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MENTAL MATTERS It’s time to talk about recovery!

May 2013



Let’s talk recovery ental Health is slowly but surely becoming less taboo in society.Thanks to many initiatives including the ‘See me campaign’ and ’Choose Life.’ I think that it’s great that the Scottish Governernment are committed to reducing stigma towards mental illness and also to reduce the amount of suicide in Scotland. It’s not just the Government though who have been making strides in this area, a lot of credit needs to also go to the mental health charities like SAMH and Pnenumbra who are giving back across a variety of services from crisis support to working with addictions. Of course, there is still a long way to go and I’m hoping that with the launch of this magazine: we can as a nation collectively do our own bit to reduce stigma and raise awareness. Nobody chooses to be physically ill and likewise mental illness is no different. I’m looking

for contributors for the next edition of this magazine, and I hope ‘mental matters’ can grow.

I can only do so much myself but this is only the start of an exciting journey. Please send any feedback or suggestions for the next edition to random_hollz@hotmail.com

The Scottish people are renowned for being story-tellers. In this magazine, I want to share the stories that recovery is possible, recovery will happen and highlight it’s important to share our stories.

At my lowest point, I thought I’d never get better, but with a little bit of hope - I do believe again.

Holly McCormack







Independent trainer Amanda O Connell talks about her career change

Beth Burgess talks of hope and recovery from alcoholism and BPD

Is social media a help or a hinderance towards our mental health?





News from across Scotland/ Comment from the readers

A look back at Taking Over the Asylum


I recently took the training myself and spoke to the trainer and people

also taking part in the course.

Next time you’re online, head to:



familiar with first-aid and it's a mandatory requirement in most workplaces, institutions and everyday organisations. Someone is always on hand to stem the flow in a potential crisis – should the need arise. The majority of us are not walking about secretly masking as Doctors and waiting to pop-out and diagnose everyone by an article we've read on Wikipedia. In a true crisis, we are taught mouth-to-mouth, CPR and not to move somebody who has taken a fall. Mostly, it's common sense but life saving initiatives are drummed into us all. But where does that leave someone in a mental health crisis?


In reality, there isn't much different to the person involved. Perception in society is that there isn't the same sense of urgency and attitudes towards mental health in general are still behind the times.A simple 12 hour course developed originally from Australia is a fresh approach to tackling these attitudes and supporting people in the midst of crisis too.

Scotland’s Mental health first aid (SMHFA) is not designed to make anyone overnight professionals, just like being trained as a firstaider doesn't make you a Doctor. It's about managing immediate risks and signposting an individual to the right help and understanding their point of view. Although the NHS does roll out training in Scotland it is primarily focussed at those working in the voluntary sector and within the NHS. In times of crisis, an individual decision could shape a life but for one SMHFA trainer, her life has been changed by a decision to

drop the security of a fulltime wage and take the risk of building up a business with the aim of passing this message on to as many people as possible across the whole of Scotland.


Amanda O'Connell made that brave decision and is now working independently as an instructor all across the country. Courses have been set up from Aberdeen to Glasgow, with individuals and businesses the main targets for a reasonable fee. Amanda explains to me why she made this radical career change. She said: “I realised that there were very few courses out there at evening or weekends. “If someone wanted to do this course, but wasn't part of their job then most courses were at a time unavailable to them. “My motivations for setting up a business running this course around Scotland were mainly to make the general public more aware of the course, and also make it as accessible as I could for them, particularly at days, times and locations where there were not courses already being offered.” Talking about mental health every-day can't be easy but Amanda reveals her motivations behind the project. She continues: “What I loved most that I wasn't sitting learning about the theory behind mental health conditions. “I was learning the practical skills about how best to help people – and it was these skills that I needed in order to make a difference to people, not theory. “It was an interactive course – activities, discussions, case studies and film clips. “I thought the course would be very heavy in content, but the fact it was so activity based made it enjoyable

and I learned so much from it.”


