Tuesday, 21 January 2014


It was that we felt like singing. Like singing songs, or learning songs to sing. 

And we wanted to sing the same song together. Do we have songs in common, so that we can sing them? Maybe not many, because we are diverse, so we should find a song to sing. 

So we started to find a song to learn to sing. But we couldn’t read music. And we couldn’t read the words, so someone would try to sing the words for us to remember. 

But the words were many and we couldn’t remember so many words that were not our words. So we gave our own words to the song. 

And we gave our very own sounds to it too, as it felt natural to produce the sounds that where coming to our lips and to our body. And we sang, and it felt so good. 

And we knew we were singing very much our own song, and that was a song of nature, a song without words made out of our mood and feelings. A landscape of our very being made sound with our bodies. 

Since 2003 I have been a Primal Singing facilitator and performer, as well as an improviser and voice teacher with a health approach. I  explore different ways of voice production that can be developed either in songs or vocal pieces, that integrate the creativity and abilities of the different groups of people who come to my workshops. We do primal singing between other activities such as improvisation, relaxation, breathing techniques and songs. 

This has been an amazingly enriching experience and a great opportunity for exploration of ways to sing and create healthy group dynamics, singers with a sense of community and to deal with stress in our personal life through developing an activity that will make people improve their breathing, relax their minds and enjoy the many sounds a human voice can produce, giving value to self expression and validation in the group over other aspects such as number of songs that one has to “learn”, observing how the group evolves and becoming more than a “director” who demands what has to be done, a catalyst of processes that will take in the group. Helping people connect with their voices, bodies and creativity towards the magical music that expresses our own. 

And then, other people who heard us, and who could read music, and read text, and remember words, and make complex rhythms all at a time... asked us what we were doing. We are singing our primal song. 
And they realized that it was a good idea to sing the song that comes out of you, and wanted to join and sing their primal songs too. And they discovered that it was liberating and aesthetic, and that it felt good too! 

Maria Soriano

Maria Soriano is a member of the Natural Voice Practitioners Network and the founder of Singing4Health, that promotes physical, mental and social well-being through musical activities, primarily centred in singing.

Philosophy & Psychiatry The Next 100 years

I was led to this colloquium by a tweet from Medical Humanities – a tremendously active and inspiring bunch of people at Durham University – and thought I would enquire within. It was the third part of a travelling symposium marking the centenary of Karl Jaspers’ General Psychopathology.

In the few weeks preceding it, there had been a week long summer school in Oxford: Philosophy of Psychiatry: Mind, Value and Mental Health.

 After which was the 15th INPP conference/travelling three centre UK Symposium – firstly in Durham. The one day workshop there was titled Current and Future Applications of Phenomenology in Psychiatry. This included presentations such as ‘Rethinking the First Person in Phenomenological Psychopathology’ and ‘Incomprehensibility: A New Ethics for Psychiatry’.

 The second part, at King’s College London, was entitled ‘Conceptual Issues and the DSM’. Among others, there were sessions on “The Definition of Disorder in the DSM: Evolving but Dysfunctional’ and ‘Lost in Translation: Dysfunction and Domains’.  I was to attend the third part.

The dominant theme was (and still is) Making Change Happen.  And how philosophy and psychiatry can work together to achieve this.
Back in January I was asked to provide a 100 word biography/declaration of interest and passed the first test (and only test!).  Then hefty reading material started to appear in my inbox – some surely only decipherable by the initiated.
Highly intrigued and appetite whetted, I set off at a punishing 4.30 am for Oxford one bleary July morning and was for the next two days buried in a fabulous mix of ideas, thoughts, secret languages, buzzy presentations and edgy controversy – all adding up to a really mind-changing experience.

Not being a philosopher or a psychiatrist I guess I, as A.N.Other, would have positioned myself with the service user/survivor cohort – if pressed. I began to boldly declare myself as an ex-psychotic (for that I am), as I found the environment a safe and trusting one.  Swiftly I realized that my lack of knowledge of academic philosophy was something of a hindrance (some of the presentations were so arcanely worded that only the inner cabal could decode). But nevertheless no-one made me feel at all deficient and the atmosphere was one of huge support and good will, and I summoned courage from somewhere to be able to feed back to the hall after the group sessions.

