I am not my diagnosis.

While I continue to struggle to figure out Twitter, forget how to update my website, get confused while recording podcasts, consistently get my innumerable passwords mixed up, stay oblivious about Instagram and Snapchat, the digital world gallops ahead.

Digital Interventions in mental health Conference 2017 was recently held in London. It explored topics across psychiatry, technology and culture to identify innovative ways of addressing mental health needs.

Dr Becky Inkster is a Neuroscientist, passionate about digital interventions in mental health, social media data analysis, genomics, molecular biology, and neuroimaging. She co-founded Hip-Hop Psych as she is passionate about working with hard-to-reach, disadvantaged groups and youth culture.

‘Views from the street’, ‘Prison transition tools’, ‘Beyond the bullets’ and ‘The Digital Psychiatrist’ are some of the workshops that were conducted at the above conference. The range of topics was rather fantastic. It was aimed at improving our understanding of how social media is helping to create and facilitate new spaces for mental health practices and support, exploring the benefits of social media and social networking to improve a sense of identity, self-expression, community building and emotional support through examining a few popular international examples. Participants and facilitators engaged in interactive sessions to understand how new tools for self-expression via pictures, videos, captions and short personal narratives can help break down the stigma surrounding mental health and perhaps even lead to more people seeking help. They explored how to empower young people to use social networks in a way that promotes their mental health and wellbeing, how to harness the power of social media to nurture mental health innovations that the future holds.

Impressive stuff. I carry on doing what I do. I write another article for the Huffington post – Darkness to light. I talk about my darling Saagar and emphasise the importance of us, the people, educating and empowering ourselves so that we can help ourselves and each other through the light of knowledge and empathy. I continue to speak with ordinary people living extra-ordinary lives. Here is a conversation with Sara Muzira, mother of the beautiful Simba. Both, mum and son are artists. She talks about the state of inpatient mental health services in her experience and things that can be made better for patients and their families. Thank you Sara.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It takes a whole village to raise a child.

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When I was 9, a music teacher came home every Tuesday evening to teach me singing and Kathak dance. That was my favourite time of the week. One week I waited and waited for what seemed like a very long time but he did not come. That evening I had a very high fever and had to be taken to the doctor.  Last week I have been having a high temperature, a cough and a cold. Withdrawal?

Growing up in the UK’, a report published by the BMA in 2013 found that we fail many children and young people every year. 2.6 million children in the UK live in absolute poverty. Children are at higher risk of living in both relative and absolute low income than the overall UK population. 14% of the most severely materially deprived kids from 30 EU countries live in the UK – same percentage as Romania. The severe economic hardship from the 2008 financial crisis in the UK and consequent spending cuts have been disproportionately detrimental to children, young people and low income families, particularly those who were already at a disadvantage such as migrant children and lone parent families.

‘We like to think of ourselves as a child-friendly society, but the facts do not support that comfortable, complacent assumption’  – James Appleyard, treasurer of the BMA.

Nelson Mandela said: ‘There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.’

According to the World Happiness Report 2013, Dutch kids are some of the happiest in the world. Here are a few possible reasons. Dutch parents are the happiest people. Dutch Mums have found the perfect work-life balance with 68% of them working part time, 25 hours per week or less. They don’t care so much about being charming or about how they look. Dutch dads are more hands on and play a large role in child care. Many of them also work part time. Dutch kids feel no pressure to excel at school. They have no homework before the age of 10. There is no competitive university application process. They can simply attend school for learning rather than competing in academic performance.

The Dutch breakfast mostly consists of a slice of white bread with butter and chocolate sprinkles on top. The United Nations called it healthy. What makes it ‘healthy’ is that breakfast is taken as a family every morning. The kids have a right to express their opinions as they are meant to not just be seen but also heard. Grandmothers have an active role in bringing up the grandkids and that has a huge positive impact on the kid’s self-esteem. The Dutch government gives money to families to help with expenses. People, including kids safely cycle everywhere. A huge emphasis is placed on ‘gezellighied’, a concept of pleasant togetherness that is more bracing than coziness and more exciting than contentment. ‘Gezellighied’ is an untranslatable Dutch word. Its closest meanings are convivial, sociable, fun, nice atmosphere resulting from general togetherness of people giving rise to a strong sense of belonging and a warm feeling. People work hard to bring this into their everyday family lives.

Why do we fail so many kids in our country?