Talking to employers about your own mental health isn't an easy subject to broach but the openness Amanda shared with her previous employer encouraged this path. Her ex-boss identified that if they had perhaps done the training than it would have made things easier, when Amanda or any other colleague took ill due to their mental health.

Amanda explains: “I could see that it is not just those who work in the care sector who need mental health first aid skills – it is EVERYONE as we all have times where we are helping someone with a mental health problem. “I felt that offering this training would be something I would be good at and I really wanted to make a difference.”

The more we talk about mental health amongst society the more we can approach the subjects delicately in the future. The government has implemented a mental health strategy although Amanda, like many others, believe that SMHFA should be made compulsory to employers- like standard firstaid care is. She continues: “I believe that for every employer it is mandatory to have trained general first-aiders, it should also be mandatory to have trained mental health first-aiders.


“But it's not just the government that should be doing more here – it's people from all walks of life. “I feel at a disadvantage here as I am wary of campaigning for something people will think I am just out to make money from.

“But we need more mental health first-aiders. Everywhere. Throughout all walks of life.” Details of all courses in Scotland can be found at www.smhfa.com and for a full list of course by Amanda then head to www.amandamhscot.com


I recently had to

visit a male who had attempted suicide.

I felt that after taking your course I was able to unerstand this male much more and be able to speak with him with much more empathy. Although my uniform hindered progress which really is not a surprise.”

Follow Amanda on Twitter:


R ecovery IT takes a lot of courage to battle through addiction

and come out the other end to tell your story. Add to that the amazing grit and determination to help others on a similar path and you come across one remarkable woman. Any addiction can be a dark place, regardless of what it’s from. Alcohol, narcotics and even gambling can be problematic to many and it’s an ever-increasing epidemic.

Beth Burgess, 32, lives in London and has turned her life from being on the brink of death to delivering the recovery message. A diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder was penned down on her notes but only given formally after questions from her dad to professionals. Hospital can be a difficult place to go whilst at your lowest ebb. The complexity of dealing with both an addiction to alcohol and living with a personality disorder couldn’t have been easy for Beth which makes the story of recovery all the more heartwarming.


She said: “ I was diagnosed when I had to stay in a Psychiatric Hospital after trying to kill myself for the first time. “I wasn’t actually going to be told about my diagnosis, it’s just that my parents saw it on my record during a meeting with the Doctor and asked about it. “No-one explained what it was; they just said it was a collective of symptoms.

“Even on my discharge sheet, it only said that I had an ‘enduring personality disorder’, never mentioning the word ‘Borderline’. “My dad was really concerned though and bought some books on the subject as he wanted to know more. “At that point, I didn’t care if I lived or died, so I just ignored the diagnosis for several years.

“I already had alcoholism and Social Anxiety Disorder to cope with, and to me it was just another label that meant I was a screw-up. “I was briefly offered some sort of specialist help from a psychologist, but he said I couldn’t go if I’d had a drink at all, even a sip. “So, I stopped going.”


For Beth, the relationship with alcohol was a direct link to social anxiety. It became a compulsion to have a botleof spirits just to cope with the anxiety. Self-medicating is a harsh reality and it becomes a choice to survive. When things reached a critical point though, Beth knew it was time to hit the road to recovery.

Beth explains: “I realised that I needed serious help at around the age of 27, by the time I had recovered from my SAD and was trying to seek help for the alcoholism. “I would relapse over and over again because I was so impulsive and reactive. “Even when I did manage periods of sobriety, I was so emotionally-driven and angry, that I was still very miserable. “I realised I would never, ever be able to stay sober in the long-term unless I sorted the BPD out. “In fact the constant relapsing was the first time I started to take the BPD diagnosis seriously. “I looked up all the symptoms again and realised that not treating the BPD was completely ruining my attempts to move on, and so I needed to finally deal with it.”


