A Mixture of stuff, for.

Its funny, he thought, how the little things can traverse the years. How old tumbleweeds can blow around your brain, sometimes unseen in the hubbub, but the only break in the silence of the dark hours. ‘Rustle, rustle’ in the twilight hours. Dated pictures and once typed words, ‘rustle, rustle.’
James hunched further over his laptop, the first slide open on the screen. It read ‘A Mixture of Stuff, for James.’ It was an old set of slides, and unlike an old book whose pages would be dog-eared and stained, it held no record of the hours James had spent pouring over it. It was indifferent, but the old graphs, pictures, and words meant more to James than any book ever could.
He did the usual and played the song. Music from years ago filtered out the tinny speakers, filling the room with a blissful melancholy. It was routine, rustle rustle, funeral music for a bygone age. The journal of falling in love, a story that felt unfinished, but the final chapters ripped away. There was something beautiful in that, if desperately sad. He supposed that the song was some eulogy, although it had been meant as a rebirth.
A kindness. Something admirable, a goodbye from the woman he once loved. Still loved. Tried not to love, rustle, abhorred, rustle, adored. He took a long drag from his cigarette and felt the smoke fill his lungs. The slight breathlessness felt poignant, real, a brief departure from his fantasy of melancholia and past pixels.
So he began again, each new slide a jocular aperture, an inside joke made before inside jokes could be, the innermost thoughts of a lost soul mate. Moronic, loved, silly but serious. He could almost feel the same catch in his throat that he had felt years ago, the mixture of laughter and light. He smiled, the cigarette dangling from his lips. It had begun to burn down to the hilt. The song hit the chorus, the keyboards and words of hope dancing with the prose on screen.
He paused for a moment. Her face was almost gone now, his mind pushing it deep down into those hard places, the ones whose angles were felt in the darkest moments. The sheer faces where one may spiral (rustle, rustle) and lose himself. He remembered snatches of her smile, her eyes, her laugh. He had paid more penance for his mistakes than lashes could split his back.
But still, the slides and the music were all that was left (rustle.)
The final slide once again, a silly graph. Weirdness vs interest, a self-effacing joke. But years later, the joke was not as funny. It was damn beautiful, molecules of love coming together (rustle) in a sea of randomness (rustle) now split (rustle) and each (rustle) passing moment driving him further away.
The song ended as the cigarette ebbed out, and he closed the screen. The world around him had seemed much darker since. And in the night his lighter flared, the silence once again filling his brain. Let a single tumbleweed, rustling in the opaque. Perhaps one day the weeds could meet again. Rustle (together.)

Every once in a while I like to write something different. Image courtesy of Flickr.

Ben

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Critical Thinking for Young Adults And Children

Years ago, long before Twitter and Facebook, my teachers would ask me and my classmates to sit in a line.¬† And in a game then called ‘Chinese Whispers*’ we would pass a secret message down the line, mouth to ear. And by the end of the line, the story would likely be very different from¬†what began.

Although this childhood game is just a bit of fun, it has real-life implications. They say that information is power, but the truth is that it is not the information, but whoever controls it and how it is told that holds all the cards.

And today this could not be more important. As the world grows so does our circle of friends and strangers. Some of you will have social media accounts, that over the next few years, will connect you with thousands of people. And you will come to rely on them not just for friendship, but for learning about the world.

And this is where misconceptions, prejudice and being controlled can begin.

The Social Mesh

News articles, blogs, and opinions will filter through this mesh of people in ways similar¬†to the old game of ‘Chinese whispers’, and by the end, it is hard to know what the real story is. And even worse, someone may change the story deliberately to mislead you, or just make one up for some personal reason.

You may have heard US President Donald Trump talk about ‘Fake News‘ (where the stories are untrue, or only parts are told,) or his opponents call him a liar. But when you don’t know the real truth, how can you decide? Is Trump a liar, or are the press spinning tall tales?

Well thankfully there is an answer, and its called ‘Critical thinking.

And in a world where the control of stories is power, it prepares you to decide for yourself what is true, and what is a lie. It helps you decide who to vote for, which issues will affect your life and what you need to do about them. Today I will teach you an introduction into how to think about stories and some questions you might ask.

Critical Thinking and Critical Appraisal.

Critical thinking is a process by which you can approach information. It allows you to ask the right questions about stories to figure out what is real, and what is not. It helps you to spot patterns, tricks and tells that reveal whether the speaker or writer is telling the truth.

Alongside it is something called ‘Critical appraisal’, where you learn how to break apart scientific studies and important papers that often provide the basis for these stories. Today we will focus on critical thinking in general, as critical appraisal requires its own time and a basic understanding of scientific theory and study.

This may already sound difficult, but it’s not. Science may seem difficult, but it’s all about practice. One hour spent learning something makes you one hour better, and it’s true for critical thinking as much as maths homework.

So the concepts I will introduce you to here are just part one of something much bigger, that I will leave to you to investigate the rest.¬† It’s probably better that way.

Tricks and Tails

First, let us imagine a story. Imagine, for a moment, that your pet dog has chewed up your parent’s favorite¬†plant. It was your job to make sure the dog was looked after, but you left the front door open. Your parents are angry, and asking you what happened.

Dependent on what you want to happen, you will tell a different story. Perhaps you will say that ‘the wind opened the door,’ or perhaps that ‘the dog was asleep.’ Much like the game of Chinese whispers, you are changing the story to suit a particular purpose.

Your parents probably won’t believe you, but you have learned something: that lies can be useful. This is even more true for what you read on newspapers, television and online. If you can spin the facts to tell your story, you can make people do what you want.

But, you know this is wrong. Lies are generally a bad idea.

Unfortunately, ‘fake news’ is just that, lies. It may not be changing the facts ‘the dog ate the plant’, but it will change something about the story. Perhaps the dog ate the plant because ‘your parents weren’t feeding it’, (which may or may not be true,) but suddenly the dead plant is your parent’s fault. Not the dogs or yours.

