mental health

Wellbeing and Winter

For a lot of us, it can be difficult to feel on top form during the colder months. Even if you are a winter fanatic, love all things Christmassy and get excited about what comes with the new year, it can still be difficult to manage wellness on cold and gloomy days. So, in anticipation of the winter blues/January blues/Monday blues/basically any unwanted blueness, I’ve worked up a checklist of things to help prioritise our wellbeing this winter.*

((*Note: This article isn’t medical advice. If you’re looking for more specific mental health material – check out the links at the end!))

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Diet and Nutrients

No, I’m not going to tell you to chuck out all the Christmas choccies! This isn’t about having an immaculate diet; what I suggest here is just keeping a mental note of when you last said ‘Hi’ to some fruit and veg. As we head into December and beyond, it can be tricky to keep on top of doing a healthy food shop – especially when there are so many tempting treats. Indulgence is fun, especially in the festive period, but do make sure to balance it out.

Our digestive system and brain are linked by the vagus nerve, and long story short (and all science averted because I don’t really get it), what we eat contributes to how we think and feel. As good old Saint Nick gets ready to do the rounds, by all means, head to the Quality Street! The praline triangles aren’t going to steal themselves. But remember to get in those greens and some vitamin C too. Similarly, because we lack so much sunlight during this time of year, if you’re someone who gets particularly down in the darker months, it could be worth picking up some vitamin D as well!

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Exercise

NO GYM REQUIRED. Fear not- this isn’t a you-must-start-a-spinning-class-and-go-to-boxercise-every-day article. Just get out and about. It doesn’t have to be a lot and it doesn’t have to be the same thing each time. In fact – the more variety the better. If you’re someone who likes exercise or sport then fab! Doing what you enjoy is a great way to get out of the house. It can be gross to go into *nature* when it’s cold and wet and windy, but when the weather is relatively calm, jump at the chance to go out and explore. Anything from a quick stroll to a little micro adventure to a local park.

Remember the Vitamin D we talked about earlier – making the most of the daylight hours is key when it is of limited availability. If you have a hobby that you can adapt to doing outside then use it as an excuse for a change of scenery. For example, photography or other artistic pursuits are a great way to explore outside and get some exercise in at the same time.

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The Power of Plants

There’s a lot of research to show that plants can have a positive effect on us. Having some greenery or flowers around the place can be a mood booster. Equally, having to care for a plant reminds us to care for ourselves. When we’re watering or feeding the plants, and making sure they get enough sunlight, it’s a casual reminder to make sure we pay attention to our own needs. Caring for something else and having that small responsibility with plants can also make us feel good and remind us that we are accomplishing things even if they’re small. (Also, they look really cute!!) 

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Another thing about FOOD

If you’re someone (like me) who finds it a drag to prepare food when your wellbeing isn’t amazing, here are some ideas. Find foods that minimise prep time and are good for you. For instance, yoghurts require zero effort and can be eaten whenever. Also, consider fresh veg and fruit that is in season and doesn’t need a lot of intervention. (And when you do feel like making stuff, stews are great, because they use all the in-season veg, you just leave the pot to do its thing, and you can freeze portions for ages.) Lastly, meal replacement powders (not weight-loss ones – just complete nutrient ones) could also be a solution for some people – I find them handy when my work schedule is a bit crazy or if I don’t have the energy for a big food shop.

In the new year, when everyone’s insisting they’ll start going to the gym, hating going back to work, and remembering how cold February is, this can all be handy to remember. Having quick fix food around that is not just junk food makes it much easier to look after yourself.

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Reach out!

We shouldn’t leave it until we’re actually feeling unwell or not taking care of ourselves to reach out to others. Make sure you check in with your loved ones over the winter period. This can be especially important if you live away from the rest of your family or are a university student away for the holidays. Reach out to close friends and make an effort to get together, or at least call for a catch-up.