BPD doesn’t have a simple solution sadly and it’s modern psychotherapies such as Dialectic Behavioral Therapy (DBT) and Mentilsation therapy that are pioneering recovery in the field. Beth continues: “DBT has saved my life. “Funnily enough, DBT enabled me to both recover from my BPD and also has made a massive impact on my recovery from addiction.


e l b i s s o p

“Sadly a lot of treatments for Borderline have long waiting lists, but this doesn’t mean you can’t do some work on it yourself. “ I had to wait for over a year to get the right treatment, but as soon as I realised I needed DBT, I got books about it, found resources online etc, because I felt I couldn’t wait that long.”


Beth has used these experiences to turn around both her mental illness and alcohol addiction.Now she teaches privately those skills that were so crucial to her. Beth continues: “There are also people who teach it privately, which is something I do now, and clearly it’s beneficial to be guided through the lessons by someone with experience; but if you can’t afford that, there is still lots you can find online for free that can help you get started.

“Just make a start on treatment, the sooner the better. And don’t beat yourself up if it’s one step forward, two back sometimes. It takes some time and effort to change your life! “It’s OK to make mistakes or to feel bad – just concentrate on making progress.”

The therapy Beth has had leaves a legacy of hope for her future and hopes that she can continue to prosper. A strong positive attitude is a key message that she wishes to convey on her website. She continues: “If you are willing to put the work in, your life can get better. “Your emotions, your behaviours, your ways of thinking can all be changed so that you’re happier. “Don’t think you are any different than me, that you can’t be cured, or it won’t work for you. “I thought that and I was wrong. “And I’m so glad that even though I wanted to at times, I never gave up. Just be willing, be committed to treatment and you can get better, too.” More information available: www.bethburgess.co.uk

USEFUL NUMBERS Alcoholics Anonymous 0845 769 7555

Gamblers Anonymous 0370 050 8881

Narcotics Anonymous 0300 999 1212


08457 90 90 90 jo@samaritans.org 07725 90 90 90 (Text service)

Breathing Space 0800 83 85 87


0141 530 1000

Scottish Recovery Network 0141 240 7790

NHS 24

08454 24 24 24

Social Media:

IN 2013 – the

technological advances continue to unravel amongst us. In the past decade, social media has gone from the age of FaceParty, MySpace and Bebo – to an age now that accepts both Facebook and Twitter as a daily necessity. Yes, a bit like food and water. Social media has proved to be a wonderful catalyst in improving recovery for those with mental illness. At a simple level, it can act as a bridging tool for isolated people to engage and form new relationships. As a service-user in the Highlands, you could end up embroiled in a debate with others all across Scotland and beyond.


Dr Trevor Lakey

Twitter in particular, has become a great tool to facilitate chats across the country. Merging with other mediums like WordPress – online communities can be built and can prosper. Simply by using a hashtag multiple users can easily connect in chats. Regular chats already on Twitter include mentalhealth chat, nurses chat and BPD chat which recently celebrated its first year anniversary. The simplicity of it all is that you can engage in these debates as yourself or under the blanket of an alias. At the end of the day, that's your choice and if you work as professional then perhaps you are protecting your own boundaries. A small contigent will argue that social media is actu-

An insight from expert Dr Trevor Lakey ally bad for your mental health. I don't doubt potentially some people do live their life on these social networks but with everything in life, you need to strike a balance and recognise that actually – we should be embracing this. The NHS seems to fear the unknown and social media hits the jackpot. However, some initiatives are being driven forward and discussions are taking place. The Internet needs to be a safe place that protects staff an patients and with simple guidelines – then this is achievable.

Dr Trevor Lakey works as a health improvement officer in Glasgow and is involved in many projects which put social media at the forefront of all things mental health. A pioneer of the Mindwaves project is one small strand of the work he does. Taking part and viewing the online chats which take place on Twitter is something that he has engaged with and learns from. It provides a platform for the NHS taking social media seriously and providing projects all across Scotland.


Trevor said: “My career is all about communication and dialogue. “Whilst looking online, I could see more and more people using social media in a professional way, rather than for social link ups. “I attended a conference a few years ago hosted by Chris O'Sullivan (he works for the Mental Health Foundation) on social media within mental health.

