Good Things: March 2019

HOW IS IT APRIL ALREADY?! Seriously, this year is going by at an unbelievable pace and it’s beginning to freak me out. I’m back today with my Good Things post for March. I started doing this in January as a way to open up a bit more and make this blog more personal, but I then didn’t do a one at the end of February because the start of March was filled with things that were very much Not Good, and it didn’t feel right.
The 6 broad categories that I used in January seemed to work pretty well, so I’m sticking with them for now – let me know if there’s any other categories you’d like to hear about!

Excellent humans

I’m starting off this post in a hugely mushy way – bear with me, this kind of slushy shit won’t be around for long. At the start of this month I lost a friend to suicide. It was really, really horrendous, and I’ve thought about him a lot over the last few weeks. The only good thing that came out of that entire horrendous ordeal was making sure the people around me knew how much I loved them. My partner, my Mum, and my friends, have all been highlights for me this month. I feel lucky to have such a fabulous group of humans surrounding me, and this month has been very much about making the most of free time spent with them. I’m sure there are other excellent humans in the world that I don’t know personally, but right now I’m pretty sure that my tribe trump all others.

Cool places
Lunch at Bonobo, Aberdeen
  • A few weeks ago I went to a local vegan cafe for the first time. I’d wanted to go for ages, but it was actually waaaaay more gorgeous than I thought it was going to be. If you’re in Aberdeen, go to Bonobo, but don’t go too often because I want to make sure that I get a table every time I go.
  • At the start of March my partner and I went away for a weekend, nowhere super exciting, but we had such a lovely time. We went to the cinema in Dundee, stayed in a hotel near Edinburgh and got room service and watched Crufts (I really love dogs ok), and on the way back we went to St Andrews for lunch and a wander around. It was the perfect little old couple day, and I loved St Andrews so much that I then met a friend there for lunch later in the month. It’s a super cute little city, and I’ll definitely be visiting again over the coming months.
  • In a really sickening way, I’ve loved being home this month. Aberdeen is bloody lovely when the evening start to get brighter.
Wandering about in Aberdeen
Book(s) of the month
Online media
  • Podcast: Polarised – Denialism, with Caroline Lucas & Keith Kahn-Harris. Polarised is a podcast from the RSA that aims to investigate ‘the political and cultural forces driving us further apart’, and this episode was the first one that I listened to. I listened to it when I was driving from Aberdeen to Edinburgh for an event, and found myself having to pull over multiple times so that I could pause it and scribble down ideas that I was having as a result of the points the guests and hosts were making. Expect a few blog posts that refer to this over the coming weeks.
  • Blog post: Public engagement can fight against health inequalities – but only if we do it right: Imran Khan for the BMJ blog. Imran Khan is the Head of Public Engagement at Wellcome, so it’s not at all surprising that he’s managed to perfectly articulate the value of public engagement and the potential impact that it has on health research. This piece made me a bit emotional, and I’ve bookmarked it so I can send it to people in the future.
  • Article: False balance – what it is and why is it dangerous? Sophie Cremen. If I remember correctly Sophie wrote this about a year ago, but reshared it on Twitter which was how I came across it. In short, read it, it’s bloody brilliant and raises crucial points about the way ‘balance’ is presented in the media, particularly when it comes to stories about scientific topics.
One specific moment

A few months ago my wonderful friend and colleague, Dr Heather Morgan, asked me to design the artwork for the new podcast that she’s launching. I agreed to, but was nervous to actually do it because doing design work for people is terrifying because I’m not a designer. When I eventually got round to doing the thing and sending the image to Heather, I got the biggest warm fuzzy feelings ever.

Artwork for Higher Education, Human Employment (HEHE)

I’m sneaking another moment into this category because it was so lovely that I can’t not mention it. The wonderful team at NUI Galway sent me a huge hamper of Irish goodies! I’ve worked with these incredible humans for a few years now, and I have loved each and every project we’ve worked on together. The fact that they sent me this gift complete with PhD-related congratulations actually made me tear up. So unexpected, so unnecessary, and so bloody lovely. I am so lucky to work with this team, and I hope the collaboration continues for many years to come! (Also, strawberry and champagne jam is up there with the best things I’ve ever tasted)

Irish goodies gifted from colleagues at NUI Galway
Work thing

Earlier this month one of my fab colleagues, Dr Katie Banister, went into a few of the local schools to talk to students about clinical trials. She invited me to go with her and it was SO FUN! We talked about the trials that are going on at the Aberdeen Trials Unit, as well as the subjects we chose at school and University that then led us to the careers that we’re in. I left feeling suuuuuuper passionate and motivated to get stuck into work, just like every other time I do meaningful public engagement.

