Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Wellbeing News Round Up

Five steps for a high well-being society
A new report has been published by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Wellbeing Economics, which is based on a nine-month inquiry exploring well-being and makes five key recommendations for building a ‘high well-being society’. These are:

1). Focus on stable jobs, not growth.
2). Promote shorter, more flexible 
working hours. 
3). More green spaces in our cities
4). Mindfulness training for doctors
and teachers. 
5). Invest in arts and culture.

The report calls for all political parties to set out in their manifestos their strategy for building a high well-being society, and how they are going to embed well-being into the policy process if they are elected. The New Economics Foundation suggests ‘you write to your MP asking them for their party’s take on the report’ and that we try and ‘make the next parliament the one where well-being takes its rightful place as a central goal of government policy’.

Somebody dies by taking their own life every 40 seconds, according to a significant report by the World Health Organization.
This report has deemed suicide a ‘major public health problem that was too often shrouded in taboo’. The report is based on 10 years of research and data on suicide from around the world, and has concluded:

Around 800,000 people kill themselves every year. 
It was the second leading cause of death in young people, aged 15 to 29.
Those over 70 were the most likely to take their own lives. 
Three-quarters of these deaths were in low and middle income countries. 
In richer countries, three times as many men as women die by suicide

The economic crisis in Europe and North America led to more than 10,000 extra suicides, according to figures from UK researchers 

The study by the University of Oxford and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine analysed data from 24 EU countries, the US and Canada, and suggest that there’s a lot of good evidence showing recessions lead to rising suicides. They have, however, discovered that this isn’t the case everywhere and is significantly influenced by different country’s political policies.  Unsurprisingly, countries such as Austria, Sweden and Finland, who invest in schemes that help people return to work (such as training, advice and subsidised wages) and support and protect vulnerable groups are not facing this dire influx of suicides. Clearly, in fraught economic times, we need to take even greater steps to support the most desperate. 

Arts to be further integrated into medical training (www.artsprofessional.co.uk/profile/liz-hill. Liz Hill, Arts Professional)
A new project has been funded where healthcare workers will receive arts-based training, in an attempt to reduce human error in medical interventions and improve patient safety and wellbeing. This initiative is part of a three-year research and development partnership programme and will be delivered for medical professionals at King’s Health Partners in London, supported by a £580k grant from the Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity. The findings will then be shared with medical and arts educationalists, policymakers and participatory artists across the UK, with the aim of establishing arts-based learning as a key methodology in the training of healthcare professionals. 

New report by the Mental Health Network: ‘The future’s digital: mental health and technology’   
This report argues that compared to many other service sectors, mental health services – and the NHS more broadly – are behind the curve with regard to using new technologies. The report argues that we need to make more use of digital technology and online resources to improve overall public mental health. Everyone should be able to access reliable information about mental health and wellbeing online and to access help and advice anonymously in a variety of ways (live chat, email, text and phone). The scope for how technology aids the way we design and deliver NHS mental health services is huge, giving more efficiency and choice and empowering individuals to take charge of their own recovery. 

Benefits & tips of Regular Eating / Rebecca Bennett

Regular eating is eating your meals and snacks regularly throughout the day, about every 4-5 hours. This is in order to improve mood and concentration as well reducing the physiological impact of hunger which will lead to less hunger binges as well as having more energy in order to be physically active. In the long-term regular eating will help an individual to lose weight, and help lower blood glucose and cholesterol levels.

Aim to include a starchy food at every mealtime. It is these foods that provide a steady flow of energy which reduces physical hunger.  Inadequate starchy foods have also been linked with increased anger, depression and tension. It is best if you can to choose slow energy releasing starchy foods e.g. wholegrain cereals, basmati rice, sweet potatoes , oats and rye or wholegrain bread.

It is important also to always eat breakfast. When you wake up after a night’s sleep your blood sugar will be low because you haven’t eaten for many hours, therefore it is important to refuel with a good breakfast that will raise your energy levels and mood. Even if you don’t feel particularly hungry even a small amount of a breakfast will prevent you from getting hungrier later in the day. It will also help to regulate your hunger/fullness signals throughout the day back to normal.

If you can plan what you are to eat for meals and snacks the night before can be a good way of reminding yourself to eat at regular intervals. It can also be useful to take a snack with you when you are out during the day.

Make sure you are also drinking enough fluids during the day, in particular water and sugar free fluids.  Lack of fluid affects your concentration, memory, and well-being both physically and mentally.

For further nutrition links see:

Gifted Hands by Ben Carson / Sharon

Book Review

Gifted Hands by Ben Carson is an inspirational and moving book; although I found it a bit predictable in places it is still an enjoyable book to read. The person who inspired me most in the book is Ben’s mother; she is the reason why I read this book.  

Sonya Carson raised her sons Ben and Curtis to believe that anything is possible.  She is the one who  taught them that hard work would get them what they wanted and that they weren’t just entitled. Ben’s determination and courage to become a surgeon when the odds are stacked against him is admirable.

Ben has a strong Christian belief, which helped him through his darkest days. I’m not religious however reading the book made me think about what gets me through not so good days.