 Standout moments for me included the patience and kindness of academics within the groups, highlighting the ‘moral courage’ of the survivor in sharing their stories – and how possibly the psychiatric community could follow suit. Off-piste, the amazingly delicious conference dinner at which I talked to Anke Maatz, a young trainee psychiatrist from Zurich. Breakfast among European philosophy teachers from Lublin and Prague, lunch with a PhD student from Hearing the Voice and a researcher for SANE , and bonding with Alicia Monroe from Florida, Dean of Tampa medical school, whose words are very wise.  Conversations with Sanneke de Haan working with OCD patients who receive deep brain stimulation, and the ethics and outcomes of this intervention. Staying with me are Nev Jones (a US philosopher inter alia) and her fierce but principled calls for alternatives to heteronormative language and othering, as well as the dominance of men as main speakers at upcoming conferences. The power of the poster presentations included a graphic representation of a state of breakdown by Gay Cusack from Australia, calling out for the work of post psychiatrists Bracken and Thomas; I was haunted by an eerie film presented by a Social Sculpture DPhil student (and local psychiatrist) Dr Helena Fox which took us through an asylum like setting to an intricate study of folds of bedclothes and gradual revealing of hands within.

Topics flew around – value-based models, narrative and the nature and form of narratives, deacademicising the language, critiques of CBT, the case for psychodynamic psychotherapy, true freedom of thought, meaning in delusions and hallucinations, recovery and all its meanings, service user engaged philosophical research, co-production (experts-by-experience & by-training), and Thomas Fuchs’ lifeworld .

The colloquium opened with Victor Adebowale , cross bench peer and Chair of Turning Point,  and his hugely inspiring words about change and how to effect it.  The mindset has to change.  In his experience there is a tendency of  ‘letting the excellent get in the way of the good enough’. Renewal is crucial as well as a shift in power. Who holds the power is key – power needs to be shared.  

We all parted with great goodbyes and huge goodwill for change.  Future plans are being laid and hopefully the conversation that has been started will continue to gather momentum. Academia being naturally conservative and tending towards silos of expertise, the fact that the colloquium happened was a huge boost, and the power imbalances can start to be addressed. As a complete layperson and fairly philosophically na├»ve, I had come to the conference with the thought that it was about the philosophy OF psychiatry, rather than philosophy and psychiatry. This set me thinking…
 There is such a need to interrogate psychiatry for what it is. What is it? Does it need to be? Is it a cult or a construct? What could replace it?  Could psychiatrists all become neuroscientists in this brave and sinister new world of diagnosis by brain scan? Where will that lead us?

Is there a philosophy of psychiatry? What is it? How can the human rights abuses within the field be ethical? What is psychiatric ‘care’? How ethical is psychiatry’s dependence on the major pharmaceutical companies and the use of dangerous life-threatening drugs on young children and the elderly and others?  The fact that recovery is higher in developing countries than in industrialised ones needs to be examined.  People are still subjected to ECT and lobotomy; is this ethical?

There’s so much to explore, and I hope that this wonderful and awe inspiring conference is just the start.

St Catz Colloquium – Philosophy and Psychiatry - The Next 100 years. Making Change Happen – Oxford, St Catherine’s College.  Organizers: Bill Fulford, Matthew Parrott and Laetitia Derrington. Department for Continuing Education

Polly Mortimer

Brain Behaviour

A blog on brain behaviour from the Research Digest could be a sign that mainstream science is catching up with the science that the late Maharishi Mahesh Yogi used to substantiate the benefits that transcendental meditation can bring to its practitioners. In order to spread the ‘good news’ of TM he reasoned that the square root of 1% of the population of the world practising TM (a law in physics that, to effect a mass, you only have to get 1% of the population to do it), is all that is needed to bring about more fulfilled and successful societies, leading to world peace. His natural, easily learned technique is used to bring about optimum use of the brain and its ability to rise to higher states of consciousness, which he addressed in his Science of Creative Intelligence. 

