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Sensory Activities And Autism

Sensory Activities And Autism

Sensory Activities And Autism 1334 971 Alisha Gibbons

Autism or ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) is a broad term and affects people in many different ways. It is characterised by difficulties with social skills, repetitive behaviours, speech and non-verbal communication. Around 1 in 100 children in the UK are diagnosed with Autism, and there are many more children whose autism goes undiagnosed. While autism does have many shared characteristics, it will affect different children in different ways, they may have varying levels of communication and understanding as well as in their social skills and routines. 

Children on the autism spectrum may also have difficulties in daily activities due to their understanding of the world around them. They may be over or under stimulated by different activities, making everyday tasks overwhelming. 

To help these children, parents, carers or teachers can help them to engage with sensory activities and play, this will help to adapt the way these children’s brains react to touch, sight, sound, taste and smell. Allowing them to explore their senses through play will be fun and engaging for the child and at the same time help their ability to learn, improve concentration levels and in their communication with peers. 

Sensory activities are usually very calming, which makes them particularly good for children with autism. Many are easy to make and can be adapted to incorporate your child’s interests at the time, for example, if your child is interested in the ocean then add a sea life theme with blue and green colours and fish characters. Your child will then be learning about something they are interested in while also developing their sensory skills. This blog post will give you some ideas of activities you can do at home which will benefit your child’s senses, especially if they are on the autism spectrum.

Sensory bottle

A sensory bottle is easy to make and can be very personal to your child by using different colours, objects and its overall decoration. First, clean out any bottle you have and remove the label from the outside. Then fill the bottle up with a combination of water and oil, the oil helps to slow down the objects in the bottle so your child can manipulate their movement and see the objects clearly. At this point, you can add colour, glitter and small objects such as buttons, counters and small figures. This is the part which is personal to your child as you can make it their favourite colour and fit in with their interests. Then simply seal the lid tight with glue and you’ve got yourself a sensory bottle! This activity is easily transportable and is a simple was to help your child focus and stay engaged for hours. 

Find It Bottle

Similar to a sensory bottle but a ‘find it bottle’ can be made into a fun game for your child. Get a bottle and fill it with uncooked rice and a range of different objects. For example, these could be marbles, small figures, small cars, letters or numbers. Your child will have fun finding the different objects and discovering new ones. This activity is particularly good when travelling or when you need them to concentrate for long periods of time.

Rainstorm 

All you need to make a home rainstorm effect is two plastic cups, toothpicks, cotton wool balls, glue, rice, glitter and blue food colouring. Firstly, add the blue colouring to the rice to make it the colour of water, then fill your two cups with cotton balls and toothpicks before pouring your rice on top. Add some glitter and then glue the two cups together at their brim. Turning the cup back and forth will create a sound similar to rainfall, stimulating their sense of hearing but also their fine motor skills if they help assemble it. 

At home Lava Lamp

Using four ingredients you can make a child-friendly home lava lamp style activity for your child. Fill a large reusable sandwich bag a quarter full with baby oil and food colouring, this can be any colour but would be a good idea to use your child’s favourite to attract them to it. Just before use add a few drops of water and tape the bag shut to prevent leaks. Your child can lay the bag flat and have fun manipulating the drops, forming patterns and creating their own movements.  

Edible jewellery

This is particularly good for developing the child’s fine motor skills. Use a sweet strawberry lace and any sweets you can find with holes in. If necessary you can create your own holes or improvise and use something such as cereal instead. Your child will have lots of fun creating bracelets and necklaces out of their favourite sweets and once they have finished will have a nice treat to enjoy. This will develop your child’s creativity, help them engage with the colours and find their own patterns to create. Alternatively, you could use string and pasta shapes or string and small counters for a non-edible version.

Smelling game 

A lot of sensory activities are based upon touch and sight, this activity will stimulate your child’s sense of smell. Get a collection of small containers such as jam-jars or tupperware and fill them with different ingredients that have a distinctive smell, such as coffee, soap, spreads, flowers, and spices. Place a seal over the top with some fabric and a rubber band and see how many different smells they can identify. Children and especially those with autism will benefit from this as they will be able to identify these smells in the future. 

Your child will enjoy all of these activities, as they stimulate a range of different senses and can be made unique and personal to each individual child, dependent on their interest and skill levels. 

These kinds of activities are beneficial to any child, not just those who are diagnosed with or display symptoms of Autism. You may find these activities especially good during this current time of rules and restrictions during the pandemic. They help your child stay engaged, focussed and calm which all children will benefit from, but especially children with autism who may be finding this change, lack of routine and reduced freedom particularly difficult. 

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Inside out

Lessons to learn from Inside Out

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Disney has been entertaining us for generations with its family-friendly animations that people of all ages can enjoy. Many of its films pull on our heart-strings and teach us important messages but one film at the top of that list is their 2015 animated, instant classic, Inside Out. 

Inside Out follows the story of a young girl, Riley and her parents as they move away from their hometown due to the fathers work. They move to a new city, move into a new house and Riley has to go to a new school. Everything about Riley’s life is changing and the film is all about how she copes with these changes. While Riley is the main character, the real stars of the film are her emotions, Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust. These emotions have been characterised in Riley’s mind and we follow them as they try to help Riley and control her emotions along the way. 

While the film on the surface is a fun, funny film for everyone to enjoy, if you look deeper into the film’s messages there’s a lot we can learn from Inside Out about mental health. In fact, many mental health professions use Inside Out as a tool during their therapy sessions with mental health patients of varying disorders. This is not just within children’s mental health services but adults too. It is a brilliant example of the wider media starting to inform us about mental health in a positive way and has lessons that we all need to be reminded of sometimes.

It is ok to feel sadness

One of the most important lessons to learn from Inside Out is that it is ok to feel sadness sometimes. Sadness is an emotion with a lot of stigma and negativity around it, to the point where many of us have probably wondered why we have it. This is reflected at the beginning of the movie when Joy literally states “This is sadness…I’m not actually sure what she does.”