For me this book is worth reading because it made me both smile and sad in places. I really wanted Ben to succeed and followed his journey of highs and lows. Ben Carson was always going to succeed there’s no doubt about that.

Gifted Hands is a short book and I read it over three days. This book made me think differently about things for a while; I still read Ben Carson’s inspirational quotes when I need to.

Overall a good book. 

Race & Mental Illness / Angela

Mental illness was probably the first taboo, so why is there still stigma around
it? Will it ever go away? People are discriminated against for lots of reasons,
including their race and sex, so what is it like to be a black, female, mental
health service user, like me?

In many urban areas, Black and Minority Ethnic communities are significantly
over-represented in the poorest wards, notably people of African, Caribbean,
Bangladeshi and Arab origin. Research suggests that both the experience of
racial harassment and perceptions of racial discrimination contribute to health
outcomes (Chakrborty & McKenzie 2002). There are proportionally more black people in the mental health system than white people. This maybe for reasons like racism, poverty, unemployment, unstable family units, prison, drug abuse, alcohol abuse and bereavement.

Mental breakdown, also know as nervous breakdown, is a colloquial term for
an acute, time-limited psychiatric disorder that manifests itself primarily as
severe stress-induced depression, anxiety or disassociation in a previously
functioning individual.

The Disability Discrimination Act (1995) makes it unlawful to discriminate against employees with a disability. Those with a mental illness that has a substantial, adverse and long-term (over 12 months) effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities are considered to have a disability under the Act. It is intended to offer protection but attitudinal changes towards disability and mental health lag behind legislation. Despite this, a report of Mental Health and Social Exclusion, published by the Social Exclusion Unit in 2004, showed that amongst those with long-term mental health problems, only 24% were employed.

When people using mental health services are asked about the major issues that concern them in their daily lives, personal finances are consistently identified as a major source of difficulty and distress. 1 in 3 people with a serious mental health condition is thought to be in debt. Concerns and anxieties regarding finance constitute a significant stressor (In the red: debt and mental health, Mind, 2010). 

A study by the South London and Maudsley Trust found that people diagnosed with serious mental illness had significantly reduced life expectancy (8.0 to 14.6 life years for men and 9.8 to 17.5 life years for women). Highest reductions were found for men with schizophrenia (14.6 years lost) and women with schizoaffective disorders (17.5 years lost). Living with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder increases the risk of certain physical diseases (cardiovascular and chronic respiratory disease, diabetes, hepatitis C, HIV).

According to the Mental Health Foundation, only 1 in 10 prisoners does not have a mental health problem, counting substance abusers (and those with dual diagnosis), those with a primary mental illness and others who become unwell under the psychological stresses of imprisonment. There are a disproportionate number of people from ethnic minorities in prisons in this country; in 2010, the ethnic minority prison population (of which the highest proportion is black) had doubled in a decade (‘More black people jailed in England and Wales, The Guardian, 10 Oct 2010). 

I am a black Caribbean women born in the UK. The family unit is often very unstable in the Caribbean community. Unfortunately there are too many one parent families. The National Child Development Study (which has tracked around 17,000 people born in Britain during one week in 1958 over the course of their lives) has recently shown that greater social acceptance of divorce has not reduced its impact on children. When outcomes for this group were compared with children born in 1970, children from both cohorts whose parents split up are ‘equally likely to end up without qualifications, claiming benefits and suffering  depression’ (Elliot J  Vaitilingham, Now we are 50: Key findings from Child Development Study, Centre for Longitudinal Studies, Institute of London, 2008)

My story
During my time as a service-user, I have noticed that there are a lot of social
workers and nurses who are from the Caribbean and Africa. I found this useful
as a black Caribbean woman. The black staff would always make sure that I
looked after my appearance; they would tell me, for example, when I needed
to go to the hair salon, tell me to wear smart clothes and shoes, and would
check my hair and skin to make sure I was looking after it properly and it
wasn’t too dry. However, I have not seen a lot of black doctors in the mental
health services (only 2 doctors from Africa).

What I found strange the first time I was admitted to hospital was that they
said they had to medicate me because I was smiling all the time and over
happy. This sounds like they would prefer me to be some kind of zombie
(smile and the world smiles with you?!). One of the social workers set up a
support group for black women in the mental health system. We used to meet
up every week at St Anne’s Hospital and talk about our experiences. I will
never forget the session when we discussed being manic, because it was so
funny. One Saturday, they took us to Margate seaside resort. We had lovely
Caribbean food and really fantastic weather. I am glad that I went because I
didn’t have anyone else to go to the seaside with.

Lambo Day Centre
I was pleased to see Lynton Bedford’s recent letter in the Islington Tribune, as
she is just saying what everyone in the black community is thinking: race is at
the heart of the decision about Lambo Day Centre. The Afro-Caribbean Day
Centre at Despard Road in Archway was created to compensate for the
disproportionate number of black people locked up in psychiatric wards.
Moving all the users from two other centres into what is currently an all black
centre will mean that Despard Road will no longer be a black service.

