The Recovery Letters: Addressed to People Experiencing Depression

James Withey, a trained counsellor who worked in social care for 20 years, was diagnosed with clinical depression, attempted suicide and spent time in psychiatric hospital and crisis services where he developed the idea for The Recovery Letters. He met Olivia Sagan, Head of Psychology & Sociology at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh, and a chartered psychologist and former counsellor, when she contacted him directly as she had seen The Recovery Letters website. Both keen to work together to do the book, and with the mix of academic backgrounds and personal experiences in mental health, it was a great match. 

In 2012, The Recovery Letters was launched to host a series of letters online written by people recovering from depression, addressed to those currently affected by a mental health condition. Addressed to ‘Dear You’, the inspirational and heartfelt letters provided hope and support to those experiencing depression and were testament that recovery was possible.

Below are two letters from the book:

Read letter one here

Read letter two here

 


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Simon McCarthy-Jones talks to Human Givens

McCarthySimon McCarthy-Jones, author of Can’t You Hear Them?, talks to Human Givens about what is known – and what has been ignored – in explaining the experience of hearing voices. 

The experience of ‘hearing voices’, once associated with lofty prophetic communications, has fallen low. Today, the experience is typically portrayed as an unambiguous harbinger of madness caused by a broken brain, an unbalanced mind, biology gone wild. Yet an alternative account, forged predominantly by people who hear voices themselves, argues that hearing voices is an understandable response to traumatic life-events. There is an urgent need to overcome the tensions between these two ways of understanding ‘voice hearing’.

Read the interview here

 


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What can teachers and parents do to help children experiencing loneliness?

child lonelinessChild loneliness and its effect upon emotional wellbeing is becoming an increasingly explored topic, as shown by recent NSPCC and Child Line campaigns. But what can teachers and parents do to support children who are feeling lonely? And how can we help children to understand the difference between healthy solitude and loneliness?

In this extract from Julian Stern’s Can I tell you about Loneliness?, we met Jan, aged 11. Jan tells us about some of the things that can cause him to feel lonely. He explains what it means to feel lonely, and discusses therapeutic ways of alleviating this difficult emotion.

Read the extract

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Helping children to have a more positive body image

Body ImageChris Calland and Nicky Hutchinson, authors of Minnie and Max are OK!, talk about body confidence, how it can influence children’s self-esteem and what adults can do to help children have a more positive body image.

What does a positive body image mean to you?

If a person has a positive body image they are happy with the way they look and they accept and feel good about their body. Helping children to be positive about their bodies encourages them to be happy, healthy and confident. Having a positive body image makes children less likely to experience symptoms of depression and anxiety. It is a crucial part of mental health.

Do you feel that the number of children with body image issues has risen of late? What reasons do you feel are behind this?

Yes, unfortunately the number of children experiencing body image anxieties is growing rapidly and body dissatisfaction is being seen more in many really young children, even at pre-school stage. It is an issue which affects both boys and girls. Continue reading

Anorexia and Obesity: Two of a Kind?

anorexia Dr Nicola Davies is a health psychologist, counsellor, and writer specialising in raising awareness about health, wellbeing and weight loss. She is a member of the British Psychological Society and the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. Nicola also keeps a health psychology blog and runs an online forum for counsellors. She is the author of I Can Beat Obesity! and I Can Beat Anorexia! and the co-author of the Eating Disorder Recovery Handbook.

While generally regarded as two separate, very different issues, anorexia and obesity actually share many similarities – not only in terms of risk factors, but also psychological, behavioural, cognitive, genetic, and neuropsychological similarities.

Continue reading

Managing Anxiety and Depression on the Autism Spectrum

The dramatic increase in the prevalence of autism spectrum conditions among children and adolescents and the correspondingly large number of youth transitioning into adulthood has created an urgent need to address the mental health problems faced by many adults on the autism spectrum. Nearly a half million youth with autism will enter adulthood over the next decade and most will continue to require some level of support. In addition, there is a large and diverse group of adults whose autistic traits were not identified in childhood and have not received the appropriate interventions and services. Although autism symptoms may improve with age, co-occurring mental health issues may worsen in adolescence or adulthood. As a result, there are a sizable number of adults on the higher end of the spectrum who are now seeking help to deal with feelings of social isolation, interpersonal difficulties, anxiety, depressed mood, and coping problems. Unfortunately, mental health problems such as anxiety and depression and even the diagnosis of an autism spectrum condition itself often go unrecognized. Although the rate of co-occurring (co-morbid) mental health issues for adults on the spectrum is high, accessing services to address these symptoms is frequently difficult and the extent of the problem will only increase as more and more youth transition to adulthood.