Socialising can be difficult to organise over the Christmas period when people can be quite busy and public transport ceases to function, but come the new year when everyone’s aligning themselves with the ‘normal,’ it’s really important to make sure you’re maintaining those connections with people.

Depending on individual needs, doing what you love either solo or sharing it with friends can give you some well-needed space to relax – which does wonders for wellbeing.

Remember not to put your wellbeing on hold just because normality gets a bit suspended during Christmas and New Year, and opportunities to get out and about can seem to dwindle during winter as a whole. When considering your self-care regime, factor both your physical and mental wellness into it!

 

I hope this gets the ball rolling with some ideas you can utilise for maintaining wellbeing this winter. Below are some further sources of wellbeing advice, and also more distinct mental health resources:

https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/tips-for-everyday-living/wellbeing/#.W_24Yq2cbPA
https://www.wellbeingnands.co.uk
https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/improve-mental-wellbeing/
https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/blog/what-wellbeing-how-can-we-measure-it-and-how-can-we-support-people-improve-it
https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/things-to-do-this-weekend-to-boost-your-mental-wellbeing_uk_5bd2d714e4b0a8f17ef6413f?utm_hp_ref=uk-wellbeing
 

Words by Lauren Barnard for Anthem Online.
Images from Be Brain Fit, Mental Health Zen, Garden Collage, The Best Brain Possible and Practice Business.

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How To Be A Bystander

I went to a training course last week to learn about what I can do to improve my own wellbeing and the wellbeing of others. We talked about unconscious stereotyping, addressing people from minority backgrounds with respect and how their needs might differ from our own. Eventually, the speaker began talking about being a bystander to a negative situation. This really caught my attention. What could I possibly do to help? How do I know if I should intervene?

She told us the story of an 18 year old girl named Emily who ended her life after being physically and emotionally abused by her boyfriend. There were people in Emily’s life who knew that this abuse was going on, including friends. She even reached out to a student resident assistant before dropping it so as not to get her boyfriend in trouble. It is easy, with hindsight, to say ‘someone should have done something!’ but this has nothing to do with blame. I think we have all been guilty of standing by because we didn’t know what to do or how but it is this behaviour that allows things to escalate.

Take cases of severe sexual assault. It is, of course, true that not all men are rapists; if we take the whole population of men, the number who have sexually assaulted women is fairly small. But these offenders are protected by the many who affirm this behaviour with their catcalling and their ass-smacking and their ‘it’s a compliment’, and the people who witness this and do nothing, say nothing, never speak up just re-affirm this unsettling thinking. Our silence says, ‘It’s okay, you won’t get in trouble for this’.

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I’m not saying that it’s always a good idea to confront someone who is harassing another person. It’s not. In a lot of situations, it could make things worse – the harasser could get angrier, become more violent towards the victim or even target you – which is why I’m going to tell you the steps I learned to figure out what to do.

First, recognise the situation. Is there someone at risk or someone who is being threatening? Am I reading the situation correctly? Is it safe for me to intervene? Second, ask for help! Check if there is anyone around you who might be able to help diffuse the situation. This could make it safer for you to do so. Third, consider your group size. Is there enough people to safely intervene? As the saying goes, there is strength in numbers, so please do not try and approach on your own! Finally, be a role model. Often, people won’t do anything to help because they see others not doing anything, but you can be the person to pave the way (just not alone!). 

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I think it is important to point out here that being a helpful bystander does not always mean jumping to the rescue during a bad situation. Sometimes you can be more helpful afterwards by providing support, showing empathy and helping someone deal with a situation.

This is especially true now, with rates of sexual assault at university being horrifically high. A recent survey by Revolt Sexual Assault found that 62% of people who had gone to university had been sexually assaulted, with this rising to 70% when considering females alone. Outside of uni, there is evidence to suggest that men experience more emotional abuse from their partner compared to women whilst women reported more forced isolation.