Much of the time people decide to bottle up their sadness, not let anyone show how they are truly feeling. It may be that we sometimes think that we aren’t allowed to be sad as that is what society constantly teaches us. Joy visually represents this motion by drawing a circle around Sadness, telling her to not leave the circle and to stay suppressed in Riley’s mind. While it may seem easier at times to bottle up our sadness and put on a positive front for people to see, what we are actually doing is neglecting natural feelings which can only lead to more problems and outbursts in the future. 

Sadness is a natural human emotion, it allows us to feel empathy, nostalgia and is a coping mechanism for many situations in life. We are allowed to feel sad when big events happen in our life, such as Riley. She has moved to a completely different city, left her old friends and her old school and she feels as if she has to start all over again, so of course, she is probably feeling a little, if not a lot sad. At one point Sadness understands this saying “I should drive now right?” In reference to the fact she should take control of Riley’s emotions as this is a sad time for Riley, however, Joy stops her, once again suppressing the sadness. 

Sadness can actually help us get through difficult situations such as a big move, or losing a loved one, and it can also show other people that we are struggling and need help. At the end of the film, Riley is allowed to feel sadness and this is ultimately what reunites her with her parents, they can see that she’s struggling with the transition and know that she needs their support. Showing sadness does not make you weak, it can be a sign you need help or a coping mechanism when going through a challenging time.

Learn to balance our emotions

Many mental health issues stem from a lack of balance over our emotions, and a lot of the time letting ourselves be over-controlled by one of them in particular. In this way, the characters featured in Inside Out could all represent a different mental illness. Sadness is Depression, Fear is Anxiety, Disgust is OCD, Joy is Manic Behavior and Anger is violence issues. While all these emotions help us in some way, too much of any could result in a diagnosable mental illness. At the film’s resolution, Riley’s headquarters has an upgrade in which all five emotions get their own controls and can work together simultaneously to help her, this suggests that we need to let ourselves feel different emotions at different times and that our emotions working together is the best resolution and aim of recovery.

True happiness

It is a common belief that to feel true happiness is all about joy, positivity and excitement. The character Joy represents this very well in the film. She is responsible for making sure Riley is happy all the time and only allows RIley to have happy memories. Joy often takes control and leadership over all of Riley’s other emotions and very rarely lets them have their turn. Every situation Riley has had through her life Joy finds a way to put a positive spin on it, not allowing Riley to feel anything but happy all her life.  

This is not necessarily a bad thing, it’s good to find the positives in life, look on the bright side and try to find the good in every situation, but that is not to say that we can’t find happiness while also feeling the emotions. For example, we may go through a hard time in our lives, which are sad to look back on but ultimately we are happy that we got through it. As human beings, we need to experience negative emotions such as sadness and fear in order to really appreciate the moments that make us truly happy. 

For example, toward the end Joy and Sadness return to headquarters where Riley’s emotions are controlled. Before this, Riley has been left for a couple of days only feeling anger, disgust and fear towards her new life and her parents, which has led her to the irrational decision to run away back to her hometown leaving her parents behind. It is only when she allows herself to feel sadness, and let sadness take control that she decides against her plan. She returns home, is reunited with her parents which allows her to feel a deeper sense of happiness and comfort from her family, even though she is still feeling sad about her situation, she can feel happy that she has a loving family to help her get through it.

The film teaches us that our emotions can work together and help us get through tough times in order to find a deeper form of true happiness. 

Artificial happiness

More people than you think will be guilty of doing this, being happy on the outside even when on this inside they are anything but. Feelings such as Sadness, Fear and Anger are seen by society as negative emotions, and ones that we should suppress and hide. We want people to see us in a good light and so only let ‘positive’ emotions such as joy and excitement show. This may be known as Artificial happiness, we pretend to be happy for the sake of others. 

We don’t know what people are going through in their lives and behind closed doors, they could be the happiest people we know but on the inside, they feel alone and neglected. In society we need to normalise that it’s ok not to be ok, start to talk more openly about our emotions and not judge people for not being positive all the time. 

Opens mental health discussions to children

Inside Out being a film aimed at children is a brilliant tool in helping children of all ages start to talk about their feelings and emotions. In fact, many mental health professionals now use this film as a tool in starting these conversations. Asking questions such as; Which character are you feeling like today? Do you have any core memories you would like to tell me? If you could talk to one of the characters which would it be and what would you tell them?

Even if they have not developed the language to fully explain their emotions through the use of the characters in Inside Out it will help us to better understand what a child may be mentally going through and in turn help us find ways to best support them, be that professional or family based.

Recovery from a mental health disorder

What does it really mean to be recovered from a mental health disorder? For many people even though they are considered recovered they may feel that in some ways they still have hints of their illness, but the way they deal with these little triggers are now more effective than their disorder so they can deal with them themselves in a controlled manner. For some people, a life fully free from their mental disorder may not be possible, but through learning to balance their emotions, control their feelings and through coping mechanisms can still live a relatively normal lifestyle.

The film’s ending isn’t the typical ‘Happily Ever After’ as all the characters’ issues have not been resolved. However, what the ending of the film may represent well is the happy ending for many people in recovery from a mental disorder. Riley’s headquarters gets an upgrade and all of her emotions now have equal and balanced control. She has found the correct balance of her emotions and ways to deal with situations that may arise in the future. While on some days she may feel one emotion more than another, she can now let her emotions work together which will be beneficial to Riley. 

Overall while Inside Out is an animated film aimed at children, looking deeper into the messages of the film there is something there for us all to learn and to open up the conversation about mental health.

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Myths about depression

Myths about Depression

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Depression is a mental illness characterised as having a constant low mood for a prolonged period of time, and this low mood affects an individual’s everyday life and activities. Everyone may feel a bit down every now and again for different reasons, but it is when this low mood does not go away or keeps occurring then it may have started to develop into a more serious problem.