I used to attend Lambo Day Centre. All the staff are black. We get African and
Caribbean food, such as rice and peas and chicken, and curries. We have
had a speaker in talking about sickle cell, which is a blood disorder that
affects the black community. The first group I attended there was a music
group. We made our own songs, which was really good. This group had even
produced its own CD. Other activities include sewing, going to the gym,
cinema trips, dinner and dancing, going to the West End for Christmas,
holidays in Centre Parks, Belgium and France, fire safety talks by the local fire
brigade, a restaurant manager talking about healthy eating – the list is

We celebrated Windrush in 1998, and have also attended black theatre
productions and black concerts. We went to a cooking show which featured
Ainsley Harriet, a black celebrity chef. He came to talk to us and took pictures.
We have visited African restaurants and took part in an exercise class led by
a trained black service user. We also went to African Village and have had
lots of parties (any excuse for a party!). The anthem for the Day Centre was
‘Lean on Me’ by Bill Withers.

The Minister for Mental Health, Norman Lamb, says he is supporting mental health is Black Britain and the Mental Health Foundation is a charity involved in research, who hopefully can help us understand some of the issues better. If we can’t get rid of the taboo about mental illness, let’s get rid of mental illness (prevention is better than cure)! 
A lot of doctors in mental health services are white and middle class, and do not understand our culture which can lead to misdiagnosis. We all need to know how to handle stress and be happy.

For further information, please see:
Goldberg RW, Seth P; Hepatitis C services and individuals with serious mental illness. Community Ment Health J. 2008 Oct;44(5):381-4. Epub 2008 May 9.
Sajatovic M, Dawson NV, Perzynski AT, et al; Best practices: optimizing care for people with serious mental illness and Psychiatr Serv. 2011 Sep;62(9):1001-3.

If you’re in distress or need immediate help, there are many services and organisations that you can talk to, including The Samaritans, who offer emotional support 24 hours a day. Get in touch with them on 08457 90 90 90 (UK)/1850 60 90 90 (Republic of Ireland) or email jo@samaritans.org.

The Black and Minority Ethnic Mental Health Network campaign is gaining
momentum. For further information, call 0208 215 2424, or visit

Technology and Disability / Dev

Technology now plays a very important role in everybody’s lives, whether that’s watching TV, using mobile phones or the internet, or even traffic light signals. In fact we are inundated with technology. If you walk down the road you will see so many examples. But technology can play an important role in supporting our physical bodies as well. Big strides have been made in helping people with physical problems, regardless of which part of the body, through technology. These technologies are making life easier for people with various disabilities, including severely disabled people. A famous example is Steven Hawking, who use modern technology both to communicate and move around. In fact, Robin Christopherson from AbilityNet, a British organisation that promotes accessibility in technology, says: ‘One of the beauties of mainstream devices is that they have hundreds of peripherals that you can just add on’.  

These types of technology can vary widely, such as the ibot 360, a wheel chair that can climb stairs. This is achieved by having three sets of wheels on either side of the chair, rather than just one on each side. When the first pair of wheels are placed on the stair and locked, the wheel rotates forward for the second chair to reach the next step whilst lifting the chair. When not climbing up the stairs it is used as a normal wheelchair.  

The DinaVox EyeMax system was created to assist people with severe paralysis or strokes to communicate with their eyes, by an eye recognition system. Basically, the eye points to a letter on an onscreen keyboard allowing them to enter words and phrases; these are then translated into spoken text via the device’s text-to-speech mechanism. It also has predefined words that make it easier for them to speak. You might have seen this being used by Steven Hawking. 

Another interesting invention is the Kapten PLUS Personal Navigation Device for blind people. This helps guide visually impaired people to get to their destination using voice activated and GPS systems. It also tells you where you are, similar to a Sat Nav in your car. But this is currently only available in the US and the only flaw with this device is that it is not found in any other language.  

An engineer, Dr David Hong, has created a car that can be driven by a blind or visually impaired person. It uses sensors on the person’s gloves and on the seat allowing the person to independently drive a car. It also has sensors to tell you when there is an obstacle in your way. At first view, it seems that it would be impossible, but when seeing it actually work it shows what can be done with the help of technology. 

A small but highly useful technological invention is the Cochlear Implant, a device that allows severely deaf people to hear sound. First it picks up sounds via a microphone; this then carries the signal to a small computer worn behind the ear, where it is transferred to a digital signal and transmitted to the implant itself. Once received by the implant, the device directly stimulates the auditory nerve, providing an entirely new means of auditory sensory input. 

However, saying this, there are several problems with these new technologies. For example, the accessibility of these products. Take, for example, the ibot 360 wheel chair. Would it be able to handle steep narrow stairs, stair wells or even bumpy terrain? More importantly, would people who are on low wages or people from poor countries be able to get this or any of the other technologies described above? Also some of these inventions are still prototypes, such as the cart for the blind. Most of these technologies still need to be tested at very, very basic level or, as engineers say, to try a ‘viability test’. But with the advancing technology more technologies will be able to assist people with disability – as long as they can get access to the technology.

Art Review

I was recently asked to be an art critic; I found myself jumping for joy because I love creativity, whether it’s painting, drawing, colouring or writing, I find myself very much at home; the healing power it produces makes me ecstatic.

