Who is engaging with who?

Article this week in the Guardian: “Concerns raised over number of children not engaging with nature”. Chock full of statistics on the scale of the problem. But is the article missing the point a little? Before the child fails to engage with nature the parent has to fail to engage with the child. Too many parents on their devices, busy shopping for BBQ’s on a Saturday, leaving the kids in front of the TV gaming or sending them off to learn something useful. Find the space and time to engage with your kids. Go to a park and do nothing but kick a ball or climb trees.

Nature provides the ideal space for parents to connect – children have a natural affinity for the outdoors which makes connecting with them that much easier. But this needs to be fostered – in his 2005 book, The Last Child in the Woods, the writer Richard Louv introduced the term “nature-deficit disorder” to describe the growing gap between nature and children. It is our responsibility to bridge this gap, to introduce children to the wonderment that is outside so that the wonderment that is inside them has an appropriate space in which to express itself and play.

There is a direct link between exposure to the outdoors and mental health. In Japan there are now 44 Shinrin-yoku forests – dedicated woods where people go to commune with nature and bathe in the healing microbes and phytoncides that flow from the plants, soil and trees. More and more research is revealing the importance that nature plays in our personal eco-systems. The problem is not only that many children are not getting enough exposure to the outdoors but what is happening instead.

Most parents won’t need to be told about the impact of electronics on their children and the family as a whole. They will have had front row seats to the fighting and tears these games can create.  As not just children’s lives but as the parent’s lives too become more high-tech it is critical that a natural balance be restored.


Bullying: A Long Tail

New research published in The Lancet Psychiatry reveals the extent of the damage from childhood bullying. Professor Wolke from the University of Warwick began studying the subject after noticing the similar effects of bullying and parental abuse.

“Bullied children go on to self-harm, suffer depression, and have psychiatric problems,” he said. “These are similar to those reported after abuse, sexual or physical, from parents.” He went on to say: “We found the effects of bullying were not just as bad, but even worse.”

Research showed those bullied in childhood were 5 times as likely to experience anxiety and twice as likely to report depression and self-harm compared to those who were free of bullying.

There are medical consequences later in life as well as psychiatric ones. All the more reason for society to take bullying seriously and for those who recognise some of these symptoms or for whom the memories are still alive in one way or another to seek help. Don’t write it off as nothing, or as something those around you managed to deal with. There may be others around you now who are feeling the consequence of that bullying too. Anxiety can be treated. As can depression. Get in touch if you or someone you know is suffering.

Anxious? Lonely? Depressed? You are not alone.

A survey by the Mental Health Foundation revealed that of the 2300 adults in the study group, 19% said they felt anxious a lot or all of the time, and 61% said they experienced anxiety daily.

Yet only 7% visited their GP for help, and 29% were too embarrassed to tell anyone.

A Finnish study published in the BMC tracked 3,471 men and women over 8 years and found those that lived alone bought 80% more anti-depressants than those that lived with others.

If you live alone and are struggling, reach out. Don’t be ashamed of your loneliness. All of us feel it at points in our lives. Consider a flat share or a lodger. Get involved in community activities. Spend time outside. Join a choir or do some charity work. There are many little and easy steps that can lead to dramatic change. If they seem too large or too hard consider seeing a psychotherapist.





The real reason people stray – and it’s not sex

Interesting article in the Telegraph today to which I contributed:

Psychotherapist William Pullen believes that couples in their fifties and sixties often stray because they feel lonely and unsupported. “When your partner has disengaged, you feel you must find meaning somewhere else,” he says. “Nobody wants to float through mid-life without a life belt.”

Fifties and sixties is the new middle age? People are playing tennis in their seventies, others running marathons in their 80’s (the world’s oldest marathon runner ran his last race at the age of 101. Fauja Singh finished the Hong Kong marathon’s 10km (6.25 mile) race in a time of one hour, 32 minutes and 28 seconds)

And is it questionable to compare marriage to a lifebelt? I think not. But then again I’m not married.

I like the upbeat ending to Casilda Grigg’s article: Quoting evolutionary biologist Olivia Judson, author of the brilliantly entertaining Dr Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation:”Just because monogamy is difficult doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile.” We do well to remember that relationships are nuanced. Just because they can be complex, or diverse in character, or even potentially unnatural, as Judson says, it does not make them less worthwhile. Often the best comes last.


Depression Care Program Eliminates Suicide

An extraordinary decade-long anti-suicide programme in Detroit has been a stunning success. Suicides dropped by 75% within 4 years and from 2008 through 2010 there were no suicides at all. How did the people at the Henry Ford Health System achieve this?

According to Sara Hughes of UK Charity MIND it has come about in part from an attempt to “destigmatise” the use of the word suicide in during therapy. There has been an historical fear the using the word was a trigger. The results from Detroit show us the opposite is true. Hughes says, “breaking the taboo is the biggest thing for us”.

Why? Clients want to be known. They want someone to understand their suffering  – not just the nature of the pain but also the degree of it. If we leave the bogey-man of suicide out of the conversation not only are we failing to understand the degree of pain but we may be understood to be saying “there is only so much we can deal with in here – you’re on your own with the rest”. This furthers the isolation that is the common bed-fellow of despair. Suddenly they are not so alone.

That element of suicide which is in part a form of final communication about the degree of ones suffering becomes less important.



Seeing more clearly

Marcel Just of Carnegie Mellon University, P.A, has been experimenting with evidence based tests for psychiatric illnesses. Subjects were asked to imagine one of 16 actions, such as “hugging” or “adoring”, while their brains were scanned. People with autism were seen to have a less active posterior cingulate region than people without the condition.