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Being aware of these facts helps us appreciate the weight of the problem. No more ‘oh, it can’t be that bad,’ no more ‘it’s not my problem.’ We live in a society that has turned a blind eye under the pretence that it’s not our business. But violence, and especially relationship violence, is our business. Looking away is what allows things to spiral out of control until it’s too late. Don’t let it be.

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness month. Stand together. Help each other. Break the cycle.

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Words by Jessica Yang for Anthem Online.

Sources: The Guardian (2017), Revolt Sexual Assault survey (2018), Karakurt and Silver (2013) Emotional abuse in intimate relationships: The role of gender and age.

Image sources: itsonus.org, Sarah Newey for Revolt Sexual Assault, Google Images

 

How YouTubers Are Helping LGBT+ Sex Education

LGBT+ sex education in schools is limited at best, and most times non-existent. Despite the growing argument for more equal sex ed to be taught in schools, there is still a gap in the quality of information provided and the resources available for LGBT+ students.

I remember a PSHE lesson in high school, where we were handed out leaflets on safe sex. The first half of the page concerned sex between a man and a woman, whilst the other half was about safe sex between two men. I flipped over the page for the final section about lesbian sex only to find there wasn’t one. I stared blankly for a moment. Teenage me was angry at the fact that sexual relations between two women weren’t even acknowledged. Teenage me also had a mild panic because wHaT dO LeSbIAnS DO? I had so many questions at this age and I’d hoped to find out at least a little bit of info. Frequent googling and reading stuff about scissoring didn’t prove too helpful.

Fast forward ten years and luckily I’m a long way from high school. As a society, we’re now even more submerged in the digital revolution, and the YouTube era is well underway. Just a quick search brings up so much content on sex ed and, finally, content on sex ed that’s not heteronormative. Personally, I can be quite critical of social media, usually arguing it can cause more harm than good, and with the rapid development of social influencers and advertising through YouTube and other socials, I’m still wary of it. However, a lot of creators are posting really helpful content on the subject of sexual health, education and identity, and I find myself wishing I had some of these resources available as a kid. For Sex Ed September, I’ve made a quick rundown of a few of the users and their videos that give really helpful sex ed tips for the Lesbian/Bi community:

Stevie Boebi

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Stevie uses her own experiences to give advice and share personal stories, creating an open discussion surrounding sexual education/health. She’s also collaborated with health professionals. Some of the videos I found myself wishing I could have seen as a teenager include the Lesbian Sex 101 series, which talks about both pleasure and enjoyment of sex. She also does some myth-busting videos about sexual anatomy and ‘facts’ about lesbian sex. On her channel, Stevie also reflects on issues surrounding mental health, including a video about sex after trauma. Content such as this goes miles in taking away the stigma of talking about difficult issues. she also does Q&As answering viewers’ questions, therefore setting up a platform for people to learn from as well as the opportunity to ask things viewers otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to.

Sexplanations

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Dr Doe of Sexplanations offers great sexual health advice no matter what your sexual/gender identity. There is all sorts of medical info on this channel. The videos cover subjects from painful sex and sexual definitions, to genital piercings and dealing with shame. Sexplanations has a dedicated LGBT playlist section including videos on vulva confidence, sexual identities and trans sex.

Melanie Murphy

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Murphy boasts a whole variety of videos on her channel ranging from lifestyle to pms to mental health. Whilst not exclusively a sex educator, this Youtuber’s sexuality playlist contains a whole bunch of information relating to bisexuality: answering questions and chats, as well as discussions on bi-erasure that I myself learnt A LOT from in 10 minutes. You can also, very importantly, find information on this channel about contraception and safe sex, alongside masturbation, orgasms, vibrators, and relationship advice too.

Ash Hardell

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I am including Ash here because even though they don’t discuss sex ed directly, the nature of the topics you can find here are extremely helpful to the overall discussion of sexual health, identity and gender identity. Ash is AFAB (assigned female at birth), and genderqueer/trans non-binary. As they say in their July Video Why I’m Not A Boy, “Looks don’t equal gender”. As someone who has been frequently misgendered since I cut my hair – and apparently when I wear jeans – I now find myself relating to this a lot more than I thought I ever would!