What did you love about March? Leave a comment below and let me know 🙂

Advertisements

Why Do I Have Depression? Making My Experiences Worthwhile

I’ve talked about depression a lot on my blog recently. I’ve been very open about my own experiences, but I’m acutely aware that my experiences are individual to me, and on the whole, we don’t completely understand why people experience depression, why they experience it in certain ways, or how we should treat it best. Sometimes it can be really frustrating to live with depression; previously I’ve found myself feeling a bit jealous of people that don’t have this heavy blanket to carry round with them – why do I have these experiences? Why don’t others? If I have kids will they have these experiences too?

Instead of being jealous or frustrated, in recent months I’ve mad a conscious effort to make my own experiences of depression feel worthwhile. Whether that’s been blogging about it, providing online support to people that I’ve never met, talking to people in real life.. it’s been a weirdly nice way to ensure that something good comes out of such difficult experiences.

Now, I’ve decided to take part in a research study.

My entire PhD looked at participant recruitment in research (specifically, clinical trials), so I know that recruitment is hard. That said, I’m not taking part because I don’t want the researchers running the study to stress-cry more than absolutely necessary. I’m taking part in a research study about depression because it makes me feel like I’m contributing to solving the problem. If I have to live with depression, then I may as well use my experiences to help researchers understand it more thoroughly. Maybe my contribution to research will help answer why I have these experiences, why others don’t, and whether any potential children of mine would be at risk of these experiences as well.

So, what’s the study?

Recently, researchers at King’s College London launched the largest ever single study of depression and anxiety. They aim to recruit at least 40,000 people living in the UK that have experienced depression or anxiety at some point in their life. This study, the Genetic Links to Anxiety and Depression (GLAD) study aims to ‘make important strides towards better understanding of these disorders and improving the lives of future patients‘.

If you live in the UK and have experience of depression or anxiety, I would really recommend that you watch the video below, and read on to find out more information about what taking part in the GLAD study involves.

It’s really important that we try to get as many people from as many different backgrounds to take part. When lots of similar people (i.e. people of one ethnicity, people of a limited age group, people of the same gender etc) take part in research, the results are at serious risk of bias – meaning that the results would only be applicable to the group of people that took part in the study. The GLAD study team has explicitly said that they want to recruit from diverse groups that represent the entire UK population, and they are actively working to address the complex barriers that exist for some potential participants by working with mental health organisations that have links to various different communities around the UK.
Clearly, it’s important that everyone with experience of depression or anxiety takes part in this study, but if you do know of any mental health organisations, or community groups that you feel may be difficult to connect with via the methods that the team are already using, please do forward them this blog post or direct them to the study website (www.gladstudy.org.uk) for more information.

How you can take part in the GLAD Study

Step 1: If you have personal experience of depression or anxiety, and live in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, head to www.gladstudy.org.uk. Scroll to the bottom of that page and enter your details to sign up.

Step 2: Read the information sheet carefully to ensure that you understand what the study entails, and what will be expected of you if you take part.

Step 3: Go through the consent process, this is a series of 15 yes/no questions, and you’re also asked for your address and NHS number (I didn’t know my NHS number and was still able to go ahead and complete it – I’ll go back and complete my NHS number when I have it later this week).

Step 4: Complete the GLAD study survey. This is quite a long process, but it’s where the bulk of the effort comes in terms of research participation – after this involvement is pretty minimal (but still important) going forward. I think it took me about 30 minutes or so to complete the survey. The survey is split into various categories, the sensitive ones also include an option to skip if you don’t feel comfortable answering them, which I thought was a good way to ensure that the research doesn’t trigger anyone with particular life experiences.

Step 5: A GLAD study saliva kit was sent to me within just a few days of completing my address details in step 3. Open this up and make sure that you have everything listed in this ‘what is in my saliva kit?’ section of the leaflet enclosed.

Step 4: Follow the instructions to fill the saliva sample tube – note, make sure to brush your teeth 30 minutes before giving you sample, and don’t eat or drink anything in that time. You need to fill the tube to the 4ml line, and there will already be 2ml of a DNA stabiliser in there. This may take a few goes; 2ml of saliva is a lot more than I expected, it took me 5 goes to get enough! Pop the lid firmly back on the tube and shake it up.

