As November arrives the poppies come out. They can be seen on lapels and jackets across Britain. They represent the flowers which bloomed on Flanders Fields following the bloodshed of World War I. Continue reading
As we have become more dependent on smartphones they have gone from simple means of communication to tracking devices and social monitors.The movement harnessing data collected by your smartphone or personal technology is known as Quantified Self.
It is currently best known for it’s use in diet and fitness apps for example Nike+ FuelBand or the Apple Watch. However similar apps have also been developed for contraception, family planning and now mental health.
Ginger.io was developed in Massachusetts. It takes the principle of Quantified Self and applies it to health monitoring. It’s first commercial products are designed for depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. The app can be downloaded for iPhone and Android.
It collects data in two ways: Passively by monitoring things your phone can record automatically like how often you, exercise, sleep or text friends. And actively by asking how your feeling and to recording it daily.
The creators claim this data can be used in two ways. Firstly if someone doesn’t get out of bed or contact anyone it may indicate a slump in mood. This can send off an alert to the users chosen parties be that doctors, friends or family. Then they know just to send a text or drop by to check out how the user is doing.
Secondly the daily self assessment maps how the user has been feeling over the course of a week or a month, since when you see the doctor it can be difficult to remember your overall well being. This also has the potential to help identify triggers and patterns.
Early results from the US indicate it may improve outcomes for users through early intervention. However for many the app may presents serious privacy and data protection issues.
There are several studies that indicate how close you live to green space has a significant effect on your risk of mental illness.
This weekend I had the pleasure of returning to my native Somerset. Going home reminded me of the peace of mind you can take from time in nature.
In May, GPonline reported that Dr James Cavanagh, from Brook Green Medical Centre in London, has been prescribing gardening to patients with severe mental health issues.
Dr Cavanagh said: ‘I have at least three patients whose families have come to me and said it’s made an enormous difference to their relatives – they’re happier and more confident”.
The University Medical Centre in Amsterdam looked at the health records of 350,000 people across Holland. The annual prevalence of anxiety disorders for those living in a residential areas containing 10% green space was 26 per 1000. For those living in an area containing 90% green space it was 18 per 1000.
Strolling across open fields allows the mind to wander away from the troubles of modern life. Attention restoration theory states nature’s “soft fascinations” like rustling leaves or passing clouds can effortlessly draw attention.
Time spent with animals is also said to be good for mental health. According to the Biophilia hypothesis, our interest in animals stems from early humans’ dependence on signals in the environment indicating safety or threat. This means seeing animals at rest or in a peaceful state indicates personal safety and results in feelings of well-being.
Not everyone is lucky enough to have these beautiful landscapes on their doorstep. Now living in London I have to go out of my way to find the green space I was blessed with in Somerset.
If you are also in London and you have a free day Richmond Park is stunning and the deer are very tame!
If want to find some green space near you follow the link below and enter your postcode:
Featured image accredited to Kip Dudden
Empathy: “The experience of understanding another person’s condition from their perspective. You place yourself in their shoes and feel what they are feeling.”
Depression and anxiety are common medical conditions that afflict millions of people across the world. According to mentalhealth.org they account for nearly 20% of all GP appointments in the UK
What is confusing for many is that these conditions share their names with normal emotions that everyone experiences at some time or another. For example someone might feel anxious about starting a new job or moving to a new city. Equally someone who has never suffered from clinical depression will have felt despair, perhaps following the death of a loved one.
This insight should in theory provide friends and families [if not society at large] with a better understanding of these diseases. Ironically when it comes to discussing these conditions a fundamental misunderstanding can lead to two common failures of empathy amongst those who are not familiar with mental illness:
“I don’t understand what you are anxious/depressed about?”
“I’m so sorry. I know EXACTLY how you feel, I remember before this job interview…”
In an attempt to relate to someone’s suffering people see things through the lens of their own experience. Both these statements reflect a lack of knowledge rather than a lack of empathy. For now, this may be their best efforts to step into someone else’s shoes.
Even so, these responses can be difficult. The stigma around mental illness means it can take a lot of courage for people to talk about their condition. Once this has been done anything that feels belittling or patronising can be understandably very frustrating.
If you have reached out to someone and heard these words don’t be defeated. With a bit more knowledge people who make the effort to empathise can be supportive. If you take the time to send them a link on Facebook and in the future explain a little more, their understanding will improve. Hopefully then, not only can they support you when things are tough but it might be that bit easier for the next person who has to explain what they are going through.
Here are some resources that may be helpful:
Featured image: Edvard Munch – Anxiety