This is called ‘spin’, a way of communicating information toward a certain story. Or another way of saying ‘bending the truth.’ But in the case of the dog, you are saying something believable, even if a lie. This happens all the time in the adult world, whether it be about Brexit (ask your parents,) or the reasons countries may fight each other.

It is saying something that’s believable, or perhaps even likely, without proof and letting people connect the dots.

Asking Questions

So your parents may ask you a few questions. They may look around the room and notice that the dog’s food bowl is half eaten. They may notice that the television is on with your favorite show playing. Eventually, they will figure out the truth. The facts around them cut through your story.

You have learned something new: ‘lies can be spotted.’

For the dog and the dead plant, this is easy. Your parents know you, your habits and probably when you are lying. They spot patterns in your voice or inconsistencies in your story. It’s just time and practice.

But as the stories become more complicated, and more people are involved, it gets harder. What if the dog was in the next house, and you couldn’t check the food bowl? What if you had to ask your neighbor about the food, and they could lie. Welcome to reading news stories, lots of people, half the information and much more power.

The more uncertainty there is around a story, the harder it is to spot what is added or taken away. Just as further down the chain of ‘Chinese whispers’ the words change, the further through social media or a newspaper from the original source the story travels, the less it can be trusted.

Thankfully for all of us, if we learn to spot common ways in which the news and others will trick us, we can apply our thinking to new information. In the case of the dog and the plant, your parents could just check for bite marks on the plant.

Three simple questions

So instead of spending a long time going through all the tricks, I am going to give you three questions to ask whenever you hear or read a new story. And for each one, a little explanation of why it’s so important.

By the end of the questions, you may have noticed that the story doesn’t quite add up. Or perhaps that something is missing, and you are being forced to believe something false:

Do you feel strongly about what you read or hear (sad, happy, angry?)

Emotions are very useful things. But for a news company, making someone angry with a headline is a good way to sell a paper. But we know that when you are angry,  you pay less attention to the facts.  So if a headline is angry, or uses overly comforting words, it is there to make you concentrate not on the story, but your emotions.

The paper wants you to react to the story in a certain way. A good example would be whenever some British papers talk about people from abroad, they always use angry words. This is because they want you to be angry with those people, even if those people aren’t doing anything wrong. They don’t want you to think about the facts.

So if you read a news story and feel very strongly, take a moment to remind yourself that this could be the purpose of the writer. And that purpose may be to distract you from actually thinking about what the story truly means. So take a moment, forget the feeling, and read again.

If the story seems odd once you read it again without the anger, then you may have spotted something. Remember that a story built on emotion may lack truth.

Can you trust the ‘facts’?

Often a news story will contain a lot of numbers. They may say ‘40%’ of people think this or that, or that ‘10% of people’ did this or that. These numbers may not be trustworthy, or part of a bigger picture that the paper is choosing to hide. This is to trick you into thinking something is accurate or ‘backed up.’ It may not be.

For example¬†‘100% of people think that hunting foxes is okay ‘ may sound quite a little odd to you, especially when you realize that the group of people asked were all ‘Fox Hunters (this is called bias, and once you learn to spot it the news becomes very different.) If you were to ask 100 people from school, the answer would be very different.

You may also see newspapers refer to ‘studies’ or ‘one study’ done by a scientist. The problem is that not all studies are good, or even true. If you wanted to sell a medicine, and 3 studies had shown it a bad drug, and one showed it to beuseful, which would you talk about? Newspapers will often pick the studies that suit their story, without talking about the other ones.

This also happens in which stories some newspapers or social media stars will report on. For example, one particular youtuber tends to only report on crimes committed by a specific racial group, whilst ignoring those committed by others. There is a purpose to this, to make you hate a specific group by making it seem like they are all bad.

So when it comes to numbers and studies. it’s always worth finding out more. Who was actually asked? Where there other studies? What did they say, and did the newspaper mention them? Why not? Are these ‘facts’ really true, or are bits missing? If you notice something is missing, then treat the story as misleading.

And when a newspaper seems to only focus on one ethnic or religious group, be all the wiser. There is always more to the story than the color of a man’s face.

Who is telling the story?

You may notice that your parents buy the same newspaper every day, or watch the same news channel. But you may also notice that one newspaper will report on something in a very different way to another. For example, some British newspapers will always attack those from other countries, whilst others will always defend them.

Ask your parents about ‘The Sun’ newspaper, or if in America, ‘Fox News’. Ask them what these two groups say about people from other countries. Then compare it with what ‘The Guardian’ says in the UK, or CNN in America. The answers may surprise you.

This is called an agenda, which is the ‘purpose’ of the newspaper. Not all agendas are the ‘right’ one, and which you agree with is up to you. But if you can look at who is telling the story, you might be able to spot an early clue about whether you are being lied to.

Think of a friend at school who lies a lot. They may sometimes tell the truth, but if you hear a story from them you are much more likely to ignore it. But if you hear a story from someone you trust (or should trust,) you may believe it, even if its a lie.

Newspapers and broadcasters are meant to be trustworthy, but not all of them are. Adults have agendas, and it’s up to you to figure them out. One way is to look at who is telling the story. What have they said before? Do they like the person that they are talking about? Is it possible that they are changing the story because of their beliefs?

Or do they want you to believe what they do?

Bringing it together

So these are just three questions, and there are a lot more of them. It is important to know that each question isn’t meant to tell you ‘Yes or No’ about whether you can trust a story, but help you to spot the tricks.

It is then up to you to use your brain to work out what you can trust. This will only get better as you ask more questions and practice. Much like your parents are an expert in you, you can become an expert in spotting lies by others.

Asking questions, like about whether the plant has nite marks, or whether your neighbor likes dogs, helps you to approach a story prepared. It helps you to spot the lies and prevents you from being forced to believe something false.

Elections are won with lies, wars begun with fake news and truly terrible things spread by rumour. Its up to us to stop it.

