Monday, 26 September 2016

Increasing Mental Wealth at City Lit

The Mental Wealth Festival 2016 took place on 13-15 September 2016 at City Lit in Covent Garden. The event highlighted the way mental health issues impact  many features of daily life, and how the arts, politics, culture, faith and the media can support ‘mental wealth’.
I went along to the City Lit with a full list of workshops and presentations to attend. The choice was a diverse range of speakers and subjects covering topics from an academic perspective through to practical skills.

The festival featured 70 events with high profile speakers such as Ruby Wax, Alastair Campbell, Hugh Grant, Paul Dolan and Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor rubbing shoulders with lesser known but equally exciting presenters.
As is often the case at these events I feel that attending one session leaves me with the feeling of having missed out; this festival had it all. And I wanted to do it all! I missed the chance to witness three members of the House of Lords take part in lunchtime tai-chi, I didn’t get to any sessions on the links between money and mental health or get a chance to take part in any of the creative workshops.  Therefore this post is skewed as I can only share personal thoughts  of the event. The festival produced a host of ideas for topics, lists of questions, people I want to interview and a general feeling of needing to do more.  The question that I have been left with relates to the importance of how we can all raise awareness and reduce stigma around our mental health?

I shall be expanding my reflections in future posts, but in a nut shell this is what I discovered:

Session: Changing Minds through Neuroscience Inspired Fashion - Sandy Walker 

Sandy Walker, from the Faculty of Health and Sciences at the University of Southampton, shared the work that students from Winchester School of Art have produced by collaborating with the Southampton Neuroscience Group. This project aims to address the stigma and misconceptions surrounding mental health through fashion design. The students have an opportunity to visit the neuroscience department and learn about the brain patterns created in patients with mental health issues such as bi-polar disease, dementia, and Parkinson’s, they then decide which issue they wish to learn more about and are connected to someone with the condition via the Human Library. The final part of the project involves responding to all the have discovered by producing a garment  that reflects the physiological and psychological, the science and the human, in clothes that communicate what it is like to have that condition. The finished garments are a diverse collection. Some students took the images of the brain to create intricate textile designs, others responded with powerful garments that restricted the wearer. The collection was shown as a fashion show and was on show at the city lit during the festival.

Find out more here:

Takeaways: Could the model of this collaboration be used by other fashion education or Art departments to increase awareness of mental health issues?
How did it feel to wear the garments?
Can I interview the models to find out their phenomenological embodied experience of wearing ‘schizophrenia’ or ‘dementia’?
How did the human library participants feel about the finished collection?
What was the lasting impact (if any) on the student who took part?
The resulting garments were strong and emotional; I felt moved by the stories reworked in fabric. I had a visceral response, particular as I imagined myself wearing each outfit and how that would make me feel; trapped, misunderstood, angry, and vulnerable. The tactile nature of clothes, the way they connect with our bodies and our emotions, enclothed cognition, can shape different ways to approach opening up a dialogue about mental health.
Could this idea be extended to a younger group, school age, to create understanding?

Session:  An Artist’s Tale: Michael Nicholson in conversation with Dr Roger Banks

Roger introduced Mike’s work as a graphic artist, his Ensixteen Editions projects and how he came to be an illustrator for Books Beyond Words. The relationship between authors (Roger) and illustrators (Mike), the way in which we translate images into meaning, how we read a blank screen to create a narrative and what does a picture ‘say’, were all explored in words and pictures.
The evolution of an idea into a tangible book charted the collaboration, team work and testing process involved in the process of creating a book beyond words.
Books Beyond Words was formed 1989 by Baroness Sheila Hollins to help people with developmental learning disabilities to understand their emotions, to help people talk about or understand adult feelings and adult experiences. Forty five titles have been published since 1989, and all have been co-produced with people who find pictures easier than words, with family carers, support staff and professionals.

Find out more here:

Books Beyond Words provide a valuable resource for expanding understanding to a population who may not be able to access traditional routes to acquire knowledge. Pictures offer emotions a chance to escape.
How can I use images in my work to bring about change in my clients or to facilitate discussions about emotional issues?
What stories do I tell myself when I see a piece of Art? How do I read an illustration? What about the artists’ intention?
Continuity of character by using the same colours throughout make it easier to form a relationship.

