Saturday, 29 June 2013

Why governments who adopt a capitalist economic model, like insecure attachment so much - Part Two

Part Two - How attachment style impacts on our behaviour as consumers

I explained in Part One, that the type of attachment style we develop in childhood, depends on how our parents responded to our physical and emotional needs when we were babies, and how the relationship we developed with our parents sets out a blueprint for our approach to relationships as an adult.

John Bowlby, the leading authority on attachment theory, urged governments to look at the level of support they gave parents, particularly parents at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder, for he said parents would struggle to meet the emotional needs of their children, if the parents' basic needs weren't being met by life.  Few would argue with Bowlby's conclusion, that seems to make perfect sense.  So why is our current government so intent on inflicting pain on poorer families, rather than supporting those who already have more to cope with than those higher up the ladder.

It comes down to the theories of another famous psychologist, Sigmund Freud, and particularly the application of those theories, by his American nephew, Edward Bernays, who is considered to be the father of Public Relations.  Bernays used Freud's theories about anger, selfishness and neurosis to manipulate the behaviour of consumers, through advertising, which did not really exist in the modern sense, before he came onto the scene in the 1920s.  Prior to this, people only spent money on a commodity, if an old one broke and it needed replacing and there wasn't a whole range of ovens or kettles or irons to buy, everyone tended to have the same model which the local store or dealer sold.  Bernays tapped into people's desire to be superior to neighbours, siblings and so on; how you could feel superior, if you had this model of car on your drive or you drank  a certain type of beverage.

Bernays' thinking was heavily adopted by both Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. Thatcher was particularly focussed on using people's paranoia to encourage them to acquire things, to buy them in order to offer some sense of material security.  Everything from gas shares to houses and those ridiculously heavy early "mobile" phones, were advertised in an unprecedented way, boosting the economy through product sales, and when the economic situation wasn't so rosy, boosting the availability of credit, so that people could still have access to these objects they now needed to maintain a level of self-esteem.

When Tony Blair came to power in 1997, he did nothing to reverse this obsession with the capitalist economic model, but then his father was very much a Conservative who openly admired Thatcher, and this must have impacted on the Labour Leader, as a child. 

One of the problems people of integrity have with capitalism is, the model relies heavily on an endless sea of consumables for people to buy, it has to be the latest iPhone, the most flashy car, a newer kitchen, a landscaped garden, 6 inch heels which are so high, women actually struggle to walk in them.  And the production of all this crap, burns up a horrendous amount of energy, as these consumables are often designed to have a very short life.  However much governments claim they're committed to recycling and climate change, every intelligent person knows it's better to make products that are going to last a long  time, meaning people buy less and the capitalist economy suffers.

The other problem people have with the capitalist model is that it needs to keep a certain percentage of the population in relative misery, because studies show people who are emotionally secure and have good quality relationships, tend to spend less money on throwaway goods.  For these people, their sense of self-esteem is tied up with the quality of the relationships they have, and not so much their car or laptop,  People who consume a lot of these heavily advertised products are seeking  to feel security through objects, because they're not getting that sense of wellbeing from their personal lives.

And this is why governments who are committed to the capitalist model, will never be focussed on helping people become happier in their personal lives.  They can't, even if they wanted to.  The fear is, people will stop buying all this crap if they just want to spend all their spare time relaxing in the company of those they adore.  There is no deep emotional void with these people, which needs filling with big tellies or designer sofas, they feel secure and loved, they don't need anything to boost their low self-esteem, because they absolutely love life!

I don't suppose there's any chance of getting governments to acknowledge the human cost of following a capitalist economic plan, but we could demand a law to make sure the carbon footprint is printed on every single product sold, from high-end Mercedes cars to a packet of cornflakes.  Though personally, I don't think any of the three main parties would be allowed to pursue this, by the corporations and individuals who fund them. 

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Burnham or Lansley - who would you believe?

It's been revealed that former health secretary, Andrew Lansley, received a letter from a grieving parent, whose baby son had died from an infection at Furness General Hospital. 

In order to save lives in the NHS and react more quickly when things go wrong, it is clear to me the system in place at the moment needs to change.  I hope you agree that stories such as Joshua’s demonstrate why the NHS must continue to improve the effectiveness of regulation of the NHS.” wrote the infant's father, back on June 4th, 2010.

In an attempt to deflect criticism away from Andrew Lansley, Tories have come out claiming Labour health secretary, Andy Burnham "lent on" Care Quality Commission (CQC) staff to suppress information, so that Morecambe Bay NHS Trust could be given a clean bill of health in 2010, the period leading up to the general election, despite a series of deaths of mothers and babies.

Andy Burnham denies any involvement in a cover up, and in his response states,
"When I was appointed in June 2009, one of my first decisions was to appoint Robert Francis QC to conduct an independent inquiry into what went wrong at Stafford.  Separately, the Department raised concerns with me about the effectiveness of CQC and I began taking steps to deal with it. In late 2009, when problems emerged unexpectedly at Basildon and Thurrock Hospital, it became clear to me that an in-depth look at all hospitals in England was needed so that all problems could be flushed out, action taken and reassurance given to the public," concluding, "far from covering up any problems at hospitals in the pre-election period, I hope you can now see how was actively working to identify them."

Andy Burnham is a politician who tends to be held in high regard, specifically because of his ability to empathise with the feelings of ordinary people, such as at the 20th anniversary memorial service for victims of the Hillsborough disaster.  He was visibly moved by fans shouting their disgust at successive governments failing to investigate what really went on that day, and then breaking out into unified song, afterwards he called for full disclosure of all unseen files relating to that day, a move previously ruled out by former Home Secretary, Jack Straw and the previous Tory government.

Andrew Lansley, on the other hand, far from trying to convince anyone he's in touch with the concerns of the public, tends to be known for his enthusiasm for breaking up the NHS while he was secretary of state for health.

The mainstream media are bound to play this out their own favoured pro-Tory way.  But it comes down to this  simple question really - Burnham or Lansley - who would you believe?

Update:  Watch Andy Burnham's brilliant interview on Sky News here:  He came out on a Sunday morning to defend his record and his integrity and to once again ask that the government publish the NHS Risk Register!