While depression is one of the most common mental health disorders in the UK, with 1 in 6 people experiencing it, there are a lot of misconceptions and myths surrounding it. People struggle to fully understand the disorder and what causes it, which in turn leads to the stigma around depression forming. These myths need to be addressed and people given the correct information about depression in order to reduce this stigma, and for depression to be normalised. This would help people suffering feel safer to come forward and get help, and for people to notice signs of depression in loved ones easier. 

Depression isn’t a real illness

Some people wrongly assume that depression isn’t a real illness, saying that people are just sad, not depressed and they are able to stop being sad by choice. This is a very dangerous perception to have. One, it can make people behave in an insensitive manner towards someone who is suffering and two, it can stop someone who is suffering from speaking out and getting help for their depression as they worry about what people will think. 

Depression is an illness recognised by The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is the handbook used by healthcare professionals to diagnose people. Therefore it is a real illness which people are diagnosed with and anyone can suffer at any time of their life. 

Medication is the only way to cure Depression

If someone is trying to recover from depression then they may be prescribed medication known as antidepressants by a professional. The aim of these drugs is to alter your brain chemistry and address any biological factors that may be contributing to the disorder. However medication is not the only cure for depression, in fact, many healthcare professionals suggest a more holistic approach to treatment, using a variety of methods such as psychotherapy or counselling. 

Different treatments will work for different people, some people may see results with talking therapy, while someone else with antidepressants. This is why a combination of therapies is the preferred way to treat depression, so people can find out what works for them and increase their chances of recovery. 

If your parents have depression, you will too

It is well known that mental health disorders may be caused by biology and genetics, and that having parents or relatives that have suffered may increase your chances that you will experience the same problems. However mental health disorders and what causes them is complex, they also have environmental and psychological factors and most commonly it is a combination of all these factors that will result in a mental health disorder. Therefore, if your family members suffer it is not certain that you will also. 

If you do suffer from depression and have a family member that has also suffered, this may in fact help you. You will be able to speak to them about your feelings and they will understand much more as they have similar experiences and be able to support each other through the recovery process. 

Depression only affects women

Anyone can suffer from depression, no matter their age, gender or background, therefore men can and do suffer with depression. The reason behind this misconception may be that men aren’t as comfortable discussing their feelings or asking for help as women may be, therefore it may seem like more women suffer but in reality men suffer just as much as women. 

Men may not want to admit they are experiencing depressive symptoms due to social pressures and gender stereotypes. This is dangerous as it has actually been found that men are more likely to have serious consequences to their depression, including self-harm and suicide. 

Men and women may also have different symptoms when both experiencing depression. Men may act out in anger and aggression rather than being sad, and this may mean that their behaviours are dismissed and not considered to be depression.  

While it is getting better, societal attitudes need to change to make male depression and men talking about their emotions more normalised.

Depression is always triggered by trauma

While going through traumatic events or life changes such as losing a loved one, extreme grief or a serious accident can increase the chances of developing depression due to the emotions and hardships they have gone through, it is not always that case that an individual who has experienced trauma will develop depression. Everyone reacts to situations differently and so while some people may develop depression others will work through the event and be able to live life the same as before. 

Furthermore depression can affect anyone at any time, even if everything in someone’s life is seemingly going well, they could still develop depression. Depression is caused by a complex mix of biological, environmental and psychological factors, there is no certainty that someone will develop this disorder.

Everyone experiences depression in the same way

Everyone is different, they live different lifestyles, interests and hobbies, and just like this, everyone will experience depression in different ways. There are a wide range of psychological, emotional and physical symptoms that people may have during a depressive period, and people can experience a range of them at different times. 

Some people may suffer from depression but not experience the most typical symptoms of a low mood and lack of interest in activities, while others may suffer from one particular symptom more severely. Another factor that affects depressive symptoms is age and gender, children and adolescents may have symptoms such as anxiety and irritability much more than reduced mood while men are more likely to show aggression than women. 

As people have different symptoms and experiences of depression this may affect their treatment and their recovery. People may not realise what they are suffering from is depression due to their uncommon symptoms and so never seek the help they need. Therefore more information about the huge variety of symptoms needs to be more widely available. 

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child back to school

How to support your child returning to school

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The ongoing pandemic has seen normal life completely change. We have been told to stay at home, social distance, avoid gathering with friends and family, exercise outside once per day and to work from home. All this has taken some getting used to and had an effect on our mental health. 

Just like all these aspects of the pandemic have affected our mental wellbeing, all these plus the fact that schools have been closed and classes have been held online will have affected our children’s mental health significantly. They are not allowed to see their friends or their teachers and have to adapt to a whole new way of learning in a short space of time. As well as this many children do not fully understand the pandemic and its cause and so are left confused and upset. 

On the 8th March, schools were once again allowed to open their doors to all pupils and to full capacity. While this is the first step in getting all our lives back to normal and a time for excitement and joy, some children may find this transition back to school quite difficult. This may be for many reasons, they have not had the social interaction they usually would, they may fear getting ill and in some cases may have developed mental health problems such as phobias and anxiety. 

As a parent or carer of a child of school age, you play such an important part in helping them get through this transition back into their school and to normal life through your nurturing and support. Here are just a few ideas on things you can do to help your child feel more confident in returning to school.

Let them know their feelings are valid

Your child will more than likely be feeling all sorts of different emotions during this time. They may feel excited to go back to school to see their friends and be enthusiastic about their learning, but they may also feel quite anxious about the return, worried about how school may have changed and scared about the virus. 

If they are feeling the latter and are anxious about going back to school the first thing you need to do is talk to them, with the main focus being to let them know that how they are feeling is ok. There is nothing wrong with feeling anxious or scared about the return and that many children will be feeling the same as them. Acknowledge how they are feeling, and listen to them. You could even tell them that lots of adults will be feeling that way as well about going back to work. We have all had to work or learn from home for a long time now and to feel anxious about returning is completely normal. 

