end without having uttered a single word.

Worst case scenario: we never meet them at all. Or one day, they quietly leave the university without their qualification.

Last weekend, there was a funeral. Two of the parishioners from my family’s local church community suffered the loss of their son, we’ll call him J.

J had suffered with mental health issues throughout his life, and had finally taken his own life. He was studying for a PhD at the time. From what I understand, J was a bright student who did exceptionally well at undergraduate level. Hence, being accepted to do a PhD.

Once at the new university, J struggled to stay on track with his postgraduate studies. He took a couple of breaks from research to try to recover his mental health. Sadly, he committed suicide before he completed his PhD.

I cannot say that it was the pressure of his studies that drove J to that decision; after all, I didn’t know him. But I do know what doing a PhD is like.

I have experienced the effects on my mental health, and I have witnessed the culture of acceptance surrounding this issue.

Among the people I do know who have done PhDs, I have seen depression, sleep issues, eating disorders, alcoholism, self-harming, and suicide attempts. I have seen how issues with mental health can go on to affect physical health. During my PhD I noticed changes to my skin, and changes in my menstrual cycle which persist to this day.

Let us not forget that in the majority of cases, all this comes at a time when you are likely to be suffering from financial instability, or are forced to make uncomfortable changes to your personal circumstances to accommodate your studies….” – ‘Anonymous academic’

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Mental health nurses to help police


Mental health nurses will be stationed at nearly 50 police stations across England and Wales by next month.

Ten forces – including the Metropolitan Police Service and Leicestershire Constabulary – will operate Liaison and Diversion schemes from April, policing minister Damian Green has announced.

Police officers and custody suite staff will be able to refer vulnerable people who they suspect have mental health needs for assessment and referral for appropriate treatment. It is expected the programme will be rolled out across the country by 2017.

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