Their videos chronicling their relationship with their body and their life in general go along way in expanding the conversation, allowing our awareness and knowledge of both ourselves and others to grow. I found this particularly useful as a reminder that there are so many alternative ways of being yourself, and so much more than we get told about in mainstream education.

Ash has a video (and book!) called the ABC’s of LGBT on their other channel with lots more LGBT content made with their wife Grace.

There are many many more people I could have included here. As well as these examples, a quick search for LGBT+ Youtubers that talk about sex/relationships brings up some hundreds of users, most notably nowthisisliving,  Rose and Rosie, Ingrid Nilsen, Ari Fitz, Amber’s Closet, MyHarto, Rowan Ellis, As/Is and UnsolicitedProject. Many users share coming out stories as well as relationship advice, providing relatable and informative media for the wider community.

Whilst some of these content creators mentioned are not specifically aimed at sex ed, I’d argue that sexual identity is a big part of sexual health education. Especially when we are young and growing up, trying to make sense of the world. We all have questions we might be embarrassed about asking and some of us might not have anyone to turn to. But with all the video content in social media literally at our fingertips, that situation is in some ways becoming a thing of the past. YouTubers have suddenly created a new form of celebrity and those who have younger teenage fan bases are fast becoming role models to a wider digital community, with the most-watched users garnering hundreds of thousands of subscribers and Instagram followers.

So even when LGBT+ content isn’t specifically created as sexual education, general visibility of the queer community is greatly helped by Youtubers. There is a conversation that has been given more voices because of this platform, and it is a necessary and worthwhile one.

Having video content so readily available on topics that are equal parts important and sensitive means that information on protection, health (both physical and mental) and education is accessible to pretty much anyone who can use the internet, regardless of how conservative or restrictive your home or school life is. It is especially important for people who are not out but can equally be utilised by people who are just interested in getting more information. 

Hopefully, with the increasing conversation around sexual education, young people will grow up equipped with the info they need and will be much more clued up than the confused gay girl in a rather crap 2008 PSHE lesson.

 

Words: Lauren Barnard
Images: YouTube, Stevie Boebi, Sexplanations, Melanie Murphy and Ash Hardell.
For September Sex Education Week on Anthem Online

Self-Harm Scars and Summer

There are always things that we see, hear, smell that make us think of a certain time in our lives, that bring back memories of joy or those that we’d really rather forget. When the thing that you’d rather forget is emblazoned all over your body it becomes rather difficult not to think about. But every day when I see my scars I’m thankful that now I don’t need to deal with my emotions by taking it out on my body, that waking up to another day is something that I enjoy. However, baring my scars in public does not come naturally to me and consequently, the summer can be a difficult time. Here are some of my thoughts on how you can help people with scars feel more comfortable this summer.

 

Top tip number 1:
People with scars should not have to hide them to make you feel comfortable.

No matter how far I have moved forward from that time in my life, learning to live with my self-harm scars and the way that others perceive me because of them is something I find difficult every day. Summertime and warm weather is my favourite thing, the sun streaming across my face fills me with joy. It also makes me very hot, which makes wearing long sleeves impractical. At the same time, I feel enormous pressure not to bare my scars, not because I’m embarrassed by them, but rather because of the way they make other people feel. I am always particularly conscious of children, who not knowing any better, may ask their parents about the origins which could lead to uncomfortable conversations. But this reason is not enough for me to have to hide my body.

 

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Top tip number 2:
Don’t stare, don’t raise your eyebrows, don’t say anything.

For most of the year I keep my arms covered, whether or not people are looking and passing judgement is irrelevant because it feels like everyone is staring and making assumptions about the type of person I am. I am not my depression, I do not need to be pitied, I do not need you to come and talk to me about ‘how brave I am’. What I need you to do is to ignore them. I do not presume that the way I feel about my scars is the same way that others do and some people may find words of encouragement useful but let those words come from the people closest to them. Wearing the darkest time of your life on your body for everybody to gawk at is not my summer wardrobe essential of choice but it is something I have to accept, and for the most part, I have.