Keep a routine

During the lockdowns and the last few months especially with school being closed, we may have lost our sense of routine, especially in regards to school. While routines and structure in a day may not seem too important to adults, to children they can reassure them and are an important factor in their mood and productivity levels. Making sure to get back into the routine of having uniforms and lunches ready the night before, waking up early enough so that the children are not rushing and have time for a good healthy breakfast can set them up for a good day at school. 

Additionally, sleep is so important to our own and our children’s mental health and a good night’s sleep can help your child be alert and ready to learn. Pairing regular bedtimes with a relaxing night time routine, such as a story before bed and no screens for 30 minutes before sleep, can significantly improve the quality of a child’s sleep. 

Regular conversations

Make sure to talk to your child regularly during the next couple of weeks and do not assume that just because they seem to be fine that they are, as they could be bottling up their feelings or simply do not know how to express themselves. Make this a regular conversation, asking them how they are, what they have enjoyed in the week, what they maybe haven’t enjoyed and things that you can improve on next week. This will make them feel supported and that their feelings and opinions are valid.

Your child may take a few weeks to adjust back to school life, so observe their behaviour and talk to them regularly throughout this transition back to normal life. If you have any concerns about what your child is doing or saying, perhaps they are having more problems sleeping than normal, not interacting with their friends as much, have changed their eating habits or are isolating themselves. If this is the case and these behaviours are happening over a prolonged period of time it is best to speak to your local GP or someone at the school for advice. 

Focuson what they can control 

At this time it’s easy to get carried away and think far into the future about our return to normal life, however this can actually sometimes be more stressful and overwhelming than exciting, especially if your child is prone to anxiety and worry. Focus on the present, what they are doing that day and what they can control such as getting their school bag ready, deciding what they will have for lunch, washing their hands regularly and wearing a mask if they are old enough. 

If we look too far into the future we could also be let down if restrictions do not ease as we had hoped, so it is best to focus on our day or week ahead and how we can continue to keep ourselves and our children’s physical and mental health safe and healthy. 

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Derealisation

Depersonalisation or derealisation

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Many people in their lifetime will experience some kind of depersonalisation or derealisation, this may only be a brief and a mild form of the disorder, and you may not even realise that this is the name for what you experienced.

Depersonalisation and derealisation are types of dissociative disorders that affect the way the individual sees themselves and the world. They are linked with a number of different mental health problems and some people may experience them as a symptom of another diagnosis. Most commonly they are associated with anxiety and depression but can also be experienced by people suffering from eating disorders, PTSD, OCD and many more.  Additionally, these feelings can be brought on from experiencing extreme stress or panic attacks, as the mind uses these symptoms as a coping mechanism, taking you mentally out of the distressing situation. 

Depersonalisation and derealisation are the 3rd most common mental health symptom after anxiety and depression, and affects around 2% of the population. Some people may go through short periods of experiencing these symptoms, however others have them much longer, having to live with the condition for years and years of their life. 

What is Depersonalisation?

Depersonalisation is when you feel like you are outside of your own body, observing your actions, feelings, thoughts and beliefs from a distance. Individuals feel detached from themselves, not in control of their actions and disconnected from their own body. Their feelings and thoughts do not belong to them but someone else and they may even be unable to recognise themselves when for example looking down at their hands or in a mirror. 

People have stated then when experiencing depersonalization they feel like an “outside observer” of their own body and mind, they can’t control their movements or speech, they see their body as distorted, feel numb to the world around them and believe their memories are not their own. 

What is Derealisation?

Derealisation is the feeling that the world around you is not real. Whereas depersonalisation was a feeling of detachment from oneself, derealisation is a detachment from one’s surroundings. When experiencing derealisation it may feel like the world around you is foggy, dreamlike and visually distorted. 

Individuals that have experienced derealisation describe it as feeling like they are living in a dream or in a film, they feel unfamiliar in their own surroundings and feel physically disconnected from their loved ones. Visually their surroundings are distorted by colour, shape and size and they had no perception of time. For example, things that happened recently feel like a distant memory and vice versa. 

Like previously mentioned many people will experience depersonalization or derealisation at some point in their life, maybe as a coping mechanism when feeling stressed or experiencing a panic attack. However when these feelings start to occur more frequently or never fully go away and start to disrupt your everyday life it is considered a mental health disorder. 

Some people can live with depersonalisation or derealisation disorder and appear as ‘normal’ due to the fact that they have found coping mechanisms that work for them to live with their illness.

Who does it affect?

These symptoms can happen to anyone at any stage of their life and it is more likely to occur when you are experiencing short term anxiety or stress. Long term depersonalisation and derealisation has been found to be more common with people who have experienced severe trauma or have had long term experience with stress or anxiety. 

What is important to remember is that when having these symptoms for a short time it is not considered dangerous for the individual or those around them. Often the symptoms of depersonalisation/derealisation are confused with being a sign of psychosis which is not the case. It is a way of your mind dealing with a stressful situation that you find yourself in and not something to fear. 

Why does it happen? 

It is not fully understood what actually causes these kinds of dissociative disorders to occur. Many believe that they may be related to previous trauma that the individual has gone through, such as abuse during childhood, effects of war, a kidnapping or an invasive medical treatment.  It is not purely down to these kinds of experiences as anyone who has had long term stress or anxiety may also develop these symptoms. 

Symptoms of depersonalisation and derealisation allow the individual to switch off from reality which is a normal reaction when faced with a hard, stressful and difficult time. The problem is when the person is no longer in a time of stress or trauma, yet still acts as if they are. Instead of dealing with their trauma they would rather stay disconnected in some way as it may be easier than facing it. 

How to help

As many people will experience the sensation of depersonalisation or derealisation at some point in their life, initially it isn’t a cause for concern. It becomes a concern when these feelings of detachment from yourself and the world around occur for a prolonged period of time and become more and more severe. This may mean that you suffer from depersonalisation-derealisation disorder and may need to seek professional help.