He also gave an interview on Radio 4.

At the time of writing, Sky News, BBC News etc, seem reluctant to talk to Andrew Lansley, who was contacted about these concerns back in June 2010 and it's been reported that Mr Lansley is reluctant to go before the media at this time.

You have to ask why the mainstream media is attacking Andy Burnham and giving the Tories no criticism at all.  I think this is because they fear this story involving the NHS, has the power to inflict a mortal wound on Cameron's government, and the mainstream media do not want to enhance Labour's chances of election success in 2015, in my personal view.

Keep posting your views on this, keep this particular story very much alive on Twitter.  And keep asking,
"Where's Andrew Lansley?!!!"

The role of phenylethylamine in love, and possible implications for the treatment of depression

As someone who works as a manager in the mental health field, I'm always keen to research new treatments and studies.  This fascinating study from 2010 explored the role of phenylethylamine in love and potentials for treatment of depression.

If it could really make two hearts as one, the Arrow of Love may have been spiked with phenylethylamine, the same organic compound contained in chocolates that causes you to walk in Cloud 9 similar to the feeling when you are crazy in love. The delightful intoxicating feeling that is accompanied by the accelerated pounding of the heart is not simply a sign of being mushy, after all. It is the response of your body to the increase of the concentration of this compound in parts of the brain responsible for sexual excitement. Thus, phenylethylamine, or PEA, in the body was nicknamed the "molecule of love" while its supplemental counterpart the "love drug."

Aside from its impact on romance, it has been used in addressing depression, especially in cases which are not addressed by standard treatment. Studies demonstrate that decreased concentrations of PEA may be what provokes depression. Of the 14 individuals with serious depressive episodes found to be responsive to oral dose of 10 to 60 milligrams phenylethylamine daily (with daily 10 milligrams of selegiline to prevent rapid phenylethylamine destruction), 12 of them continued to respond to its antidepressant properties after 20 to 50 weeks of therapy. The corresponding dosages given were not modified since they remain efficacious during the entire treatment period and there was no discernible unwanted effects. Among a significant number of subjects, including some who did not respond to standard therapy, PEA brought about sustained relief of depression. It rapidly boosted mood comparable to that of ampethamine but did not develop tolerance which makes PEA a safer alternative.

This natural neuroamine is also at the helm of giving you that feeling of "high" when you are running or exercising as more of it is liberated into the bloodstream during physical exertion. That is why several bodybuilders take phenylethylamine supplement prior to their exercise regimen to intensify their performance. PEA is also used by some to improve mental alertness, such as, by taking it when needing to concentrate on their studies.

PEA may potentially play a role in the treatment of ADHD or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Several studies indicate that children with ADHD have significantly declined PEA in their urine and this may be a sign of a common pathophysiology.

Apart from making you feel good and enhancing your mental and physical performance, this supplement is also taken as weight loss supplement as it is shown to suppress appetite. It may also lead to lipolysis by stimulating the release of catecholamine and hold up reuptake. As it alters the mood, remember to ask the opinion of your physician before taking it.

"What the world needs now is love, sweet love," so the popular song goes. Perhaps, what the world - particularly that of those afflicted with depression, of those who need mental focus, of those who want to improve their exercise performance, of those wanting to escape from the chains of obesity, or of those who just want to experience an overall sense of well-being - needs now is some shots of phenylethylamine. Whether or not phenylethylamine could help in reviving a dying love remains to be a big question. Maybe if administered using Cupid's Arrow.

Original article can be found here:

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Time for the left to come together, as one...

Some are not happy with The People's Assembly - they say they're too far to the left.
Some are not happy with Ed Miliband and the Labour Party - they say they're too far right.
At the end of the day, we all want the same thing, a better life, a fairer society, and an end to this brutal Tory government.
So, why don't we just listen to the wisdom of that iconic, socialist philosopher Bobby Gillespie...
And come together, as one...

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

SUNRISE: A Story of Two Labours

Once there was a lovely man of good moral values, a farmer called Ed, who lived and worked in a humble little village, where everyone felt part of the community and people looked out for one another.  The man had been married for a little while to a woman of great integrity, who was utterly devoted to him and they had a young child.  Life was very stable, and happy though perhaps lacked the thrill of excitement.

A handsome woman from the glittering New Labour city, came to stay in the village on vacation.  She took a shine to the farmer, who fell instantly under her captivating spell.  The farmer would sneak out at supper time and go down to the swamp, where this femme fatale would stroke his ego, and talk passionately of life in Blue Labour.

Back at home his devoted wife sat alone, sobbing into the socialist stew, made from free range, organic ingredients, which producers were always paid a fair price for - and their unions were recognised too, because there is a better quality of life for everyone when people are valued in the workplace and in the community.

Alas, the farmer got too preoccupied with having his ego stroked, and the femme fatale did it so well, almost like she was some sort of professional ego stroker, but his head was too dizzy with phenylethylamine (the love hormone) to question any of that.  And somehow he found himself pledging his heart to the femme fatale and agreeing to take his wife out in a boat and chucking her in the river, leaving her to drown, so that he could move to New Blue Labour City.

So the man asked his wife if she would go out on a boat trip with him, and of course she said yes because she adored him, and she trusted him. She had no idea he was planning to dump her in the river and leave her up the proverbial creek without a paddle, so that he could take the road that goes right, and run off with his new fancy woman!  ... But when the time came for the man to kill his wife, her look of abject fear and distress shook him instantly into reality! How could he have been so blind, so easily led off the centre-left road!  How could he have contemplated betraying this wonderful, loyal, compassionate woman, whom he loved with all his (red) heart!  He was devastated and she was scared. 

He rowed to the shore where she leapt out of the boat and ran into the distance and through some dense forest;  Luckily, a tram happened to be passing, which is how brilliantly public transport runs when it's state owned!