I am looking at Denica Charlery’s art work; it is very bold, bright and colourful. She loves shapes, from circles to crosses and even the Jewish star (which represents male and female) and a Celtic-looking cross. No two pages of her art are the same, all as individual as thumbprints. Black snakes, zigzags – her imagination is as wide and varied as one could ask for; she has even gone as far as to not fully colour some of her designs, which reminds me of the cartoon character Rhubarb and Custard (that might jog some memories for a few people, and it might give an idea of my age to you, the reader!). Denica has also done a cartoon style face with a crown that I’m assuming is a king. In another picture I see thought bubbles, like the type you get in cartoon magazines, starting small and getting bigger. Oval shapes, flowers, tear drops, stained glass window arches, churches, trees, clouds, diamonds, jars and cups…. She has a very beautiful imagination. I would say the sky is the limit and as the old saying goes ‘if you aim for the stars, you land on Mars’. I would love to see her go on to do more creative work and delve deeper into her pool of creativity. 

Richard Honan (a.k.a. mohecan, raphecan, touché, punt, lsd, kudos, cara2che)

Hospitals are Turning to Art to Reduce Stress / Nigel Prestatyn

As an artist I’m always interested in new and innovative venues to hang art. However my previous opinion of hanging art in hospitals had always been that it was merely a form of distracting decoration. Little did I know…

Researchers are learning more about the precise ways paintings and other works of art can help patients and families in the healing process. With studies showing a direct link between the content of images and the brain’s reaction to pain, stress, and anxiety, hospitals are choosing artworks based on the evidence and giving it a higher priority than merely decoration for sterile rooms and corridors.

Certainly the health benefits associated with the creation of art is well documented. Art therapy classes run the length and breadth of the country. But the health benefits received from viewing art, are less widely known.

Lisa Harris, a nephrologist and chief executive of Eskenazi Health says, “These [artworks] are not just accoutrements or aesthetics anymore.” With a $1.5 million budget from donors, the health system commissioned 19 artists to create original works to support “the sense of optimism, vitality and energy” for the Sidney & Lois Eskenazi Hospital .

 I always think of art in hospitals as running along corridors and entrances, and of course patients do indeed walk along corridors and the like, and so benefit can certainly be gleaned – at least for the physically able. But I wonder how much art is shown in the wards themselves, for certainly this is where patients might best benefit from them. It’s one thing to hobble past an artwork in a corridor, perhaps another thing altogether to lay in one’s hospital bed and contemplate the work. I know which I’d prefer, if I were unfortunate enough to be in that position. And which I’d likely benefit more from.

Heather Kreinbrink says when her daughter Allison had a stroke at age 12 in 2010 and was hospitalized for a week, she and her husband, Rod, found looking at the installation outside the children’s wing provided a sense of calm amid their fear and exhaustion. “It ended up being something we would go to every day for peace and to come to terms with what was happening,” she says. When Allison was discharged, her parents brought her to see it. “It made me think as I saw other kids being pushed in wheelchairs by their parents, how awesome it is to be able to have something like that to take your mind of everything you are going through,” says Allison.

Hearing Alison’s story made me think. I have no figures that suggest this, but I suspect there is far less artwork in the actual wards themselves, than there is in hospital walk ways and the like. And I would imagine that is, in part at least, perhaps a logistical problem. I’m thinking of the walls behind ward beds and surrounding areas filled with medical apparatus of one sort or another. But imagine, if you will, images of artworks projected onto ward ceilings, constantly changing images of art work; in this scenario Alison wouldn’t have wait to recover before she could enjoy and benefit from the artwork as her parents did; she would have benefited from it when she needed it most.


Watching Happy TV / Marco Lanzarote

If you like to watch TV you may find some recent research in Psychologies Magazine interesting. The University of Maryland article called “The Mind Experiment” reported that people who watched TV for 18.9 hours per week were happier than those who averaged 25 hours per week.

The unhappy viewers were not as satisfied “with their financial situation”, “felt less safe, trusted others less” and thought they were less active socially than their peers, who were more happy after viewing TV less. The average Brit watches around 4 hours of TV each day. The collective total is around 455 million hours per year.

Using programmes as a topic for discussion, watching comedy or music programmes tend to make people happier than people who allow the TV to dictate what they watch.

This research was in an article by Martha Roberts, an award winning UK health writer and mental health blogger at mentalhealthwise.com  

Brain Health / Marco Lanzarote

A new word in my vocabulary is “microbiome” and I came across it as it relates to bacteria in the human gut which scientists are now studying. It actually refers to “bacteria living in the gastro-intestinal tract” and plays “a complex and critical role in the health of its host”.  

The studies done so far are probably common knowledge but now scientists are interested in understanding not just how the microbiome affects the organs of the body but also how it affects the brain, in order to develop potential gut-based treatments for “neuropsychiatric disorders”.

I understand that a healthy gut is important  to overall health and I want to see if they can find new treatments for depression or possibly even other psychiatric disorders now that we have reached the stage where resistant 20th century antibiotics etc. are causing scientists to re-examine our relationship with bacteria in the 21st century.