Evidence is beginning to emerge for interventions addressing the mental health needs of this growing and under-served group of adults, including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT has direct applicability to adults on the autism spectrum who often have difficulty understanding, managing, and expressing emotions. It has been shown to be effective in changing the way a person thinks about and responds to feelings such as anxiety and depression. With CBT, the individual learns skills to modify thoughts and beliefs through a variety of strategies which improve interaction with others in helpful and appropriate ways, thereby promoting self-regulation and mental health. It is a goal oriented approach and primarily emphasizes here-and-now problems, regardless of one’s history, traits, or diagnosis. CBT also provides a more structured approach than other types of psychotherapy, relies less on insight and judgment than other models, and focuses on practical problem-solving. Moreover, because individuals learn self-help in treatment they are often able to maintain their improvement after therapy has been completed. Evidence-based CBT holds considerable promise as an effective intervention for improving the quality of life and psychological well-being of adults on the autism spectrum.

Despite the availability of effective psychological treatments for anxiety and depression, a substantial number of adults on the autism spectrum do not seek professional help. Common obstacles to mental health care access include limited availability and affordability of services, confidentiality issues, lack of insurance coverage, frequent delays and long waiting periods, and social stigma. Likewise, many service providers do not have the experience or expertise to work with individuals on the autism spectrum, particularly those with co-occurring mental health issues. Self-help interventions represent an increasingly popular alternative to therapist-delivered psychological therapies, offering the potential of increased access to cost-effective treatment for a range of different mental health issues. They provide an opportunity for the individual to gain some useful insights and begin to work through their problems with limited guidance from a therapist or mental health professional. Research has clearly shown that self-help strategies are effective, practical, and acceptable for many individuals in reducing mental health problems such as mild to moderate anxiety and depression, often alone or with other forms of treatment. Self-help interventions have the potential to play an important role in providing effective treatment to the large proportion of adults on the spectrum who are experiencing mental health issues.

While there is no shortage of books describing the debates and challenges related to the diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum conditions, there is a need for a practical resource for adults on the spectrum that promotes self-understanding and directly teaches effective ways of coping with their emotional challenges. Overcoming Anxiety and Depression on the Autism Spectrum: A Self-Help Guide Using CBT presents strategies derived from cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), adapted specifically for adults on the higher end of the spectrum, to help them overcome anxiety and depression, and improve their psychological well-being. The author takes the best of CBT therapeutic methods to facilitate greater self-understanding, self-advocacy, and better decision-making in life-span activities such as employment and interpersonal relationships. This self-help guide provides evidence-based tools that can be used to learn new ways of thinking, feeling, and doing. It includes questionnaires, worksheets, and exercises to help the reader:

  • Evaluate his or her autistic traits and discover their cognitive style.
  • Identify and modify the thoughts and beliefs that underlie and maintain the cycles of anxiety, depression, and anger.
  • Apply therapeutic techniques such as mindfulness, positive self-talk, guided imagery, and problem solving.
  • Accept the past and achieve unconditional self-acceptance.
  • Deal effectively with perfectionism and low frustration tolerance.
  • Avoid procrastination and learn to maintain positive changes to their progress

Used alone or in combination with therapy, Overcoming Anxiety and Depression on the Autism Spectrum: A Self-Help Guide Using CBT is an essential self-help book for adults on the higher end of the spectrum looking for ways to understand and cope with their emotional challenges and improve their psychological well-being. It was honored as an Award-Winning Finalist in the “Psychology/Mental Health” category of the 2016 Best Book Awards.

About the Author

Lee A. Wilkinson, PhD, is a licensed and nationally certified school psychologist, chartered psychologist, and certified cognitive-behavioral therapist. Dr. Wilkinson is author of the award-winning book, A Best Practice Guide to Assessment and Intervention for Autism Spectrum Disorder in Schools (2nd Edition), also published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers and editor of a best-selling text in the American Psychological Association (APA) Applying Psychology in the Schools Series, Autism Spectrum Disorder in Children and Adolescents: Evidence-Based Assessment and Intervention in Schools.

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Borderline Personality Disorder: One Step at a Time

Tracy Barker, author of A Sad and Sorry State of Disorder, is an expert by experience on how to live with and manage borderline personality disorder (BPD), now a happily married home maker committed to raising awareness of BPD, she has written an emotional and honest piece on how it feels to have BPD, the struggles and how to deal with it; one step at a time.

One step, then take a break –
a few days, to recover.
One step, then rest
before embarking on another.