 

Top tip number 3:
Do not presume to understand the way the individual feels about their scars.

When people talk about self-harm scars they’re normally divided into two groups, those who view them as battle scars- the thought of this makes me cringe but if this helps you learn to love your body that’s great! More often than not though they’re seen as something you should be embarrassed by. I recently got some of my scarring tattooed over. I never expressed my reasoning behind this to my tattooist, who is a lovely lady and I know her intention was not to make me feel this way, but she kept saying she wanted to make me ‘proud to wear my skin again’. Now whether or not this was her intention, this implied to me that I should be embarrassed by my scars, which I am not. Similarly, when I recently went for my driving theory test I was asked to remove my jacket. I requested that I keep it on because today wasn’t a day I was feeling too great about my scars and I didn’t want to have strangers I didn’t know staring at me. I took my jacket off and the man, slightly shocked, stuttered that I could put my jacket back on and that he was sorry and he didn’t realise. When I left he gave me a sympathetic nod and said sorry again, as if he had done something unconscionable, which again makes me feel as if there is something terribly wrong with my body despite knowing that he was just trying to be kind to me. These two recent interactions are commonplace for people with scars

 

Top tip number 4:
If you have self-harm scars you are far more aware of them than other people, so embrace every inch of your body.

Whether your scars are moderate or severe, everyone I know with scars is very conscious of their own, while others may never notice them. This is something I try to tell myself every day, the way I feel about my scars is not the way other people do. I often read into situations and apply meaning that isn’t there and I am very conscious of this but that doesn’t stop me from feeling as if people’s eyes are glued to my scars whenever I am out in short sleeves. Last summer was the first time in 6 years that I went out without the safety blanket of retreating into a jacket and it was so liberating. For the most part, people are too involved in their own lives to pay any attention to the lines on my body.

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Embracing my scars and enjoying the sunshine

There are always going to be situations in which I feel more or less comfortable bearing that part of myself, and that’s okay. Bearing your scars in public is a learning process, and recognising the situations when you may be massively uncomfortable is important. But don’t let your fear of other peoples judgement stop you from feeling liberated in your own body. And if you see anyone with scars remember to be respectful of them, their body owes you no explanation.

 

Words by Charlotte Morris-Davis
Images by Charlotte Morris-Davis and Logo TV

 

Likeability: An experiment into being more “popular”

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I have always been interested in Psychology, investigating why we do what we do and what influences our behaviour and thoughts. One of the most recent books I read because of this was Popular by Mitch Prinstein. It was an eye-opening analysis of popularity and how our early childhood and adolescent experiences with ‘popularity’ can have power over how we act today.

I use ‘popularity’ with inverted commas because the first thing I was surprised to learn was that there are actually two types of popularity that can be discerned from research. One is status based, and one is based on likability. A very brief overview is that whilst the popular crowd at school who we all longed to be in with had very high status, they were usually not very likeable. And whilst many of us become obsessed with striving for status, especially in the age of social media, it can be more rewarding to improve how likeable we are. This will not only affect how others perceive us but also how we feel about ourselves.

As a kid at school, I always felt as though I was on the sidelines, and from reading Popular it’s clear from my point of view that I would have fitted into the ‘Neglected’ social category. This means that I’m a textbook introvert, and as a teenager and for most of my adult life, I’ve dealt with social anxiety, so reading this book was extremely interesting when it came to describing ways we can change how we’re perceived by others and also how we think about ourselves.

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One of the book’s anecdotes I particularly appreciated involved the author having telephone conversations with various members of call centre staff to try and fix his internet. He informally conducted an experiment, deliberately making an effort to be polite and warm and interested to some call operators, whilst being curter with others. He then tested out being more positive in his day-to-day life. I was impressed by how different the author said he felt after making such changes and wanted to try it out for myself.