Session: Fiona Wilson – Emotions, Identity and the Self Fulfilling Prophecy

Fiona Wilson, a teacher and lecturer at St Mary's University, Twickenham, led this workshop to explore how our perceptions of self are formed by our emotions and how these in turn inform our patterns of behaviour. Fiona explained how she had moved from Emotional Literacy to Emotional Wisdom, the value of listening, watching and learning form children, how we stack our experiences to skew our understanding of ‘now’ and how ninety seconds is all we have of an experience, then rest being imagination. (The content of this workshop needs 3000 words of its own to do it justice, I will come back to this later)

Find out more here:

We can’t out-think a feeling; we have to out-feel a feeling.
We see what we look for and hear what we listen for.
When our imagination habitually sabotages our minds our brains create pathways that biologically become traits.
Imagination is what keeps an experience going.
How can we harness reframing to become self-authors of the story we want to create?
We need to meet ourselves with forgiveness, kindness and compassion

Session: Alastair Campbell, mental health campaigner and an ambassador for Rethink and Mind in conversation with Mark Malcomson, Principal of City Lit

Drawing on his own experiences, Alastair Campbell discussed his own mental health issues, and how he works to help break down the stigma around mental illness. He was exceptionally open about his breakdown, the impact this had on his family and career and the support he received from colleagues. Tony Blair's response when Alastair introduced his mental health issues, “I’m not bothered, if you’re not bothered “, was a lesson in trust and instincts when making decisions. Alastair explained that he feels experienced mental health problems  better qualifies him  to take on challenging roles;  he has overcome ‘stuff’ in his life, he is more resilient and understanding. How would it be if we could all be this open about our emotional battles? What would a world look and feel like if this were the norm?

Find out more here:

My takeaways:
Football is vital to the mental health of some people. Music too.
Why do we say it’s brave to talk about mental health?
Honesty and openness are the tools for eliminating stigma about mental health issues.
Resilience can be learnt; it’s about managing your life.
Why don’t we send get well cards and flowers when people have had a breakdown?
There is a difference between ‘being humbled’ and ‘being humiliated’.

Session: Professor Paul Dolan, LSE professor and author of bestselling book Happiness by Design in conversation with Mark Malcomson, Principal of City Lit

Paul began by clarifying the confusion around what we mean by happiness. How in order to create the feeling of life being good we need to balance the simple pleasure feelings, the positive emotions, and the purposeful, meaningful sense of fulfilment. He expanded the idea that ‘negative’ emotions can feel ‘good’ that anger can be a driver for change and that it is our everyday life that makes us happy not necessarily the big things that we think should make us happy.

Find out more here:

We all have a choice to make life purposeful; it can be whatever works for you.
The human condition is to seek out meaning.
Reminder: research is MEsearch.
Academics may not be so hot on pleasure but expert on purpose.
Find your own happiness maximiser experiences, they are entirely subjective.
It is healthy to have appropriate responses to situations.
We need light touch interventions around sorrow
The narrative of trauma doesn’t leave room for  those who experience trauma not to experience their life to be devastated.

Session: Reframing the Debate - A Discussion on Press Intrusion
 – Katie Traxton

Katie showed a short trailer of her documentary on press intrusion. The film reflects on the feelings of key players almost four years after the Leveson Inquiry.  Katie Traxton handles the subject with sensitivity; she manages to create a sense of healing by allowing the subjects of the film a platform to share the deep emotions that the media intrusion caused in their lives.  The effects on mental well-being of the victims of press intrusion deserve more investigation. I would love to write more about this but the documentary is yet to be released and the feelings shared in the room at this session were not for public airing

Find out more here:

How can we support victims of press intrusion without furthering the sense that we are consuming their stories for our own pleasure?
What role does education have in changing the manner in which we devour sensational news?
Is it possible to restore ethics in journalism?
What can be done to assist young journalists when entering the ‘business of media’ so they are able to challenge the status-quo without fear of losing commissions?
Can Positive Psychology, and Positive Occupational Psychology enter the spaces in which news is made to change the culture from the top down?

Session: Empathy in Action- Baroness Sheila Hollins

Baroness Hollins shared reflections of her approach to wellbeing within her life and work, with compassion as ‘empathy in action’ central to her approach.  She asked us to question our own assumptions about what constitutes a caring society; why is there a lack of compassion in human services? How could we redress this? How do you avoid burnout in caring roles? Who looks after the carers? What will happen if you don’t look after those who are expected to care? When do those inner resources needed to care for others get a chance to be replenished? Baroness Hollins belief is that Mental Wealth is about relationships, and in those caring relationships what is the difference between caring about and caring for?