See: The Conversation.com/uk

Tea: The Iron Killer? / Nigel Prestatyn

My partner has forever been telling me not to drink tea after my meals, that I should drink coffee instead if I want a beverage. Well, coffee aside, what is the harm of drinking tea? I often stop taking these things without necessarily understanding them. Often relying on my partner’s own brilliant insights into these matters. But this time I thought I would check, to see if her suggestion, like tea, held water (pun intended).

I  does seem that drinking tea after a meal does in fact stop iron entering your body. So what’s specific about tea, and not say coffee. Is it okay to drink coffee? Well Tea contains tannic acid chemicals which bind to the iron in food and absorb it.

Well surely I can spare a little iron? I’m not anemic or in any category that would require me to maintain levels of iron. Of course this is very much an issue which should be of concern to women of a certain age. When that ‘time of the month’ comes around, there is very much a drop in iron levels due to the loss of blood, and so avoiding tea after food would be beneficial for people in this category.

So a little bit of iron lost via absorption through tea is no big deal. I guess. But holds on don’t I always complaining of feeling tired, don’t I complain of not having enough energy to complete all the tasks I have in the day? Can I actually afford to lose any iron? The answer is no. why bother with tea when I can have coffee.

Let’s be clear, the iron absorbed from your food is of a certain type. Drinking  tea with red meats, poultry or fish does not significantly decrease the amount of iron your body receives. These animal products contain the heme form of iron, which is easily absorbed by your body. In contrast, the non-heme iron in plant foods is more difficult for your body to use and more likely to be inhibited by black tea.

So look after to your vegetables, treat them with respect, and absorb all their beneficial irons!

Transforming mental health / Kate Massey-Chase

A plan of action for London: A new report on mental health from the Kings Fund

The Kings Fund have recently published a report called ‘Transforming mental health: A plan of action for London’ (Gilbert, Edwards, Murray, Sept. 2014), which describes a vision for the future of mental health provision in London. Tackling the costs of mental illness (almost £7.5 billion a year in London alone) has been identified as a priority by the London Health Board, and the report details worrying statistics regarding the prevalence of mental illness: it is the single largest cause of disability in the UK (contributing up to 22.8% of the total burden, compared to 15.9% for cancer and 16.2% for cardiovascular disease, according to the World Health Organisation in 2008). It also notes that the incidence of mental illness varies considerably between London boroughs, with some mental illness twice as common in deprived parts of London compared with the least deprived areas (People’s Inquiry into London’s NHS 2014). Other key findings include:

• People with mental health problems are at a higher risk of developing significant physical health problems, including preventable conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. 

• People with serious mental health problems die 20 years younger (on average) that the general population.

• Overall, the health, economic and social impacts of mental illness result in costs to the capital of an estimated £26 billion each year (Greater London Authority 2014) 

• There are three important factors effecting London’s mental health needs which need to be considered: poverty, ethnic diversity and transience (people moving in and out and between boroughs) 

What can art make us feel? / Nigel Prestatyn                                                                                 

I was pondering over this question recently because I began to wonder what do I want people to feel about my art!

To answer it I had to put myself in the position of a viewer of my art, rather than a creator. Of course one would think it wholly natural for an artist to begin by thinking how an idea for a work may affect people, but often times, it can be the other way round. You have an idea for a work, you create it, and then, if at all, you may consider how this work may affect people.

It is not entirely impossible for some artists to not care a jot about how their art affects people. To give any consideration at any point throughout its creation as to how the work may emotionally affect people.

Now this could be my naïve take on things. It could be that I’m basing this on my own shortcomings. I’ve often considered how people might emotionally react to my work, but in a very general way.
But the language we most commonly use as artists is often a language designed to express the work’s meaning. So we possess a language to convey the conceptual underpinnings of the work. This in turn will determine to a degree people’s responses, but perhaps intellectual responses, rather than emotional responses. But it is emotional responses that I’m interested in.

 So the question is not what people think (though naturally this is of course very important), but more a question of what do people feel about my work: or more specifically what do I want people to feel about my work?

Well when I first considered this question I have to confess I didn’t feel I had the necessary language to answer this question.

So what can we feel about works of art? There are of course as many answers as there are spectators. A Rothko can convey a religious quietitude for some, whereas for others it may convey a sense of melancholia, and for others something different entirely.

So there is no definitive answer of how a specific work of art can affect people. But in a hypothetical world, how would I like my work to effect people on an emotional level?

As a hyperrealist I create images of everyday objects. How we respond to these everyday objects in actual daily life, and how we respond to them in a painting, are different. We don’t regard several figs in a bowl on our tables as a work of art (so no emotional aesthetic response), yet when this image is transferred to a canvas it can convey an emotional response (though there are likely many who argue otherwise).

As a hyperrealist I’m obsessed with detail, and for many their responses can often begin with the technical matters of a painting. But in what way can a painting of several figs in a glass bowl move people on an emotional level.

 I think the emotional response would need to involve a response to beauty. For these objects are beautiful - or at least that is how I see them. Hopefully others would too. Is it not too far fetched to hope that one would have a similar emotional response to a rising sun as they would a painted image of figs? Is this expecting too much?

