Sources of Support for Those That Are Struggling

This is a weird blog post to write, but I didn’t want the week that I’ve just had to go by without saying anything – it’s too important.

My first day at my new job as Research Fellow was supposed to be Monday 4th March, and I’d planned for this week to be about getting stuck into work, writing lots and getting a feel for the new project that I’ll be working on for the next 2 years. Instead, on Sunday evening my partner and I went to our friend’s flat because we were worried about him. He hadn’t been answering text messages, he wasn’t answering the door to his flat, his phone was going straight to voicemail, and no one had heard anything from him since the early hours of Saturday morning. We got the spare key to his flat from another friend, and let ourselves in. We found him dead.

This week has been one of the most surreal weeks of my life. It still doesn’t feel real, and I’m not sure that it ever will.
The point of me writing this blog post isn’t for sympathy, or messages of support – we’ve had lots of them already, and everyone around us has been understanding, supportive and kind. I feel lucky that we have people around us that we’ve been able to call ‘just because’. Some people don’t have that, or don’t feel that they have that, so I wanted to highlight sources of support that are available to people that need it.

I’m based in the UK so these are UK-centric, but I will try to include links to international organisations too – if you know of any further sources of support, please leave details in the comments below and I will add them into the list below.

Helplines

Mind

Infoline

The Mind team provides information on a range of topics including:

  • types of mental health problems
  • where to get help
  • medication and alternative treatments
  • advocacy.

They will look for details of help and support in your own area (UK).
Lines are open 9am to 6pm, Monday to Friday (except for bank holidays).
0300 123 3393
info@mind.org.uk
Text: 86463

Legal line

The Mind legal team provide legal information and general advice on mental health related law covering:

  • mental health
  • mental capacity
  • community care
  • human rights and discrimination/equality related to mental health issues.

Lines are open 9am to 6pm, Monday to Friday (except for bank holidays).
0300 466 6463
legal@mind.org.uk

Blue Light Infoline

Mind’s Blue Light Infoline is just for emergency service staff, volunteers and their families.
The team provides information on a range of topics including:

  • staying mentally healthy for work
  • types of mental health problem
  • how and where to get help
  • medication and alternative treatments
  • advocacy
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • existing emergency service support
  • mental health and the law.

Find out more about the Blue Light Infoline.
Lines are open 9am to 6pm, Monday to Friday (except for bank holidays).
0300 303 5999 (local rates)
bluelightinfo@mind.org.uk
Text: 84999

If you’d rather not speak to someone on the telephone, Mind also offer a web chat service, there is more information here.

Samaritans

Samaritans are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
You can call them on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org

Websites

The Mental Health Foundation
Mental Health UK
Mental Health Matters
Mind (charity)
Types of mental health problems
Supporting someone with mental health issues
How to access mental health services

Starting points for international organisations/sources of support

Canada
USA
Australia

Also, another point – the language that we use around mental health and suicide is important. Research has shown that using stigmatising language can deter people from seeking the help that they need.

“Suicide is no longer a crime, and so we should stop saying that people commit suicide. We now live in a world where we seek to understand people who experience suicidal thoughts, behaviours and attempts, and then to treat them with compassion rather than condemn them. Part of this is to use appropriate, non-stigmatising terminology when referring to suicide.”
– Susan Beaton, Suicide Prevention Specialist

With this in mind, Samaritans recommends:

Phrases to use:

  • A suicide
  • Take one’s own life
  • Person at risk of suicide
  • Die by/death by suicide
  • Suicide attempt
  • A completed suicide

Phrases to avoid:

  • Commit suicide
  • Cry for help
  • A ‘successful’ or ‘unsuccessful’
  • Suicide victim
  • Suicide ‘epidemic’, ‘craze’or ‘hot spot’
  • Suicide-prone
  • Suicide ‘tourist’

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Depression Doesn’t Just Go Away When You Go on an Adventure

This is a weird post to write, but I think it’s important so I’m sitting down to write it in the hope that it helps someone else.

I’ve lived with depression for a few years now. In reality it’s probably been more than a few years, but a few years ago a Doctor told me that I had depression, so that’s where the ‘official’ timeline started. I’ve spoken about having depression before, and I genuinely thought that I was ok with things, I thought that I understood my depression; how to manage it, how to spot the signs that I wasn’t doing too well and needed a break, etc.

Now, I’m in the USA on the trip of a lifetime, and it turns out I wasn’t actually ‘ok’ with the whole depression thing at all. The last few weeks have been incredible, mind-alteringly, life changingly brilliant, and I’ve felt like someone without depression. Even when I got snotty-gunky-gross sick, I was still pretty happy, just miffed that I was in New York being snotty-gunky-gross sick. There was a little part of me that thought, ‘Oh my God, maybe it wasn’t depression at all! It was stress, burnout, a series of unfortunate events that were making me sad – I probably don’t have this weird lifelong mental health thing at all, how brilliant!‘ That little part grew without me even realising it, until I woke up earlier this week with the familiar feeling of numbness. That heavy blanket feeling that makes getting out of bed too difficult.