Find out more here:

GRACE  is the path  to wellbeing: daily practices of giving, receiving, activity, creating and engagement.
Listening means you are able to find out what someone wants rather than giving them what you think they should want.
We can be taught to be more empathic – training medical students in empathy generates quicker recovery in patients.
Individual compassion needs to be supported with an empathic environment.
How can we create a culture of compassion?


Session: Tools To Live By: How to listen and connect to others - with Ruby Wax

In this culture we’re over-whelmed, over-loaded, over-stimulated, which takes us out of our minds.  Ruby guided the audience through simple mindfulness practices and explained how mindfulness helped her to regain her mental wealth.  She talked about how to de-frazzle; techniques to find your own braking system and highlighted that we can only connect with others when we’re able to think clearly and calmly. 

Find out more here:

Gloria Gaynor was wrong; I am not what I am, I can be other things due to neuroplasticity.
Become a watcher of thoughts rather than a victim to them. Achieve this by cultivating mindfulness.
Notice ‘this are just my thoughts’ and allow a gap between the thinking and the action.
It only takes five minutes of mindfulness a day to build mindful-muscle.
Walk to get into your body and out of your mind.

Session: Rachel Kelly “How to Walk on Sunshine” Workshop

Rachel Kelly asked the audience to stand if they had experienced mental health problems or had close family or friends who did. Not surprisingly at an event on mental health, everyone stood up. She then asked those who felt they had been able to share openly those experiences to remain standing, there were a handful who didn’t sit. Rachel’s journey back from depression and stress related mental health problems involved a variety of strategies relating to both body and mind. During this workshop we were able to experience a taster of some of the things which worked for Rachel and which can easily be incorporated in to daily life. Rachel’s steps are simple, don’t require time or money and can be adapted to make for personal habits that help our Mental Wealth, fostering resilience and making life fun again.

Find out more here:

When you focus on your breathe you can’t worry about the future or stress about the past. You can only breath in the now.
Nutrition research is likely to offer new mental health solutions in the near future.
Gut health changes our moods; an imbalance In the stomach creates stress in the brain.
90% of serotonin produced in the body is made in the stomach.
Happy foods are dark green leafy vegetables, omega3s and real chocolate.

Session: What is #MentalMovement? 

Technically not a session,#MentalMovement  had a stand at the festival but as I spent over an hour talking to the founders, Steph and Emma, I felt as if I had been at a presentation.  I hope they are able to deliver a keynote speech next year because the work they are doing is, in my opinion, fundamental to changing the way we can change views on mental health when we enable creativity, communication, and collaboration to flourish.
 #MentalMovement wants to challenge and re-address the way mental health is dealt with and portrayed.  It is online platform created by writers who have been or are currently, struggling with or have had a personal experience of mental health.
The stories are inspiring, uplifting, funny, engaging and the content is positive in its approach to mental well-being, there is nothing preachy about what they do. #MentalMovement also looks great, the design is fresh and appealing, and the print version should be in every venue where young people gather. If I were a student I wouldn’t feel so alone if I spotted someone else reading #MentalMovement  even if I didn’t quite have the courage to ask how that person felt, I would feel that we are all in this together. There is something powerfully enlightening in #MentalMovement

Find out more here:

Can mental health content be approached in a new way without demeaning the pain of the actual experience?
What do we need to do to reach young people in their own spaces to make it Ok to share?
Being brave can sometimes be overwhelming?
How can I listen in a way that doesn’t feel intrusive?
What is the most effective way to support people when they are in the turmoil of mental confusion?
Which Positive Psychology Interventions, if any, are most suitable to be adapted in order to be relevant to this section of society?
How can we make the way easier in the future to accept that mental health is part of life and that sharing our stories of troubled times decreases the power they have over us?

Final Thoughts

I meet some incredibly inspiring people who were very honest and willing to share their mental health challenges. This event was unique (in my experience) in creating a community of individuals all being given an equal voice to express their opinions on how we create, change and tackle our individual well being, as well as how we manage collective mental wealth. I heard experts share personal stories of battling with depression, anxiety and addiction alongside the views of mental health service ‘users’ who have a treasure trove of  ideas as to improving the manner in which they could be helped towards better well-being. I saw raw emotions expressed with authenticity and received with non-judgement and compassion.  The festival felt like a micro-climate of a caring culture of mental health, a way forward to create a vision of a safe environment in which we are allowed to communicate the full range of humanness. As a positive psychologist others occasionally assume I don’t do ‘negative feelings’, PP however poses questions relating to the way we need the full rich range of emotions in order to flourish; to embrace every aspect of our psychologically make up in order to explore the potential we all have.  The Mental Wealth Festival challenged me to examine my personal beliefs and attitudes towards my own, and others mental well-being.  There is so much we can do to get this message out. Thank you to everyone involved in creating the Mental Wealth Festival. 