For the first few days, I did not make any deliberate changes to the way I behaved or acted. I did, however, jot down notes on who I had conversations with, and how often. After a few days, I started to change how I acted. Here are the small changes I made an effort to consciously adapt over the next week:

  • Be polite/positive in interactions with people. Whether it be family and friends, or someone over the phone, or a complete stranger who moves to let you past on the pavement.
  • Be interested in what the other person is saying.
  • Smile more.

To start, these simple things were the only 3 items I included. They sound basic and obvious (because they are) but they are things that sometimes slip or I don’t always pay attention to. Practising these three ways of approaching interactions with others, and life in general, had some interesting results…and a few situations stood out.

The first instance I recall was at a job interview. I’m not someone who naturally smiles a lot, and I have a severe case of ‘Resting Bitch Face’: not a great thing for a prospective employer to see. “Right,” I thought, as I went to introduce myself, “start smiling.” As the saying goes, smiles are contagious, and I definitely felt more at ease as the receptionist returned my smile. I paid attention to each interaction, even tiny stuff like being offered a drink. And not in the way of being obsessive or over analytical, just paying attention to how I conducted myself. It was very surprising how being attentive made me feel more present and actually took away some of my nerves, because I wasn’t allowing myself to overthink about where I was, and was instead focusing on who I was with.

I was surprised overall at the effect that these changes had in making me feel more grounded and present, and building up little likeable acts created a bigger picture that boosted my self-esteem.

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Before starting this, I was initiating 1 or 2 conversations a day, i.e. with a shop assistant, or other mandatory transactions when out and about (this is excluding conversations with people at home). Including these, the conversations themselves tended to be short. By the time I’d finished the next week, I made deliberate changes to the way I interacted – I was averaging about 6 conversations a day, including one I struck up with a randomer who sat on the same bench as me (which I would never have done in a million years).

As the number of conversations I participated in increased, I found that consciously being more aware of the way I interact lead to a number of discoveries:

  • Very quickly I was beginning to see interactions with others as opportunities rather than as chores. To start with I initiated conversations to observe what happened, but in the end, I just enjoyed having a chat and was more willing to learn about people I chatted to. Like the guy who runs our local convenience store or people I see walking their dogs in the morning. (The perks of living in a little town where it is customary to say ‘morning’ every five seconds came in handy here.)

  • I was less analytical of myself. If a social interaction got ‘fluffed up’ i.e. I got flustered and said something that didn’t come out right (which I do a lot), I made an effort to not be as hard on myself and laugh it off.
  • I found the more I try to maintain these ideals the more they become second nature. Instead of setting time aside to be conscious of these likeable factors, they started crossing over into work too. I found it less of a challenge to speak in meetings and was less nervous to ask questions and make suggestions. I was less hung up on being right and more concerned with attending to what was happening and being involved.
  • Making an effort to be more interested in what another person was telling me ended up in me being more interested in others generally. Asking questions, being present and discussing details with other people; whether it be chatting about family, work or some other topic like the latest Avengers movie ended up in providing the chance to strengthen my interpersonal relationships both professional & personal.

The more I strived to put effort into my day-to-day interactions, the more positive I felt. The littlest instances of finding out details of someone’s day or taking the time to thank someone where perhaps I usually wouldn’t have felt good and made me less socially anxious when initiating conversations.

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I am not saying that we could all do this, all of the time; or even that we should do. Obviously, there are still days when I’m not in a great mood or don’t feel like talking to anyone when I’ve gone out to run errands. However, being more mindful of how I present myself and how I listen to other people has surprisingly made it less daunting to be sociable. Which is interesting as this isn’t what I was intending to use it for, and was rather approaching it as a way of learning how to come across well. What I enjoyed the most about doing this is that it taught me how to listen more effectively. Now I make a better effort to really listen to what someone is saying to me and be present when I talk to them.

