Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Ben ‘Bad Pharma’ Goldacre’s talk at Kings College London organized by Soho Skeptics. Polly Mortimer

Like a thunderclap Ben Goldacre rushed in claiming that a very localized snowstorm had made him late… Through a mouthful of flapjack, he blasted into his talk on the mechanics and manipulations of drug trials.

Corralling the many ways of misrepresentation and inherent danger that lies witin the world of Big Pharma (giant pharmaceutical companies) – withholding trials, conducting the wrong sort of trials and disseminating the information in a flawed manner (through publication bias) – he led us to the Cochrane Collaboration, which meta-analyses trials.  He drew out some trials of an antidepressant (‘none work well – there are cultural and social reasons why we prescribe them’) and illustrated the deceitfulness of the marketing in misleading people about the relative benefits of the drug. His ferreting has led him to conclude that 50% of results are never published – and PDFs with the data are impossible to search.

None of the Royal Colleges are taking a stand on this, though the European Medicines Agency is becoming a little more transparent.

He cited GSK which was fined $3 billion for hiding data about the fact that paroxetine was killing children. But they are not sharing their data yet.

Patients’ interests are not at heart and there is a lack of ownership and leadership.  He finally went to see the Prime Minister to harass the government on this topic. 

Even the patients’ groups are Drug Company funded – causing a conflict of interest. They take no action – but that is hardly surprising! He didn’t seem to blame them for this. Of course they are not going to mess with their funders.
Finally he stressed that the medical profession fails to engage and there are no challenges to it. 

It was quite a tumble drier of a talk – and left me wanting to read the book in a quieter place. And also to compare it with the eminent David Healy’s book, Pharmageddon.  But I do feel that Ben Goldacre’s heart is in the right place, and I look forward to investigating his concerning claims further.

Wellbeing News/ #1

2012 has been a big year (OK, it’s still been 365 days, but – particularly for people who care about sport and royalty – ‘Twenty Twelve’ has been rather a whopper). So what has been the biggest WELLBEING NEWS of the year? Here’s a little selection of some of the high-lights, including a few suggestions from the twittersphere:

First World Happiness Report Launched
First World Happiness Report launched at the United Nations on 02/04/12: This report illustrated that the happiest countries in the world are all in Northern Europe (Denmark, Norway, Finland, Netherlands), and that the least happy countries are all poor countries in Sub-Saharan Africa (Togo, Benin, Central African Republic, Sierra Leone). However, it is not just wealth that makes people happy: political freedom, strong social networks and an absence of corruption are together more important than income in explaining wellbeing differences between the top and bottom countries. At the individual level, good mental and physical health, someone to count on, job security and stable families are crucial. 

World Happiness Report - Response
 In response to the World Happiness Report, Jeffrey Sachs argued in the Huffington Post: ‘How the right [specifically the American Right] is wrong about happiness’, since ‘social democracies are far and away the happiest places on the planet’, with high taxes and economic prosperity which is shared Sachs argues: ‘In short, happier places are happier because they combine economic prosperity with social trust, a sense of equality, leisure as well as work, and good and honest governance.’ (

The Personal Health Budget
Whether you agree with the controversial introduction of the Department of Health’s Personal Health Budgets (an amount of money given to someone, intended to help them design a package of care support from clinicians and others, and give them more control over the nature of the treatment provided), or not, they have certainly been an impactful development to the personalised care of adults with long-term conditions. First introduced as a pilot programme in 2009, over the last year the scheme has gained momentum, with the roll out of personal health budgets announced by Care and Support Minister Norman Lamb on 30 November 2012. The Personal Health Budgets Evaluation was also published that month ( by the DoH, and the King’s Fund felt it gave ‘encouraging news for those who believe that giving patients greater choice, flexibility and control can improve their quality of life. The scheme offers personal budgets to people with long-term conditions to cover non-medical support services such as therapy and nursing services, home care, day care and meal services, complementary therapies, mobility assistance, leisure services and equipment’ 