The individual is the unit of world peace, he said, and it is through this experience of bliss that the mind can harness the laws of nature that are located at the minds unfathomable source. The blog in Research Digest refers to research on the brain using electrical stimuli to try to fathom the complexities of the brain and to produce bliss (Induction of a sense of bliss by electrical stimulation of the anterior insula, Fabien Picard, Didier Scavarda & Fabrice Bartomolei, 2013). 

Transcendental mediation means you don’t need electrical stimuli, however, as the Maharishi advocated that by practising TM twice daily the unlimited creative intelligence – or bliss – that we all have within us can be tapped and brought to bear on our experience in an expert and methodical way. It seems to me that while science is becoming aware of the possibilities that are within the capabilities of the brain, Maharishi’s science is dawning with it a world of possibilities is being opened up to us all.

Research Digest
Blogging on brain and behaviour
Thursday 19th September 2013

Ian Stewart

The Happiness Project

 first read The Happiness Project in early 2012 after reading a spate of positively glowing reviews online.  I did not really know what to expect – a brand of zealous, get-out-and-do-good, evangelical guilt trip was my worst fear – but actually it did exactly what I had hoped it would do. It made me think about happiness and ways I could become happier.

Rubin starts with the realisation that although she was not unhappy, she also was not appreciating everything in her life which she felt she should, so she set about methodically researching happiness and its causes and came up with a list of what her own priorities were. She dedicated a month to each topic – eleven topics in all, with December being the chance to put them all into practice – and worked out how she could use that month to explore and appreciate her life more. She says early in the book that ‘I wanted to change my life without changing my life’, a theme which marks her out from many of the famous life-changing biographies such as Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love or biographies about loss, such as Joan Didion’s A Year of Magical Thinking, and this is precisely what holds its charm. Few of us could take nothing whatsoever from this book, with topics that range from vitality (January) to marriage (February) to money (July), and certainly in my case even when the topic had no obvious connection to me – I have no children, which she spends April appreciating – there were still things that made me think about how I relate to other people in general. 

For me, the most important point made is about how deep the connection is between your relationships with other people and your own happiness. This may seem natural and particularly apparent with how you interact with your partner, your parents, your children and wider family, but it also includes your friends, people you encounter only briefly, your critics, and even the way you gossip – or preferably don’t. She quotes Tolstoy, who said ‘nothing can make our own life, or the lives of other people, more beautiful than perpetual kindness’, and she does this throughout without seeming holier-than-thou; in fact, her frustrations and stumblings are part of what makes the book so relatable, and certainly make you feel you are not alone in finding it difficult to resist gossip, or not snapping when you have had a bad morning. In many ways it is about being aware of what is happening in your life and recognising whether or not your actions will contribute to your happiness, rather than attempting to live a life of impossible virtue.

Rubin suggests that a key part of being happy is to be yourself, and to be true to yourself. Do not worry about what you ‘should’ like, or think you should like, but invest in discovering what makes you happy. It could be a hobby, probably similar to what you enjoyed as a child, or it could be cutting out something you feel obligated to do but is not necessary or helpful. An oft repeated truth that she finds is that ‘one of the best ways to make yourself happy is to make other people happy; one of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy yourself.’ So if it is weight training, if it is foreign policy, if it is Barry Manilow – wonderful. Find that passion and pursue it. 

Throughout the book she gives examples of other people’s experiences with their own happiness projects as well as mixing in her research, which gives the reader a chance to think about how to apply these deeply personal resolutions to themselves (always resolutions rather than goals – you achieve a goal in a way which does not apply to every day happiness), and this is followed up by notes at the back which help you to set up your own happiness project. She has set up a website (www.happinessprojecttoolbox.com) which will help you decide what your priorities are without all her painstaking research – for example, her current front page article talks about making sure your habits are right, something she talks about in her book. She recommends four things; sleep, exercise, external order, and managing eating and drinking, things which she works on throughout the book and which do make a difference to her. She also talks here about her other books on happiness at home, and her forthcoming book about breaking habits.