The reason this is so important is that the world, especially the rich and powerful, rely on controlling information to control people. When a newspaper is caught lying, it used to be a big deal, but now it is not. ¬†The same is true of politicians and presidents. It’s up to you to spot the tricks.

And the younger you can start, the better decisions you can make. And as a final task, to you, I will leave you with one last question:

‘If this is so important, then why isn’t it all over the news?’

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*Apologies for the term used here. I feel it fair to acknowledge the relative cultural insensitivities of the past in order to learn from them. You can read an interesting take on the subject here. 

What is Love?

Sometimes love is only recognised when something leaves. And in the feeling of loss, the emotional tumult becomes manifest in some undefinable ache. Something in your chest that once was,  now  is not. Other times it is something that fills you, that breaks apart the worries of life and focuses everything into the space between heartbeats.

Is love just hormones? Or nerve receptors? Or is it something more?

‚ÄúBut that afternoon he asked himself, with his infinite capacity for illusion, if such pitiless indifference might not be a subterfuge for hiding the torments of love.‚ÄĚ – Gabriel Marquez, Love in the Time of Cholera.

Love in the blood

It is a habit of science to reduce the complex into understandable pathways. By explaining something to a point of being irreducible we can better understand it. But for something as universal as love the idea may seem not just implausible, but somehow offensive.

After all, what does it all matter if we know our atoms, if we cannot feel love?

Scientists believe that love can be explained in terms of our physiology (i.e how our body works,) and this can be explained as way of surviving. From our earliest ancestors we needed something strong to hold us together, to cement a protective unit for our children.

Love seems to fit the call.

It all starts, they say, with lust. The feeling of attraction, physical in nature and overwhelming. Surges of hormones such as testosterone and oestrogen fill our bodies, and promote sense of wellbeing.

This is what the poets immortalise, the feeling of connection beyond space and time.

Next comes attraction, the impetus of familiarity. New hormones such as adrenaline, cortisol and dopamine begin to work. Dopamine itself is a hormone much concerned with addiction, our bodies literally pine for the subject of our love.

That ache, often good if longing, comes somewhere in this whirlwind. This is where the stark images of colour and beauty found in songs finds home.

Finally comes attachment, a feeling mediated by oxytocin, serotonin and vasopressin. These hormones work in different ways, but science shows they foster feelings of connection and comfort. In fact, studies have correlated blood levels of these substances with healthy relationships. This is where the image of old hands intertwined on a park bench lives.

In a small town taking my hand from the words into a promised land. How I wish for a thorn in my heart and deadly was the rose that I got. – Kite, Dance Again.

Love in our hearts

So you may be wondering, does learning all of this remove the special nature of love? Was the lifelong love of Florentino Ariza nothing more than an interplay of chemicals on a lonely mind? Or is there something poetic to it, something that transcends the biology?

We know little about the brain, and less about the mind. Sure, with functional MRI we can begin to tease apart the physicality of thought, and with psychiatry the cognition of life, but even with complex models it seems something is amiss.

Perhaps love is just a victory of evolution, a hormone driven delusion designed to bring us together. Perhaps it serves no function other than to provide a stable resource base for the young and a gateway to reproduction.

But that doesn’t full explain it, much like a painting can never fully capture a mountain.

There is a point, somewhere between our dreams and our reality that life finds comfort. And the complexity of the human mind has led to great poetry, art, literature and film that portrays everything from the spark of eyes meeting to the squalor of heartbreak.

Within our love and pain we have created great beauty far beyond the dance of molecules.

So, for me at least, even if love can be categorised and explained by hormones and biology, it may never be captured. It exists between the heartbeats, and in that silence is a secret that no instrument can reveal.

Welcome home. Ships are launching from my chest
Some have names but most do not. Radical Face, Welcome Home.

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Coffee. Disney. Love.

Every once in a while there is a brief moment where our world falls away. Or at least, that’s what the songs tell you. A moment where the veneer of our daily worries retreats just enough to bring things into perspective. ‘A Disney moment,’ Angela would call it. And as she turned the page of her book, and heard the melodic clink of ceramic on ceramic , she finally learned what that truly meant.

*****

It had been a hard day. Josie had been difficult as usual, or a ‘bitch’ as Angela preferred to say (privately.) To Angela it seemed odd that a woman so similar to her could be so challenging to work with. But she supposed there was an element of misunderstanding, different expectations and reactions. But in the ongoing show-reel of her head, Angela was happy to entertain the drama.

‘You are too dramatic, just let it go’ her mother had always said. Angela hated to admit when her mother was right, but, annoyingly, as time went on, she seemed all the wiser. But she didn’t have to admit it, instead she preferred to pretend. There had to be a little entertainment. A hard day could just be another story.

But with a hard day comes something lost, something she needed to fulfil. And usually she just went home and watched Netflix. Let it all blend together. But, today felt different.

So, today of all days, she had decided to reward herself. She had always enjoyed an iced latte, but upon reaching the counter at Starbucks had found herself drawn elsewhere. An exotic Colombian roast. She had always wanted to visit Colombia, but work had always got in the way. The world never stopped turning for you.

The world of Disney princesses, fantastical princes and adventures was a far cry from what truly was. It was invented to make life bearable, and the brief breaths of romance and heroism were, as she considered, delusions. There was simply no magic left, just the odd physical pleasure, a new taste, smell or sound. A brewing Colombian coffee on a Friday night.

So there she was, mind buried in the events of her day, Josie’s (bitch) face droning on, the words of her novel half ignored, and her special coffee warming her stomach. But Angela wasn’t really there until she heard the ‘clink.’ And in a very human habit, she turned her head and saw him; the old man with the tired eyes.

His skin had greyed a little, and fresh whiskers poked out from his pale face. He had a small coffee pressed to his lips, which were pursed. A little of the coffee had spilled down his front, staining his white shirt (although, it was already a little yellow.) Angela liked that, authenticity and permanence were comforting in such a rapidly changing world.

