This page shows the latest items from the Guardian Mental Health newsfeed.
Cost of cross-border care doubles in four years amid beds shortage, figures show
A severe shortage of beds for patients with life-threatening eating disorders has forced the NHS to send more than 100 patients from England to Scotland for treatment since 2016, the Guardian can reveal.
At least 154 vulnerable patients, mainly women and some teenagers, had to travel hundreds of miles from their homes in order to receive residential care in Glasgow and Edinburgh, costing the NHS millions of pounds annually.
I have a radical proposal for tackling the mental health crisis. Let’s just stop talking about stigma. I’m not suggesting stigma isn’t a problem. I’ve written about it myself. But all this talk of stigma has become a politically convenient red herring.
It is another way of locating the problem in the individual, “If only he’d felt able to talk …”, and in the attitudes of others towards the individual, rather than where a very large portion of it belongs: in government policy. From attempts to demonise people on sickness benefits as morally inferior scroungers, to the decimation of social care and mental health services, to repeated failures to heed the warnings of mental health professionals, activists and carers, to the devastating impact of welfare reforms, successive Conservative governments have failed people with mental health difficulties at every conceivable turn. Not surprisingly, Theresa May wields the great stigma decoy at every opportunity. “We can end the stigma that has forced too many to suffer in silence and prevent the tragedy of suicide taking too many lives,” she said last week at a Downing Street reception to mark World Mental Health Day, where she also announced the appointment of a new minister for suicide prevention (Perhaps we can all talk to her?), and “up to” £1.8m for the Samaritans.
If people are so reluctant to seek help, why are the waiting lists so long?
A range of initiatives for social workers aim to improve understanding of the problem
The scale of self-harm among young people is beyond worrying: a study published recently found that almost one in four girls aged 14 self-harmed in the past year. In the same month, the NHS reported that the number of girls aged under 18 admitted to hospital in England after self-harming had nearly doubled in the past 20 years.
Dig into what’s driving this crisis and experts working in children’s mental health will flag up a range of factors. “Part of the blame is down to higher demands from society,” argues Dr Maite Ferrin, a locum consultant psychiatrist at Haringey Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service. “Young people are being asked to be successful and good-looking and show that life is perfect [on social media].” Another alarming reason is peer pressure. “There’s a tendency for some [young] people to self-harm as a way to fit into a group because the rest of the peer are self-harming,” says Ferrin, who also works at Re:Cognition Health.
The vast majority of young people involved in self-harming behaviours will not be presenting to hospitals
In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international suicide helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org.
‘Rebecca’ endured 18 months in jail because there was nowhere for her to go, says Victoria ombudsman, in a case ruled ‘unjust and oppressive’
A 39-year-old mentally impaired woman spent 18 months in a Victorian prison locked in solitary confinement for up to 23 hours a day, screaming with distress for hours on end.
The Victorian ombudsman, Deborah Glass, described the woman’s case as the saddest she had ever investigated. In a report tabled to parliament on Tuesday, Glass described the woman’s long and damaging imprisonment at the Dame Phyllis Frost Centre west of Melbourne as an “unjust, oppressive, improperly discriminatory and wrong” breach of her human rights.
All-party report says patients forced to visit A&E as core services in England deteriorate
Growing numbers of people who experience a mental health crisis are having to visit A&E or are detained for their own safety because NHS services to help them are deteriorating, MPs and peers have warned.
The 700,000 people in England with severe mental health problems such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder also face increased delays to get treatment, they said.
Gary Greenberg’s beautifully written but flawed account of the first two years of the Trump presidency highlights the limitations of using psychoanalytic concepts to explain wider political and social developments (Analyse this, The long read, 12 October).
Far from Trumpism representing the return of “our archaic heritage”, our deep instinctual need to “consume, to pillage, to destroy, to wall out our neighbours and to hate people living in shitholes”, it is rather, like Brexit, a response to 30 years of neoliberal inequality and increased exploitation, an era during which millions of people both here and in the US have seen their lives get worse and their dreams evaporate.
Australian GPs lambast ‘deliberate government policy which is causing the pain and suffering of these children’
Australian doctors are ramping up their campaign to have children in detention immediately removed from Nauru.
Australian Medical Association paediatric representative Dr Paul Bauert, who has treated patients on Nauru, said it was an “unconscionable” situation that could be easily avoided.
“I poured my heart and soul into football and all I got in return was money. That might sound strange to some people, but it’s true.” In a world where more and more professional sportsmen and women are increasingly comfortable discussing the psychological demons which plague them, the former footballer Brian Lenihan gave an extraordinary, at times chilling and vitally important interview that was broadcast last week.