I’m also not saying for a minute that I’ve turned into a completely different person. There were still a couple of days throughout this week where I was exhausted from socialising. There are still times where I get pissed off by something or someone and the last thing I want to do is be interested and present so instead shut myself in my room and watch Netflix. What it has done however is make me more open to interactions with others. I still get anxious chatting to people, but I’ve seen some positive changes.

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Who knows if my efforts during this time have really made me more likeable? I definitely feel better about myself as a result, and I’ve noted changes in my own behaviours. Of course, I could just be coming off as a complete stalker who has an unhealthy interest in other people(!) but I hope that’s not the case.

After this experience I hope to continue my effort not to improve how ‘likeable’ I am but rather, to improve how confident and content I feel within myself.

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If anyone wants to read more here is a bad quality pic of the book ft. my thumb.

 

Words by Lauren Barnard for Anthem Online.
Images from Nathaniel Russel/Mitch Prinstein/NY Times, Explorying Your Mind, Robert Rolih, Salt 10.65 and Lauren Barnard.

Mental Health Myths

This week is Mental Health Awareness week! Fortunately, in recent years we have become a bit more open about mental health, however, there are still some stubborn myths that are sticking around. We’ve written up five of the most common misconceptions about anxiety and depression, along with our thoughts on how we can start to think differently about mental health.

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Mentally ill people are different:

With media hype around the ‘depression gene’ and the inaccurate stereotypes that are perpetuated by popular culture, it’s not hard to arrive at the idea that people who are depressed or experiencing mental illness are fundamentally different from those who do not.

Whilst some studies have shown that learning about so-called ‘depression genes’ can make people less likely to blame their friends for being depressed, the biological side of mental health is still a contentious subject. If we are not careful, we still run the risk of increasing the “perceived distance between those who are afflicted and those who are not”, even though the so-called ‘depression gene’ is only weakly linked with the condition.

It’s important to remember that anyone can be affected by depression, and in very different ways. Approximately one in four* of us are likely to experience some symptoms of a mental health disorder at some point in our lives, and even if we’re fortunate enough not to, we should remember that people experiencing struggles with mental health should not be viewed as ‘other.’

 

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People with depression are always sad:

Like any illness, people with depression or anxiety can have good days and bad days, and what seems easy to them one day may seem totally impossible for them at another time.

Whilst someone suffering from depression or anxiety might have messy hair, unkempt clothing and seem to be on the verge of crying at all times, they may also be well dressed, smiley and talkative. A person may put a lot of effort into hiding the symptoms or effects of what they’re going through, and it’s important not to discount someone’s experiences simply because they don’t match up to preconceived stereotypes.

 

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Meds are bad:

Contrary to popular opinion, taking medication for mental health problems does not turn you into a constantly-smiling zombie-person! Medication can be a very effective treatment, either alongside therapy and other treatments or on its own. I was a little nervous to try medication for the first time because of all the horror stories I’d heard, but it turned out to be just what I needed. It’s important to note that whilst it is awesome if medication can alleviate your symptoms, if you find it is not working for you, speak to your doctor and you can explore different medications and treatment options.

 

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Young people are just ‘being teenagers:’

We’re often told that childhood and adolescence are times that are carefree and fun, and children and teenagers can be perceived by older generations as not having any responsibilities or ‘real problems.’ Whilst this may be true to an extent, it doesn’t mean young people are immune to mental health problems or their experiences aren’t as serious. The Mental Health Foundation says that “Depression is the predominant mental health problem worldwide” and one study found that “ in 2014, 19.7% of people in the UK aged 16 and older showed symptoms of anxiety or depression.”

From personal experience growing up, many of my problems that I now recognise as relating to my later diagnosed depression & anxiety, were chalked up to “being a teenager” and going through puberty. Family members were quick to judge my behaviour as being a stroppy teenager (which I definitely was sometimes!), rather than being open to discussing depression. Only when I took myself to see a health professional did they begin to consider other ideas. This is something I have heard similar stories about from other friends and forums online, and we need to remain aware that mental health can affect people of any age. Young people need mental health support even if the problems they are going through might not seem ‘real’ to someone else.