Politicians make blunders because they surround themselves with like-minded people who are completely disconnected from the general populace. There is a failure in advocacy for children. As a society we need to examine and change our attitudes towards the importance of children. Mentally and socially some people manifest a bunker and silo attitude leading to isolation and exclusion. We need to create nurturing communities locally which could be based around the arts, music, exercise, spirituality, sports, play groups and after-school clubs.

Families, government and education policies and practices need to emphasise the importance of creating nurturing environments for kids.

 

Day 980

Japanese Floral Art

In ancient Japan it was believed that God lived in the evergreens. That is why they used it as the tallest and the main component of their flower arrangements. God was the invisible line that passes vertically through the centre of the arrangements. So said a senior faculty of Ikebana, Prof. Kurata at his lecture/demonstration this morning.

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Three hours of his talk equalled a year’s worth of learning. He went on to show how nature outdoors is depicted through flowers, leaves and stems indoors. This bamboo vase represents a cliff side and the alcove within it denotes a cave from where plants are emerging towards light, the spectator. Pictures don’t do any justice to the space and the movement created by the study.

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He spoke of beauty. When hidden, it carries intrigue. When hidden, it allows for imagination to flow. When hidden, it can be the most beautiful thing in the world. This is an example.

The Veil

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The shape of the container and the simplicity of the materials combine to create elegance.

Who? Me?

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Rikka is a form that captures a landscape. Each part of it signifies something, like receiving, flowing, supporting and carrying. It has mountains and rivers within it. Find them if you can.

Tatiana

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Clever use of angular shapes and bright contrasting colours to create an uplifting happy slanting mood.

I swear diagonally, Bro.

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The world is sort of round and so is this. Rounds within rounds. Wheels within wheels. Keeping to the theme. Cheerful asymmetry.

Must be Spring

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This last one was for the youngest member of the audience, a 3 year old girl. Playful bobbles and wires hanging out happily with an orchid in a blue bottle of gel balls.

Smile!

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Wonderful to see a true genius at work! It’s calming working with flowers, stems, branches, leaves, berries and grasses. Being with nature. Breathing. Learning. Smelling in the subtleness. Letting the imagination flow. Allowing the Self to heal. Letting go. Dissolving.

Day 979

“Helping others is the way we help ourselves”
-Oprah Winfrey

Simple ideas change the world. A Clinical Psychologist, Dr Charlie Howard was taking a walk around her area. Having recently had a child, she was looking for her next “thing”. She asked random people what would make a difference in their community. “A Problem-Solving Booth right here on my street” answered a young man in the queue in a sandwich shop.  “A place where people can go with the stresses in their head and where we can help each other”. The idea was genius and Charlie’s head built on it quickly. “Maybe we could try one here?” Charlie suggested, “we could do it together”. The young man smiled at Charlie and said “yeah maybe” and then his phone rang and he ran off down the street. No one knows his name and no one has seen him since. He probably has no idea just what his throwaway words have since inspired.

Problem-Solving Booths are a great way to bring members of the community together to have conversations that they might not otherwise have, by helping each other with their problems. One chair is for the “Helper”, the person listening to the problems. The other is for the “Helped”, the person describing their concerns. The aim of the Booth is that people swap roles regularly as we all have both the potential to have problems as well as to offer help.

Thrive London is a citywide movement for better mental health for Londoners supported by the Mayor of London and the London Health Board. Problem-Solving Booths have become the local arm of Thrive and we’re working out what they are, what they do and what they can do, with everyone we meet from street to street, borough to borough and organisation to organisation. It’s cool.

Watch this space!

 

Day 968

Artspace

‘Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.’ – Cesar A. Cruz

Yesterday’s play on ‘Shifting perspectives’ through theatre and today’s trip to the Dragon café brought this truth home.

The work done by the patrons of the Dragon café was compiled into a big black book called ‘Artspace’. Looking through it was an immersive experience. Some brought me comfort and some disturbed me, making me a mixture of ‘comfortable’ and ‘disturbed’.
I shall let you find out how they make you feel.

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Certain events or times of day are more difficult – like being alone late at night, or having arguments. During these times it can often be more difficult for us to feel a sense of hope, to feel connected to the idea of safety, to feel our own resilience. This is the times when ‘self-care’ is essential – taking time out to be kind to ourself, to find activities that feel good, or allow us to connect with ourself again. Self-care is about caring for ourself, inside and out.

Focusing on the present moment, the present activity, whilst allowing thoughts and feelings to just be – has a long history of helping people with their mental wellbeing. By allowing ourself to become absorbed in the moment it’s possible to feel a sense of calm and focus that can distract from painful thoughts and feelings. No wonder colouring books for adults and kids alike are taking a special place on book store shelves.