“At that point, I felt there was an opportunity to use social media in a more planned way. “My NHS board didn't have a social media policy for employees to use it without jumping through several hoops. “Therefore, I decided to set up my own private twitter account to use outside of work but to explore topics close to my job. “I found fairly rapidly there was a huge benefit of being on twitter.”


Social media formed a way in where normal boundaries were broken down but still respected. He explains: “I could see that there was a growing body of people (professionals and service users) and I could see the boundaries between everyone merging. “Twitter has become a levelling tool from having discussions with different hierarchies. “Also, from a geographic point of view – you could quite easily be having the conversation with someone from Brazil.

“I started to learn things from other initiatives that I could start to use in my own daily work from places like Australia. “Both myself and my colleagues tapped into things like 'Head Space' in Australia which was a mental health initiative. “With it being a huge country, they needed to use imaginative ways to communicate and support people. “Originally that was by phone but it's now branched online now.”


If only it was as straight forward back here in Scotland and debates will likely continue over the merits of social media in a medical context. In larger public organisations there is always going to be constraints as more time is need to consider things. A growing number of people are pushing for change and modernisation – the time has come to embrace the technology we have.

It's not just about chatting for Trevor though as he explains involvement in other projects which engage with the younger generation and aim to provide the tools to educate them properly on mental illness. He adds: “Young people are constantly on the lookout for new apps and websites that will help their own recovery. “Already there is a lot of god content on the Internet but we're finding young people don't know where to start and perhaps go straight to Google and can end up anywhere with good, bad or indifferent quality.”


The mindwaves project is an online blog which posts positive articles about mental health wellbeing in Scotland. The content is posted by community reporters who have real life experience of living with a mental illness. It looks to provide insightful points of view from those who we must listen to the most. The benefits of social media and these projects is quite

evident and they need time to continue to prosper, more people need to get involved and see the benefits of embracing the Internet.

Trevor adds: “I think just from health service point of view that we need to commit to be in this game for the long-haul. “We can't do it on our own and we need to work in partnership with other organisations. “The catch 22 is that unless you are using some form of social media as a health professional whether in a professional capacity or in your homelife – how do you know what it's capable of? “They assume the risks are higher than they are. “You need to develop your own boundaries and rules and safety mechanisms – we should be helping people with guidelines and setting those boundaries. “We shouldn't just put the shutters down became it's risky – we should manage our way out the risks. “A lot of people are now realising that if you set a sensible guidelines that aren't too restrictive – then the benefits far outweigh the risks. “If you aren't prepared to let people try things and get them wrong so you can correct them, then you'll never get far. You learn, you improve and you then try something different.” Follow Trevor on Twitter @Synedrum


THE Scottish Recovery Walk 2013 is taking place on Saturday 11th May at the Forth Road Bridge. The event

kicks off at 4PM and will see a group of motivated individuals walk from one end of the Bridge to another. It raises awareness about recovery from devestating addictions, as well as being fun for all those who take part.

Kuladharini, Director of the Scottish Recovery Consortium said:"With just days to go until Recovery Walk Scotland 2013 and over 1000 people registered to walk, it’s time to create history. Never before in Scotland have 1000 people stood together on the Forth Road Bridge and given thanks for recovery from addiction. People are coming from the Borders, Ayrshire, Aberdeen, Dundee, Perth, Glasgow, Edinburgh and of course Fife to experience recovert en masse. They are coming in cars, in buses and on rickshaws, with kids, with Grandmothers and with next door neighbouts. The Cherry Blossoms are in bloom. It’s time to walk Ladies and Gentleman. See you on the bridge. To register for the walk, go to http://www.scottishrecoveryconsortium.org

IT’S that time of year again - Mental Health Awareness Week. At Mental Matters, we look to raise awareness about mental health constantly but fully support the campaign.