Unsurprisingly to just about everyone else in the world, it turns out that just because you go on an adventure to explore a subject you’re passionate about, depression doesn’t just go away. Even when you’re not stressed, worried or under pressure, that whole depression thing – it’s still a thing. That realisation surprised me.

I’m aware this sounds really naive, but I think it’s important to talk about. The issue of burnout and stress in relation to the PhD process is talked about so much, but it’s not always stress that makes life difficult for people. Some of us are living with the knowledge that at some point we’ll be right in the middle of a brilliant week, and the heavy blanket feeling will return with little or no warning.

All of that said, I’m still feeling pretty lucky to be lugging my heavy blanket around Washington DC rather than Aberdeen. Travelling has always been something I’ve enjoyed, and so I’m going to spend my weekend exploring new places around DC. That is potentially the most privileged form of self-care I’ve ever planned, but I’m here and me and my heavy blanket are determined to make the most of it, gently.

An Update on What’s in Store for the Next Few Months

I’ve done that thing again where I have a tonne of ideas and things to post, and then life gets in the way and time disappears leaving me with a never ending to do list and a blog that hasn’t been updated in too long. That never ending to do list is currently almost entirely on hold because I have left the UK, and will be returning only to switch out the contents of my suitcase, before returning at the very end of February. For the first time in a very long time, I’ve put everything on hold in favour of one project – my Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellowship.

I’m currently on holiday in Quebec City with my boyfriend. We’ve only been in Quebec for 1 day, but it’s been a pretty wonderful start to the trip. It’s freezing cold; -18°C levels of freezing cold, so today we’ve spent the day wrapped up warm and wandering around the city. We dawdled down towards the river that we can see from our hotel (incredible view from our room below!), and somehow ended up hurtling down a traditional toboggan run that’s one of the oldest attractions in the city. I did a lot of screaming and laughed so much that by the time we reached the bottom my face ached, my teeth were the coldest they’ve ever been, and I had tears streaming down my face. Today I also had a slice of the best pecan pie I’ve ever tasted – unsurprisingly, Canada suits me very well so far.

Tomorrow we are heading out to Montmorency Falls – a waterfall one and a half times higher than Niagra falls, and just a short drive outside of the city. Montmorency Falls freezes in the winter and it’s apparently a must-see if you’re in Quebec at this time of year. I’m super excited to see the views and take some time to see more of the area than we can on foot.

We’re staying in Quebec for new year’s eve, and then we’re heading to Toronto for a few days after new year. After that, Cameron is heading back home to Aberdeen and I’ll be in full Fellowship mode. Currently my itinerary looks something like this:

  • 5th-12th January: Toronto
  • 12th-18th January: New York
  • 18th-22nd January: New Hampshire
  • 22nd-30th January: Washington DC
  • 1st-3rd February: Berlin
  • 7th-16th February: Singapore
  • 16th-25th February: Hong Kong

So, what can you expect to see on this blog as I attempt to remember what city I’m in over the coming weeks and months?
Hopefully you’ll be pleased to know that I’ll be taking you along for the ride! My Fellowship project is all about science blogging, and using creative techniques to improve the way that blogs can engage the public with science, so it seems like a good idea to keep bit of a diary of my travels in blog form. I’ll also be doing a few more creative blog posts to try my hand at the new techniques and methods that I’ll be learning about from the experts that I’m meeting up with throughout.

On the subject of experts – if you are a science communicator, scientist that communicates their science to public audiences, someone using science as inspiration for creative projects, and you will be in any of those cities when I am scheduled to be, please let me know!
I’ve reached out to a number of people that I want to meet up with, but have purposefully kept my schedule relatively free so that I can make connections as I go. Leave a comment on this post, or tweet me (@heidirgardner), and let’s talk creative science communication.

Knowing When to Take a Break

If you’ve been following my Blogtober posts, you might have noticed that I missed a day yesterday. I just did not have the time to get a blog post written and uploaded.
I had planned to do it on Tuesday night, but I ended up getting caught up with some freelance work and then packaging and sorting my shop orders took way longer than I thought it would. Yesterday just seemed to go by in a blur; in the morning I was doing a viva for an MSci student that I’ve been supervising whilst she’s been away on placement all year. After that I had a Mandarin Chinese lesson (I’ll talk more about this in another blog post – it’s so much fun!), and then by the time I got back to my desk, sorted out my inbox, and did the urgent things on my to do list it was almost 6pm and my tummy was doing the ‘leave work now and feed me’ grumbles. Predictably, last night also went at super speed and before I knew it it was 11pm.

I had thought of staying up and working on getting a blog post up before midnight because the thought of missing 1 day in the middle of the month was driving me mad, but after more than 30 seconds’ thought and a yawn that was so big it probably could have broken my jaw, I decided against it.

Today has also gone by in a blur, so I’m here after 6pm thinking ‘oh crap, what do I blog about today?’ – and I think that in itself is interesting. I blog to share my research, to draw attention to subjects that I care about, and to try to encourage people to engage with health services research. If I’m exhausted and pushed for time, it’s very unlikely that I’ll achieve any of those things; knowing when to take a break is important.

So, with that in mind, I am going to take tonight easy. I am going to read my book (I’m currently reading Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss and really enjoying it so far), I might write a blog post later on, and I’m going to get an early night.