The man chased after his wife, begging her stop running away, pleading with her not to be scared of him.  But she felt frightened and betrayed - what had happened to the husband she loved, this wonderful man with such fine morals who adored and respected her, the man she trusted with all her heart and all the savings in their Co-op account? She ran through the busy, crowded streets of New Blue Labour City and he charged after her, shielding her from all the angry drivers with no patience at all for humble folk from quiet little villages where everyone is friendly.

Seeking sanctuary, they saw a bride on her way into church, and went inside, away from the noisy street, even though the husband and his wife were good atheists with no time for religion. The bride and groom looked so happy and the vicar asked the groom to pledge that he would always protect and love his wife and never allow any harm to come to her.  With these words, the farmer broke down in tears, overcome with sorrow, because he was very in touch with his emotions and wasn't embarrassed to cry in public.  "Forgive me" he sobbed into his wife's lap, and she realised at that moment, he was still the adorable man she loved and admired.

Eventually, unable to resist any longer, they kissed... and kissed... and kissed...

It was as if the farmer and his wife were falling in love all over again.  Not just falling physically in love, but falling back in love with their good, ethical socialist principals.  "Of course we can shut down ATOS," he moaned in her ear, "God, I'd love so much to repeal that bedroom tax!"  and she swooned.  All this talk of bedrooms, had her a little flushed, so they decided it might be best to go and get some fresh air.  (This was the house of the Lord, for goodness sakes!)  They walked around for hours, gazing into one another's eyes, as if the whole crazy, capitalist world had ceased to exist.  They talked about building affordable carbon-neutral homes, they talked about cancelling trident, they talked about taking the whole of the NHS back into public ownership again.  The farmer was euphoric, "I'll banish that nasty Blue woman from our village forever!" he promised.

They were having such a fantastic time together, talking about reinstating EMA and cancelling tuition fees, they decided to go and have their photograph taken, so they could remember this wonderful day forever.  When the photographer asked them when the Tories would get back in power, the farmer said something about snowballs and hell!

Eventually, the farmer and his wife had to leave the chaotic city and return to their peaceful, friendly village.  There's only so much making up you can do in public, and he was a virile, red-blooded male once again!   But on the way home, disaster struck, a thunderstorm came in from nowhere, and their little boat was tossed around violently, waves lashing over them, and the farmer clung to his wife, terrified of losing her, his one true love, after everything they'd been through together...

I should perhaps say, this fabulous tale of passion and politics is not about specific individuals, rather it's a representation of what seems to be happening within the Labour Party, and which an increasing number of us on the left are concerned and confused about.  We live in hope that we won't be cast over the side and the party will realise its core support, with good traditional Labour values, needs a little appreciation and reassurance too. 

Children whose feelings and fears tended to be dismissed by parents, grow up into adults still afraid of feelings

In recent blogs I've talked about the debilitating nature of depression, how it often stems from the lack of a secure attachment in childhood, and how society seems reluctant to look at why people are depressed, in favour of giving everyone a 12 step manual, to go off and get better, and stop going on about it!  A bit like giving a child a plaster for his bloody knee, instead of the cuddle he craves.

We're often told that dwelling on where depression comes from, is wallowing, but many people genuinely want to find out why they're like they are.  Children whose feelings and fears tended to be dismissed by parents, grow up into adults still afraid of feelings and it takes a lot of courage to want to find out more about yourself, so that you can improve your life and your relationships with others, through insight.  We should be encouraging everyone to venture on journeys of personal development.  When we understand ourselves better, and learn to genuinely love and respect ourselves more, we are able to trust the love of others, we become better husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, friends and lovers.

This blog will never send you away with a 12 point plan and a sticking plaster.  This blog believes there is no better way to find lasting contentment in life than talking and sharing and showing people we care desperately about them, their feelings will always matter to us.  We may not have received that level of unconditional love in childhood, but as adults we can strive to offer compassion, to ourselves when we need a bit of an internal hug, and to those we share our lives with.

Caring is cool.  Love is incredibly cool.

(Clearly I'm never likely to make it to Prime Minister, with a view like that!)

Stories we're bombarded with in the mainstream media, and programmes on our TVs seem to portray a very cynical view of society and encourage us to adopt their harsh assumptions -
  • Only beautiful people are worth knowing.
  • Ageing is bad.
  • People with mental health problems are always a danger to themselves and others.
  • The Arts are a complete waste of time and money.
  • Women always judge men on the size of their salary (along with that other thing!)
  • Most of the people in your local community are to be feared and despised.
  • Men always prefer sex to intimacy.
  • Each time you take the tube, your life is in danger.
Clearly these beliefs are false, but open the pages of any tabloid newspaper and it will be full of throwaway stories perpetuating these bizarre ideas, and because these messages are repeated, in little ways, day after day, our unconscious can start to absorb and adopt them, without even questioning why we think that.

A more honest list of statements would perhaps be -
  • Some beautiful people are lovely, some are quite shallow and judge themselves and others only on looks.  It's how someone makes you feel that makes them attractive to you, or not.
  • Youth is often beautiful to observe, but there is beauty also in the wisdom that can only come out of experience of life, and love.
  • Most people in society are a danger to no-one; you're no more likely to be attacked by someone with a mental health condition than by someone who doesn't have one.
  • The Arts form part of the fabric of society which give life depth and meaning for many people, they allow us to get in touch with our emotions and promote creative thinking and problem solving skills.
  • Most women are more interested in a man's personality, and how he makes her feel, than what he can buy her (or what he's capable of in the sack!)
  • Our local communities are full of a wonderful, diverse mix of people, most of whom have integrity and would probably go to someone's aid in an emergency, rather than walk on by.
  • Most men don't only want sex from a woman, most respect women as intelligent, funny individuals and enjoy their company in and out of bed. Most men love intimacy and sex without emotions can leave you feeling hollow inside.
  • People who take the tube each morning are there to get to work, to pay the bills, to keep their family fed and clothed, just like you.

Now speaking of men and women, love and intimacy, I want to close with this clip from an iconic movie from the 1920s which I fall in love with every time I see it.  The direction is simply beautiful, and the acting is incredibly powerful, perhaps even more so because of the lack of spoken words.  It would be interesting for men maybe to watch it, and notice how they feel, as we've said before, men can be even more affected by images conveying emotion, than women, due to the way their brains tend to process visual information.  Some of you will be familiar with this film, others will not, but it's stunning, and this first clip reflects perfectly the emotional turmoil many couples go through in our society today, when betrayals are revealed, typically, secret love affairs.