The findings may extend to other conditions. It is early days but a interesting development, particularly as symptom based diagnoses are often viewed as unreliable and subjective.

The benefits are obvious, the possible negative influences less so. But it is worth saying again that “I am more an my disease”. I am more than my diagnosis. What if the scan suggests autism or depression when I show no symptoms of either? What do we tell the patient? How can we respect the rights of patients by not inadvertently scanning for conditions without their permission? These are just a few of questions of ethics ahead.

New Scientist, Dec 6th 2014

Depression/Bullying App

The British Government is pushing a new approach to combat over-medicalization of depression in young people. Norman Lamb, the care minister, is promoting a multi-media strategy that will provide help via the internet and over the phone. This may include on-line counselling, computerised CBT, and peer support networks for the mentally ill. The latter is particularly to be welcomed in an age of pronounced bullying, including cyber-bullying. Some programs have already been shown to work.

“Young people live in an online world and therefore we really need to revolutionise services so that they are where young people are, rather than expecting young people to go to them”

Lucie Russel. Director of campaigns at the charity Young Minds

53 million prescriptions for anti-depressants last year. There is a place for medical intervention but before that there are people/community and methods that work.

Moving Out of Depression

A new study has once more confirmed what we all already knew – people who exercise regularly are significantly less likely to be depressed. Conducted at UCL, the study discovered that those who are physically active 3 times a week are 16% less likely to be depressed.

“This effect was seen across the whole population and not just those at high risk of clinical depression. The more physically active people were, the fewer depressive symptoms reported.”

Dr Snehal Pinto Pereira


They also found that this link could be self-reinforcing, with those who were depressed at a young age less likely to exercise later.


There are many questions about movement and depression, many ways to understand it. If a choice/reaction of “dormancy” in the young is not a kind of self-care then is it a kind of protest? Are the benefits of exercise lost in the memories of some? How easily can these benefits be remembered and reactivated? What is the best was to achieve this? Dynamic Running Therapy offers a practise of movement whereby no matter how little movement we engage in – walking or running – we look to the body to inform us of emotional states. This facilitates holistic healing – reengaging the relationship between body and soul and allowing movement to help us travel with and through whatever we are holding.

(The research used data from 11,000 people born in 1958 who were tracked for 50 years. JAMA Psychiatry)



Kelly McGonigal.

“Kelly McGonigal, PhD, is a health psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University, and a leading expert in the new field of “science-help.” She is passionate about translating cutting-edge research from psychology, neuroscience, and medicine into practical strategies for health, happiness, and personal success.

Her most recent book, The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It (Penguin 2012), explores the latest research on motivation, temptation, and procrastination, as well as what it takes to transform habits, persevere at challenges, and make a successful change. Her audio series The Neuroscience of Change (Sounds True 2012) weaves the newest findings of science with Eastern contemplative wisdom to give listeners a revolutionary process for personal transformation. She is also the author of Yoga for Pain Relief: Simple Practices to Calm Your Mind and Heal Your Pain (New Harbinger, 2009), which translates recent advances in neuroscience and medicine into mind-body strategies for relieving chronic pain, stress, depression, and anxiety.

She has some very interesting insights into the applications of psychological science to personal health and happiness, as well as organizational success and social change. Her psychology research (on compassion, mindfulness, and emotion regulation) has been published in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Motivation and Emotion, The International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine, and The Journal of Happiness Studies. A long-time practitioner of yoga and meditation, Dr. McGonigal is a founding member of the Yoga Service Council and serves on the advisory boards of several non-profit organizations bringing yoga and meditation to underserved and at-risk populations, including Yoga Bear (providing yoga in hospitals nationwide and to cancer survivors and their caregivers) and The Art of Yoga Project (brining yoga into juvenile detention facilities in the San Francisco Bay Area).

She is also passionate about the benefits of physical exercise and has been certified as a group fitness instructor since 2000. In her free time, she continues to teach group fitness classes – because sometimes moving, breathing, and sweating is the best thing you can do to create health, joy, and resilience.”

Follow this link to see her talk on stress at TED: http://www.ted.com/talks/kelly_mcgonigal_how_to_make_stress_your_friend.html

This links to her very interesting website: http://kellymcgonigal.com/

Mindfulness, meditation, medication. Which one is best for depression?

A new study from The John Hopkins School of Medicine, Baltimore, analysed 47 studies involving 3,500 patients comparing the use of placebos versus mindfulness, transcendental meditation, Zen and other kinds of meditation. Results indicate that meditation is as effective as anti-depressants in some cases. And not in others.

Allan Goroll of The Harvard Medical School maintains the studies have failed to evidence an overall improvement in health or relief of suffering and questions why meditation has become so popular.

So how to navigate these different opinions and findings? What is the best way to address depression, anxiety, sleeplessness etc? As was argued in the BMJ recently, antidepressants are being given out too liberally to people who are just unhappy, accompanied by the risks of side-effects and dependency. For these people pills can be the last thing they need and most likely won’t work. What is needed but GP’s find hard to provide is time and examination. Therapy can provide a space to look closely at one’s life and understand the roots of one’s unhappiness. Meditation can be a very useful tool for those who have the inclination and time. For some it may lead to a spiritual connection to something deep within and without. For others it may simply provide some calm and foundation in their lives. For others it may not be something they enjoy and they may profit from something else complementary, like increased exercise.

Together, therapy and mediation can be a powerful, proactive, and meaningful way to address unhappiness. As far as navigation goes, its simple, and its a path.

For those whose journey is darker, who are clinically depressed, anti-depressants can be the difference between life and death. They can provide a break from the storm and a temporary respite during which therapy can hopefully help.

For more information see: http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/health/mental-health/article3967583.ece