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‘I have lost hope’: the people with mental health problems who are being stripped of their benefits

Nov 2nd, 2017 by

Personal Independence Payments – the points-based system for disability claims – only works for people with physical disabilities, say campaigners. We meet some of those who feel they have slipped through the net

Kloey Clarke, 28, from Devizes in Wiltshire, has had severe anxiety and type II bipolar disorder for six years. “I’m scared to leave the house,” says Clarke, who does not feel emotionally or physically stable enough to hold down a job and relies on her husband for care and support. “I have a constant fear of dying. I can’t socialise and I can’t communicate outside [the house].” For four years, Clarke depended on a Disability Living Allowance (DLA). The DLA was replaced by Personal Independence Payments (PIPs) in 2012 – and phased in from 2013 – but she was receiving them for less than a year before she was reassessed by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and told she no longer qualified.

Clarke believes that the assessment for PIP is aimed at people with physical disabilities and does not account for mental illness. “I was asked if I could walk 200 metres unaided. No, I don’t need a stick or an aid, but I do need my husband or someone with me. Can I talk to people face to face? I talk to my family when they visit, but can I speak to strangers? No.”

The assessor’s concerns were about what the reflection would be on her if I did go out of the door and kill myself

My life is just existing between one appointment and the next

Related: Universal credit’s hidden cut pushes disabled people into poverty | Frances Ryan

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The science of Sad: understanding the causes of ‘winter depression’

Nov 2nd, 2017 by

The darker days and colder weather can bring with them a feeling of low spirits. So, what makes people susceptible to seasonal affective disorder, and what are the best ways to treat it?

For many of us in the UK, the annual ritual of putting the clocks back for daylight saving time can be accompanied by a distinct feeling of winter blues as autumn well and truly beds in. This might be felt as a lack of energy, reduced enjoyment in activities and a need for more sleep than normal. But for around 6% of the UK population and between 2-8% of people in other higher latitude countries such as Canada, Denmark and Sweden, these symptoms are so severe that these people are unable to work or function normally. They suffer from a particular form of major depression, triggered by changes in the seasons, called seasonal affective disorder or Sad.

In addition to depressive episodes, Sad is characterised by various symptoms including chronic oversleeping and extreme carbohydrate cravings that lead to weight gain. As this is the opposite to major depressive disorder where patients suffer from disrupted sleep and loss of appetite, Sad has sometimes been mistakenly thought of as a “lighter” version of depression, but in reality it is simply a different version of the same illness. “People who truly have Sad are just as ill as people with major depressive disorder,” says Brenda McMahon, a psychiatry researcher at the University of Copenhagen. “They will have non-seasonal depressive episodes, but the seasonal trigger is the most common. However it’s important to remember that this condition is a spectrum and there are a lot more people who have what we call sub-syndromal Sad.”

Related: Nobel prizes 2017: everything you need to know about circadian rhythms

Related: Therapy lamps tested: ‘The optical equivalent of freezing cold shower’

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‘Don’t be ashamed’ – readers’ tips for improving mental health at work

Nov 2nd, 2017 by

From mindful meditation to changing jobs, readers share their tips on dealing with mental health problems at work

In a previous job I experienced bullying at work which affected my mental health. At my worst, I would come home everyday and cry about work. My self esteem began to suffer and even though I was getting compliments about my work from co-workers, my bully kept humiliating me in front of colleagues and eventually I left.

Related: How do you deal with mental health issues at work? Share your tips

Related: How to manage mental health at work

Get yourself a good doctor, get yourself a good therapist, speak to your closest friend

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Master of mindfulness, Jon Kabat-Zinn: ‘People are losing their minds. That is what we need to wake up to’

Nov 2nd, 2017 by

By taking the Buddhism out of the practice, Kabat-Zinn pioneered a meditative approach used all over the world to treat pain and depression. He talks about Trump, ‘McMindfulness’ and how a 10-second vision in 1979 led to a change in the world’s consciousness

The police in Cambridge, Massachusetts, showed no mercy to Jon Kabat-Zinn in May 1970. The man now considered the godfather of modern mindfulness was a graduate student from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and an anti-Vietnam-war protester, agitating alongside the Black Panthers and the French playwright Jean Genet.

“I got my entire face battered in,” he recalls. “They put this instrument on my wrist called the claw, which they tightened to generate enormous amounts of pain without leaving any marks. But they certainly left a lot of marks on my face. They pulled me into the back of the police station and beat the shit out of me.”

Related: New study shows mindfulness therapy can be as effective as antidepressants

Related: Seven common myths about meditation | Catherine Wikholm

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Electroconvulsive therapy mostly used on women and older people, says study

Nov 2nd, 2017 by

Findings are a cause for concern and symptom of the ‘over-medicalising of human distress’, says co-author of report using NHS data

The use of electroconvulsive therapy to treat serious mental health problems is more prevalent in women and older individuals, researchers have found.