Having been seduced by a beautiful femme fatale arriving in his village, the farmer has taken his wife out into the river where he was instructed to throw her overboard and leave her to drown.  But the look of total fear in his wife's eyes, as he approaches her to commit this brutal act, shocks him back to reality, leaving him utterly distraught that he could have contemplated hurting this woman, the mother of his child, this beautiful creature he was once in love with.
Here we see a stunning portrayal of pain and betrayal, played out over 10 minutes, a luxury we would never have in modern films.  Remarkable acting performances from George O'Brien and Janet Gaynor...
Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, directed by F. W. Murnau

And if you want to see, possibly the most adorable 10 minutes of film ever recorded, here's the next part, which conveys perfectly the theory that when we fall in love, we recreate the symbiotic relationship doting parents have with their babies... 
Guys, you might need a tissue!  :-)xx
Studies earlier in the year concluded reading fiction is good for our mental health.  If all this talk of love and attachment has you aching for more, consider giving my first novel a go, which is a somewhat unorthodox story of love, lovers, and complex family dynamics. 

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Depression, attachment and love

I wrote recently about depression and the pervasive nature of it, and many of us who work within this field believe a lot of depression stems from a lack of a secure attachment in childhood.  The type of attachment style we develop as an infant with our principal caregiver, will form the blueprint for the way we approach all our relationships throughout our lives - with friends and colleagues, lovers and even our own children, when the time comes.

A secure attachment is developed when a child grows up in a nurturing environment where all his physical and emotional needs are met and where his carers are able to manage their own emotions well, so they don't exhibit aggressive behaviours around the baby, even when they experience their own distress.   The child learns from this, that you can trust other people to help you in life and he develops a sense of being worthy of love and respect from others, good self-esteem.  Being constantly cuddled and doted on promotes the release of neurotransmitters in the brain which aid in the management of stress hormones.

When a child grows up in a family where adults don't tend to manage their emotions well, where aggression is often displayed when parents experienced distress and where the baby's need for comfort and security is not highly prioritised, the infant learns that he doesn't deserve to be looked after and you cannot trust adults to care for you; when you are at your most vulnerable, people will tend to let you down, resulting in the child developing low self-esteem.  A lack of cuddling, also results in lower levels of the stress reducing hormones, and the child will inevitably experience more anxiety and distress, with few mechanisms for controlling this.  This baby's brain and personality will develop and grow differently to infants who received more nurturing.

A lack of being able to trust others to truly care about you, and feelings of not being worthy of that sort of devotion, make relationships very hard to manage.  You can be married to a wonderful partner, have adorable children, and still feel completely isolated in the world if your parents taught you, you're unworthy of love.

For some, the prospect of a lasting marriage is not even on the radar, they had no experience of seeing what a happy relationship between adults was like, and throughout their lives, the concept has been quite alien to them, understandably.

Research suggests strongly that babies' brains are programmed at birth to form these attachments with those who have the potential to care for them, thus increasing their chance of survival.  Studies also suggest most babies are hardwired to feel sympathy for a victim, when they witness aggression, and it seems innate to our species to want to connect with other humans, to love, purely for love's sake, for the joy of connecting.

The drive in humans to connect and to love, is arguably even stronger than the drive to have sex for the purpose of producing offspring; not everyone we feel romantic attraction towards is a young, fit, fertile member of the opposite sex.  As a species, we've evolved to be much more sophisticated than that.

Often, people with low self-esteem and difficulty trusting others, crave love nonetheless, more so, in many cases.  It is as if, deep down, we're still hardwired to want to be close to others, but we haven't been able to learn the skills to make achieving that easy.

Some don't.  Some people learned in childhood your needs will never, ever be met by other human beings, that others are not even capable of understanding what your needs might be, often due to a complete lack of empathy in the parents, resulting in severe neglect, both in terms of physical and emotional care.  This tends, in turn, to produce adults who are incredibly cold and hostile and completely opposed to the idea of connecting emotionally with others.  Again, it's not their fault, this was what they internalised as an infant, the world is always a brutal place, there is nothing to be gained from loving others.

But for most of us, regardless of our upbringing and however good or bad we are at it, there remains a desire to experience the emotions connected with love, both platonic love and romantic love. 

Empathy allows us to experience emotions connected with love, even when they're happening to someone else, even when that's a completely fictional scenario, such as in a movie we're watching.  Our brains produce dopamine and even oxytocin when we watch romantic interactions in a film, we invest our own emotions in a couple who are in love and our reward is that feeling of bliss when we see them kiss.  Studies reveal that men might experience this even more intensely than women, because their brains are more programmed to respond to visual stimulation, and this might explain why lots of men feel quite uncomfortable watching romantic films.  For all the social progression of the last 50 years, many men still don't find it easy to express feelings of love in public, but it's likely they crave the feelings nonetheless.  

People seem increasingly comfortable openly watching pornography - even at work.  But watching scenes of a deeply romantic nature is something many will avoid like the proverbial plague.

As a society, we seem to be suppressing this notion of connecting with a small group or people, or just one individual on a very deep level, in favour of lots of superficial interactions with a vast range of people, often all at the same time, on Facebook and Twitter for example.  It's the illusion of having emotional connection with friends, but actually many of these people we'll only ever know as a screen name, we'll never meet them in the flesh, never give them a real hug, we'll never even talk to them on the telephone.  We just post happy faces, and sad faces on their twitter comments, as if we knew them; frequently within a couple of weeks we never hear from them again.  They could be computer generated identities for all we know, and some of them probably are.

But if people are to live genuinely fulfilling lives, I think there is a need to think about relationships more, to prioritise love higher, to feel like we belong somewhere and we'll always have a place there.  I think it's still a feature of human nature to want that level of emotional security.  Some say forever is unrealistic these days, that we have to accept people come and go in our lives, and that's all there is to it.  In a recent study of engaged couples about to marry, more than half didn't expect their marriage would last forever.