Here’s PAPYRUS’ bright idea

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Day 967

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One of the actors at the above workshop, who is also a mentally ill patient in recovery spoke about his insights, “I realised that as long as I depend on the State to look after me, I will be met with the lowest common denominator. This brought me to the conclusion that I may not have control but I have agency.”

After I got home, I looked up the meaning of ‘agency’ to figure out exactly what he meant. Agency is an ‘action or intervention producing a particular effect’. For example, many infectious diseases are caused by the agency of insects. Synonyms to this effect are: influence, power, effect, force, means, channels, routes, mechanisms and techniques.

In effect, he was referring to ‘self-help’. He was saying, “I have the power to change my situation.” It was inspiring for me to hear him say that. That statement reinforced the message of the workshop – there is a very thin line between the well and the ill. Role reversals are common. Sometimes visible. Often not.

I came away from there with a mixed bag of feelings. On the one hand, I could clearly see the daily struggles of mentally ill patients and on the other, their brilliance shone through. I wonder how Saagar would have been, had he got through that big dip.

May the force be with you. And me.

Day 963

Wysa

A young couple, committed to making a difference used their love and  intellect to create Touchkin, Artificial Intelligence for proactive care, integrating behavioural health into medical practice.

Tom Insel, a psychiatrist from National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the world’s largest mental-health research institution, spoke frankly about how MH services and research were failing to help the mentally ill. He openly dismissed the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). At any given moment, roughly one in seven of the world’s 7.5 billion people is struggling with mental illness. “We’re not going to reach all those people by hiring more psychiatrists,” says Insel. But we might reach them with smartphones.

In one of his talks, Insel was sharing the intricacies of the delicate workings of the brain.   Someone interrupted him and said, “You don’t get it. The house is on fire, and you are discussing the chemistry of the paint”

Jo Aggarwal, one of the developers of Touchkin says:

“This line from the article resonated deeply with me. It’s a familiar sentiment – one many of us in development have had in conferences on employment, education, conflict. They are all at some level connected to the base fire that engulfs our world today – that of mental health. Until this fire is brought under control, we don’t have a hope for any of the rest of it.

His dramatic move lends credibility behind the idea that phones may be the answer. Identifying issues using smartphone behavior is powerful, though it can feel creepy. But detection is not enough. In our trials at Touchkin, phone sensors were able to predict depression in people with diabetes to a 90% accuracy, and went a long way in getting the physicians convinced to integrate mental health into their regimen. But only 1 in 30 people diagnosed went on to take treatment for the depression.

It said to us – “The house is on fire, the fire brigade is missing, and here we are saying how accurate our fire alarms are”

Wysa the emotionally intelligent penguin willed itself into existence somewhere along the way. It was a side feature created between ‘formal’ projects to improve accuracy. Taken by how people reacted to the prototype, we all kept working on making it better… in three months it crossed a threshold. It started changing lives. Last month, 3 people wrote in to say it saved their life, it is what is keeping them from suicide. Over 50,000 people talked to it anonymously, and thousands of them wrote in to us to say how much it meant to them.

Unlike the Stanford psychologists creating Woebot- we have no hypotheses around Wysa. It is evolving entirely based on what works for its users. It has evidence-based techniques, but everytime we add more tools or advice or tips we get users telling us to just let them talk to Wysa, and not to underestimate how much of a difference that makes.

“The fire in the house, is in our brains. The fuel is the language of the conversations we have inside our head. “

We started out, like Insel, trying to detect the fires… Wysa is leading us to try and put a fire extinguisher in everyone’s pocket. Any pretence of our own hypothesis went out of the window when the first person wrote in to say it saved their life. Now we are following it to see where it goes.

Like us, like Tim, there are many unwitting recruits to this fight.

Rick Little started fighting it as soon as he graduated college. So many of my friends… Sangeeta Mahajan who lost her son to suicide and has dedicated her life to preventing it for others. Anjana Ajay who is changing others lives after healing her own Stage 4 cancer by focusing on healing her mind. Bhavana Issar who is doing amazing work at Caregiver Saathi.Pooja Goyal who is creating resilience in pre-school children and their parents, bravely facing all the storms that come her way. Archana Aggarwal Sarda has made emotional support a way to get intl level diabetes outcomes in rural children, long before she realised that she was doing it.

None of them are psychologists. They each have options of more comfortable, lucrative ways to spend their time. They are all powerless to not do this. “The house is on fire. Once you see it, and you realise that you can stop it spreading, it is hard to do anything else.”

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