Ed Miliband on Mental Health
 In October 2012, Ed Miliband delivered his speech on mental health at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, declaring: ‘It is the biggest unaddressed health challenge of our age’. As well as some key points about people’s fear of the unknown, the economic impact of mental ill health, the importance of breaking the taboo and silence around mental illness, he also spoke about the challenge of stigma and how people in the public eye should be doing all they can to combat this. He mentioned how ‘Marcus Trescothick, Stephen Fry, Fiona Phillips, Labour’s Alastair Campbell and Kevan Jones, and politicians from other parties, like Charles Walker, have all been exceptionally brave in sharing their own painful stories with our country’, but berated Janet Street-Porter for saying ‘that depression is the latest must-have accessory’ promoted by the “misery movement’’, and Jeremy Clarkson for calling people who tragically take their own lives as “Johnny Suicides” whose bodies should be left on train tracks rather than delay journeys’.

MIND charity: One in Five
On a related note, in November 2012, the charity Mind released new statistics showing one in five people who’ve experienced a mental health problem have sought help directly because they’ve been inspired by a celebrity speaking in the media about their own mental health, calling this The Fry, Flintoff, Bruno and Pendleton Effect

Coming 'Out': Jess Haynes

I've recently been struggling with my mental health. This has led me to consider how open I should be about my mental health with others, if I should admit it to other people, if I should post publically on facebook about it. I guess the worry is always that people will judge me and think less of me. It feeds into my own shame and feelings of failure because I am struggling. 

Recently though I’ve started to take a new approach. To be ‘out’ about my mental health issues, to talk openly and honestly about them. This doesn’t necessarily mean to go into great detail, simply to try not to be ashamed of it. To answer questions honestly, to tell friends if it’s a bad day. To recognise that having poor mental isn’t something I should brush under the carpet and pretend doesn’t exist for other people’s comfort. 

This stunning photograph was taken by Miroslaw Dworczac.
To see more of his work please go to:  www.

This has got me thinking about how I live my life in general. I am gay so I am ‘out’ in the traditional sense as well. I don’t play the ‘pronouns game’ (where you avoid using gendered pronouns and words when talking about your partner). I talk very openly about being gay and I hold my hands, kiss partners in public as long as it feels safe to do so. Being open about such things, prevents a lot of the stress and anxiety that comes from being closeted and allows me to be myself. However it is more than simply personal, I see being out as a political act. Being visibly gay normalises homosexuality, if people see gay people, know gay people then we are more than simply an invisible minority. Being open provides positive role models and helps young people accept their own sexuality and other people to accept them. I am thankful for those pioneers who came out before me, who said publically being gay is okay and I’m not ashamed.

I’ve decided then to be ‘out’ about my own poor mental health. To talk openly about it and go some small way to erase the stigma. To say ‘I’m not ashamed of this and you shouldn’t be either’ to advocate for better mental health services, support and angrily defend benefits. Being ‘out’ is a political and I think deeply feminist act and one that can be transferred to all manner of other issues. I am thinking of the survivors who raise their voice and say ‘I was raped,’ of the women who say ‘I had an abortion.’ It challenges taboo’s and raises consciousness. It opens discussions and allows us to talk and campaign for rights, services and change. Without those who raise their voices and come ‘out’ then we would see no change. 

This is not to say that staying closeted is a shameful thing or that people should at all times be out. I recognise that my being out is a personal decision that comes from a position of privilege. I am lucky and privileged to live in a time and a place that I can be out both as gay and as suffering from mental health problems which in other countries and cultures could cause me to be to be disowned or killed. Speaking about rape is an incredibly brave thing to do and can often be traumatic and triggering for survivors. Not everyone wants or should feel they have to talk about that, having an abortion or any other experience. People can lose their jobs when they admit to mental health issues, I know this. We have the right to privacy and to remain silent, to protect ourselves and those we love.

However I would urge people where possible to come ‘out.’ To recognise the political and transformative power of being open and honest about our own experiences.  To say I will not remain silent and I will not be ashamed.

This article was originally published on Hampshire Feminist Collective’s website.

This article was originally published on Hampshire Feminist Collective’s website.