Step 5: Put everything in the freepost envelope that comes in the kit, and pop it in the post box.

That’s it!

When the study team receive your sample, they will extract DNA from your sample. Samples will then be stored without any of your personal details; if you are from England and Northern Ireland, your sample will be stored at the NationalBiosample Centre (NBC) in Milton Keynes, if you are from Northern Ireland, some of your sample will also be stored in secure facilities at Ulster University in Coleraine, if you are from Scotland, your sample will be stored at NBC and some will also be stored at the Wellcome Trust Clinical Research Facility at the University of Edinburgh, if you are from Wales, your sample will be stored at NBC and some will also be stored at National Centre for Mental Health/MRC Centre for Neuropsychiatric Genetics and Genomicsat Cardiff University.


This post is in no way sponsored or affiliated with the GLAD study. I enrolled in the study as a participant following the steps described above after seeing a post about the study on Twitter. I wrote this post as I want to highlight how quick and simple study participation can be, in an effort to encourage people with experiences of depression or anxiety to take part themselves.
For more information please visit www.gladstudy.org.uk.

Popular Science Books on My Reading List

When I first started this blog (2 years ago, can you believe it?!), I wrote a blog post about 5 popular science books that I recommend to anyone who dares to ask me about the subject. That post had a really good response, and since then I’ve been reviewing books on this blog individually after I’ve read them. I’ve been reading lots recently, but more fiction than non-fiction, which has left me with a pile of popular science books that I still need to get to. I’m not sure which I want to tackle first – I just want to read them all, so I figured I’d list them here, and then if any of you have read and enjoyed them you can let me know.

Invisible women: exposing data bias in a world designed for men by Caroline Criado Perez

From the inside cover:
“Imagine a world where your phone is too big for your hand, where your doctor prescribes a drug that is wrong for your body, where in a car accident you are 47% more likely to be seriously injured, where every week the countless hours of work you do are not recognised or valued. If any of this sounds familiar, chances are that you’re a woman.”

This. Sounds. Incredible.

(and rage inducing)

I preordered this book a few months ago and totally forgot about it. When it landed on my doorstop I did a little squeal of excitement, but now I’ve seen eeeeeeeveryone talking about it on Twitter and I’m nervous that it’s not going to live up to my expectations. Does anyone else get that?

The only woman in the room: why science is still a boys’ club by Eileen Pollack

This is another book that looks like it’s going to make me rage – there’s a theme beginning to form here..

I bought this book when I went to Powell’s City of Books in Portland last year, and despite carrying it all the way across the Atlantic Ocean, it’s been tucked away on my bookshelf since then. It looks like a book I’ll love (and again, rage as a result of), and I’m excited to get to this one. It was named one of the notable non-fiction books of 2015 by the Washington Post, and it focusses on Eileen Pollack’s quest to find out why, even now, relatively few women pursue careers in what she calls ‘the hard sciences’. I really dislike that dichotomy of ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ sciences, because it implies that there’s a difference in quality, rigour and as a result, respect for and value of. To be clear, I don’t think that there is; so-called soft sciences should be equally as valued as so-called hard sciences – both can be done badly, and both can be done well. Poor phrasing won’t stop me reading this though – I’ll just be mindful of Pollack’s potential biases when I’m reading it.

The war on science: who’s waging it, why it matters, what we can do about it by Shawn Otto

This is another book I carted home with me from Portland, and at 514 pages it’s not the lightest.. I think it’s size is the reason why I haven’t read it yet – it weighs a tonne and the quotes on the back emphasis how ‘well researched’ it is, which is a good thing, but it’s making me hesitate to pick it up in case it’s really dry and full of jargon. Given the subject matter, I really hope that’s not the case!

I’ve never seen anyone talk about this book either. It doesn’t have many reviews on Amazon or GoodReads, but the reviews that are there seem good.
Have any of you read it? I think I need someone to rave about it to finally convince me to start reading.