 But what do we feel in the face of great beauty? We feel a sense of awe, wonderment, perhaps even a tingle of excitement? When I look out of my flat window and see a striking skyline, there is quietness, a sense of humility in the face of such monumental natural beauty. But is it hard to make this kind of emotional transition for art? When we see a butterfly or a beautiful flower, we are fascinated by its formal properties. These properties in turn can make us feel a certain way.

Unfortunately I don’t have the perfect answer as to what emotional response I would like from viewers of my work. I think I would simply ask that they feel the beauty of these objects. For it is a beauty heightened, exaggerated, a ‘hyper’ real beauty. There will always be a sense of wonderment at the minutiae of the natural world, as well as the monumental, and with both perhaps a feeling of awe, however mild or intense.

Equilibrium at Clarendon Recovery College / Paul Blackman

Clarendon Recovery College is a place where I come to the magazine group, Equilibrium. I come on a Friday. It starts at 2.30pm. I come here and I write about many different topics. I also go into the library and read many different things. I have been coming for about three weeks. I hope that I will gain good skills so I can move on and get a job or go and study until I get one. Maybe by studying I will get a certificate. I may write something they will put in their magazine, called Equilibrium*.

I enjoy writing because I like to write about different things, such as articles, books, maybe poems. I started writing a couple of years back, first at 684, then Barnet College, then Crisis, then Alexandra Palace, then Mind. Now I write at the Clarendon Centre. I am also writing a book about the life of King Henry VIII. I am learning to write at City Lit. I enjoy writing. I wish one day I could become a good writer, perhaps writing books or for the newspaper. 

* Paul is very pleased we have!

Friday, 22 August 2014

National Nursing Shortage. By Dev

It’s now common knowledge that there is a shortage of nurses in hospitals around the UK. This causes lots of problems, such as nurses having to double up their shifts, potentially working 12 plus hours on a low salary.

In many hospitals, nurses have to look after 9 to 10 patients for 10+ hours, each patient having a wide range of problems. Nurses clean patients’ bodies, cope with cardiac arrests, change beds, give medicine and support the doctors, and are doing that for many people for many hours. I’m sure this could cause physical, physiological and social side effects over time. The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) urges ‘all hospitals to use new NICE safe staffing guidelines for registered nurse staffing levels, alongside nursing staff expertise, to ensure staffing levels are always based on patient need.’ But these are just guidelines, and it could mean some of these may be difficult to implement because of the most common answer: lack of staffing.

‘According to the most recent data, in November 2013, the NHS was still short of 1,199 full time equivalent (FTE) registered nurses compared with April 2010’ (BBC News, 11 March 2014, ‘Worrying shortage of senior NHS nurses’).

More nurses would make it easier to care for patients with any type of complications and provide more support for existing nurses. Dr Peter Carter, RCN Chief Executive & General Secretary at University College hospital, stated that ‘nursing staff have long recognised the importance of safe staffing levels and consistently provided evidence of the danger to patients in areas where there are too few staff.’ In other words, there is knowledge within the field of the dangers of a lack of nursing staff. I think it would be potent for the “powers that be” to bring in more locally trained nurses along side experienced nurses both from UK and abroad (saying this, nurses here in the UK go through years and years of studying and training before they become valuable nurses in our hospital around the UK). The NHS are now trying to get more nurses by paying for the tuition fees of student nurses and midwives and also giving them a bursary, to try and attract more people to choose it as a job.

What about Jamaican Food? Angela

Since the 1970s, there has been a growing interest in the healthy diet. We have been encouraged to eat e.g. more fruit and vegetables (five a day, or more). In England we have some diverse communities, and although there is a lot of information about what nutrients you get from the food that English people eat, there is not a lot of information about the nutrients you get from Caribbean food (I am a black woman of Jamaican decent which I’m very proud of!).

I remember when we first started talking about fibre in this country; we use to call it roughage. You could not get broccoli, kiwi fruit, lychee or star fruit, but the media was very clever; as they became available it encouraged you to eat these new unusual fruit and vegetables by telling you about the health benefits of these foods. You therefore ended up spending more money on fruit and vegetables by buying the fruit and vegetables you normally eat plus the new ones! The media also encouraged us to eat wholemeal bread and breakfast cereals, like Weetabix, Branflakes and All bran. High fibre foods are very important as they can reduce heart problems, improve the complexion, reduce constipation, produce healthy blood, boost the immune system give you more energy, improve the sex drive, and many other health benefits.

I was lucky enough to get free school milk every morning. A lot of milk is needed for the growing child. If you do not drink enough milk as a child you will get a bones disease in the legs called Rickets, where the legs bend. When Margaret Thatcher was the Secretary of State for Education she took the milk away (which is why she was called ‘Thatcher the Milk Snatcher’). Rickets is also caused by not getting enough sunlight.

When sailors from England went on long distant voyages they used to get scurvy, which causes sores around the mouth, caused by a lack of vitamin C. To prevent this they drank the juice from limes. This is why they were given the nick name Limeys!