Story-telling & Wellbeing: Kate Massey-Chase

As a creative facilitator, working in Drama and creative writing with a diverse mix of community groups, story is one of my main mediums – an important tool in my practitioner tool-kit (bouncing around with the juggling balls). I believe recognising the importance of stories in all of our lives, and how we can explore, manipulate and extend those narratives, is fundamental to our wellbeing. It is not simply an artistic medium; it is a life-line. 

I work with a number of groups who could be seen as pushed to the periphery, inhabiting a space beyond the societal centre, such as young refugees (with Attic Theatre Company), women who experience mental distress (for CoolTan Arts), and addicts in recovery (for a Crime Reduction Initiative), to name a few. When I enter their space to facilitate a workshop, I am, inevitability, entering into their life-narratives, if only for a couple of hours. It may sometimes resonate very little, but for some I hope the work punctuates, provides a hiatus, starts a new paragraph (or if we’re lucky a chapter), turns a page…extends a metaphor. We might shift the story a bit, or we might give them a space to write a new one; either way, we play in and with stories, and can explore and experience the enormous power of them. Thus, for those in the margins, the arts can facilitate the journey from beyond centre-page to centre-stage. 

The social importance of storytelling, and its symbiotic relationship with cultural heritage, is neither a new nor an especially provocative topic. From Beowulf to The Boy Who Cried Wolf, hopefully we can all recognise the importance of sharing community narratives (for both communities of location and communities of interest). It is more than the thread that binds us together; it is an umbilical-like rope. If we think back to Scheherazade in the tale of One Thousand and One Nights, with a rich tapestry of stories as her only currency, we can see how storytelling becomes a life-saver. It is also more than just a cliché to say that literature helps us feel less isolated; as Jeanette Winterson remembers in her recent autobiography: ‘I had no one to help me, but the T.S. Eliot [poetry book] helped me’ . Stories can be communicated in forms beyond prose: they are hidden all around us; they might be infiltrating our personal bubble from the headphones of someone’s annoyingly loud music on the tube, or found in a poem on a postcard, or in our newspaper. Whether we are looking for them or bump into them, stories are everywhere.  

So, we can see that storytelling, and the told stories all around us, can both help us in our understanding of who we are and make us feel less alone. But they have more than a dual purpose. If we move to thinking about autobiographical storytelling, we can see manifold benefits to personal and societal wellbeing. In her book on Autobiography and Performance, Deidre Heddon discusses the opportunity autobiographical performance provides to allow the marginalised subject to ‘talk out, talk back, talk otherwise’ and to ‘engage with the pressing matters of the present which relate to equality, to justice, to citizenship, to human rights’  – integral to the wellbeing agenda. Indeed, autobiographical performance not only highlights the potential for sharing otherwise silent narratives with the community, in a way that can be revealing and enlightening, but can also provide a vehicle for self-examination. The act of telling an audience our story necessitates the act of self-reflection and demands self-selection on which parts we decide to disclose. It also provides the opportunity to analyse our life as a continuous journey, rather than reflecting on events in isolation; through this it may be possible to identify patterns in our behaviour, and whether there is a dominant narrative that drives us. We can thus gain insight into our own lives. 

The power of self-constructed narratives has been recognised as epistemologically and psychologically crucial to the construction of our own identity; in fact psychologist, neurologist and  author Oliver Sacks has stated: ‘It might be said that each of us constructs and lives a ‘narrative’ and that this narrative is us, our identities’.  If we are aware that we understand the world and our self through narrative, then it becomes easier to see our identity as fluid, rather than fixed and inflexible; this could give us a greater degree of control over our perceptions of the world, as autonomous subjects who can mould the stories we tell of ourselves.  This is even before we consider entering the world of fictitious performance, where we experiment with role and metaphor, where we can take on a new character with a tilt of the head, and relay stories miles away from our lived reality, yet which we still feel could be about us. Or don’t, and enjoy the liberation of that. Where can’t we travel through story? Through story we can take amazing journeys. Through story we can also come home.

First published as ‘Life Stories’ by Arts Professional, in Issue 253, Monday 21 May 2012


I, my partner, and our two kids live in a small one bedroom council flat, and as you can imagine, it can get very cramped. There is no bolthole, no where to have a moment to yourself, and in some respects this can be quite healthy – all issues have to be dealt with there and then, no sulking in distant rooms. But when the kids go wild (as they invariably do), the flat exponentially shrinks, and when this happens, there’s one thing I truly wished we had: the humble garden.