A guide to making science matter: Escape from the ivory tower by Nancy Baron

I ordered this book after speaking to Jim Handman; science journalist, Executive Director of the Science Media Centre in Canada and former senior producer of science radio show Quirks and Quarks. Jim is kind of a big deal when it comes to science journalism, so when he recommended this book I bought it straight away.
Nancy Baron is a communications coach with an incredible track record, and I am SO excited to read this. From the back, “No one understands scientists the way Nancy Baron does. This book helps connect the worlds of science, journalism, and policy in very entertaining and insightful ways. If you care about linking science with action, this is the book to read.” (Pam Matson, Scientific Director of the Leopold Leadership Program, Woods Institute for the Environment and Dean of the School of Earth Sciences Stanford University).

I already feel like I’m recommending this book before I’ve read it. This is on my April reading pile so expect a review relatively soon.

The state of medicine by Margaret McCartney

Another of Margaret McCartney’s books, ‘The Patient Paradox: Why Sexed Up Medicine is Bad for Your Health’ was included in the 5 science books blog post I mentioned earlier, and this is McCartney’s newest book. Released in 2016, this looks at the NHS – in my opinion, the best thing about the UK.
The back of the book claims that ‘the NHS is the closest thing the UK has to a national religion’, the reason behind that being that it unites people across social and class divides. This book isn’t an ode to the NHS though, it’s about the financial strain that the service is under, and the political decisions that have led to the situation we now find ourselves in.
I love Margaret McCartney, I’ve fangirled about her on this blog before, and I know this book will not disappoint.

If there are any of these books that you’d like to see me review, let me know and I’ll try to make those a priority!

Some Thoughts for New WCMT Fellows

At the start of this month 150 new Churchill Fellows were announced. That means it’s been just over a year since I could talk about my WCMT Fellowship – which seems insane! My Fellowship adventures started at the beginning of January and finished at the end of February, so I’ve had some time to decompress and attempt to make sense of the reams of notes I made over the course of those 8 weeks. I wasn’t able to go to the new Fellows’ seminar to share my excitement and experiences, so I thought I’d share a few points here.

Leaving the UK.

If you’re a previous Fellow like me, please comment below and share your tips for new Fellows; and if you’re a new Fellow, I hope you find this useful! Happy to answer questions if there’s anything I’ve missed too, just leave a comment or contact me on Twitter 🙂
If you’re not a new Fellow/don’t plan on doing long trips any time soon, this is probably not the post for you – it’s going to be pretty long!