When I first read this book I felt energised and motivated to change small things in my life. I started thinking about how I could do what I really wanted and implemented the one minute rule – if something can be done in a minute or less then do it. My desk is now almost always clear and has been since that first reading. The second time I read it, only a few months later, I made further plans and did some things which I would not have done otherwise – I jumped from a boat into the ocean because it scared me, and that was as important to me as keeping my temper when someone was deliberately provoking my anger. But in reading it again for this review (which only took about a day, on and off – it is a quick read) I have made the biggest changes. I was already much happier than I was when I first read the book, that is true, but rather than taking small actions I have taken bigger steps. I have contacted people about a children’s literature book club I had been considering for a while but not made time for, I asked my mother if she would like to do a happiness project with me next year as a way to keep in contact when we are in different countries, and I have thought about whether I am actually really helping people when I give my time to tasks which don’t make much difference, even if I feel virtuous, or if there is a better way I could try to help.

So would I say the book is for everyone? No, probably not. But if, like myself, you thought that owning one self help book would immediately spiral into a Bridget Jones-esque binge of life-changing intentions and no real action then I would urge you to try this. Gretchen is happier, I feel  happier, and there is a real chance that you could too

By Alice Croot

Facts: Strange But True!!!!

Here are 21 facts that you might not know, but are all true - even though they might seem strange!

1. Crocodiles have over 240 teeth in their entire life.
2. The world’s shortest man, Pinping, is only 2ft 7inches tall.
3. The 14-foot-long narwhal is a whale whose teeth can reach up to eight feet long.
4. Night butterflies have ears on their wings so they can avoid bats.
5. The T-Rex had a jaw strong enough to chop a person a half in one bite.
6. Female triceratops wore ‘make up’ (painted their faces) to attract male triceratops.
7. Chimps have their own form of political elections within their groups.
8. Baby robins eat 14 feet of earthworms every day.
9. Indian police are known to have the largest beer bellies in the world; in one case, an officer had a waste size that was triple his chest size.
10. Cows in India can cause traffic jams for miles.
11. The largest sandwich is over 3ft long.
12.  A tiny lizard called a Tiktiky can sever its tail and grow another within two weeks.
13. The act of kicking a football, when in space, can cause a person to move 500 yards backwards, due to the lack of gravity.
14. There are worms that are 4ft long.
15.  A baby Giraffe can already be over 5ft tall when it is born.
16.  An insect called a Mayfair only lives for 8 hours.
17.  An Astronaut sees about 36 sunrises and 35 sunsets in one mission.
18.  When the Mayans played football, they used the head of the losing captain as a ball for the next game.
19.  Dragonflies can fly up to 50 miles per hour.
20.  The first light bulb was actually created by the Egyptians.
21.  An ancient ruler of North East India is known to have over a 101 
             children and out of 100 only one was a daughter.

By Dev

EFT - Tapping into Potential

So this week I was taking my first webinar about the foundations of business practice in the arts, and this webinar, which was the first to be performed by this woman, went severely pear shaped – that’s to say I could hear nothing through my phones but white noise. But I did hear her say ‘You have to get this book: EFT Emotional Freedom Technique “it will change your life”’.

Well this kind if information is often ignored, I’ve done it a million times before, but this time it came from Rosalind, who I’d worked with and had much respect for. She’d already helped move my art business forward from a very stagnant place to quite a significant place. So if she said EFT had the potential to change people’s lives, I thought it worth giving the time of day. As I write the book is winging its way to me.

EFT, or also commonly known as Tapping, was something I’d come across before; I’d met others who’d used it. I’d read the Healing Codes and used some of those ‘touch’ techniques, but to little effect because I’d become so frustrated with the process.