As a child I grew up with a garden which adjoined a vast overgrown stretch of land which was a disused railway line. Along with my brother and sister we would play there from dusk ‘til dawn – or so it felt as a six year old. I always recall how that wild, abandoned environment would spark my imagination, and how its wildlife would ever be a source of fascination: the simplest of creatures, the hedgehogs, foxes, voles and moles, the bees, wasps, damselflies and warlike dragonflies, and even the toads, frogs and newts. Consequently I have always appreciated the benefits of being outside in the fresh air, amongst nature, and as such I find it a shame that our kids don’t have what we had as children. 

In a two-room flat, eight storeys high, your options are limited. I thought of aquascaping as a way of bringing nature into the flat. A fish tank as a kind of surrogate garden where your imagination at least could run wild. I learnt as much as I could about creating planted tanks, using CO2, forcing the plants to explode in a jungle-like frenzy. Gazing into that tank, neon tetras darting, java ferns, cabomba, vesicularis, and java moss gently swaying against the flowing water, I often imagined was akin to gazing into the Amazon basin. We all enjoyed (and enjoy) the thick lush underwater world of our aquascape tank. But children naturally require more; they need to get their hands dirty.

The vague notion of having an allotment crossed my mind three years ago. I’d contacted a nearby allotment but was told there was a lengthy waiting list and that we would be on it for years. Undeterred we joined the list. And for three years I forgot about it, until an email arrived: ‘You’re top of the list’.

I turned up at the allotment with my son to meet the site secretary. To our surprise we were offered a choice of three allotments. All recently vacated. It was that time of year apparently, annual fees to be paid… and when members finally accept defeat and move on. I knew instantly which one we’d want. There it stood, a little way back up the hill, with this big, old dilapidated shed, smashed windows, a slew of disintegrating apples on one of its two small trees – but apple trees… and two of them! 

I can’t convey the sense of luck we felt as a family. This was on the scale of a minor miracle. This plot of land was quite a substantial plot of land. The potential seemed immense. We were put on a standard three month probation, whereupon the site committee would determine whether we had proven our commitment to the site. Thereon we would be charged £45 a year (soon to double!)

So we began work on the plot - in complete blissful ignorance. Of course we didn’t mind one bit. Having had no garden in over 25 years, planting and tending seemed remote. In our favour was the fact that it was November. In terms of planting there was not much to do - mainly preparation for the new year. So we dug up weeds, collected remaining apples, dug up the last of the potatoes left behind by the previous tenant. We cut back the raspberry bushes. And laid sheets over the newly dug beds to kill the weeds. I relocated sections of turf to muddy areas making for a larger area for the kids to play; we relocated a small tree to free up space. And then came a minor eureka moment. In the site’s skip was a large blue plastic fish pond. Allotments don’t have ponds, right? Allotments are for growing, right? Well no, not entirely. I called the secretary, asked if we could put a pond in? Sure, go ahead, good for biodiversity. And so the pond duly went it. 

With the introduction of the pond there seemed a change in perception. This wasn’t merely a place to grow produce, but also a living space, a GARDEN! Soon we came to realise that the shed could either hold tools, or hold a table for reading; the spare land could either grow carrots or be a wild grass play area; the paths between plots for walking, or a place to hold barbeques and picnics – all allowed by the site committee. 

As things turned out, our allotment would partly be used for growing produce, but also partly as a garden sanctuary for the kids. True, we don’t have a garden we can step out into, but we have the next best thing, and a heartbeat away. And when the pond settles in, we’ll introduce frogs, toads and newts for the kids; already a fox has staked his claim to surrounding areas, and without fail, the red-breasted robins regularly appear to snap up the newly dug worms. I ask you, what family could ask for more?