Speaking to his compatriot and fellow former professional Richie Sadlier on the Player’s Chair section of the popular Second Captains World Service podcast, the 24-year-old explained how he had been living the dream – his dream, my dream and quite possibly your dream – as a young Irish player making his way in the English professional game. Having left Cork City, his hometown club, to join Hull City in 2014, the midfielder received his first call-up to the Republic of Ireland senior squad soon afterwards. Lenihan described the week he spent rubbing shoulders with Robbie Keane and others as “the best feeling ever”.
Evidence suggests memory decline can be slowed and even reversed by adopting a few healthy lifestyle habits
Brain health is key to successful ageing, and it involves several mental functions including memory, reasoning and planning. Memory defines who we are – without memory we have no past, cannot plan for the future and are unable to enjoy the present. Our reasoning and planning skills help us create and maintain healthy lifestyle habits that protect our bodies and minds.
People are living much longer than ever before. Those born in 1900 would have been lucky to reach their 50th birthday. Today, life expectancy in many countries exceeds 80, but unfortunately age-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s and diabetes can diminish quality of life.
We check our phones every 12 minutes, often just after waking up. Always-on behaviour is harmful to long-term mental health, and we need to learn to the hit the pause button
It is difficult to imagine life before our personal and professional worlds were so dominated and “switched on” via smartphones and the other devices that make us accessible and, crucially, so easily distractible and interruptible every second of the day. This constant fragmentation of our time and concentration has become the new normal, to which we have adapted with ease, but there is a downside: more and more experts are telling us that these interruptions and distractions have eroded our ability to concentrate.
We have known for a long time that repeated interruptions affect concentration. In 2005, research carried out by Dr Glenn Wilson at London’s Institute of Psychiatry found that persistent interruptions and distractions at work had a profound effect. Those distracted by emails and phone calls saw a 10-point fall in their IQ, twice that found in studies on the impact of smoking marijuana. More than half of the 1,100 participants said they always responded to an email immediately or as soon as possible, while 21% admitted they would interrupt a meeting to do so. Constant interruptions can have the same effect as the loss of a night’s sleep.
Lie comfortably on the floor, knees bent, chin tucked in – what Alexander Technique teachers call the “constructive rest position” – or sit upright in a chair, legs uncrossed, feet flat on the floor.
Consciously relax your neck and drop your shoulders, rest your arms by your sides with your palms turned upwards.
Breathe long and gently through your nose, into your belly until you see it gently rise, for a slow count of five.
Pause, and hold that breath for a count of five, then gently exhale through your mouth for another count of five.
While doing this, try to clear your mind of all other thoughts, or if this is difficult close your eyes and visualise a pebble dropping into a pool of water and gently sinking down.
Repeat this breathing cycle 10 times; then see how your regular breathing adjusts.
You can also use this breathing technique at any time you feel tense or stressed, or as the basis of any meditation.
Morrison government gives $52m to Headspace, including $12.8m for online support to youngsters in rural areas
Australia’s mental health services will receive a $52m boost in an attempt to cut waiting times for desperate teenagers struggling with anxiety or depression.
The government has announced extra funding for the national youth mental health foundation Headspace, aimed at allowing it to employ more staff and provide 14,000 extra services at its 107 centres across the country.
In the winter of 1897 a surgeon aboard the first research ship ever to spend a whole winter in Antarctic waters observed a worrying affliction among his crewmates. “The men were incapable of concentration, and unable to continue prolonged thought,” wrote Frederick A Cook of his time aboard the Belgica. “One sailor was forced to the verge of insanity but he recovered with the returning sun.”
Given that the darkness of a polar winter can last up to six months, this was no small problem, as a new book makes clear. Among the heroes in Icy Graves: Exploration and Death in the Antarctic are many who buckled under a strain to which few would – or could – openly admit.
Lifestyle habits matter when it comes to brain health, and the rewards of increased mental stimulation can be seen in a very short space of time
Sharon, a 46-year-old single mother of three teenagers, came to see me about her increasing forgetfulness. Working full-time and managing her household was becoming overwhelming for her, and she was misplacing lunchboxes, missing appointments and having trouble focusing her attention. She was worried because her grandmother got Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 79, and Sharon felt she might be getting it too – just a lot younger. I said it was highly unlikely that Sharon was suffering from early-onset dementia, but I agreed to evaluate her.
Whenever I consult with people about their middle-aged pauses, I first check for physical conditions or medication side-effects that might be affecting their brain health. Left untreated, high cholesterol, hypertension and other age-related illnesses can worsen memory, increase the risk of dementia, and shorten life expectancy. I also review their daily lifestyle habits to see if there are any areas they can improve to boost their brain health.
The human brain is made of food, so what we eat and drink affects our ability to keep a healthy, alert and active mind
We all intuitively appreciate that the foods we eat shape our thoughts, actions, emotions and behaviour. When you are feeling low, you reach for chocolate; when you are tired, you crave coffee. We all use food to soothe our moods and clear our heads without seeming to think much about it.