EFT works by releasing blockages within the energy system which leads to limiting beliefs and behaviours. It is said that these blockages cause emotional and/ or physical issues and include lack of confidence and self esteem, feeling stuck, anxious or depressed, or the emergence of compulsive and addictive behaviours, even physical issues such as long term back pain.

So it goes back to ancient Chinese beliefs based around the meridian system which believes there are electrical energies passing throughout the body. These charges need to somehow be balanced in order to function at an optimum level. The tapping on these meridian points release blockages in these energy paths, allowing things to flow more naturally.

So EFT treatment involves the use of fingertips rather than needles to tap on the end points of energy meridians that are situated just beneath the surface of the skin. So it’s like a kind of finger acupuncture, or acupressure.

The process involves one focusing on their own specific problem whilst tapping with fingers on the end points of energy meridians. The combination of sending kinetic energy to our energy system, whilst uncovering and focusing on root causes facilitates a balancing of the energy system thereby eliminating the “short circuit” to the body’s negative emotion. The tapping areas are:-
1) Top of the Head, 2) Beginning of the Eyebrow, 3) Side of the Eye, 4) Under the Eye, 5) Under the Nose, 6) Chin Point, 7) Beginning of the Collarbone, 8) Under the Arm. The setup area is the ‘karate chop’ area of the hand. These would be classed as the basic tapping areas, though there are further areas around the body.

So the ‘Setup Phrase’ might be: ‘I really don’t deserve to be happy because when I was a soldier at war I hurt many people.’ (Apparently EFT is great for post traumatic stress disorder.) This would involve tapping on the karate chop area of either hand. This is a difficult thing for me to get to grips with, because it’s repeatedly stating a negative, and focusing on that negative, and I’ve often worked hard to do the exact opposite! But in order to shift the problem, we need to truly understand the problem and connect with it on a deep emotional level.

After stating the problem, you’d begin a round of tapping whilst using the ‘Reminder Phrase’ which in this example might be, ‘I don’t deserve happiness.’
The key is to get to the real core of the issue, digging around until you find statements that really resonate with your problem on a deeply profound emotional level. These core issues, the powerful ones which bring about real change, are often deeply buried, and stemming back to our early years. So it takes a little emotional intelligence to root around until you find these core issues. Often it is suggested to fire off several arrows in the hope of hitting the true core issue.

And the way to determine whether the process has been successful or not is by gauging the level of emotional or physical pain before you start, and again after several rounds of tapping. So if the emotional pain in our example remains at 10, we need to try other statements, if it comes down to 5, then we continue through as many rounds as it takes to bring it down to 1 or 2, or even a zero.

Nigel Prestatyn

Reality Television & Mental Health

Long gone are the days when folks gather from all around to applaud the Gladiators fighting in the Coliseum, risking their lives with blood, sweat and tears all in the name of active entertainment... Or have they?

I recall being 16 years old and transfixed to the television screen. Tonight was the night. Everyone was talking about it. It was a Saturday night and it was the Pop Idol final. I was glued to the edge of my seat, eagerly awaiting the results. As I sat in the comfort of my family home, feet up with a cup of tea, I watched on as one of the finalists was rapidly losing confidence, perspiring under the bright studio lights, desperately begging the audience to vote for him and stuttering as the masses of results from the public rolled in. They purposefully dragged it out. The lights got brighter, the music louder and cheers from the crowd bellowed from beyond. I remember thinking to myself, poor guy, what’s going to happen to his confidence if he doesn’t win? More to the point: Why am I watching this in the first place? Was it because I genuinely liked the sound of their voices covering songs I had heard a million times before, or did I secretly like having the power of holding people’s destinies in my hands, knowing that people all over the country were feeling the same way? I was allowed to feel sorry for them, excited for them or even dislike them, and with a mere 50p phone call I could manipulate their destiny. Their future was in my hands! 