The study, which looked at data from a group of NHS trusts in England between 2011 and 2015, found that, on average, two thirds of recipients of ECT were women, and 56% were people aged over 60.

Antidepressants are associated with side-effects in elderly people, whereas ECT is very safe

Related: Drugs didn’t work for my brother. Electroconvulsive therapy did | Andrew Mayers

Related: What is ECT and how does it work?

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Samaritans has a letters service too | Letters

Nov 2nd, 2017 by

For those unable or unwilling to use Samaritans’ telephone service, the organisation also corresponds by post, writes one of its volunteers

I read with pleasure the piece by Tom Francis about Samaritans (Opinion, 10 October). I have been a Samaritan volunteer for 20 years. There have been changes in that time but the core of what we do is the same. Samaritans have been there for me throughout many life-changing events and our support network for volunteers is remarkable, as is what we do every duty. I am a listening volunteer in my “brick” branch, but I also belong to one that does not have a geographical base: the correspondence branch. We answer letters from people who, for whatever reason, do not access our service via telephone, computer or by text. Many of those people are in prison, and sending a letter may be the only way they feel comfortable, or are able, to access us. Many people who contact Samaritans are unaware we exist, as are many Samaritan volunteers. We are there for everyone, just like a “brick” branch. Please help us get the message across to everybody who might need us, or would like to become a Samaritan volunteer.
Name and address supplied

Contact Samaritans free from any telephone on 116 123 (no credit needed) or write to Freepost RSRB-KKBY-CYJK, PO Box 9090, Stirling FK8 2SA. You can call even if you don’t have credit on your mobile, and the number won’t show up on phone bills. Or email jo@samaritans.org or go to www.samaritans.org to find details of your nearest branch, where you can talk to one of our trained volunteers face to face.

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Tackling the silent epidemic of loneliness | Letters

Nov 2nd, 2017 by

Mike Adamson would like to see more services that prevent, reduce and delay loneliness, and Susan Daniels says it is not just a problem for older people

We welcome the focus given by Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard on the toll that loneliness is placing on our healthcare system (Loneliness as harmful as diabetes, says top GP, 12 October).

Every day our staff and volunteers see the devastating impact that social isolation is having on people’s lives, and the additional strain placed on our public services when these impacts are left untreated.

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Broadening the debate on mental health | Letters

Nov 2nd, 2017 by

David Dodd wants employers to assume a degree of responsibility for employees’ mental wellbeing, Justin Harper makes a case for income protection and Gary Fereday says psychoanalytically informed therapies should be more widely available. Plus letters from Keir Harding and Rob Davies

Jeremy Hunt has once more propelled mental health up the political agenda with the promise that an extra £1.3bn would be invested annually in mental health services by 2021 (Report, 10 October). However, while such promises constitute a significant step forward, it will take a lot more than policy and funding to resolve a problem reaching pandemic proportions in the UK. In light of World Mental Health Day, we need to broaden the debate from how to resolve mental health issues – to how to prevent them. And data suggests that at least part of the onus should be on employers.

Our research has found that almost half of UK employees believe that their workplace has a negative impact on their physical or mental health; it’s time for UK employers to assume a degree of responsibility for their employees’ mental wellbeing. Introducing measures such as resilience training, mindfulness and mental health first aiders could make a significant difference to both the support offered to employees and UK business – alleviating the impact of our tech-enabled 24/7 work lifestyles, reducing employee absence and fundamentally improving business productivity.
David Dodd
Consulting director, Thomsons Online Benefits

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Discrimination and misplaced stoicism: why older people’s mental health gets overlooked

Nov 2nd, 2017 by

Busy GPs are too often neglecting problems like anxiety and low mood

One in five older people suffer from depression, yet their mental health problems often go unrecognised and they are much less likely to get psychological help than younger people. A government target, set in 2011 – for older people in England to make up 12% of referrals to psychological therapies – was missed by a mile.

“It was supposed to be achieved in five years, but it’s still only 6.7%,” says Tom Gentry, head of health influencing at charity Age UK. “At the current rate of improvement, it would take another 15 years to get there.”

Related: The battle against loneliness among older people

Related: ‘Teach young people we are not going to move over’: stories of ageing in cities

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Magic mushrooms ‘reboot’ brain in depressed people – study

Nov 2nd, 2017 by

Patients unresponsive to conventional treatments benefit when treated with natural psychoactive compound, but researchers warn against self medication

Magic mushrooms may effectively “reset” the activity of key brain circuits known to play a role in depression, the latest study to highlight the therapeutic benefits of psychedelics suggests.

Psychedelics have shown promising results in the treatment of depression and addictions in a number of clinical trials over the last decade. Imperial College London researchers used psilocybin – the psychoactive compound that occurs naturally in magic mushrooms – to treat a small number of patients with depression, monitoring their brain function, before and after.

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