But it wasn’t his shirt that caught Angela’s attention. It was his eyes, and something in his hand. Across the table were strewn pictures, some yellowed like the shirt, others new. An empty packet read ‘Charles’, which Angela vaguely remembered as shop up the street.

Every picture featured the same face, and as you glanced over the collage you could see it age.

For a moment Angela was perplexed, but then the man’s eyes answered her question. They were red, staring off beyond the polaroid in his hand. They seemed to look through it, as if back in time. She could see his mind working, struggling to put the past and today together. Something that she understood. But whilst he was clawing at the past, she often pushed it away.

Always chasing that quick reward. The moment yet to come.

But in this moment, as she realised that the man opposite her was saying goodbye to his wife, she had that Disney moment.  Angela felt things fall away, and something came into focus.

A Disney moment wasn’t about a fairy tale, but the moments that transcend our worries. The seconds that remind us of our dreams, and how they come and go. Where a second can become an eternity, and what’s lost can be held for just so long.

Life wasn’t about a mermaid or hero, but about the beauty of moments we cherish. How they could provide us purchase even in the harsh cyclone of our lives speeding up. A smiling face in a yellowing picture, a yellow hat in a shaking hand, anything could be that moment,

All of a sudden Josie,  her mother, the hard day and the quick reward seemed trivial. And all that was left was the old man,  his moment, his story and the timeless love. She caught her breath and smiled. The old man looked up, his hands trembling, and nodded. He held up the picture, pointed with his other hand and smiled.

‘This was at Disney Land,’ he said.

Every once in a while I like to write something different. Image courtesy of Flickr.

Ben

 

 

‘Mental health myths you wouldn’t believe still exist’

myth mental heath care

Mental health issues are more common than you would think. And in fact, mental health problems are amongst the leading causes of disability worldwide. Astoundingly, 1 in 4 of people in the United Kingdom alone will experience mental health issues a year.

So when you look at the world overall, that is an awful lot of people.

Regardless of the universality of the problem, many people still labor under false beliefs. So we hope that by breaking some of these myths down that we can not only eliminate some undeserved stigma, but encourage a community driven empathy toward those who ask for it.

And with that in mind, I have invited some wonderful friends along with me to spread the message of what we have learned. I have also talked to psychiatrists and other medical professionals who have been kind enough to lend their time.

It is my belief that through knowledge we can really make a difference and, hopefully. together we can shine some light.

mental health depression compassion

By correcting misunderstandings we can build a community around empathy. Image courtesy of Flickr.

1. Mental health problems only affect ‘weak people.’

Being diagnosed with a mental health problem, be it depression or any other, can make one feel fearful and insecure about themselves and their future. This is a natural response, as any drastic change to our lives and sense of structure will influence our emotions.

‘Everyone can have a mental health disorder. If I were to lose someone, I would suffer and could get depression. I would not consider myself a weak person. We are all human, we are all built the same way.’ – Scott McGlynn, Present and LGBT+ Activist.

But let’s not confuse sadness with weakness, it is simply human. And since we know that the commonality of these issues is so great, it’s fair to say that just about anyone can suffer.

And from what we know about the causes of these problems, be they social, biological, psychological or a combination, we can say confidently that a ‘person’ is only part of the recipe for developing a problem.¬†Some predisposing causes include childhood abuse, social issues and adult trauma, as well as genetic or biological antecedents.¬†

myth mental health

Even those that society elevate as heroes can feel the same pain as the rest of us. Image courtesy of Flickr.

And although there are many more factors prevalent in developing a disease, you would be hard pressed to conclude that a personal ‘weakness’ is solely to blame for somebody becoming unwell, or that a mental health issue is a sign of that weakness.

These issues can strike anyone, from military leaders to doctors, from artists to authors and beyond. Much like any disease, the human at the centre of it is who matters, not their job or what society demands. And many with mental health issues become world leaders. This is despite what society tmay wrongly consider a flaw.

Incredibly, they do this knowing that some members of society would reject them simply for their diagnosis. Former US President Abraham Lincoln and War-time UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill both presided over tumultuous times, but both were alleged to have suffered with mental health issues. 

depression stigma myth

Winston Churchill famously battled depression whilst leading the British war effort during WW2. Image courtesy of Flickr.

So instead of considering those with mental illness as ‘weak’, we would better reconsider what we define as making a person ‘strong.’ I think you would agree that Churchill’s tenure was one requiring a tremendous personal strength.

And on a personal note, living with depression requires more resilience and strength than you would realise.  And to make a difference in the world, to enrich the lives of others, whilst battling every day, that is true strength by any definition.

2. People with ‘mental health problems’ are a ‘drain on society.’

A particularly uncomfortable idea, some believe that those with mental health issues are simply faking it. Or worse still, doing so with the intention of sponging ‘off the state.’¬†This is a particularly divisive attitude worsened by some social media commentators going as far to claim that depression isn’t a real condition.

depression stigma myth welfare

To some, Depression is not considered a real disease. But to the patients, the story is very different. Image courtesy of Flickr.

Although it is true that in acute episodes of some mental health issues people may require time off work, it is important to note that the vast majority of patients work regularly. In fact this can be as high as 70% in those with anxiety or depression.

Furthermore, the idea ignores the very fact that: patients want to get better and businesses have a legal obligation to provide ‘reasonable adjustments’ to ensure an unwell employee can return to work. It is clear that many wish to return to a relative normality, and work with their employers to facilitate this. According to the Health and Safety Executive UK (HSE);

‘Most people who have ongoing mental health problems continue to work successfully. But when someone needs support, managers can work with them to ensure flexibility to suit their health needs.’