But can I really go as far as to compare a 50p phone vote to that of a Gladiators fate determined by the crowd’s ‘thumbs up’ or ‘thumbs down’? Okay, so we can’t exactly accuse the likes of Simon Cowell of placing people’s lives on the line in the literal sense – it’s not as though contestants have to slay boars three times the size of them or wrestle wild lions to the ground. Perhaps though, society could go as far as to accuse some of the producers of reality TV shows of placing people’s lives on the line in a more emotional sense. 

Reality is defined as “the state of things as they actually exist, as opposed to an idealistic or notional idea of them”. But who exactly defines this? We are surrounded by reality TV shows, but do they really portray reality? I mean, how many of us suddenly wake up one day and have become a global superstar overnight and what mental pressure must this surreal notion place on people? I don’t think we can even begin to imagine what that must feel like. People are literally putting their futures in the hands of unacquainted strangers through a television screen. And questions must be asked as to who these audiences are and more importantly what their motives are. Are they really there to help people become a success in life or just participants in a game, playing with other people’s futures? 

Andy Warhol once said “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” But ‘At whose expense?’ appears to be the question on lots of people’s minds… 

Emily Marsden, a specialist psychiatric Nurse, who works with young people presenting with their First Episode of Psychosis explains how an overnight celebrity suddenly becomes very vulnerable. “The media have the power to either maintain or crush their overnight status depending on what sells at the time. I imagine that the people in the media industry who are responsible for their overnight fame are more concerned about making money than whether that person is feeling okay and being well supported.”

When looking at reality TV and mental health, there have been a plethora of cases which have bought the subject to media attention and some much more ongoing ethical debates amongst professionals. In 2006, a Big Brother contestant, Shahbaz Chaudry, shockingly claimed he wanted to take his own life whilst being broadcast live on television. Not surprisingly, controversy and ethical debate arose after the contestant was placed on ‘suicide watch’ and denied exit from the house after requesting to leave. He was subsequently pulled out of the show after increasing concerns were raised around his mental wellbeing. Unsurprisingly, this raised questions around how much support the contestants were being given and whether or not they were intentionally pushed to their limits to increase entertainment and viewing; in other words, whether or not he had been exposed to intentional exploitation. Marsden agrees that reality programmes regularly exploit those with mental health problems in the name of entertainment: “In general, reality TV is purely a form of entertainment and unfortunately doesn’t seem to exist to teach people anything. I feel that in a lot of instances, TV producers go for the ‘shock factor’ to get good viewing figures, which often means issues aren’t covered very sensitively. This can often mean people with mental health issues are depicted as ‘odd’ or different to you and I – when the ‘reality’ is that mental health issues can affect anyone.” 

Big Brother producers, in a response to the incident, claimed that contestants are screened by professionals to ensure that they are psychologically stable and able to cope with such experiences. Is this good enough though? Marsden hopes that “firstly, contestants have someone that regularly meets with the person to check that they are coping – ideally someone with psychology training that can provide therapeutic support if needed. I would also hope that producers and channel executives would have some awareness of the pressures and make sure people are not put under too much pressure – I’m sure that doesn’t happen. I would want to make sure they were aware of all the pressures and negative aspects that come with being on TV/in the spotlight so that they weren’t going in to it blind”.

Another high profile example of the pressure that fame can place on a person’s mental health is the alleged ‘mental breakdown’ that Susan Boyle endured after coming runner up on the reality show Britain’s Got Talent. Concerns were made public after Susan was rushed to a private psychiatric unit the day after the competition finale. This too led to numerous viewer concerns that she was not provided with the correct duty of care by the producers of the show. This speed of overnight fame and public exposure must be enough for anyone to find hard to grasp. 

Thankfully, after making a good recovery, Susan went on to become a global superstar with support from friends, professionals and even backing from the media. Perhaps in turn, shining the light for those with mental health problems and in turn potentially projecting positive outcomes which show that mental health problems do not necessarily hinder success on reality TV shows. The public embraced Susan, even those who didn’t watch the show were able to follow her journey due to the vast coverage in the media; some even termed her a ‘national treasure’. She had been exposed to the world and had shown everyone that she could overcome mental health problems and that it would not hinder her future success. 