Continue reading

Peace Inside: How meditation can transform your mental health

peaceSam Settle, editor of Peace Inside, examines how the time tested practice of meditation – sitting in silence and paying attention to the breath – is helping people maintain a healthy mind behind bars.

“If you don’t go into prison with a mental health problem, then you’re very likely to pick one up while you’re there. And if you do have a pre-existing condition – and many people who come into prison do – it’s probably going to get worse while you’re inside.” So said the head of the mental health team at an Oxfordshire prison, speaking recently to yoga teachers at a training run by our charity, the Prison Phoenix Trust (PPT). Part of the PPT’s work is setting up yoga and meditation classes in prisons, training and supporting qualified teachers for this unusual work. There are currently 144 classes in 79 UK and Irish prisons.

Continue reading

10 ready-to-use solutions that will help schools meet Ofsted criteria for excellent playtimes

playtimesMichael Follett, author of Creating Excellence in Primary School Playtimes, provides 10 tips to help primary schools meet Ofsted criteria for excellent playtimes.

Imagine childhood without play. It sounds unthinkable but for around 50% of UK children school playtimes are the only time they get to play freely in an open space with their friends. When you think that out of 7 years at primary school, 1.4 of those years is time for play, it is clear that schools are ideally placed to enable children to access 180 days a year of great play opportunities.

As a former teacher, playworker and school improvement adviser I have dedicated the past 17 years to helping schools understand how to improve playtimes. It’s a great project as everyone wins, children are happier and healthier, teachers get more teaching time, leaders more leading time and playtime staff a much more satisfying job. So here are my top ten tips, condensed from my work developing the OPAL Primary Programme with over 200 schools in three continents.

1. Change your culture – A school that values play is a school that understands that play is essential to children’s physical and mental wellbeing and that the recipe for play requires some dirt, some risk, plenty of choices, quite a lot of freedom and a growing amount of trust. Once your school develops a culture of valuing play and understanding the simple conditions it requires to grow and flourish the rest is relatively easy.

2. Use what you have – OPAL’s research has revealed that the average primary school uses its field for between 8-16% of the 180 days there are in the school year. If you have space, don’t spend money on equipment until you find ways to use your valuable space for at least 80% of the year. (OPAL School’s average around 95%).

3. Put someone in charge – Good play in a school takes planning, resources and persistence. 20% of the school day will not improve itself. Traditionally schools dedicate very little leadership attention to the management of what is often the trickiest part of the school day to manage.

4. Be Generous – How many children are in your school – 100, 200, maybe 500? How many hours play is that a year? In a school of 200 children the answer is 160,000 play hours a year. So be generous – don’t build one play house build ten, don’t put in a sand table, build a beach! Children need lots of space and lots of stuff to avoid conflict at playtimes and access to plenty of fuel for their imaginations.

5. Make use of free stuff – Children much prefer to play with stuff than on things. They don’t really mind what you give them to play with, they just need lots of it. So don’t worry about asking the PTA to raise thousands to build a thing to play on, instead think about how you can provide children with many, many things to play with. We are not talking about toys, we are talking about the secret magic ingredients of play called loose parts, which is virtually anything you can think of that is safe enough to play with, from and empty box to an old pan or a bit of wood.

6. Use Nature – Nature changes every day, it re-grows, it is naturally calming and attractive to children. Instead of a play catalogue why not go to a garden centre and see what resources they have that would provide lots of open ended play value?

7. Provide Choices – What is the essence of play? It is surely the freedom to choose for yourself. To be able to decide for your own reasons and motivations where you go, who you play with and what you play with. Look around your playground. Is it an oasis of potential choices waiting to be discovered? The more variety on offer, the more freedom of choice actually means something.

8. Allow time – Play is a human right under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child Article 31 and every school has a legal and moral duty to implement the convention. So don’t regard playtime as a problem to be whittled away or used up with finishing work, but as an opportunity to provide an essential part of a good childhood.

9. Don’t waste your money – Children will always be attracted by newness, so any play equipment, however poor its play value, will be investigated by children for the first six weeks of its presence, but children are around school play equipment for around 1800 hours a year, for several years and it is only worth investing in capital equipment which will continue to present interest and challenge, building strength, fitness and coordination over a number of years, otherwise you are just buying very expensive benches to hang-out on.

10. Keep it up – Providing great play for every child should be the concern of every adult who cares about quality of childhood, because making play better in schools is not up to children, it is up to us the decision makers and power holders, the leaders, staff and parents. We are the people who are in charge; of their time, and their space, and the rules. Governments are not, and children cannot make us provide for their play, it must be done because we ourselves care about children having fun, joy and happiness.

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