Being unwell is as simple as being unwell, and it seems that ‘mental health issues’ are viewed as a less legitimate to need time to recover than a more obvious physical illness.¬†And where those with conditions like cancer are given worthy encouragement, those with depression may not be extended the same courtesy by the public.

medicine chemo depression mental health myth

It seems that ‘mental health’ problems are viewed as less legitimate than other ‘more medical’ problems. Image courtesy of Flickr.

By comparing the statistics we can see the bigger picture. Although the total number of work days lost to mental health was around 40% of the total during 2016/17, the vast majority of time off was due to other problems. So, we are forced to ask why the minority cause of time off receives such disproportionate stigma.

Are people with cancer a drain on society? What possibly makes people think that an illness of the mind makes you lesser than anybody else? We need to realise that mental health is not a failing. The connotation is that these problems are some sort of societal betrayal. – Mike Stuchbery.

Instead of considering those with a mental health issue as a ‘drain on society,’ the truth is rather different. Like patients with all diseases there will always be a relative loss of work, and this is necessary to their recovery.

Even better, since most with mental health issues do choose to work, it is clear that the problems are taken in hand where possible. So you may ask why people would attack those with mental health issues when the evidence is so clear?

work myth drain on society mental health

Despite the myth, the majority of those unwell continue to work. Image courtesy of Flickr.

Personally, ¬†I think it’s because content creators recognise just how financially powerful encouraging that stigma can be for their channels, or perhaps that because stoking division is an effective political move. If this is true, then the problem does not lie with the patients themselves.

‚ÄúCinema, radio, television, magazines are a school of inattention: people look without seeing, listen in without hearing‚Ä̬† – Robert Besson.

If society can be so easily hoodwinked, then combatting the stigma is that much more important.

3. ‘All people with mental health problems are dangerous’

Another dramatic misconception is that ‘all people with mental illness’ are dangerous, and when the public are repeatedly told that those committing mass shootings are ‘mentally ill,’ you can understand why there is a concern.

But the fact’s don’t support the sensationalism. In fact, the Canadian Mental Health Association reassures us;

Mental illness plays no part in the majority of violent crimes committed in our society. The assumption that any and every mental illness carries with it an almost certain potential for violence has been proven wrong in many studies.

Although it is true that some people may commit a crime while unwell, only 1% of people in a recent survey believed that individuals with mental health issues pose a threat. There is something lost between the public and some of the papers here.

But thankfully, many in print media are very aware of the misconception.

In my time as a journalist I met a good number of people who could be described as violent. Some were guilty of some shocking deeds. Yet, I cannot recall a single one who had a recognisable, distinct mental health issue. But I think when it comes to misconceptions, it’s not just journalists making the leap but society as a whole – Andy West, Broadcaster and Writer.

crime myth mental health

The majority of violent crimes committed in the UK and US are not committed by those with Mental illness. Image courtesy of Flickr.

Given that an estimated 7 million people in the UK have a mental health disorder, the average homicide rate is just between 50 -70. And over 2016-2017,  this represented a tiny fraction of the 790 homicides in the UK (8.9%.)

This means that 91.1% of UK murders are committed by those without a mental health issue, and when it comes to acts of violence,  those with mental health problems are responsible for only 3-5 % of crime compared to 96% (approximately,) within the general population in the United States.

In addition, within mental health overall, those with schizophrenia have a only slightly higher risk, mostly associated with substance abuse. But in the same vein, the vast majority will never commit a violent crime.  But what of psychosis itself?  During a psychotic episode, where in some psychiatric conditions a patient may lose contact with reality, only 6% may present any risk.

What about mass shootings? Well, less than 1% of all gun related deaths in the United States are due to those with a mental illness, and in that small number, the majority are suicides.

suicide harm

Contrary to popular belief, those with mental health issues are more likely to harm themselves than someone else. Image courtesy of Flickr.

So, why the overinflated preoccupation with risk? Perhaps misconceptions about serial killers being insane, the vilification and over-dramatisation of mental health in movies and television, and most insidiously, the use of mental health patients as scapegoats.

Let us consider the US, where gun laws are under constant scrutiny. It is much easier to blame a mass shooting on a ‘mentally unwell lone wolf’ than admit that you may have a culture problem and access to firearms. For some gun advocates, perpetrating this horrible myth serves them well.

So all in all, those with ‘mental health’ problems commit less violent crimes than the rest of the UK (and US,) and are a greater risk to themselves than others.

scapegoat mental health violence

It seems sometimes that those with mental health problems are made scapegoats by those who should know better. Image courtesy of Flickr.

Although there is some risk, the data bears out nothing significant beyond specific cases to a population level. The very idea that everyone with a mental health issue is dangerous is demonstrably false, stigmatising and worryingly, seemingly deliberately sold.

‘The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.’ – Franklin D Roosevelt

4. There is ‘no getting better’

‘People succumb to an idea that things don’t get better. You can’t see mental health, it’s not like a broken leg. There is an ‘end point.’ It’s clear, but with mental health its a lot more difficult for people to believe that there is a definitive fix.’ Ralf Little, Health Advocate and Actor.

For some, a mental health problem can last a long time,¬†but for others, they may only brush with it briefly, once in their lives. Everybody’s experience of life is different and with that comes a different experience of mental health issues. It can be easy to feel trapped in disease, only to wonder why you felt so helpless months later.

Mental health disease future

A mental health problem can seem like the end of the world. But for most, if not all, the veil is lifted with time. Image courtesy of Flickr.

It is often with the benefit of hindsight that the truth becomes clear. When it comes to mental health, this often shows us that recovery may require lifelong treatment to maintain. or nothing at all Рit all depends on the person and their journey. In fact mild to moderate depression may need drug treatment for no longer than a year, if at all.

The misconception that these issues are ‘permanent’ or ‘inescapable’ is very much hyperbole, and does not take into account how different people define their quality of life. Or indeed, what people consider being ‘unwell.’

It is up to the patient to decide when they have escaped the disease, which for many is the cessation of its symptoms, and for others, never feeling them again.