Yet the focus of most diets is on the way we look rather than the way we think. This is in part due to western society’s fascination with appearance, and medicine’s bias towards drugs and surgery. In fact, contemporary medicine often disregards the ways that our diet helps shape our cognitive health. Medical students are not trained in nutrition. And, for what it is worth, neither are scientists.
Even the smartest people sometimes struggle to stay in the zone. What tricks do they use to get back on track?
Most of the essentials of my job come down to concentration and focus. It is not a matter of memory, but of how best to use and deploy what one has remembered. That is true if, for example, you are marking a student’s essay. It is not a question of seeing what they get wrong or right (my subject isn’t really about that, others may be). It is about seeing what the student was trying to argue, and how they could make it better and more convincing. That sounds simple, but it requires a hell of a lot of thought. The same is true of lecturing, or writing the chapter of a book. It is all about how you can use what you know to make the most powerful case, to engage people’s interest, or to show why what you want to say is important.
College of Policing to fund trial for more than 1,500 officers to combat stress-related sick leave
On Thursday afternoon, a dozen novice police officers straightened their backs, closed their eyes and started to meditate for the first time. “You are going to face things in this career that your family and friends will never face,” said their trainer, DI Jenni McIntyre-Smith. “To be able to deal with that is important.”
She asked the first-year Bedfordshire police constables to focus on their breathing, the sensations in their bodies and to observe their thoughts, techniques derived from Buddhist meditation which might soon be as integral to an officer’s training as how to wield a truncheon.
Suffering from a profound depression in the year 1730, the young Samuel Johnson would walk from Lichfield to Birmingham and back in an attempt to raise his spirits; 90 years later, in 1820, the wit and cleric Sydney Smith wrote a thoughtful letter to his friend Lady Georgiana Morpeth listing his own attempts to fight off the condition. Now we’d call his letter a listicle – 20 things you can do to save yourself from depression. At number 14, he advised her to “Be as much as you can in the open air without fatigue.”
Other parts of his remedies are less Instagram-friendly, such as “Don’t expect too much from human life – a sorry business at the best.” But his advice on fresh air still stands, and it makes clear an important distinction between “fresh air” and “exercise”, even though the two used to fit closely together. Until quite recently, there was no way to separate the two. But the rise of gym culture has changed things.
We urgently need alternatives to a system that facilitates self-harm, emotional distress and the breakup of families
I was detained in Harmondsworth immigration detention centre for five months before I was released. I know the amount of mental and physical deterioration that detention can cause. That is why I hope that a day will come when these immigration detention centres are closed for good.
I know this isn’t something that can happen overnight and will be difficult to achieve swiftly. But simply highlighting that detention centres are inhumane and saying we have to close them down is no longer enough, especially in the present political climate. We have to explain what can be done to tackle this system and propose viable alternatives. That way, hopefully we can change the attitude of the wider public, gain cross-party political support and work together to ensure more and more detention centres are closed for good.
Names have been changed in this article and Mishka is a pseudonym
Freed Voices is a group of experts-by-experience dedicated to speaking about the realities of detention and calling for reform
Named social worker programme has a simple goal: to help people with autism, learning disabilities and mental health conditions lead a good life
Peter* has autism and a learning disability. Over the years, he and his family have had many social workers. Between the ages of four and 10, he had a good support worker, but when she left they lost a connection to someone who knew them well and who they could rely on. Peter’s parents said his social workers “changed with the seasons”; often the family met someone once and never saw them again. The social workers would focus on responding to Peter’s immediate needs, but home life for the whole family was becoming increasingly stressful.
Things eventually reached crisis point, with police being called to the house on a regular basis. Peter was close to being detained under the Mental Health Act, and likely to be placed in a treatment unit away from home. This was something his family feared happening, but they also worried they wouldn’t be able to keep going the way things were. They felt stuck. Peter wanted to live on his own, but this was not considered a realistic option by either his family or the services involved.
NGO says there is ‘nothing humanitarian about saving people from sea only to leave them in an open-air prison’
Médecins Sans Frontières has called for the immediate evacuation of all asylum seekers and refugees from Nauru and the end of Australia’s offshore detention policy for good.
In a rare and forceful statement, the international non-governmental organisation said there was “nothing humanitarian about saving people from sea only to leave them in an open-air prison.”
#NAURU: MSF Psychiatrist Beth O’Connor shares her story
We strongly condemn the sudden decision of the Government of Nauru to end MSF activities & express high concern for the conditions of the patients that we have been forced to leave behind.https://t.co/e5N2szXfT0 pic.twitter.com/6UdzrY9ihC