The treatment for this disorder is mainly based around psychotherapy (talking therapy) as it is believed that to treat it as people need to change their beliefs and thought patterns, however some medications can be a good addition. Psychotherapy’s goal is for the individual to gain control of their symptoms so that they become less severe. It can help you understand why these feelings occur, learn coping techniques and strategies, address emotions that stem from past trauma and help with related disorders such as anxiety and depression.  

Depersonalisation and Derealisation are feelings that many of us will experience and many people do live with, however it is a disorder that is not widely discussed. For more information or any questions visit our ‘Ask The Expert’ page and if you do feel like this explains some of your feelings speak to a professional about your symptoms. 

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Types of eating disorder

Types of Eating Disorders

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Eating disorders are a very complex mental illness based on an unhealthy relationship with food. People who suffer from them have disordered eating habits and patterns which they may use to cope with stressful situations, help them feel in control or as a result of strong emotions. Many people believe that eating disorders are all about body image and food, and while that is a part of having an eating disorder, they are also majorly about the individual’s mental state, feelings and mindset. 

While it has been found that young women around 12-20 are the most susceptible to developing an eating disorder, it is important to remember that they can affect anyone, no matter what gender, age, culture, background or ethnicity. Additionally, the number of males developing an eating disorder is rising and it is believed that now up to a quarter of eating disorder sufferers are men. 

There is no single reason why someone may develop an eating disorder and people experience them in different ways. It is understood that many factors can contribute to the likelihood of developing an eating disorder, such as genetics, biology, environmental factors and psychology, and it may be a combination of them all. An important thing to remember is that everyone who suffers from an eating disorder will have a different experience, they are very individualistic and this is why they are sometimes tricky to diagnose and in turn treat. 

There are many types of eating disorders that people can be diagnosed with, and this will affect the individual’s habits and behaviours, their symptoms and their recovery. This blog post will inform on the most common eating disorders that people suffer with.  

Bulimia Nervosa 

People who suffer from the eating disorder Bulimia Nervosa develop a cycle of eating large quantities of food in one go, feeling guilty, and then compensating by getting rid of the food by unhealthy means such as vomiting, laxatives, fasting or exercising excessively to burn off the food. This is known as ‘Purging’. When people are in the middle of a binge, they often do not feel in control of their actions, and many people describe their feelings as though they are disconnected from the situation, they can’t stop themselves and in some cases may not remember the binge in detail after it has happened. 

Binges can be brought on from intense feelings of sadness, anger, worry and upset. Some binges may be brought on by the individual being triggered by something that has happened, while others can be a spontaneous urge that comes over the individual, even though nothing significant has happened. People with Bulimia Nervosa get trapped in this vicious cycle of overwhelming emotion, binging and purging and this is very distressing for them.

As with every kind of eating disorder, there are also physical symptoms to the mental disorder. For those with Bulimia, these come from the extreme methods of purging people use. Throat problems and tooth decay due to the vomiting and laxative misuse can lead to serious heart and digestive issues. Other symptoms include extreme tiredness, abdominal pain, bloating, constipation and swelling in the hands and feet. 

Anorexia Nervosa

People who suffer from the eating disorder Anorexia Nervosa are individuals who are often very low in weight as they consciously limit the amount of food and drink they consume. They often want to control what they eat, where they eat it and at what time. 

Many people with anorexia have an intense fear of gaining weight and paired with this they often have a distorted image of the way they look, for example how they see themselves in the mirror is not how they are in reality, most often they believe themselves to be much bigger and they do not see themselves as low weight, even though they are. Their body image is very bad and they have a distorted view of themselves. They may develop behaviours such as regularly checking their body in mirrors, wearing baggy clothes to disguise their size or avoiding the scales. People with anorexia often have very low self-esteem, strive for perfection, and seek control in their lives. This control they find in the amount of calories they eat and drink. 

The physical effects of Anorexia come directly from the starvation they put themselves through. Extreme and quick weight loss, being cold regularly, thinning hair, loss of concentration and feeling weak or tired all the time. Even more seriously it can also lead to bones, muscles and teeth becoming weaker and women sufferers can stop having periods which may affect their fertility in later life. 

Anorexia, like any eating disorder, is a very secretive disorder. Sufferers may try to isolate themselves, not speak to many people and become withdrawn when the topic of food comes up. These kinds of behaviours can put strains on relationships with loved ones, while also affecting other aspects of daily life such as work or education.

Binge Eating Disorder

People who suffer from a Binge Eating Disorder go through moments of feeling out of control and eat a large amount of food at once without being able to stop. The way this differs from Bulimia Nervosa is that they do not attempt to get rid of the food through the same methods. They have the binges without the need to purge. 

Binges are a very distressing act for the individual to do, they involve eating a much larger amount of food than people would usually want to and is often an uncomfortable amount for anyone to have in one sitting. However uncomfortable the individual gets, however, they feel so out of control that they are unable to stop themselves. Many describe a binge as being disconnected from your own actions, and sometimes the person does not remember the binges in any detail due to this dissociation with the act. 

Binges can be brought on by factors such as overwhelming emotions of any kind, this includes difficult feelings such as upset and anxiety, but can also be caused by overwhelming feelings of excitement.

Binges, while they can be sporadic and out of the blue, for people with Binge Eating disorder they can also be planned in advance, they treat binging as a kind of ritual and buy ‘special food’ to prepare. Like bulimia, binges are followed with feelings of guilt, shame and disgust towards themselves, but they are stuck in this binge eating cycle. 

Other Specified Feeding and Eating Disorders

Specific eating disorders such as Bulimia, Anorexia and Binge Eating Disorder are diagnosed from using a list of expected symptoms, these symptoms are biological, psychological and physical. However, some people who have an eating disorder may not fit into any category fully, and so instead will be diagnosed with ‘Other Specified Feeding and Eating Disorders’ or OSFED. For example, this may happen if an individual exhibits behaviours of multiple disorders, or they may have psychological symptoms of one disorder without the physical symptoms which makes it difficult to diagnose specifically. 