The TV shows transmitted into our living rooms night after night, soaps, dramas, documentaries and so on, tend to depict a vision of society where relationships are more doomed to fail than last, reinforcing our fears that nothing is forever.  These are incredibly cynical times we live in, but yet, there remains this craving for many, for connection and community, compassion and kindness.

Old films, depicting the values of generations before, are dismissed as sentimental and lacking relevance to our modern culture.  We're brought up from a young age to be independent, relying on others for anything, including our emotional wellbeing is largely discouraged even in childhood. And yet, so many of us still watch these old black and white movies and want to connect with a time when people did seem to care about each other more and have a greater sense of loyalty and love.

Will society continue this trend of everyone being more isolated, more disconnected?  Or will things eventually turn full circle and will people reject the idea of placing more emotional value on objects they can buy than the human beings in their lives?  Who knows, but I think it would be beneficial to a great many people's emotional wellbeing if some of those old fashioned values and views returned.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Instead of forcing people with depression to adapt to the "regular" world, why doesn't the "regular" world try and adapt and accommodate people with depression?

I was first truly aware I suffered from depression, in my early twenties.  Having married at twenty-one and twelve months later gone through the devastating trauma of suffering a stillbirth, I was advised to go to counselling to talk through my feelings about the failed pregnancy and my daughter's death.  What came out in those sessions, was all my experiences of loss throughout my lifetime and I suddenly realised I'd been depressed through adolescence and almost certainly back in my childhood too.

One in four of us, or one in three, depending on who's statistics you believe, will suffer an episode of depression severe enough for us to go and seek medical help for that, at some point in our lifetime.

The reality is of course, that those of us with a history of depression don't tend to just have one off episodes in our life, and then we're right as rain again.  For most of us, if you suffered once from depression, you're always aware it's there.  Clinical depression is such a powerful and distressing illness to go through, it's hard to convince yourself everything will be great again from now on and that's all very much in the past. Absolutely!  Totally!  Definitely!

I think many do attempt to take control, by trying to convince themselves the depression has been banished forever now, but more and more of us are finding the courage to talk about how it really feels to live with that cloud hanging over us, or the threat of it, constantly.  Will it come back today?  Next month?  If I become ill?  When I've retired?

Treatment for depression still tends to focus on antidepressants, in the short term, and talking therapies - counselling, psychotherapy and learning ways to manage anxiety through approaches like CBT.  No-one claims they can cure depression, and with good reason.  For the many millions of us who suffer this debilitating disease (and the World Health Organisation does classify it as a disease) very few have ever come out and proclaimed to have been cured of it.

So millions in the UK suffer from it, relationships break down over it, working days are lost because of it, many even lose their lives as a result of it, and yet we still won't accept how devastating the effects are, within our culture.  We refuse to acknowledge the colossal impact depression has on most of us, in some way or other, whether that's being a sufferer ourselves or caring about someone else who is, and the trauma and frustration of seeing their suffering .

Society, governments, family, employers all play their part in perpetuating the notion that depression tends to be quite a minor and transient thing, and as a result, it's impossible to work towards relieving suffering, if you refuse to believe the suffering is there.  Take a few pills, talk to the nice lady for fifty minutes, then you'll feel better. 

The reason it is so difficult for the vast majority of people to really talk about and acknowledge, is that we all know it could happen to us, all it takes is a little trigger event, and we all know we could be heading on a downward spiral to psychological hell.  A death in the family, losing a job, debts piling up, children going off the rails, finding a lump - all of these things are distressing enough to trigger a bout of depression in even the most cheerful, positive souls. 

And that fear is the reason it's not talked about as much as it should be.  As much as it needs to be if we want to try and relieve some of the suffering people are going through.

For all the research and the profound theories, going right back to Sigmund Freud's time, all we know about depression really, is that we don't know very much.  Neuroscience is making greater strides now, but researchers still admit, we're in the very infancy of trying to understand what's going wrong in the brain, when someone suffers from depression.  Because it is a physical disease of the brain, we can put people in a scanner now and see that certain regions of their brain aren't functioning in the same way as for someone who is not suffering from depression.  People with depression aren't just imagining it, any more than someone with cirrhosis of the liver is imagining that, or someone born without legs is imagining their feet are missing.

Six sessions of CBT and pills to make you feel happier for a while, will not help someone grow their legs back or learn to carry on, as if they had fully functioning feet.  Problems within the brain itself, missing and damaged neurons and synapses, overactive amygdalae, lie at the heart of depressive illness.  These are physical problems which result in the brain struggling to function as it should.  In my view, too much emphasis in placed on urging depression sufferers to focus on getting better, with a sort of mind over matter approach, and not enough emphasis is placed on the reality, that this person has an emotional disability, which makes everything in life much harder to achieve.

I can't help wondering if, instead of forcing the depressed person to put all their effort into denying their negative feelings - through distraction, or drugs or self-help courses - we could try to adapt, as a society to including people with depression much more.  Accepting them for what they are, a person who suffers from time to time with depression, and when they're suffering, society could try compassion and patience and validation, instead of denial.

Most of us would accept these days, that adults who suffer from depression, tend to have come from families where they weren't endorsed as an individual person, where they were given far too many negative messages about themselves, predominantly from parents, and not shown love and compassion when they failed to live up to other people's standards.

This lack of compassion now, in society, this need to give a pill or an informative book to cure your condition, is a bit like telling a child who's just been beaten to have a sweetie to take the pain away.

The sweetie never took the pain away, it just fed our festering resentment.

I feel a need to end this on a positive note though, and that will say a lot about me, do I also have embedded within me, some need to leave readers feeling better?  Quite possibly.