Tropical fruit and vegetables grow in hot places like the Caribbean and Africa. It has to be transported to England for the migrant people that live here, and also because British people now eat them too. Due the fact these fruit and vegetables have to be transported to England from hot countries it does not retain the original quality. There is a variety of foods that grow in the Caribbean, some you may have heard of: green banana, sweet potatoes, mangoes, pineapples, ripe banana, melon, plantain, coconut, yam; and some you may not have: ackee, breadfruit, cassava, cho cho, okra, dasheen, genip. (Are you feeling hungry?!) I do not know what vitamins and minerals you get from these foods, as it’s not talked about in the media, and I would like to know more about them. There are a few newspapers and magazines which are targeted at the black community, such as The Voice newspaper and Black Hair and Beauty, but I have not seen them discuss this subject. I would like to see more information about Caribbean food in the black newspapers and magazines

I went to Jamaica for a three week holiday in 1998 by Air Jamaica. Every morning we had a big breakfast which I call a ‘Full Jamaican’. I was given things like a whole snapper fish, green bananas and callaloo at 7am, and then noticed that when I went out for the day, I did not feel hungry. I did not eat anything until 7pm in the evening. For this reason, I lost a lot of weight by eating this fresh natural food that comes from the island and I looked lovely and slim (yes, I am showing off!).

My mummy looked after us very well in England. We were not rich but we had a hot dinner every evening; breakfast was always cereal and toast; lunch was something like fish fingers, mash potatoes or spaghetti. Sometimes we had Caribbean food, for example ‘hard food’, which was yam, green banana, potatoes, fish or lamb. We always felt better after having this kind of food. During the school holidays, my mum used to give us oranges and cod liver oil. I can still taste the cod liver oil from that big spoon, when I think about it (Thanks, mummy!).

We are quite lucky in Britain to be able to get a variety of food from all the four corners of the world. It is good to know about the nutrients in all foods, to contribute to a balanced diet. I think the Jamaican people have the right idea, because I did not see a lot of overweight or obese people there. The food in Jamaica is fresh and high in nutrients, because it comes from the island, so you don’t have to snack on things like chocolate, sweets and crisps.

Bon appetite!


In 2013 I had been diagnosed with having Asperger’s Syndrome at 40 years of age. I wasn’t surprised that I had Asperger’s Syndrome, in fact I already knew before my assessment results were completed, because I always feel  different to everyone else in the world. Times when I feel like an alien to this planet, and always feel out of place and socially awkward.

The reasoning behind my video was a way to shout out to the world that I have Asperger’s Syndrome. I wanted this video to help myself overcome my childhood’s trauma of being bullied at school from both the teachers / lecturers and pupils. I was always called the lazy one, the day-dreamer, the worrier, the person who doesn’t listen and the person who struggles with maths, these are just a few examples. I also felt the need to get my message across to other people with Asperger’s Syndrome and to tell them that everything is alright, take myself as an example, I am happy and living my life to the full as possible and trying to make a difference in the world.

For many years I felt different to other people. I found that my colleagues at work really irritated me. I have had so many jobs in the past that I’ve lost count of how many jobs that I have had. I’ve been sacked a number of times from telling the managers that they were rubbish. Obviously they were not happy, but I was, telling them where to stick their job felt liberating, only to then worry about getting another job.

I always wanted to shut the world out, it is nosey, confusing, tiring and literally boring. I never can understand people’s jokes neither can I do small talk. How are you? My answer would be…why do you want to know? What benefit would you get if I told you that I was having a bad day? Would you hug me?…Because I wouldn’t be able to feel the love from you. Neither would I think it was a genuine hug, because I can’t feel your empathy. Would you then talk to me about your own mundane problems? I’ve learnt just to reply, I’m fine thanks. But am I? I’m not sure? What is fine anyway?
I did some research online about Asperger’s Syndrome and I was surprised that my assessment online scored very high. Reading the questions at the time made me realise that actually I have Asperger’s Syndrome. I made an appointment with my doctor and then I was referred to an Asperger’s specialist. As soon as I found out that I had Asperger’s Syndrome I felt different. I was confused, scared, worried, happy, excited and re-born all at the same time. What was I feeling? I felt that I lied to myself for 40 years by making up a make believe world, and suddenly my bubble had burst and now I’m in a world that I do not recognise. I questioned everything about myself, do I feel happy? What does that feel like? Do I recognise people’s facial expressions? No, ok, I thought I could, but actually I can’t. I wanted to laugh, I wanted to cry, I wanted to scream to the world that I have Asperger’s Syndrome and then I thought no keep it quiet. These emotions flooded my brain. I found myself staring at people, and willing myself to understand what were they feeling? But I couldn’t.

My mind felt like it was ready to explode. I started to look at my own body language, actually I do prefer to sit on my own on the bus, I do like to sit in a quiet area in a coffee shop, I don’t like people standing behind me, loud noises makes me jump and annoyed, my sense of smell is strong, why can I smell something quicker than anyone else? My eyes hurt in bright lights. I feel awkward in social situations, do I hug people? Do I shake their hands? I stare at people to try and pick up on all their cues, but how can I? I don’t recognise people facial expressions? So I just guess and hope for the best, and if I make a mistake, I laugh it off, pretend to be silly or make an excuse that I am tired.