Marsden discusses how reality TV shows could also be used to help tackle some of the stigma surrounding mental health problems. “For example, well made ‘fly on the wall’ documentaries can definitely tackle the stigma surrounding mental illness. I do however think it’s difficult to get that right as it’s a sensitive and complex subject. People making the programmes need to have a good understanding of mental illness themselves or they risk reinforcing stereotypes.”

On the flip side of this, there have also been a handful of high profile cases of people who have entered reality TV contests and been denied continuation in the competition due to the fact that they have disclosed a current or historic mental health issue. This may well highlight the high levels of discrimination still apparent within the world of show business and perhaps even more so their conceptions of the stigma this may bring from the wider public. It perhaps leads us to question the ignorance of the TV producers; just because you have a mental health problem, it shouldn’t automatically exclude you from being a contestant. We live in a nation of equal opportunities and a history of mental health problems wouldn’t legally be able to impact your employment aspects, so why a reality TV show? Where do we draw the line? Another point to also consider is what negative affects rejection may have on a person’s mental health and on a larger scale: the fight against stigma and discrimination. Marsden emphasises the need to make more effort to portray people with mental health issues as normal people “rather than highlighting their differences or exaggerating their weaknesses”.

Reality TV is a culture that defines a huge part of my generation. Sometimes it seems as though people around me are more interested in voting off the latest Big Brother contestant, keeping someone in the jungle or paying to see a contestant on the X Factor win the Christmas number 1 (again). I often wonder how many of these people vote in the general elections or even know the name of their local MP.

It is apparent that much more education and insight is needed for the producers of reality TV shows and not just around mental health issues but also on the impact that ‘overnight fame’ can have on anyone, regardless of their psychiatric history. 
More consideration needs to be given as to whether the entertainment aspect of making these shows really outweighs the ethical impact it has on issues such as human exploitation. None of us can fully predict what such a phenomenon of becoming famous overnight would do to our mental health, hence the necessity for appropriate psychological support and mental preparation beforehand, during and after the process.

But on the flip side, why should mental health disclosure affect the opportunity to enter these contests? After all, with the right support and sensitivity around these issues perhaps more people will feel able to enter these competitions and be able to spin some of the unfortunate existing negative stigma and portray mental health in a more positive light. Some may even view people with mental health problems as stronger than the ‘average Joe’; having already battled through problems they may be more mentally resilient and prepared for challenges and difficult circumstances. They are also perhaps more able to accept the rejection and also put into perspective the bigger picture and (crucially) the more important things in life.

By Christina Clark, Psychiatric Nurse

Humour by Dev

Humour, also known as sense of humour, is defined in the dictionary as “the ability to appreciate or express that which is humorous”. There are several theories that make humour relevant to wellbeing, like the relief theory, which says that laughter is a mechanism by which psychological tension is reduced. This is because it releases a chemical called serotonin, a “feel good” chemical, into the brain. The best way to see humour as a form of entertainment; if you think about it, it is trying to cheer you up or trying to make a funny point about a subject.

Over time different styles of humour have been popular and have changed, from Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy and Buster Keaton’s slapstick silent comedy to today’s style of stand-up comedy. Slapstick comedy continued during the 60’s and 80’s, with comedians like Benny Hill, Frank Spencer and Kenny Evert, which is tongue and cheek, and lots of people still find funny now a days, as it is very visual. However, comedy since the mid nineties seems to have changed and I think some comedy sketches have become too over done. A constant use of one specific type of humour could be seen as rather tiresome; bringing in more new material it could be more fun.   

Humour also has a unique tendency to cross cultural backgrounds, even if you are from an ethnic minority. Sometime it is designed to make fun of how people in their community behave. A prime example is Goodness Gracious Me, which is about life as a South Asian person in the UK. As a South Asian myself, seeing this programme reminds me what people from this community are really like. You might also be able find some similarities from your own background.