Personally, I view my depression as companion who raises it’s head from time to time, and during those periods inbetween I consider myself ‘better.’

For me, its about assigning value to the moments and realising my choice in doing so. Perhaps many of you will understand this.

myth value life

Sometimes a mental health problem can reveal what is truly valuable to us. Image courtesy of Flickr.

Yet somehow, society forces a double standard when comparing mental health issues with more physical ones. A cancer remission is treated as ‘getting better’ whilst many would say recovery in a depression is ‘only temporary.’ Both have a chance of returning, but we consider the time without illness as being ‘healthy again.’

While appreciating the complexity of the comparison, its fair to say that both have periods of being unwell and less unwell. Or not unwell at all, with a potential with recurrence or not. But in most cases, there is some level of improvement.

Have faith that on the other side of your pain is something good. – Dwayne Johnson

Whether this improvement is enough is up to you, but from personal experience and the stories of others, life can be just as good, if not better than before, when a condition is well managed. For me, my depression has added such value to my life that I appreciate living it all the more.

So, by using a medication, therapy, or lifestyle changes (or some combination of them), we can have great success in treating a wide variety of conditions. And, although many years ago these conditions could be something lifelong and debilitating, today’s patients can live rich and fulfilling lives.

life mental health myth

It is up to us as individuals to decide what matters to us, and when life is worthwhile. Image courtesy of Flickr.

What is important is realising that each patient is an individual, that treatments may need to change over time and that each step back can be regained. To suggest that there is ‘no escape’ poses only one limitation, on how well you understand human life.

5. ‘Mental health only matters when you are unwell.’

If you are reading this through twitter, ¬†you may have already seen the ‘I have mental health’ campaign. And for those who haven’t, the grassroots movement included people from all walks of life holding up a sign with the statement.

But why?

The idea was to make normal what many do not consider reasonable: that mental health is a constant and ongoing entity, one that we all share and one we can all lose. This idea is uncomfortable to some. But why?

mental health myths all of us

All of us have mental health, and it can waver just like our bodies. Image courtesy of Flickr.

Perhaps because of the idea of ‘weakness’, some societal expectation, or fear, many do not like to entertain the idea that their mind is like the rest of their body. Something that can become ill, and requires maintenance to work well. ¬†Just like our skin that can become itchy and red, things can change in an instant.

‘Mental health isn’t all of me, but it’s a massive part of my journey and a massive part of my whole being.’ – Adwoa Aboah

It seems that many only realise the fragility of our minds when something breaks. But unlike a precious vase, we rarely handle our minds with care. We expect them to be indestructible, when in fact all of us have our limits.

Since 75% of mental health problems begin before the age of eighteen,  it is clear just how beneficial teaching people how to take care of their mental health can be.

When we consider the theories around mental health disorders, we can see that many explain problems as the result of misbalance. Either too much work, too little sleep, a significant life event, a loss of purpose or one of another million things. It can take just one extra thing to tip the scales.

myth mental heath care

Mental health can be fragile, so it must be valued and taken care of. Image courtesy of Flickr.

In addition, when we consider treatment, the same can be said. Whether it be medication or therapy, a change is made to tip the scales back to equal. Mental health is an ongoing and organic process, the sum of our experiences and way of thinking.

It deserves as much kindness as our greatest treasure. And with that, it may be of huge societal benefit for all of us to embrace our own mental health, learn how to manage it and ensure that this is done from an early age.

6. You can ‘just snap out of it.’

I am sure many of you reading this will have heard a statement just like this, and for many, it will be very frustrating. There seems to be a belief that you can just ‘buck up’ and ‘snap out’ of mental health issue.

‘The idea that you can ‘positivity your way out of it’ is ludicrous. Its strange to believe that those unwell are just ‘being silly’, there is a real issue happening. Why do we collectively believe that such issues can dismissed so easily?’ – Ralf Little.

Almost as if its something flippant, volitional and subject to change at your whim.

From what we know about mental health conditions, this is not true, and often problems like depression can be pervasive, and take some time to sort out. This is also true for anxiety and a wealth of other issues.

clock mental health

Mental health issues may not be solved quickly. They can develop over a long time, so treating them may take a while. Image courtesy of Flickr.

The very complexity and individual nature of these conditions dictates that the right amount of time be taken.

The primary misconception lies in the general understanding of the problem, and that comes from familiarity. But if you have never had a disease, you simply don’t know as much about it as someone who does. That is forgivable, I wouldn’t personally understand how it is to live with heart disease.

However, there is information out there, it is just a process of making it available. I feel rather than ensuring everyone experiences a mental health issue first hand (although 1 in 4 do,) we can explain the problem instead. Most people are incredibly empathetic once talked to, it is the silence between conversations that breeds misunderstanding.

‚ÄúI’m here to tell you that if you get broken, it’s possible to put yourself back together. I’m here to tell you that if you get lost, it’s possible that a light will come, dancing, on the horizon, to lead you home.‚Ä̬† – Nick Lake

According to Health Communities, depression itself can take weeks to truly manifest and if untreated can last up to 18 months on average Р and with treatment, can still take a number of weeks or more to even out.

therapy time treatment

Therapy can take a number of weeks to months. But the time is important. Image courtesy of Flickr.

When it comes to anxiety, those with generalised anxiety disorder (GAD,) the treatment process can take up a number of months before you see results. After that, continued treatment may be necessary. These are just two examples, but the same is true across the spectrum.

So, if we can help others to understand that mental health issues are not a quick fix, we can change their expectations. I feel that this would help both those with a mental health issue and without.

7. ‘Everyone will think I am crazy!’

¬†‘People with mental health conditions are worried that others will judge and be afraid of them just because they are ‘different.’ Awareness needs to be brought forward that people with diagnosed conditions should never be ashamed of who they are. And just because someone is different doesn‚Äôt mean that they are dangerous in the form of being ‚Äėcrazy‚Äô. Never judge a book by its cover. – Paul Manners, Recording Artist and Influencer.

