History, health and hope

At the 11th hour of the 11th  day of the 11th month, the armistice was signed which formally ended hostilities of the First World War in 1918.  Remembrance Day is an opportunity to commemorate the contribution of British and Commonwealth military and civilian servicemen and women in the two World Wars and later conflicts. Of course, the casualties that are often forgotten are those who experienced serious mental ill-health as a result of their military service, and also ordinary people caught up in traumatic events through these conflicts.

It seems a fitting time to announce the launch of a new project from the Good Mental Health Cooperative – Stories from the Borough of Portsmouth Mental Asylum during the Great War 1914-1918.

So how can the history of mental health care in the First World War help promote good mental health and hope in the present day? Especially in these challenging times when many people are experiencing the psychological as well as physical impact of the pandemic.

Here are three reasons to seek out stories from the past:

History tells us who we are – the stories of local people and institutions gives us fascinating insights into what the Portsmouth community and culture was like 100 years ago, and how that has influenced our city today. 
History helps us understand change – mental health care at the Asylum (later St.James Hospital) is a very significant part of Portsmouth’s social history. The First World War had a huge impact on how mental health care developed – a legacy which can still be seen in today’s services.
History gives us perspective – telling people’s personal stories, especially those that are hidden from view, helps to shine a light into some dark corners of social history, and frees people to tell their own stories.

The project is in two stages – the first will be an online research group supporting each other to research different aspects of mental health care during the First World War, including the stories of people staying or working in the Portsmouth asylum. 

The second stage is for people to get involved in creative activities – drama, poetry and art – giving expression to the stories and history uncovered by the research. This will form the basis of a multi-media presentation featuring the work of the whole project.

Click here if you’re interested in finding out more about this project

Mental Health For All

Saturday 10 October, was World Mental Health Day!

The theme this year is ‘Mental Health For All’, and it couldn’t be more relevant at a time when coronavirus has highlighted how much our mental health means to all of us.

I’ve done countless group workshops where I ask what words people associate with mental health. Invariably the answers are words like depression, madness, stress, mental illness, psychiatric hospitals. And then when I ask about the term ‘good mental health’, words like happiness, wellbeing, fulfilment, achieving things, active, motivated … come up.

Never Give Up Hope

Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come”
Anne Lamott

We’ve now reached another turning point in the Covid 19 pandemic with the re-introduction of further restrictions on close contact with others. So it seems timely to re-visit the idea of psychological resilience, and in particular the principle of hope.

Help Prevent Suicide!

At the weekend the University of Sheffield shared this series of 13 short films as part of their Festival of the Mind.

Based on the book Our Encounters with Suicide (ed. Fran Biley, Alex Grant, Judith Haire, Brendan Stone), Kathryn and Penny Capper’s films explore the impact of suicide in the wider community. Giving voice to diverse perspectives and experiences, the Suicide Monologues aims to challenge taboos and generate discussion around a complex subject that’s generally not talked about.

Time to Experiment with Change?

Among the many news and research updates I follow to try and keep myself up to date, is a national research programme seeking to understand the psychological and social impact of the Covid 19 pandemic. The research study is being carried out by University College London to explore the effects of the virus and social distancing measures on adults in the UK. Over 70,000 participants fill in a weekly survey to share their views and experiences.

The Bare Necessities …

The coronavirus lockdown measures have now officially pushed the UK into an economic recession following the biggest slump on record during April to June this year. A Briefing Paper for the House of Commons said:

“Consumers may be reluctant to return to ‘normal’ spending patterns. This may be due to health concerns but also perhaps due to concerns over their income. A key factor will be how high unemployment levels rise. Particularly important is how many employees currently furloughed will return to work and how many will become unemployed. Uncertainty may also dampen businesses’ inclination to invest.”

Spotlight on Mental Health

International research is now telling us a lot more about the impact of Covid 19 on our mental health, and the picture is not good. What does the research tell us about those who are less stressed, depressed or anxious? There’s a lot we can’t control about the current situation, so what can we control?

Make, Bake and Create

by Carolyn Barber

“Why should we all use our creative power…? Because there is nothing that makes people so generous, joyful,lively, bold and compassionate, so indifferent to fighting and and accumulation of objects and money”
Brenda Ueland

Laughter is the Best Medicine

“What Soap is to the Body, Laughter is to the Soul”
Yiddish Proverb

Children laugh spontaneously and naturally – it’s not something they have to learn. Apparently children laugh 200-400 times a day, while adults laugh as average of 15 times. Laughter, along with playfulness, gets lost as we grow up and take on responsibilities and obligations.

‘Lest We Forget’

This week, the Good Mental Health Coop hosted it’s first virtual open dialogue event, called a Mental Wealth Trialogue. A couple of the participants spoke about how the impact of Covid 19 on our mental health generally was now being talked about everywhere. As if it had just been discovered that people are often emotionally and psychologically distressed by trauma, unexpected crises, being cut off from family and friends, losing jobs and experiencing financial hardship. Who would have thought it?