Takeaway:  What can I do to help?

As an individual I start with myself; I can share my stories, my hopes, and my strategies for mental wealth. I can lead by example.

As a researcher I can find ways to make my studies relevant and tangible to increase others mental wealth.

As a coach I can be there to listen and support.

I can always lighten the burden by bringing the topic around to the positive impact of shoes on our mental health. (Which I did at the end of Paul Dolan’s talk hence the photo!)

I’m not a social media ‘expert’ (my tee-shirt states ‘I don’t know’) but I do feel that it can be harnessed to get a positive message across - Is there a story you would like to share that could help others? I’d love to help you to share it.

Thank you
Photo credit: Philip Hardman Photography 
Everyone at BooksBeyondWords

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Applying research based lessons to one’s own life

Being a bit of a ‘wannabe’ academic I like attend anything and everything in London which will further my understanding of psychology. This week I went along to the London & Home counties branch of the British Psychology Society to find out more about applying psychology research to my own life. The ‘Applied’ aspect of the MAPPCP I am studying is my favourite feature of the course, given a chance I will experiment on myself all the time. Any new intervention I come across is added to my growing list of ‘How to be Happy’. There is no rationale for this, whatever works for me I apply. I didn’t conduct a baseline test of my SWB before MAPP but I have a  feeling that I have  grown in wellbeing whilst studying at UEL; I’m bouncier , more confident, even cheerier than I previously was. I feel more ME.

The first speaker was Christian Jarrett, sharing tips for using psychology to get people to do what you want. Not in the least unethical apparently. We are allowed as Psychologists to use this knowledge to get our own way. Isn’t that amazing? 
We can legitimately carry out slightly dodgy ‘studies’ to prove that people’s power of persuasion can be replicated. My favourite piece of research that Christian shared related to some male French researchers getting girls phone numbers or asking them to dance by lightly touching them on the arm. Waiters also use this trick to get a bigger tip!
It’s also very useful to know that if you apologise for the rain then ask if you can borrow someone’s phone they are more likely to comply and you if scare someone before asking for a favour they may well agree as fear creates a distraction. Playing happy background music that is familiar to the listener has a similar power and you can ward off possible muggers by utilising the theory of interpersonal complementarity.

Christian Jarrett’s  5 top tips for getting what you want
  •        Utilise interpersonal complementarity 

My takeaway was people are more obedient than you think and you are more persuasive than you think, but at the end of the day manners and saying please when asking for a request really does the trick.
I’m wondering how to incorporate all of the above into getting my own way more often so if I bump into you in the street and pretend I know you, touch your arm as I say sorry for the awful weather whilst humming ‘singing in the rain’  then ask to borrow a fiver please …well you’ve been warned!

The second speaker of the evening was Dr Aneta Tunariu who spoke of her own experiences in learning to become a psychologist and how she applied each aspect of her training to her own life. The phrase that really resonated with me was ‘to develop professionally is to develop personally’. I feel that the process of being in positive psychology education has made me a better person; I am not only more intellectually aware but my emotional intelligence is greater, in applying  PP interventions to my own life I am becoming the version of myself I had  hoped was there all along.  In overcoming my academic limitations I have “strengthened and expanded my resilience as an adaptation to the environment”  which Aneta explains as happening when we are mindful of -

  •          What I am
  •          What I can
  •       What I have
  •          Choice: responsibility to choose and my own choice.
Aneta also talked of the links with positive emotions, wellbeing and personal growth, sharing Barabra Fredricksons research results and how they can be applied. I need to work on getting my positivity ratio up to the magic 3:1! 
iNEAR is Aneta's  recently designed psychological intervention informed by existential philosophy, positive psychology, developmental coaching, social psychology and psychotherapy. It has been successfully piloted at a large school in South East England and is also being tested as a framework for positive psychology coaching. 

My favourite takeaway from her presentation was her parting slide ‘ We first develop habits then habits develop us’. I think one of the ways that I have applied research based lessons to my own personal growth is by acquiring the habit of mindfulness and mindfulness has developed me towards being kinder, more compassionate, more understanding and I have gained greater clarity. Good habits make us happy. If research can inform us how to cultivate habits that make us, and the world around us, better then I will happily try them out and may even try to come up with some new studies to provide supporting evidence.

I would love to hear how you make research work for you? Have you tried any awesome PPIs? Does your own research provide you with new ways of being?
Let me know what works and how?