There is a lot of confusion around ‘psychosis’. But what is psychosis? According to the National Health Service (NHS);

Psychosis is a mental health problem that causes people to perceive or interpret things differently from those around them. This might involve hallucinations or delusions.

Put simply, and it isn’t quite as simple, psychosis is a loss of touch with reality manifest in either some hallucination (seeing, hearing or otherwise sensing something that others cannot,) and/or delusion (believing in something that is in conflict with reality.)

media misconception drama

The fear of being seen as ‘crazy’ is one based in hyperbole and insensitive media portrayals of mental health issues. Image courtesy of Flickr.

Psychosis can occur alongside numerous psychological issues when they become severe, including depression and schizophrenia. It can also be caused by medications, other organic illnesses such as dementia, and can relent when treated. Insanity is not necessarily permanent and resolves when the cause is dealt with. In each case it is important to not that a trigger can precipitate an episode, or that something can come on gradually. 

So, now we know what ‘actual medical insanity’ is, we can remind ourselves that the symptoms of a depression or anxiety disorder (amongst others,) do not mean that you are ‘crazy’. The fear is very much in the mind, but that is understandable.

“Perfect sanity is a myth propagated by straitjacket salesmen. РRebecca McKinsey

Given that society is so demanding, and that mental health issues are so emotionally depicted in media, people often associated mental health problems with psychotic symptoms. However, this is only relevant in the small fraction of people with psychosis. 0.7 % of those over 16 years old in 2016. And, unless you work in a psychiatric facility, your chances of meeting a psychotic person are vanishingly low. The issue lies with expectation, not reality.

fear crazy myth

Most people who are mentally unwell would not stand out from a crowd. So you shouldn’t worry about it. Image courtesy of Flickr.

So, when you compare this 0.7% percent with the number of those with active mental health problems (25% approximately,) you can see how rare actual ‘craziness’ is. It’s up to us to convince the public that the 25% are not the 0.7%.

If you perceive crazy as ‘abnormal’, i.e to exhibit the symptoms of a mental health issue, then it is worth reminding yourself that we all experience mental health symptoms. It is the duration and strength that differs, and how they affect our lives.

By realising that, the idea of others judging you can go away rather quickly, all it takes is a conversation to correct a misunderstanding.

8. It’s ‘all made up’

‘Nobody thinks that the pharmaceutical industry is completely above board. But problems with big pharma do not equal that everyone is lying. The idea that psychiatric diagnoses are made up is incredibly dangerous.’ Ralf Little.

One of the more insidious claims made is that ‘mental health’ conditions are not real, and worse still, they have been invented by ‘Big Pharma‘ or ‘government agencies’ to control people and make money.

Having already dealt with the logical fallacies inherent in conspiracy theories in my work on climate change, we can surmise that conspiracy relies on misconceptions and fiction to be believed. Where science relies on evidence, conspiracy relies on imagination.

conspiracy big pharma fake

Conspiracy theories rely on fantasy and the ignorance of evidence to persist. Image courtesy of Flickr.

Instead of accepting any evidence to the contrary, a conspiracy theorist will say that ‘it’s all part of the conspiracy.’ There are simply some people that are harder to convince. But when asked to provide evidence of their conspiracy, it often falls apart. As journalist and author Christopher Hitchens once said;

What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.
To truly understand why people purvey this myth, we need to consider motivations. Some may have had bad experiences with the pharmaceutical industry (and rightly so, it needs improvement!), and others may wish to manipulate the unwell to offer them some ‘alternative’ treatment for money.

Others may point to the apparent difference between psychiatric diseases and more ‘common physical ones.’ They claim a paucity of verifiable evidence for these diseases, and when comparing them to the more easily believed metrics of physical disease, that the proof simply isn’t there.

This is what we call an argument from incredulity, the idea that the complexity of an explanation undermines its truth. And within psychiatry, there are physical changes in certain conditions we can demonstrate objectively, but diagnosis is a complex process looking at behaviours over time.

diagnosis psychiatry

A psychiatric diagnosis is made on a patients behaviours, as well as other factors. Image courtesy of Flickr.

But those changes are real, and to suggest that things are being made up is quite a leap. Whilst we hazard to claim that Einstein’s equations are untrue, ¬†most of us won’t understand them. So why the double standard?

Personally, I suggest that when it comes to psychiatry there is a huge personal and societal stake involved. When emotions are riding high, people are more likely to make snap judgments, and when it comes to identifying with an idea, or joining a group, the idea becomes a sense of identity.

Being part of a movement fulfils basic psychological needs.

group identification myth

Being part of a group, or one believing in an idea, is a powerful and comforting thing. Image courtesy of Flickr.

For many, their belief in a conspiracy becomes part of who they are – they may think they are ‘in the right’ and ‘helping’, so don’t judge them too harshly. But there are those who knowingly manipulate, and they are a different story.

So in the end it comes down to which is most plausible;

  1. Psychiatric conditions are complex and individual problems require expertise to diagnose and treat. There are replicable behavioural and physical changes that can be used to aid this process. There will always be some financial gain to those producing medications, but that is a separate issue to the truth of the disease.
  2. Psychiatric issues are made up, the evidence is ‘false’ and it’s all done to ‘make money’ or ‘control people.’

I think when you view the two side by side, one looks rather less believable.

9. ¬†Mental health issues are ‘simply biological problems’

‘There are reams of papers and journals dedicated to the idea that things like upbringing and trauma can have a remarkable effect on health. To say its just ‘chemicals whizzing around in your brain’ is just ludicrous. Demands on life are often unworkable, and this can lead to problems. It is important to realise that environment and behaviour factor heavily in mental health disease.’ – Mike Stuchbery, Writer and Broadcaster.

From what many understand about disease, this myth is an understandable one. We are brought up to only recognise diseases in terms of physical problems (a sneeze, runny nose, a painful stomach,) and it makes sense that we would attribute biology to their causes too.