Planning
  1. Plan your trip with a gap at the end before you need to get back to real life. For me, I only really started to make proper links between the conversations I was having towards the end of the trip, and having an extra week at home before I went back to work was really good for letting all those ideas stew without other things needing to take priority.
  2. Plan trips carefully, taking into account the potential for jet lag. I was either cocky, stupid or ignorant when I booked my flights, and I definitely paid for it. Flying from Washington DC, to the UK, to Berlin, and then to Singapore within a few days was not my finest moment, and my jet lag in Singapore ruined the first few days completely.
  3. Leave space in your itinerary for unexpected meetings, new connections, and downtime. You did not travel across the world to have to say no to meeting new people, similarly, you did not travel across the world to sit in various branches of Starbucks. Make the most of the time you have – that means meeting people you might not have expected to but also sightseeing and visiting places you otherwise wouldn’t get chance to.
  4. I get lost wherever I go, I have a terrible sense of direction and I knew I’d be reliant on Google Maps to make sure I could find my way around. With that in mind, I chose hotels in Singapore and Hong Kong that came with a ‘Handy‘; a smartphone that is docked in each room that comes with free local data. I got free mobile data through my network (EE) when I was in the USA and Canada, but having a Handy was incredibly useful when I was in Singapore and  Hong Kong because my mobile data would have costed me £6 per day to use.
  5. If you’re visiting places where English is not the first language, I’d recommend having a few select phrases memorised or at least written down. I had hotel addresses saved in various languages which was particularly useful when I needed help trying to navigate public transport, and I don’t eat meat so I had a few versions of ‘vegetarian’ noted down to make sure that I could communicate that in cafes and restaurants.
Packing
  1. Packing cubes are life changing. I packed for the first leg of my trip without packing cubes (completely forgot I had them), and didn’t appreciate them until the second part of my trip. A previous Fellow recommended them and I thought he was over-egging their impact, but they really do make travelling to multiple destinations so much easier.
  2. Buy a travel adapter that covers multiple territories, and take an extension cable. The placement of sockets in hotels has become one of the most boring topics that I can rage about (seriously though, why is there never a socket next to the bed for a phone charger, and next to a mirror for hair dryer/straighters?!).
  3. Make a formula for your hand luggage – take the minimum you need and try to leave lots of space in case you buy things and your suitcase is too heavy (I like books, standard airline weight limits do not). Standards that I always include in hand luggage: a mini toothpaste, toothbrush, hand cream, tissues, mini pack of wipes (for grubby fingers or to take makeup off etc), a book, headphones, a booster charger for my phone, small supply of medication (in case your suitcase gets lost), a spare pair of contact lenses, and my glasses. Everything else is extra bulk that you end up dragging around airports, wishing you hadn’t.
  4. Luggage is important – use something that you trust not to break because this is absolutely not the time to see the contents of your suitcase whizzing its way around the baggage reclaim belt. I used AWAY luggage – the large suitcase and the everywhere bag for my hand luggage. It’s now the only luggage I’ll ever use. It’s sturdy but relatively light, and the AWAY packing cubes fit perfectly.
  5. Pack clothes with the intention of doing laundry – there’s no need to take enough outfits to last you 4 weeks when you take take enough for 1 or 2 and wash them. Whilst I’m on that point too; don’t do laundry in hotels! The price is extortionate, and if you use a local launderette you can often get them back within quicker turnaround time. I used a drop off launderette in New York that charged by the kilo and meant I could have everything apart from the clothes I was wearing, washed for less than $10.
Money
  1. The funding that you received from the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust is enough to cover your trip, but bear in mind that you might want to do more than just cover your trip. I saved some money of my own to add to the funding I got for the Fellowship, meaning that I was able to spend a bit more on areas of the trip that were important to me (always staying in hotels rather than hostels, going on day trips to places further afield etc).
  2. Make sure you have at least some cash in each currency you’ll need. In places like the US I used my card all the time (remember to 1) tell your bank you are travelling before you leave, and 2) check for potential charges!), but when I got to Singapore and went out of the airport to get a taxi, I was surprised that the taxis only took cash.
People
  1. Find a ‘connecter’ – this is actually a piece of advice I was given by one of the wonderful people I met in Toronto (hoorah for you, Dawn Bazely!). I met her in the first stop of my travels, and a self-described ‘connecter’, she linked me up with lots of other people. Some I couldn’t meet because they were too far away, but I was able to Skype them after Dawn introduced us, others I met the next day. People that know people are your best friends whilst on a WCMT Fellowship!
  2. Meet people you think you disagree with. This is a weird situation to describe because I don’t want to mention names, but look for the people in your area of research that appear to have opposing views to you. Talking with these people will stretch your ideas, challenge you, and strengthen what you get out of the Fellowship. I met with a few people that I thought may hold opposing views to me, but after I’d heard their reasoning it was clear that we weren’t so different, and that taking their concerns into account was important if I ever wanted my Fellowship to achieve anything.
  3. Not all conversations need to be planned. I spoke to people looking around art galleries, science museums and exhibits – I didn’t know any of them before and I don’t know any of them now, but when you’re travelling alone you tend to have lots of conversations with other people that are travelling alone, or groups of people that feel a bit sorry for you wandering about by yourself. Those conversations can be just as valuable as the ones that are intentional.
Note taking
  1. This probably goes without saying, but taking notes after (or during) each of your meetings is crucial. I took two audio recorders with me, but ended up not using them because I was often meeting people in busy places where the sound quality would have been too terrible for me to ever want to listen back to. Instead, I used a pen & paper. I didn’t take notes during all of the meetings because I was conscious of wanting to really take part in the conversation, but after each meeting I spent 15-20 minutes writing notes to make sure I’d captured everything.
  2. As I said, I used a notebook – not a laptop, iPad or anything electronic. That meant I was entirely reliant on not losing the notebook. That was fine, it was small enough to live in my handbag, and it only came out for me to take notes. Still, I took photographs of each page after I’d written them, just in case. I prefer writing notes to typing them because I remember them more easily, but if you decide to go down that route I’d definitely recommend taking photographs just in case your notebooks gets lost.

At the very beginning of my Fellowship journey I was so overwhelmed, I don’t think I really believed it was going to happen until I started meeting people, but the main thing is to dedicate yourself to your project, and enjoy it! It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, and one that I will remember for the rest of my life. Now to convince my boyfriend to apply for a WCMT Fellowship so that I can piggyback onto any future travel plans..

Returning home.