 

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Mental illness is a choice or phase:

If you’ve ever had the privilege of having a well-meaning but uninformed person give you such sage advice as “just be positive!” or “you’ve got so much to be happy about!” in relation to your anxiety or depression or [insert pretty much any mood disorder here] then you’ll know the frustration of trying to explain that your mental health is not something you’ve just decided to let go of or struggle with.

However, this isn’t just from the perspective of someone who is not mentally ill judging someone who is. It is important to remember that just like most things, mental health is a spectrum, and if you have been through issues yourself, it still doesn’t mean you can expect to know how another person feels, or that what worked to help you will work for them.

The best thing we can do is be supportive and listen. Try not to adopt the view that someone who is depressed or anxious is not helping themselves enough; everyone’s journey is different and it is important that we respect people living with mental health issues as we would anyone else.

The conversation surrounding mental health has come so far in recent years, but there’s still room for improvement. As long as we keep on talking to each other we can keep learning, and that’s always a good thing.

 

Words by Ellie Cook and Lauren Barnard
Images by House with No Steps, Texvet.org, The Odyssey Online, Pranita Kocharekar and Getty Images/ThinkStock. 

References:
https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/fundamental-facts-about-mental-health-2016
Heine, S.J. (2017) DNA is Not Destiny W.W. Norton & Company
https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/statistics-and-facts-about-mental-health/how-common-are-mental-health-problems/#.Wvta94jwbIU *

Sex Drive and Sadness

The side effects and symptoms of depression and anxiety can seep into every nook of your life. They can destroy your confidence, your energy levels, you can lose your social life, and your sex life can disappear. Those who suffer from mental health issues such as depression and anxiety can watch their sex life suffer and not understand why. You can sit by as you watch your relationship fall apart, or you can’t quite find your confidence to keep the lights on and remove your clothes in front of someone else. You can think that you don’t feel the same wants and needs that everyone else around you apparently feels, or not be able to pinpoint what exactly in you has changed yet nothing feels the same.

One of the less discussed yet still debilitating side effects of depression is a loss of libido. This can destroy relationships, the sufferer may not feel that they are providing their partner with everything that they want and need and therefore can acquire a sense of guilt and not feel like an adequate partner. This does not come from a lack of love for the partner, but relates to the struggle to enjoy life in the same ways that they used to. This is normal. At a time when they may feel that everything tastes of nothing and there isn’t quite anything that makes them feel strongly about something anymore, a lack of sex drive is perfectly understandable. They can still be head over heels for someone but not feel any urge to have sex anymore, they are intrinsically different things. Discussing this with the partner may make things a little easier for them to understand; communication is important in order for someone to understand what you are truly thinking. 

Another consequence of depression and anxiety can be a feeling of low self-confidence and low self-esteem. The thought of letting someone else see your body can be stomach churning, and the idea that they may find you attractive is baffling, but part of the self-care, if you have a mental illness, is to learn to fall in love with your body and to learn to find peace with yourself. If you aren’t currently okay with letting someone else see you fully naked, then build on it over time and learn where to draw the line of how comfortable you are. Never force yourself to do something because you feel like you should be doing it. If you are uncomfortable with something, work out why you feel that way and try to solve it or work around it.

Give yourself time, don’t force yourself into something that you are not comfortable with. You’re not alone in these feelings and looking after your mental health will help ensure that you have a healthy sex life. Don’t forget that every person has a different sex drive; what is normal for one person may be much higher or much lower than yours, having a dip is therefore normal for you. As with any issue discussed this week, if something is particularly worrying you, take time to go to the doctors so that you can talk about it.

 

Words by Beth Farrell
Part of the September Sex Education Week, 2017.