These ideas are developed early on in our lives, and are hardwired.

With a move within psychiatry to reconcile behaviour with neurology, one could be forgiven to treat the two as one – but it is a little more complicated than that.

biology mental health

Although it may be tempting to reduce mental health issues to purely biological problems, the fact’s say otherwise. Image courtesy of Flickr.

What we know from medicine places a larger influence on psychological and social factors than you would realise. For example, we know that patients with depression are more likely to suffer from heart disease, and that mental health problems find some cause in social factors.

Disease is the result of an interplay between biology, psychology and the environment. Some diseases are a tad more ‘biological’ in nature, and others seem to be purely ‘genetic’, but most fall between the categories, where one factor is just part of their makeup.

‘To study the phenomena of disease without books is to sail an uncharted sea, while to study books without patients is not to go to sea at all.’ – William Osler.

To dismiss mental health issues as ‘purely biological’ sells them short. Crucially, it means we are missing vital information in helping us treat them. If we can recognise the psychological and social determinants of disease, and understand their contribution, it gives us more avenues for treatment.

As such, psychiatrists and other doctors use a ‘Bio-psycho-social’ model of disease in their diagnoses.

freud mental health

Sigmund Freud was one of the first to popularise the idea of past experiences being part of mental health issues. Image courtesy of Flickr.

With depression for example, although there are genetic factors and talk of biological antecedents, we know that stress, sleep deprivation and trauma are highly predictive. And for anxiety, childhood experiences of fear and hopelessness play a role.

So when we treat psychiatric issues we combat each domain, where therapy and medication can be just as important as each other. To separate psychiatric diseases from biology is incorrect, just as saying that they are ‘only’ biological.

‘Doctors and patients need as much data as possible to make an informed decision about what treatment is best’ – Ben Goldacre.

The truth is somewhere inbetween, and with it, our best chance of making people’s lives better.

10. ‘Mental health issues are rare.’

The final myth is particularly pervasive, and you may have already been convinced otherwise of its assertions. Mental health problems are extremely common, it is the severity that differs.

global burden disease

Mental health problems are a global issue. And extremely common. Image courtesy of Flickr.

All in all, 1 in 4 people in the UK will suffer from a mental health issue at some point in their lives.

Depression is the leading cause of disability for women across most of the world and will be the lead the world in disease burden by 2030.

The very idea that these issues are rare can be traced to a misconception about what they are. Many consider mental health issues to be exemplified in rare cases of psychosis, or those dramatised in media. But mental health problems are not always as dramatic.

I don‚Äôt think it‚Äôs a healthy way of living to assume mental issues are a rarity, everyone will probably stumble across a mental issue at some point in there life, it‚Äôs how we deal with it that determines our outcome and if we‚Äôre prepared to accept it. ‘ – Charlie Parsons.

But they are worth knowing about. Considering just how common they are, and that they are becoming more common, we can build a community that wants to recognise why and do something about it.

learning mental health

By learning the truth of mental health problems, we can become wiser and more empathetic as a society. Image courtesy of Flickr.

By correcting the idea that ‘mental health’ issues convey only the extremes of behaviour, we miss the vast majority of people who suffer. We owe them the time to recognise not just how common mental health issues are, but how they affect each and every one of us.

There is no standard normal. Normal is subjective. There are seven billion versions of normal on this planet.‚ÄĚ – Matt Haig.

One in four is a big number, so next time you are out shopping consider just how many around you are suffering in silence.

Let’s end the stigma.

For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love.‚Ä̬† – Carl Sagan

I hope that this work has explained why some of these myths exist, and what the real truths actually are. And I hope that by taking the time to explain them that we can correct some of the harsh inequalities experienced by those with mental health problems.

Crucially, we can see that whilst each myth can be debunked,  there is always some believable idea behind it. It is what happens next that builds a misconception into a commonly held belief.

stigma learning together

Learning is the first step in ending the stigma that drives us apart. Image courtesy of Flickr.

Stigma against mental health problems, like any stigma, is founded on misconception and fear. And like any stigma, it disappears as the truth of the matter becomes well known. We have seen it time and time again, but it takes work from the ground up.

When it becomes clear that the public will no longer tolerate the abuse of the mentally unwell, (and why should they?) the financial and political motivations will die along with the stigma itself.  People are generally good, so if we can respect each other and work together the sky is the limit.

‘Mental health stigma is killing a lot of people, especially men. This is not addressed in dialogue, men try to ‘power their way through.’ Mental illness is ‘not a challenge to be overcome’, it’s a whole load of added pressure. It’s an illness.’ – Mike Stuchbery.

I hope that in some way I have given you something  that you can discuss and share. Together we can end the stigma, so here is as good a place as any, So please help by sharing, and let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

In memory of R.O

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The opinions above represent those of Dr Janaway alone and do not necessarily represent his affiliates. Any quotation or contribution made by a third party (signposted in text,) has been done under volition and without financial compensation. There is no direct financial gain to either the author or contributors from the publication of this work, it is all done for free in our own time to help others. All text has been discussed and reviewed with senior mental health professionals to ensure accuracy. There are no concerns of breaking patient anonymity or confidentiality.

Several twitter posts were originally going to be used, but due to the confusion noted of others in questioning the users intent these have been omitted out of courtesy. Apologies to those wishing to be featured, but your responses were incredibly valuable. And to those I was not able to get back in touch with, I appreciate your willingness to help and look forward to new opportunities to work together in the future. If you are concerned about your health please see your local healthcare provider. Featured image referenced above.

A special thanks to; Scott McGlyness, Paul Manners, Andy West, Ralf Little, Charlie Parsons, Mike Stuchbery, Ayden Callaghan , Stephen Ritchie and Chloe Whichello and my twitter community for providing such great feedback. And not forgetting Ashleigh Howells for her patience in reading and editing, as well as much needed encouragement, as well as Dr David Denton for his keen insights.

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