There is another reason why I made a video. After researching online about people’s stories about Asperger’s Syndrome I did feel concerned. I believe that there is a lot of negativity surrounding Asperger’s Syndrome. But in my view it should be a positive one. People with Asperger’s Syndrome are unique, in some way’s super-human. For example, I can hear someone annoyingly eating a packet of crisps a long way away from me. I personally now feel confident, positive and ready to conquer the world in a good way. To all my Asperger’s friends, please keep positive, live your life the way that you want to live it, and be yourself….LOVE yourself.

Meeting up again on the Mersey. Ian Stewart

Back in the seventies, I met a friend of my friend Malcolm’s, called Jon. I called on him one day as Malcolm had told me he was leaving for a town in the north to take up a job running a hostel or something similar. I had only known him for a short time but found him a likeable character with a sense of humour that was very upbeat, and I wished him well in his new job and thought that we probably wouldn’t meet again.

Over the years, however, Malcolm kept in touch with him and recently asked if I remembered him. I did; he was the sort of person you wouldn’t forget as he was full of enthusiasm for life. Malcolm explained that Jon had been diagnosed with MS and was now living in Liverpool, a city I had only a distant recollection of en route to RAF Jurby on the Isle of Man as a school cadet. Malcolm asked me if I would like to join him on a trip to Liverpool to see Jon and I was delighted, as he had crossed my mind over the years and I wondered how he was coping with his illness.

We took the train to Liverpool on a Day Return ticket and as soon as we arrived at Lime Street, Jon was there to meet us. Malcolm had warned me that Jon was not as mobile as he was, but thankfully Jon was still able to walk and we promptly set off on a boat trip across the Mersey to see the Royal Liver building from the river. Jon was still the likeable character I remembered with his distinctive sense of humour and we all three got on well together, stopping off at a café where I was able to taste a bowl of “scouse” – like an irish stew – from where Liverpudleans get their slang name.
Jon had recently moved into a wardened flat with a lovely view down on the garden in a quiet suburb and he seemed content. We talked about times present and times past and he introduced me to a German music group I had never encountered, Tangerine Dream, and afterwards he showed us to the station where we could get back to Lime Street and return to London.

I’m glad that Malcolm suggested the trip and it was good to see Jon again and know he has not let his illness get him down. I am still in touch with him and have re-established a friend who at a point years ago I thought I would never see again.

I thought I knew about stress, until I became stressed!

I’d imagine most of us have a fairly good understanding of stress. Dare I say most of us may even think we know pretty much everything there is to know about stress. I thought I knew everything there was to know about stress; I’d suffered from it enough times over the years. Little did I realise I couldn’t even answer the simplest of questions about my stress.

So what did I know about stress? I’m no expert on the subject, but a cursory glance at my basic knowledge tells me that as individuals we can get stressed from things like feeling overwhelmed at work, or having relationship issues, or kids kicking up a storm, or no money in the bank and the bills are pouring in. And of course the list is endless.

We may know what happens to the body when we get stressed. The physical symptoms might be  tension running across the shoulders, the frantic thoughts on a never ending loop, a racing heart, sweating hands, butterflies in the stomach. Again, the list goes on.

And I’d imagine we all know of some ways of combating stress: a walk in the park, meditation, taking a pause, chatting to someone, exercise. Again, the list for dealing with stress is limitless, and everyone tends to have their own particular ways of coping with it.

Of course I’ve been stressed a million times or more throughout my lifetime. So I assumed I knew all there was to know about stress. Until I recently became stressed. This time I asked myself the question: Where is my stress coming from? The answer was, after several days of fruitless observation, I hadn’t the faintest idea!

We know how to recognise stress, because we recognise the symptoms in our bodies. The root of stress is sometimes obvious to locate: I feel my racing heart and the tension across my shoulders, because the driver behind me is revving up the rear of my car. But sometimes it is less easy to locate.

But how could I not know what was stressing me out? I looked at every possible source, yet still I couldn’t find the root of its cause. Often I’ve never bothered asking where my stress is coming from, just that I need to deal with it. But then wouldn’t it be more efficient when dealing with stress if we could know the nature of the beast; the cause of it? But sometime stress can conceals its triggers.

I think the answer is that it’s not always clear where are stress is coming from. The smallest insignificant event which happens in our daily lives can easily go unnoticed on a conscious level, whereas the subconscious mind absorbs the information and this can trigger a stress reaction, often based on past experiences or memories. Therefore the conscious mind cannot always know the cause of our stress.

Sometimes it’s less important to know where our stress is coming from, but far more important that we are AWARE that we are stressed. That means tuning in to our own particular symptoms of stress as it manifests in our bodies/ minds. It means recognising it early enough before it can do damage. Once it is recognised we can take action to alleviate the stress.

For every kind of stress out there there is an appropriate action which can alleviate it. What that action is, only each individual can answer. But we can say there are some great places to start which will almost certainly have some kind of beneficial effect. The outdoors is always a great place to start. I personally find a long cycle ride can work wonders for clearing stress out of my body.