OSFED is just as serious as any eating disorder and actually accounts for the highest percentage of eating disorders in the UK. An example of a disorder that fits into this category is Atypical Anorexia, this being where the individual has all the typical symptoms of anorexia but their weight is not as low as would be expected. 

People who do not feel they fit into a specific diagnosis of an eating disorder but who are worried about themselves and do believe they have issues around food should still seek help. It is important that people understand that eating disorders look different on everyone, and the first step in recovery is getting a diagnosis, whatever that diagnosis may be. 

Eating disorders, while having very dangerous mental and physical factors are treatable. It is important to get a diagnosis of your eating disorder as this will influence what treatments will be most beneficial to you. Eating disorders can affect anyone and everyone, and no one’s eating disorder will be the same. Just remember that recovery is possible and you are strong enough to beat your disorder. 

If you are worried about yourself or a loved one please contact a trained professional or helpline who specialise in eating disorder recovery and advice. 

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Myths about anxiety

Myths about anxiety

Myths about anxiety 1038 995 Alisha Gibbons

Anxiety is a common mental health problem which affects around 1 in 6 adults in the UK. While it is a normal human emotion to feel anxious in some aspects of life, for example starting a new job, meeting new people or making a public speech, if your anxiety related symptoms are extreme, last for a prolonged period of time or affect your everyday daily life then you may suffer from an anxiety disorder.

There are many types of anxiety disorders and each one affects each individual differently. However, despite anxiety being one of the most common mental illnesses, there are a lot of myths surrounding what it actually means to have anxiety. 

Anxiety is just being shy

Anxiety and shyness are two different things. Being shy is a personality trait that someone may have, they may be shy around new people and new situations but this soon lessons when the individual becomes more comfortable with these situations. Anxiety Disorder is a recognised mental illness which people are diagnosed with after experiencing symptoms for an extended length of time and they are affecting your daily life in a negative way. Symptoms could stop you from partaking in everyday activities such as going to to work, a shop or any public setting. They can also break down relationships with those around you. 

It is important to understand that anxiety and shyness are different as some people may be suffering from an anxiety disorder but will not get help as they believe they must just be shy. Therefore this misconception could possibly stop people from seeking help for their disorder. 

Anxiety can not hurt you

While anxiety is a mental health condition, but as with many mental health conditions, some of the symptoms may have physical effects on the body. Some of the physical symptoms that are associated with anxiety include breathing difficulties, headaches, shaking, nausea, loss of appetite, vomiting, sweating, chest pains, heart palpitations and fainting. People with anxiety may experience many of these symptoms on a regular basis and to varying degrees.

Everyone experiences anxiety the same

Like every mental health problem anxiety is individualistic. Anyone can suffer from an anxiety disorder and everyone will have different experiences with it. Individuals may have different symptoms but still suffer from the same illness, and likewise, one person may have a symptom such as nausea worse than another person even though they have both been diagnosed with the same form of anxiety. 

Additionally, people may have the same form of anxiety but suffer with it at different levels of severity, some may have milder anxiety and someone else may have high and intense anxiety. People will also have different things that trigger them. Triggers can include people, settings or activities which cause the individual to start having anxiety related symptoms and triggers can be unique to the individual. 

Anxiety is not a real illness

Anxiety is a recognised mental health disorder and is diagnosed following the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Health. It is diagnosed when the individual has a certain number of symptoms for at least a 6 month period. Symptoms of anxiety are much worse than general worries we may have about everyday life and activities, they are extreme worry and fear and have many physical symptoms that come along as a result of that. Anxiety disorder can be extremely distressing for the individual and can affect their daily life very seriously if not treated. Therefore Anxiety is a real, medically recognised illness and needs to be treated accordingly. 

Anxiety disorders are not common

Anxiety disorders are actually the most common mental health illness, and around 34% of adults will experience some kind of anxiety disorder during their lifetime. They may not seem to be as common as they are due to the stigma surrounding them, people may not want to discuss their condition openly as they may feel embarrassed or that others will judge them for their symptoms. 

There are also many different types of anxiety disorders, they include social anxiety, phobias, separation anxiety disorder and illness anxiety disorder. Each individual disorder will have different symptoms and will present differently due to the individual. Symptoms may not always be obvious to an outsider looking in and the individual may try to hide their disorder as best as they can, however it is very likely that most people know someone close to them be that a friend or family member who suffers from an anxiety disorder. 

Anxiety will go away on its own

People may believe that anxiety is a ‘phase’ and that people grow out of it. This is not the case, if you have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder or believe you may have the condition do not ignore it as it will not go away on its own. Seek help or treatment as without it the anxiety is likely to get worse, not better. 

Furthermore, anxiety is often linked with other mental health issues such as obsessive compulsive disorder and depression, and around 60% of individuals with anxiety are also diagnosed with depression. Therefore do not wait around for your anxiety to go away on its own, seek the help you need to prevent further issues. 

Medication is the only treatment

While medication is available to individuals with anxiety as a form of treatment, there are also a number of non-medical treatments available such as cognitive behavioural therapy. With talking therapies such as CBT, the aim is for the individual to change their beliefs, attitudes, behaviours and thoughts towards their illness while also learning coping strategies and relaxation techniques for their anxiety. People believe that anxiety disorders are linked to individual personality traits and thought processes and to treat anxiety you have to address this, which is what CBT aims to do. 

Different types of treatment will work for different people, although it has been found that a combination of the two, medication and therapy has the best results. It is important that you seek the right treatment for your anxiety, as if they are not treated properly symptoms of this disorder are likely to return. 

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panic attack

What is a panic attack?

What is a panic attack? 1132 739 Alisha Gibbons

Many people have had or will have a panic attack at some point in their lifetime, this may be due to a related condition that the individual may have such as anxiety, or it may be a one-off experience brought on by stress or anxiety in everyday life. But what actually is a panic attack? 