Making Sure Depression Doesn’t Get in the Way of Life

It’s been over a week since I last posted. That’s partly because I wanted to take some time to step back and intentionally switch off from the extra things I do outside work (i.e. blogging), but also because I wasn’t sure how to follow up a post where I talked about depression in such a direct way. The last week has been better, I’ve spent lots of time with my boyfriend and we’ve helped each other through the emotional rollercoaster of grief. Before I start posting about public engagement, Fellowship adventures, and clinical trials, I wanted to acknowledge how I deal with depression on a daily basis, and how I make sure it doesn’t stop me from enjoying life.

Image credit: Ruby

I’m lucky that I’ve got to this point; as recent events have taught me, many don’t, but if you do live with depression these points might be good starting points to make sure you don’t get overwhelmed by the low points.

Finding joy in the little things

Every night since our friend died, my boyfriend and I have told each other two things that we’ve enjoyed that day. That first night was difficult, and I ended up saying something like ‘I had a really good cup of tea’ and ‘I listed to some fun music when I was driving home’, which felt pathetic and stupid because after those two good things we literally found our friend dead. That said, doing that made sure that I had reminded myself that the day wasn’t completely horrendous, even if the previous few hours had been. Now we do this every night before we go to sleep, and it reminds us that even though some days are thoroughly crap, there’s always something good in them. Some days it’s hard to limit those things to two, and those are extra good days, but on the days when it’s difficult to find good points in the day two is enough to remind you the life is actually alright most of the time.

Talking to someone impartial

A few weeks ago, I started going to see a therapist. I’ve been to a therapist once before and I didn’t click with her at all – the advice she was giving me didn’t sound constructive or like it would actually result in anything good, so I stopped going. I tried therapy through the NHS but had to wait for 18 months, and then again I didn’t click with the therapist. Since then I’ve been hesitant about going back because I wasn’t sure how to find someone I clicked with, and honestly, because it’s expensive. At upwards of £40 per session, as a PhD student I wasn’t keen on the trial and error approach to finding a therapist that I liked. Anyway, now I’m in a position to pay for therapy, I went online and did some research on therapists local to me. I visited each of their websites, read their ‘About Me’ sections, found out what areas of therapy they specialised in, and then emailed one. I told myself I’d do one session, and then reassess and figure out if they were the right fit – so I didn’t go in expecting to have found ‘the one’. Luckily, I felt like she was a very good fit, she didn’t recoil when I swore (I’m a pretty sweary person), laughed when I laughed, and seemed very in tune with my body language etc, noticing things that I hadn’t even realised I did. I’ve only been to 2 sessions so far, but it’s been really helpful. Even just two weeks in I’m finding myself stepping back and being able to reflect on things so that I can figure out how I can manage them.

Image credit: Ruby

10/10 would recommend speaking to someone that is completely impartial – the guilt I sometimes have when talking about heavy stuff with friends or family isn’t there, and it’s nice to be able to talk about my thoughts in a completely judgement free environment.

Letting myself be sad

Some days, it’s not possible to pick myself up and keep going. Sometimes, I wake up and know that I’m going to have a low day, and that’s totally ok. It’s fine to take some time out, but the last few times I’ve felt like that instead of laying in bed/migrating to the sofa at some point in the afternoon, I’ve really tried to do just one thing. I usually target one thing on my to do list and do that. That one thing might take me longer than usual, but it’s one more thing than I would have done otherwise. Usually, after doing one thing, I feel a bit better and try to tackle another, and that makes sure that I’m still feeling productive even though I might do doing the things whilst sat in my pyjamas.

Image credit: Ruby

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’

Living Artwork and Questioning the Ageing Process – a Visit to STATE Studio Berlin

I’m fiiinally making some time to write blog posts about all the wonderful places I’ve been as part of my Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellowship over the last few months, so if you’re interested in science communication/how science can be communicated using art, then be sure to check back over the coming weeks. Last week I talked about a fantastic exhibition that I visited at the Red Dot Design Museum in Singapore, which was more data visualisation than art, so today I thought I’d highlight something that’s more obviously in the art sphere; STATE Studio in Berlin, Germany.

STATE Studio, Berlin

In between Fellowship trips (I did two legs – North America and Asia), I sneaked in a
weekend in Berlin. This wasn’t strictly Fellowship-based travel as it wasn’t in my itinerary, but STATE Studio’s work merging art and science is the reason I went to Berlin, so I’m counting it as part of the Fellowship
experience.