My own story and outcome is probably as positive as it could have been, given the circumstances.  Hundreds of hours of counselling, dozens and dozens of self-help manuals, training as a psychodynamic therapist to learn where depression and neurosis comes from, writing novels and blogs to express feelings and frustrations which once just festered in the darkest corners of my mind, have all helped me to manage my depression, to the degree that I haven't had a serious episode since I was in my thirties and I'm fifty now.  It is always there, the worry, I do suffer more anxiety than lots of people and I'd be lying if I claimed to be in any way cured, but now I can recognise the signs easily, and take practical steps to minimise stress, such as getting enough sleep, eating well, getting lots of exercise and sometimes avoiding certain people when I'm aware I'm under more pressure than usual.  I live a relatively happy life, self-awareness allows me to have positive relationships with people and I think I tend to be liked and respected by friends and colleagues.

What helps more than anything, is listening to other people talking about their experiences of depression, such as Stephen Fry, recently, and the musician, John Grant.  Hearing these eloquent accounts of suffering, doesn't make me more depressed, it makes me feel more normal, because good, decent, wonderful people out there have struggled all their lives with the same emotional disability I developed in childhood.  I accept them and have compassion for their suffering, and so I have compassion for myself.

Now we need employers, governments, families and so on, to accept the seriousness of our disability, our disease.  We need kindness from them, only this will help build our self-confidence at times of distress.  Instead of denying our suffering and forcing us to carry on as if nothing is wrong (the same invalidation we suffered in childhood) society needs to show us patience and compassion.  They might be surprised by the results.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

New research with babies seems to indicate human beings are born kind and caring.

Sigmund Freud famously believed that human beings are born angry and that suppression of this inevitable aggression lies at the heart of our neurosis, while his one time friend and confidante, Carl Jung, believed human beings are born seeking to achieve a sense of wholeness and completion as a fulfilled individual. 

And John Bowlby developed a theory about human relationships, which sought to explain that babies are desperate to achieve secure attachments with caregivers, and distress in failing to achieve this level of love in infancy, affects all a person's relationships throughout life.  If we were insecurely attached to our parents, we'll struggle to form fulfilling relationships with friends, lovers and even our own children, he said.

Most of us are fascinated by what makes us human and why we relate to people and the world around us as we do.

Researchers in Kyoto University have been carrying out a study with infants aged 10 months, to see if humans exhibit sympathy before the age of one.  Babies were shown a short clip involving different coloured shapes which bounced around the screen displaying bullying behaviour - aggressively pursuing and bashing another shape, victim behaviour - being constantly attacked by the other object and a neutral shape which neither attacked nor needed to escape aggression.

They found that when offered a real shape to play with, like the ones in the films, the babies overwhelmingly chose the shape the same as the victim in the clip.  Most rejected the aggressive shape.  Given the choice between the neutral shape and the victim object, they also picked the victim, suggesting this motivation is not just about avoiding aggression - human babies seem hardwired to be drawn to the suffering of others.

This was a relatively small study, but the results are compelling.  It would appear we, as humans, are driven to reach out to those who suffer and sympathise and connect with them; at the deepest levels of our psyche we appear to be kind and caring creatures and not selfish, by design.

As a society, we need to focus much more on this embedded need to be compassionate to one another if we are to create a world where most people live happy contented, emotionally and physically safe lives.  But of course, corporations and governments spend billions on trying to convince us otherwise.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Review of "Return to the Stones" - Jeremy Burnham

Back in the summer of 2010, I was at a family garden party for a birthday celebration, and my three sisters and I found ourselves talking about TV shows from our childhood.

I could hardly remember the programmes they recalled, I had no emotional attachment to most of those series at all, but I did remember "Children of the Stones" very vividly and with enormous affection.  It was a really compelling drama, set quite locally for us (it was filmed in Avebury, Wilts)  and given that this was a children's TV series, it was incredibly cool.  I would have been about 13 when it was broadcast, in 1977 and I'm sure I wasn't the only teenager desperately hoping for a second series.  Sadly it never came.

But imagine my joy, when I discovered last year that Jeremy Burnham had written and published a sequel!  Set some 30 years on, Matthew now lives in America with a teenage son of his own, Tom (his ex-wife sounds rather cold and hostile), and the two are invited to Milbury by his father Adam, who, it transpires, had gone on to marry museum curator Margaret (ahhhh, I love a happy ending) though she's sadly died in a car accident a few years ago (ohhh dear, well, they did have some lovely years together.)  The renowned astrophysicist also went on to buy the Manor House at Milbury, and lives there with step-daughter Sandra (now a doctor) and her adopted daughter, Khonsu.

Matthew has mixed feelings about returning to the village, and in particular the Manor House, while Tom feels strangely drawn to the place, thanks to bizarre events involving an online virtual game he's been playing.

When Matt and Sandra are reunited for the first time since their teenage days, both are instantly aware of a great bond between them again, and similarly, Tom and Su discover they have a lot in common also.   Against such a heavy backdrop of science, those tender little moments, where characters are pondering their human feelings for one another, help us connect with protagonists, and genuinely care what happens to them.

Somewhat inevitably, as soon as Matthew and Tom arrive, unusual things start happening again, and before long there's a whole new mystery engulfing them, and us, and another scary one, at that.  Tension builds, as the chapters unfold and everything reaches a weird and terrifying climax, on midsummer's day, with lives in peril, once again.

A compelling read, particularly if you, like me, have affection for the original TV drama, with lovely little cameos from Mrs Crabtree and Dai, this novel left me pining for a film adaptation of the sequel.  Set decades on, I would imagine, in theory, many of the original cast would be able to play their original characters.  What a lovely reunion that would be, though as I write, I have no idea what ever became of Peter Demin who portrayed Matthew and Katharine Levy who played Sandra.  What a treat, to have them all together again.