The Mental Health Foundation (MHF) will be using the week between May 13-19 to focus on the aspects surrounding physical activity. On a par with the ‘Get Active’ campaign ran by SAMH - the message is that being more active physically is going to benefit your overall mental health. Everyone has mental health and it’s important we all look after our own.

Many events will be taking place across the country and for further information head to http://www,mentalhealth.org.uk #letsgetphysical


Life can be hard. Recovery is possible.

At 13, I started using cannabis and drinking.When I was 18 then I started to go clubbing and to pubs and beganusing mixture of illegal drugs.I was a mess. I went to my GP complaining of voices and I was referred to a Psychiatrist .At 22, I lost my full time job which I loved and things got worse. I got admitted to hospital for my first of many overdose atempts. I did this till I was 26 when I met another patient on his first admission.Hewas a lot older than me but he just understood what I was going and started advising me on how to cope with life and people. We're still in touch now in fact we’re best mates and see and speak every day.

At the time, the hospital spoke to both my friend and mum and tried to discourage the friendship as it wasn’t appropriate. I’d probably still be in hospital today without his support.

His friendship, faith and support have been crucial to me and without it - I'd still be using drugs and drinking. I'd been written off and was getting no real support from anyone and just going round in circles. I'm now 32 and 5 years clean and sober. I’m even thinking of going back to work. It showsthat with support, encouragement and faith in a person it really can make a difference.

Emma Paslawsksa, 32, West Midlands


Taking over the Asylum

OPEN your mind to a story depicting the harsh reality of life on a psychiatric ward. Join the patients, and prepare to enjoy both highs and lows throughout this emotional roller-coaster.

Taking over the Asylum proved to be a hit in Glasgow at the Citizens Theatre and also at the Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh.


This play is essentially a black comedy and was originally a success back in the early 1990s, with a young David Tennant starring. The Paisley star has been on a constant high since he movingly portrayed Campbell in the original television drama. Ken Stott was another notable actor from the original series, remaining prominent name in Scotland today. Fifteen years on: the play has been spiced up, modernised and adapted for the stage. Writer Donna Franceschild, was keen to stick to (yet jazz up a little) this mesmerising plot involving a range of characters set in a psychiatric ward. It’s a play that focuses on playing the role with truth, whatever that may be. No matter how you dress it up

though, Taking over the asylum is, ultimately, a tragedy with jokes.


Its dark plot adds to the realism of many who can appreciate time on wards across Scotland. Nobody wants to be there but in the darkness of the crisis you are going through, you can find light and hope with others who share a similar journey to you. The erratic pace of the script effectively mirrors rapid mood changes, consistent with some diagnoses, adding drama for the audience and leaving everyone both exhausted and entertained. The narrative surrounds the radical idea of bringing life into a decaying psychiatric ward. An un-used radio station is revived to bring stimulation and activity into the normally mundane ward. “Ready Eddie’ played by Iain Robertson is the radio anchor man and faces his own demons as soon as he arrives – realizing just how out of touch the equipment is. Help is at hand though, as ‘Campbell’, played with so much energy by Brian Vernel, turns his despair into hope by dreaming of becoming a radio star and

generating plans to raise much needed cash for the project.


Little encouragement is shown by the ward staff to patients – dismissing ambition as delusions of grandeur. Amidst the knockbacks: true talent shines through bringing hope to service users across the country. It doesn’t matter how often authorities dismiss you because of illness; it’s okay to believe in your own abilities, prevail and tell anyone; “You’re a loony and proud.” Taking over the Asylum is a story highlighting the constant battle between figures in power and those at their mercy. The young cast bring freshness to the topical themes of dealing with mental illness. The over-rising message that shines through the darkness of this play is to treat everyone in life for who they are and don’t define them by a diagnosis.

Profile for Holly McCormack

Mental Matters  

The first edition of the Scottish recovery based mental health magazine by Holly McCormack.

Mental Matters  

The first edition of the Scottish recovery based mental health magazine by Holly McCormack.