STATE Studio is a public gallery, showroom and event space that was established on the back of STATE Festival; Berlin’s festival for open science, art and society. The team also have an agency made up of a collective of artists, designers, scientists and cultural producers, to create innovative experiences to engage the public with science. The Studio part of STATE opened in October 2018 (after my Fellowship was funded, hence the last minute addition to my itinerary!), and is home to various exhibits that focus on cutting-edge scientific research, innovation, and creativity. In the words of STATE, “It’s a place for creative synergies between science, art, and innovation to discover and explore the breakthrough developments that shape our future.”

For me, the two standout exhibits were, the Living Canvas installation, and ÆON- Trajectories of Longevity and CRISPR.

Living Canvas, Fara Peluso with biotech start-up Solaga
Artist Fara Peluso with her Living Canvas exhibit. Image credit: Anne Freitag Photography

The Living Canvas is the first thing you see when you walk into the STATE Studio space – at first glance it looks like a regular painting, but on closer inspection it’s clear that it really is living. Within a chunky glass frame is a growing algae biofilm, and it comes complete with external circuitry that supplies that algae with life-giving saline solution. What I found super interested is that the algae biofilm inside the Living Canvas is actually in constant interaction with the exhibition space itself; the algae is filtering the air around it, removing carbon dioxide and pollutants, and releasing oxygen and water – which you can see as little bubbles on the inside of the glass, giving the impression that the piece is sweating.

The Living Canvas was designed by artist Fara Peluso, in collaboration with Solaga, a Berlin-based biotech start-up which specializes in the development of innovative solutions for air filtrations and regenerative energy production based on algae biofilms. In interviews since the exhibition opened, Fara has explained that she wanted to initiate a discourse on sustainability and new technologies, and so created a work of art that will continue to develop over the course of the exhibition’s lifetime.

As part of the Living Canvas exhibit, Fara Peluso also runs an algae cultivation workshop at STATE. The Algature workshop combines DIY Biology and speculative design, giving attendees an opportunity to develop their own algae cultivation tool that they can then take home to purify the air in their own spaces.

ÆON- Trajectories of Longevity and CRISPR, Emilia Tikka with the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC)

After admiring the Living Canvas exhibit I headed upstairs to a bigger space which included the ÆON- Trajectories of Longevity and CRISPR exhibit (I originally found out about STATE Studio from a piece that Nature did on this exhibit). This was one that I found really interesting because it’s a photography exhibit, and therefore something that could be translated into the format of a blog post with relative ease.

Photographs by Zuzanna Kaluzna form part of Emilia Tikka’s ÆON. Image credit: Anne Freitag Photography

STATE has a residency program, where artists spend an extended period of time within a scientific research environment. A residency is designed to provide an intimate link between artists and research institutions, in the hope that the artists can produce innovative work that defies convention and provokes curiosity, whilst also enabling scientists to reflect on the potential impact that their work may have on wider society. This exhibition was a result of Finnish artist and designer Emilia Tikka‘s residency at the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC). There, she worked on uncovering the molecular hallmarks of ageing, and exploring the potential of CRISPR gene editing technology to reverse the biological clock. According to STATE, “ÆON- Trajectories of Longevity and CRISPR – addresses philosophical and societal dimensions of the desire for eternal life.”

The main body of the exhibit is made up of photographs, styled and conceptualised by Emilia Tikka, and shot by Zuzanna Kaluzna. The photographs tell the fictional story of a potential future; a couple are given the choice to defy the ageing process – the man agrees to, and inhales the CRISPR therapy, the woman does not. The resulting images are confronting as you see the consequences of their decisions; the man ceases to age, and the woman continues to do so. The fictional inhaler that Tikka designed is also part of the exhibit.

Emilia Tikka’s speculative design for a CRISPR–Cas9 inhaler. Image credit: Anne Freitag Photography

Clearly, Emilia’s work is speculative; you absolutely cannot take CRISPR gene editing technology via an inhaler, and then never see another wrinkle again, but the potential for CRISPR to be able to do something like this isn’t actually that far fetched. The world’s media recently exploded when a scientist from China revealed that he’d used CRISPR to edit the genomes of human embryos so that they would be immune to HIV infection.

CRISPR is a perfect example of the speed that science is moving at, and just how far the ethical and societal impacts of that are lagging behind. In my opinion, this exhibit at STATE Studio is a great way to stimulate conversation around these complex scientific topics.