Remembering 70s ITV series, "Children of the Stones"

While much about the 1970s was indisputably awful (orange nylon y-fronts, vinyl sofas etc) some things were remarkably cool and have surely stood the test of time.  A lot of drama was very well made and incredibly creative and exciting, we're going back to a time of course, before almost everything became somewhat formulaic, as it seems to be now.
"Children of the Stones" was a brilliantly written and directed, children's drama, set in the fictional village of Milbury, with its fascinating ancient stone circle.  Filmed at Avebury, Wilts, down the road from Stonehenge, the drama focussed around astrophysicist, Adam Brake (Gareth Thomas) and his teenage son Matthew (Peter Demin) who came to the village one summer to study the stones, and quickly established something very strange was going on with the locals.
Broadcast in 1977, and like previous iconic ITV children's series, "Ace of Wands" (1970-72), the drama had a genuinely sinister feel, and stood out as being quite radical for it's target audience.  It didn't patronise viewers, as many kids' shows did then and still do, instead it invited them to open up their minds and let their imagination run free and as a result was utterly compelling.  I'm sure  I wasn't the only 13 year old longing for a second series!
A second TV series never came, sadly, though a sequel novel "Return to the Stones" was published last year by Jeremy Burnham, which is a good read if you remember the original TV series with affection and fancy a trip down memory lane.
It would be wonderful if the sequel were filmed now, and being set some 30 years on, would be feasible for the original cast to play their parts once again, though I have no idea whatever became of Peter Demin or Katharine Levy (who played Sandra.)
Extract from "Children of the Stones", 1977,  starring Gareth Thomas and Peter Demin

Monday, 3 June 2013

The 7 Stages of Grief and Loss explained

Many of us will have heard of a theory that states there are 7 stages of loss and grief (some psychologists say 5).  The belief is that we go through 7 different phases of dealing with any loss in our lives, and this theory relates to all kind of loss, from the relatively mundane, such as losing our car keys, to the enormous losses we all have to face in life, such as the breakdown of important relationships and the death of cherished loved ones.

Although these stages go generally in order, we may find ourselves hopping back to previous stages, and if people get stuck on a particular level, this is when there can be a sense of hopelessness, this is often the point at which someone will consider counselling to help move them on.

There is undoubtedly a lot of loss around, for a lot of people at the moment, and I thought I would  try to explain these stages of loss, and what is happening at each level, using a number of examples:

  • losing your house keys
  • losing a job
  • end of a relationship
  • death of a loved one

The 7 Stages

1)   Shock

You're simply stunned by the event of losing something or someone.  Inability to even comprehend what has happened, senses in temporary shutdown. "God!!"  "Shit!!"

2)   Denial

Inability to accept what's happened.  "Everything's fine!  "This can't be happening!"
  • Keys - They're here somewhere, pocket, bag, kitchen table!
  • Job - They can't sack me, they've made a mistake, someone will come in and take us over!
  • Relationship - She hasn't actually left me, she'll be back!
  • Death - Talking to the loved one, as if they were still there.  What should I do Joe?
3)   Anger

Lashing out, losing emotional and physical control, looking for someone or something to blame for the loss.
  • Keys - Who moved my keys! This always happens when you make me late!
  • Job - It's the managers' fault for losing contracts!  I blame immigrants! I hated that job!
  • Relationship - She never loved me!  She only wanted me until someone better came along!
  • Death - The hospital's to blame! He should have given up smoking!
4)   Bargaining

Making internal deals with yourself or someone else, or with God.  If the situation changes, the outcome will change.  Pledging to make sacrifices for a better outcome.  Revisiting the physical place of loss in the hope of a different outcome.

  • Keys  - I had them in the kitchen, they must be there!  OK, I'll pick up your mother, now where's my keys!
  • Job - I'll take a pay cut.  I'll work longer hours.  Don't sack me, sack them!
  • Relationship - I'll change!  Marry me!  Let's have a baby!
  • Death - I'll give up work to look after you! I'll donate all my savings to the hospice - please don't be dead!  Visiting clairvoyants to try and keep the loved one in your life.
5)   Guilt

Taking on all the blame for the loss.

  • Keys - I should have put them on the hook.  I should have got a spare set cut.
  • Job - It's because I had time off for my bad back.  It's because I'm in my 50s.
  • Relationship - I took her for granted.  I mess up every relationship I have.
  • Death - I was driving too fast.  I should have made him go for those check ups.
6)   Depression

Overwhelming sadness, physical and emotional withdrawal from life and family and friends, loss of hope, despair.

  • Keys - I can't be bothered to look anymore.
  • Job - I'm never going to find another job.  I'm on the scrap heap now.
  • Relationship - No-one else will ever want me.  She was the only one for me.
  • Death - What's the point in going on without him?  I want to be with him.
7)   Acceptance

Coming to terms with what's happened.  Acknowledging the impact of the loss while recognising life has to move on.  Appreciating how valued the object, situation or person was and ultimately a sense of hope that there will be happy times again in the future.

  • Keys - I guess I'd better get another set cut after work then.
  • Job - Let's organise a leaving party, and stay in touch after the redundancies.
  • Relationship - We had some good times, but it just wasn't meant to be. Joining dating sites.
  • Death - Recalling happy memories, looking at old photos and feeling thankful to have had the loved one.  Decorating rooms in the house, such as their bedroom.  Organising a permanent monument in memory of their life - park benches, shrubs, setting up a charity in their name.

Of course, some losses are much easier to come to terms with than others, but the belief is, that we will still go through each of these stages as we process the emotions associated with the loss.  So in some cases we'll go through all 7 stages in one hour or one day, in more devastating circumstances, it will take months or even years to feel like life is moving on.

As a general guide, psychologists and counsellors would expect it to take about 2 years to come to terms with the death of a loved one.  When the first set of anniversaries come around, their birthday, wedding anniversary, anniversary of their death, we can find ourselves back at the anger stage for a while.  By the second anniversary, the sense of loss will usually have lessened considerably and be replaced with some level of hope.  When people are still deep in mourning, 2 years on from the death, some benefit might be gained from getting help with coping with the sense of grief.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Have you had your dose of oxytocin today? When was the last time someone gave you a really good, warm, genuine hug?

I've written recently about the continuing rise in the number of people suffering from depression, how I believe this is linked to great changes in our society over the past 50 years, and that neuroscience is revealing how complex the human brain is - in many ways we are only in the infancy of our understanding about how our minds work.

I've also suggested psychological good health is linked to physical interactions with other human beings in the real world.  Face to face chats, a good old giggle and lots of warm, loving hugs, do seem to protect people from the affects of stress and anxiety which lead ultimately to depression.