A panic attack is one of your body’s natural responses to fear, danger or stress. They tend to occur when you are in a situation in which you feel in danger or unable to leave, which triggers your body’s fight or flight response and results in the ‘panic attack’. However, while many panic attacks do occur when in a situation which is provoking some kind of fear, people may experience panic attacks seemingly out of nowhere and without any warning.

Panic attacks can happen at any time, whether that be day or night. They may be a one-off event for someone which they do not experience again, or it can become more regular. Many people will suffer from one panic attack at a time but it is not uncommon for someone to experience a few panic attacks at once depending on the situation they are in and how intense their feelings are. 

Panic attack symptoms

On average each panic attack lasts around 5-20 minutes, with the symptoms of one hitting their peak at around the 10-minute mark. People can have panic attacks that are longer, however, they rarely last more than an hour,  and more than likely they will stop after 30 minutes. 

The symptoms and signs of a panic attack can be frightening, especially if you have never had one before or it has occurred out of the blue. Symptoms include, shortness of breath, hyperventilation, heart palpitations, tight chest, shaking, sweating, detachment, nausea, feeling lightheaded, tingling sensations and hot or cold flushes. Additionally, when having a panic attack you may feel as though you lack control and that you are going to faint and if severe people can mistake them for heart attacks. 

Why might a panic attack happen?

Panic attacks usually are experienced when you find yourself in a situation in which you feel endangered, stressed or have high levels of discomfort. However, they can also come seemingly out of nowhere which can be scary. If this is the case try to think back to when your last panic attacks have happened, there may actually be a common occurrence that is your panic attack trigger, such as a certain place, situation or activity. For example, this could be before a flight, delivering a presentation or a social situation you feel uncomfortable with. Knowing what can trigger your panic attack is very useful as then you can plan in advance ways you can reduce the likelihood of one occurring and similarly have techniques ready in case you do have a panic attack.

The exact reason as to why people have panic attacks is not well understood, however, what is known is that they tend to run in the family and so if someone in your family suffers you may be more susceptible. Also, there has also been found to be a connection between panic attacks and going through major life transitions such as moving home, starting a new job, getting married or having a baby, and stressful situations in life can also trigger panic attacks. Furthermore, panic attacks may happen as a result of another disorder that the individual suffers from, such as depression and phobias.

Ultimately panic attacks can happen to anyone at any time, these are just some of the things that bring them on faster. Panic attacks, while they are frightening are not dangerous and will not cause you any kind of physical harm. Panic attacks are treatable and there are some techniques and strategies you can do yourself to help you either during a panic attack, before and after. 

What can I do to help myself?

During a panic attack, you may feel like you are out of control and there’s nothing you can do about it, but that isn’t the case. It is important to know things you can do to either calm yourself down during a panic attack, to stop them happening in the first place or once it has occurred. 

Focus on your breathing. While you are having a panic attack symptoms such as hyperventilation can lead you feeling lightheaded and having a tight chest which may make you panic more. Take deep breaths in and out and focus on the fact that this is something you can control. This will calm you down and help your panic attack end sooner. 

Stimulate your senses. You may feel disconnected from yourself or your surroundings while you are in the midst of a panic attack. Focusing on a particular sense such as taste or touch can help for two reasons. They can help you to reconnect with the environment you are in by focusing on the way something around you feels or tastes. Additionally, they help you to focus on something else, not just your panic attack symptoms which will help you to bring the attack to a close. 

Learn about panic attacks. Learning about what can bring on a panic attack or what happens to other people during one can help to reassure you that what you are experiencing is normal. Your symptoms are typical of a panic attack and you are not in danger. 

Talk to someone. This should be someone you trust and feel comfortable talking to, such as a family member or a close friend. Tell them why you think it happened if you know your triggers and what it feels like. This way they can either help you feel calmer in these triggering situations to prevent the panic attack from happening in the first place or while you are having one they know techniques and things to say to you that will help calm you down. 

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Myths about children mental health

Myths about children’s mental health

Myths about children’s mental health 1351 971 Alisha Gibbons

Children’s mental health is something that is often forgotten, many people not realizing that children are just as likely to suffer from a mental illness as a fully grown adult. Children are developing and changing everyday as they grow into adolescence, so it may be that any changes in behaviour are overlooked as parents simply do not know how the signs of mental illness will appear in a child. 

In addition to this, stigma surrounding mental health is still prevalent, meaning that many children and young people choose to hide their feelings and issues as they believe it to be easier and do not want those around them to think less of them. In a similar way, due to this stigma parents may also dismiss their child’s behaviours and fear getting a diagnosis of a mental health illness as they don’t want their child to be labelled. 

Much of the stigma around children’s mental health stems from myths that are passed around in society, these myths need to be addressed as then maybe children’s mental health will become normalised. It has been found that the first onset of any mental health condition occurs within the first 14 years of a child’s life, and this is why it is important to diagnose and treat their illness while they are young, so they have the best chance of recovering and living a full life free from mental illness.

The myths around children’s mental health will be addressed in this blog post, we all need to work together to dismiss these myths and stop the stigma for good. 

Bad Parenting Causes Mental Illness
People may believe that if parents raise the child with lots of love and affection then they will never struggle with a mental illness, and then on the other hand, a child that is brought up with neglect or lack of discipline will have mental health issues in the present or future. But mental health is not simple as this, while a child’s environment growing up is a factor in determining an individual’s mental health it is not the only one. 

Mental health disorders occur due to a complex combination of genetics, biological and environmental factors and for many disorders, the exact cause can not be determined. While upbringing can contribute to the development of a mental health disorder it may not be the sole cause. Anyone can suffer from a mental health condition, no matter their gender, ethnicity, or background and so it would be wrong to blame the parents if a child does get diagnosed. 

Mental Illness Is A Sign Of Weakness
Being weak minded has no correlation to the development of a mental illness, nor does how mentally strong someone is mean they will never suffer from one. 