I’ll be back tomorrow with a blog post that I haven’t felt pressured or felt rushed to write. I’m planning on doing a ‘publication explainer’ post talking about embedded studies, what they are and why we need more of them.

Have a lovely evening 🙂

Science On A Postcard X PhDepression

Another post that’s late in the day for #Blogtober.. today was just a bit hectic and I feel like I’ve been constantly busy since I left my flat at 7.15am. It’s now 10pm and I’ve just finished putting new listings in the Science On A Postcard Etsy shop, so I figured I’d give them their own little blog post.

A few months ago Susanna Harris from PhDepression messaged the Science On A Postcard account on Instagram to talk to me about a potential collaboration. I’ve spoken a lot before about my own struggles with mental health, and I think it was pretty clear to Susanna that I thought that what she was doing with PhDepression was fantastic.

From the PhDepression website:

The PhDepression LLC founder Susanna Harris explains her passion for this project: “When the Nature Biotech article showed nearly 40% of graduate students struggle with anxiety or depression, I felt a sense of belonging. A year before, I was in a deep depression, and this paper made me feel less alone. But I couldn’t name 5, let alone 50, students in my cohort that might be struggling. There was a disparity between the public faces in our universities and the underlying stories.

The PhDepression LLC aims to increase visibility of those who have struggled with mental health issues, from students to postdocs, future PhDs to those who have long-since graduated. Many of us deal with these problems, and we must support our community by breaking the stigma around mental illness. Academia would be a stronger, kinder place if we could talk about these things openly and get the help we need”.

So, what is this wonderous collaborative product that we came up with? Well.. it’s 2 products actually. One is a pin badge, and the other is a set of 5 notecards; all fit the theme of mental health and self care.

‘Self Care Is Not Selfish’ enamel pin badge (Available to buy here for £6)

Funds from the sale of both of these products goes towards keeping PhDepression going – that will likely include costs for the website, potentially travel to help the team spread the PhDepression message through giving talks, whatever they need to help support the project and enable the team to carry on the important work that they are doing.

If you are a graduate student or researcher that’s struggling with your mental health, please go to The PhDepression for help and support – if you would like someone to talk to, or somewhere to go to find out about what sort of help is available to you, these people are offering a completely free network designed simply to help.

‘Thank You/Self Care’ Set of 5 Notecards (Available to buy here for £7.50)

For more information on The PhDepression head here:

thephdepression.com
twitter.com/Ph_D_epression
instagram.com/ph_d_epression

On Talking: Some Thoughts on Mental Health

We are told to talk.
Talking will change things;
Talking will ‘end the stigma‘.

I have talked,
I am still talking,
Talking is not enough.


Today is World Mental Health Day; the day that social media feeds are filled with posts about people’s experience of poor mental health, photographs of anxiety meds and anti-depressants flood Instagram and Twitter in an effort to normalise these experiences and end the stigma.

This happens every year, and it’s not enough.

Talking is good, I agree with that, but we are talking. I talk regularly about my mental health – I’ve posted about what it was like to be diagnosed with depression whilst doing a PhD and that post has been read by hundreds of people, and I’m very open with friends and colleagues about the fact that sometimes my brain just doesn’t work how I want it to. I’ve emailed my supervisors and colleagues asking to reschedule meetings because I just couldn’t think properly that day, I’ve convinced my boyfriend to travel to a conference with me because I felt too anxious to go alone. I’ve been there, and I’ve been brutally open and honest about it. I’m not ashamed, I talk about the fact that without my ‘delicious antidepressants’ I might not have got out of bed that day.

I talked to my Doctor. I paid to talk to a counsellor, that didn’t work for me and it wasn’t sustainable (£40 for a 50 minute session). I waited 18 months until I could talk to a counsellor on the NHS, and she told me to think about losing weight, doing some exercise and eating more healthily (she hadn’t asked how much exercise I was doing or what my diet was like).

Talking is not enough.

Talking may work to ‘end the stigma’, but ending the stigma is not enough.
We need action.

Earlier this year I read an article in The Metro that summed up my thoughts pretty well:

Theresa May said last year, ‘We must get over the stigma’. Okay, lip service paid. But then, as part of the same speech, she says it’s ‘wrong for people to assume that the only answer to these issues is about funding’ and that no more money will be available to develop services. It feels like being told: ‘Sorry pal, we know your leg’s broken. We can’t put a cast on it right now (budget cuts), but just know that we’re working to reduce the stigma against users of crutches. Off you go.’”

On this World Mental Health Day, instead of posting on social media, don’t just like and retweet the posts you see about mental ill health, do something about it.

Ask for change:
Petition – Drastically improve funding for Mental Health Services within the UK
Petition – Fund facilities for people who feel suicidal so they always have somewhere to go
Contact your MP
Work to make your workplace more mentally healthy with this 7-step guide
If you are able to, donate to local organisations that are working to keep mental health services and support in place in your community Mental Health Foundation, Mind, Scottish Association for Mental Health, Support in Mind Scotland.

If you are in the UK and you need access to mental health help and support services, please take a look here.