But when was the last time someone gave you a really good, warm, genuine hug, where you could actually sense your brain releasing oxytocin? Oxytocin is commonly known as the love drug; it's particularly associated with breastfeeding and lovemaking, but we also release it when we get a cuddle and even from holding someone's hand.  It's an incredibly powerful hormone designed to aid human bonding, and is at least one of the factors which led to humans being such a successful species.  As much as we might be driven by our selfish genes, most of us also feel a deep need to connect with fellow human beings and to live in social groups, with few people functioning well in complete isolation. 

This powerful, unconscious need to connect with other people has been one of the reasons the internet has been such a phenomenal success.  You walk around any town now, or you sit in a coffee shop or on the bus or train, and all around you there will be people connecting with friends, via social media.  And yet if you interrupt them to ask if the seat next to them is taken, they're quite likely to answer with just one or two words.

It's the illusion of being connected though and for many, those remote, online relationships do ultimately leave them feeling unsatisfied, even with Skype, even with cybersex or sex-texting and all manner of other strange things people get up to in their desperation to feel close to other human beings.  As far as I know, the brain doesn't release oxytocin when you tap plastic buttons with your fingertips.

With the number of people suffering from depression, anxiety, loneliness and stress, I think we have to address the emotional needs not being met by our society these days.  We  should be encouraging people to get out in their communities and get in touch with likeminded locals and physically interact in the real world, and perhaps even put their iPhone in their pocket for half an hour, to chat to that person opposite drinking their coffee?

Treatment for depression is still a largely hit and miss affair...

I wrote yesterday, that an increasing number of people in the UK are suffering from depression, and that the world health organisation predicts that by 2030, depression will be the single leading cause of illness across the world.

And yet treatment for depression is still a largely hit and miss affair, with many GPs lacking sufficient training to deal with psychological problems their patients present with.  Antidepressants seem to work for some, in the short term, but tend to come with a list of possible side affects as long as your arm (including sexual problems) and despite what's claimed, dependence certainly does happen for some patients.  Six session courses of CBT style therapy are being increasingly prescribed, but these focus on managing feelings of anxiety and stress, the CBT model doesn't tend to deal with the underlying causes of the problem, like drugs, it's just condition management really.

Medium to long term counselling to deal with on-going depression, is unlikely to be prescribed (and funded) by the NHS these days, though once it was more common.  And yet WHO acknowledges the increase in depression is probably linked to changes in society over the past 50 years, so the need for something more than a quick fix solution will continue.  Families tend to be smaller than they once were and family members often move away from the communities they grew up in so the old support systems people relied on when they were going through a tough time, are simply not there now.  There is far more focus on satisfying our emotional needs through material objects we can purchase and electronic advances and the internet age gives us all a sense that we are more connected to people, than we actually are.  Chatting on Facebook with someone who lives 300 miles away, is simply not the same as having people physically in your life, able to give you a physical hug (with all the endorphins our brains release when we get physical comfort from another human being.)

This trend, of communicating digitally more and more is likely to continue, the illusion of being close to people, and the psychological demands of life for most of us, are much greater than they were for our grandparents' generation, and so depression looks set to increase for the foreseeable future. 

Neuroscience is one area where advances are starting to be made now, but what studies show us at the moment is how complex the human brain is, and how much we really don't know at this stage, so it comes as no surprise that a little pill or 30 minutes of CBT cannot possibly hope to relieve depression for most people.

I suspect, in the fullness of time, science will reveal our physical interactions with other human beings, specifically at a young age, and particularly in the womb, have a monumental impact on our ability to cope with stress, anxiety and loss in adult life. 

Saturday, 1 June 2013

MPs plan to increase their salaries by a further £20,000 per year - because they're worth it? Meanwhile increasing number of the rest of us, live off food bank hand-outs and suffer depression.

Anyone who works in the mental health field will tell you times are incredibly tough right now.  Not only are the number of clients needing support with depression heavily up, on times gone by, but morale throughout MH services seems to be at an all-time low.  Cut backs to vital budgets and constant government meddling with the NHS, mean there are less services and less supporting professionals to go round, despite what ministers claim.  Workloads are greater, yet paid hours are being reduced, resulting in an increasing number of staff having to take time off due to their own stress and depression.

But stress and depression are by no means limited to those who are regular mental health service users. 

Around one in four of us will experience an episode of clinical depression, severe enough for us to seek treatment.  That's just the ones who actually find the courage to go along to their doctor, for there will be many more people just struggling on alone, maybe self-medicating with drink and drugs; eating disorders and self-harm are some of the other increasingly common ways people deal with depression.

The World Health Organisation predicts that by 2030, more people will be suffering from depression than any other health problem.  More than cancer, or respiratory disease, more than stroke or heart disease.

Without a doubt, here in the UK, the government's brutal cuts have had a devastating, often deadly impact on those most vulnerable in our communities.  Added to this, we have an opposition, who more often than not, agrees with and supports the government, rather than standing up for people's basic human rights.  Paranoia runs rampant among those in power with their own mental disorders.  This is behind the frequent verbal attacks on migrant workers, and actually, contrary to what ministers and shadow ministers say, going on about immigration all the time, does sound quite racist to most decent people. 

At a time when we're constantly being told by MPs of all three main parties that welfare must be cut, and food banks are a better way making sure children are fed than providing proper jobs and decent wages, these same MPs are expected to grant themselves a £20,000 annual pay increase, and no I didn't write too many noughts there, that extra 20 grand will take an MPs annual salary up to £75,000 and this is just for their regular work as an MP.  They get additional payments  for sitting on select committees and then they get those generous expenses of course. So for a five year parliament term now, the MPs' wage bill will be £243,750,000. No wonder they're all millionaires.

That's £243,750,000 we pay them, to tell us we need to accept a living standards cut, with over half a million people reliant on food bank hand-outs to try to keep their families fed.

And that sense of injustice, and the widening gap between those who have a gross excess of wealth and those struggling to just pay their gas bill, will continue to increase while we elect these wealthy, privileged people to run the country, who, even with good intentions, can never be in touch with how life is for the rest of us.

Surely there has to be a better, fairer, more humane way to run a prosperous country like ours?