Mental illnesses make everyday activities and routines harder, for children this could include, socializing, attending school, keeping up with hobbies, exercising and completing homework. The fact that children with a mental illness still attempt to do these things while they are struggling, shows that they are very mentally strong. To go about day to day living with a mental illness while still trying to look after yourself and work on your recovery takes a lot of mental strength, and many describe individuals who are working to improve their mental health as being some of the strongest people they have met.

No child should have to deal with their mental illness alone, they need support and advice from those around them such as their parents, family, friends and trained professionals. 

Children Are Too Young To Have Mental Health Problems
Anyone can suffer with their mental health at any age. The only difference between adults and children is that they may show different signs or symptoms for the same mental illness. In addition to this children may have not yet developed the right language to explain to others how they are feeling, so cannot express the fact they are struggling. If you notice any significant negative changes in your child’s mood, sleeping pattern, eating habits, hobbies or social life then they could be suffering with their mental health. It is important to try and talk to them in a non-judgemental way about this, simply asking how they are feeling and how you can help.

Any changes you do notice remember to note them down and communicate them to a professional, this way your child will be diagnosed more accurately. 

Children Will Grow Out Of It Eventually
Mental health disorders are very unlikely to go away on their own, and just like any medical condition if left untreated then they will only get worse. Children and young adults are always developing, which makes it easy to mistake changes in mood or behaviour as just a phase or just part of growing up. However, just like with adults, if these changes are occuring over a prolonged period of time and it is affecting the child’s daily life in a negative manner, or if they act in a dangerous way towards themselves or another, they should be seen by a professional to get the help they need. 

With the correct diagnosis, treatment and support children are able to recover from most of the common mental illnesses. Early detection of a mental illness means that the treatment is likely to be more successful as children and young people’s brains are more responsive to change.

Nothing You Can Do To Help A Mentally Ill Child
Having a child with any kind of illness, including a mental illness can be difficult for a parent or guardian. There are lots you have to learn, treatment plans to implement and recovery for the child will not always be linear. This can leave caregivers feeling exhausted and helpless at these difficult times. 

This is exactly the reason that it is important to seek help from a mental health professional, parents won’t initially know how to help their child with their mental illness, but a professional will. They can work alongside the parents, giving them techniques and ways to best support their child. 

Medicine Will Sort Everything Out
While medication can help a child with their mental health it is not the only option and sometimes other ways of treating the mental illness is preferred when treating a child. Medicine may be part of the treatment plan, however, talking therapies with the child and family unit is strongly advised. This will help the child with coping strategies and environmental stressors while also building stronger relationships and addressing problems head on through thorough discussion. 

Different forms of treatment will work for different people, it is important to find what works for you and what you feel comfortable with. 

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Mental health & media

Mental health and the media

Mental health and the media 1194 872 Alisha Gibbons

The average person consumes media almost daily, whether that be online, social media, television or film, and we may not realise how much of an influence it has on our everyday life and beliefs. It has been found that around 70% of the public get their information from television alone. The media we engage with gives us information about certain topics, mental health being one of them and especially the way people with mental health problems behave. Without realising the representations of different mental health problems on television shows, blockbuster films and even local news can be internalised and thus have a direct affect on how we as individuals think about these mental health issues. We may believe that because we saw a character suffer from depression on TV that we know exactly how it affects real people or that we understand the illness fully and this is problematic. 

The media, while they have gotten better at representing mental health as a whole, tends to portray mental health and the people who have problems with it in a negative manner,  and this is a massive factor in the stigma around many mental health issues. The reason these representations tend to be negative is that they are often based upon stereotypes, they are not based on facts and they are exaggerated for entertainment values. 

Typical misconceptions that the media suggest people with mental health issues act and behave include showing; these people as more violent, physically looking different and messy, their symptoms are always extreme, recovery isn’t possible and that mental health hospitals are something to be scared of. It has also been found that two of the most common mental health problems, depression and anxiety are not actually portrayed as much as less common issues such as schizophrenia. Thus the media, which is supposed to be representative of the population it is being made for, isn’t portraying the most common mental health issues, only the ones that will have a more dramatic affect and thus most popular for entertainment purposes. These misconceptions come up in tv and films time after time and the ones that could be internalised by viewers and thus it is a vicious circle always adding more stigma to the topic of mental health. 

It may be argued that the media is there partly to entertain, so what is the harm in a few over exaggerations of mental health. Well, actually there is a lot of harm these could do. These representations could; stop people seeking help, make people lose confidence in their own recovery, isolate individuals, negatively affect relationships with friends and families, and make people with mental health disorders feel like outsiders and not ‘normal’. Mass media promoting a false image of mental health has a huge affect on both people with mental health problems and how others view them, and at the moment this is leaning towards being more of a negative affect than a positive one. Mental health in many popular series and films are seen to be a personality trait to a character, one that makes them do irrational things and sees them very different to the other characters. 

Mental health problems affect every individual in different ways, no individual is the same and neither is each person’s mental health. The media mostly seem to represent mental health problems in the same way time and time again, and this needs to change. With a society that is becoming more open about mental health, we are learning more about it everyday, and the media needs to reflect this change in attitudes and become more representative of a culture that understands mental health more and is more sympathetic to those suffering. 

So what can the media do to rectify their mistakes in relation to the representation of mental health issues? It’s simple, educate themselves fully on the issue they are portraying rather than relying on stereotypes, choose the language they use carefully and most importantly think about the affect their media source will have on people with the mental health problem and what viewers will go away from the tv, film or article believing about mental health. 

Mass media has a huge influence on our beliefs, their influence in today’s society is constant and their representations of mental health in particular needs to become a more positive one. By positive this purely means one that is accurate, based on facts not stereotypes, is not reduced to one behaviour, considers the feelings of viewers with mental health issues and uses its influence to educate rather than add to misconceptions and stigma. 

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