Politicians and celebrities are often mimicked, made fun of and vilified by comedians world-wide, most commonly leaders of countries (i.e. Prime Ministers or Presidents) and other leading Politicians. Most of the humour is based on what they are doing or what they shouldn’t be doing. They can be rather over exaggerated, no matter what country they come from.

Comedians, or anyone who tries to be funny, rely on the reactions of people on the receiving end. So if a person attempts a funny joke or something silly, and it does not go well, that person may not try that joke again or at least re-work the joke. Most comedians tend to do situation-based comedy or stand up comedy. One way of trying to be funny is by using language to play with different meanings, for example “I am taking a break” can be seen as a person trying to break something. Another interesting way is to be funny is by finding the meaning of the word in another language, for example in English ‘Hey dude’ mean you are saying hello to someone you think is cool, but in Bengali (a language from the subcontinent) ‘Hey dude’ means ‘Hello milk’.

When it comes to mental health, humour plays a very important part. When you have “mental health problems” you may find yourself in a state where you have trouble controlling your moods. Some people describe it as being in a big hole without any light at the end. In this state, gentle humour can be useful in making each step less daunting. It can slowly helping them get various ideas on how to get themselves out of any situation and to see things from a different perspective.

A quote from Nelson Mandela…

“Social equality is the only basis of human happiness”


In an ideal society, the human potential of the individual should always evolve towards an ever increasing harmony and diversification with others in the direction of progress, achievement and fulfilment. Social equality should be the accepted norm, indeed without it the society would cease to function for the benefit of all.

I believe an ideal society motivated by the aspirations of the individual should involve a technique – like transcendental meditation – to allow the individual to develop his personality so that the inner happiness of the individual provides a stability that resolves problems before they arise, enabling a society to be one of all solutions and not one of all problems.

Ian Stewart

A Diagnosis

Accepting a diagnosis of mental ill health, with all of the unknown lifestyle implications is – let me argue – easier to come to terms with if the patient can or could be considered already intelligent and well adjusted. Preserving the strengths of your personality is, Dr Johnson E Sabine might argue, the very essence of the struggle with your mental illness.

Alan was first admitted to psychiatric hospital in 1986 and many years later he continues to pursue work, leisure, and his pursuit of the Lord’s wisdom. He does not deny his needs for extra agency care and support. He is visited by his carer once a week on Sundays for help with maintaining himself and his home – a well appointed and comfortably furnished one bed-room flat, above and adjacent to the full array of locally needed facilities. 

Living only on a means-tested state pension, this still allows Alan the relative luxury of eating in local cafes and the occasional friendly invitation for a home-cooked lunch or dinner. 
 Alan is self-employed and works in an advisory capacity doing consultancy work. Alan is also a well-regarded writer and, himself having been moved to do so many times, often prompts others to tell their life stories as a source of inspiration for others.

Alan advises other mental health service users to carry on regardless. This does test us more than non-mental health patients. We all have our crosses to bear, however, and Alan is not alone in finding advantage in so-called disadvantage. Take the problem-solving route and make use of relevant and wider learning opportunities. 

As a parent, his day-to-day life consists of making an earnest effort to provide for his family and, who knows, one day he may have time to read a good book. Take one day at a time, is his maxim: be thankful and count your blessings in all things. 

A Personal Interview

Alan’s Interview with an Anonymous Participant at the Recovery College:

What is your diagnosis and how do you feel about it?
Schizophrenia and OCD. I prefer not to think about it because it makes it worse when I think about it. 
How long have you suffered from mental illness?
Around 18-23 years.
How do you manage on a daily basis?
Sometimes I find it difficult to manage but I try to concentrate on what I am doing at the time.
Have you thought about telling your story to the public (anonymously or otherwise)?
I come from a South Asian background and mental health is seen as a NO GO AREA so I just keep it to myself.
What advice would you give to someone else with a mental illness? What have you found most helpful?
Take it day by day. If you are having trouble find a friend or someone you can trust to tell what you are going through. Make sure you ask them to keep it to themselves. 
What are your hopes for the future?
To deal with it better.