The Ethics of Psychiatric Diagnosis

A London Philosophy Club talk by Peter Kinderman: 
The Ethics of Psychiatric Diagnosis. Polly Mortimer

Peter Kinderman is pretty much a hero of mine, along with his colleague Richard Bentall. Kinderman is Professor of Clinical Psychology and Head of the Institute of Psychology, Health and Society at the University of Liverpool, and Bentall is a Professor there. Kinderman started with his conclusion: that it was now is the time to take action. The disease model is inappropriate and the current realm of ‘diagnosis’ fails on validity, utility, biology and humanity. We should be concentrating on helping people live their lives better and fulfilling their potential, not treating problems as illnesses. 

He took us back to a debate in the Commons a while back where a number of MPs revealed their own mental distress. This disclosure was met in a positive manner, thus paving the way for differing approaches to the whole field. He did however, also quote concerning statistics regarding the increase in suicides in this time of economic uncertainty; it has been found that a thousand suicides per year could be as a result of depression caused by economic hardship. In also informed us that there has been a 30% increase of calls to helplines in the last few years.
Carefully unpicking the diagnoses that are commonly bandied around, he found 

them devoid of meaning.  What is needed is a bespoke response to clients’ needs. There are reasons for mental distress – natural human consequences of trauma and adversity. We are all mad at times. But the trend now is to medicalise normality. 
I agree with Kinderman: what is needed is alternatives to the disease models. He put forward lots of suggestions: parenting tutors, narrative approaches, a colleagues scheme, Think First for offenders, and a plea to treat things for what they are. This is underpinned by a psychosocial formulation approach. A huge change must take place and it involves many different agencies: teachers, professionals, textbooks, judges, insurance companies, pension firms, among others. 

As we are at a crossroads with the revision of DSM underway, I believe it is an ideal time to proceed with change. This can happen by signing petitions, and those in the frontline talking and taking action. The stranglehold of the pharmaceutical companies needs to be released and a new framework of understanding reached.  Solutions can be developed – working on the cause of the distress. Work with nurses will be crucial; they can initiate relaxation, exercise, early warning systems etc. 
I found the talk extremely refreshing and sensible and left hoping that change was in the air and the disease model will be consigned to history. Long overdue!

Literary News

CoolTan Arts & Dickens

CoolTan Arts, a charity based in Elephant and Castle, which believes mental well-being is enhanced by the power of creativity, has been working on a Dickens project throughout the year (celebrating his bicentenary!), including a Dickens-inspired fashion show, poetry, walks, and the creation of a Dickens Newspaper . Please see below an invitation to one of their events, and a short piece of writing on the character of Barnaby Rudge, by Zoe, one of their participants.


We are delighted to invite you to the third exhibition in our Dickens News series – ‘The Ragshow Edition’, which celebrates the life and work of Charles Dickens,  with a contemporary creative twist and social comment to boot!

The exhibition runs from the 1st Feb 2013 to the 13th Feb 2013 at Morley Gallery, Westminster Bridge Road, SE1 7HT. You are invited to join CoolTan and Maggi Hambling at the private view on February 7th from 6-8pm, and celebrate Dickens 201st birthday!

The Ragshow exhibition showcases both the textile and visual art work of CoolTan Arts Artists. Textile and batik pieces explore and contemporise Dickens characters, from Miss Havisham & Nancy, and will look at all levels of Victorian dress. Also showing are a plethora of prints, drawings, paintings and written work examinng Dickens’ life and work and his connection to Southwark. A special private view on February 7th 6-8pm will be opened by artist Maggi Hambling. Guests will get the chance to view the artworks,  see Dickens characters perfom and hear readings and poems. Dickens News souvenirs will be on sale, with etchings, prints, hand printed Greetings cards, tea-towels and bags available.

Barnaby Rudge:
A fantastic half-crazed youth

Dickens is interested in society in its totality; he does not shirk away from considering the plight of those who suffer mental distress. 
If the Victorians were to speak of a ‘village idiot’, then we might conjure up the image of one beset by stupidity and incompetencies. Yet Dickens’ character Barnaby Rudge is usually portrayed as carefree, roaming the countryside with his pet raven, Grip, by his side and has the competency to be a go-between and deliver messages. An almost romantic figure who articulates his delights in wandering.

‘We have been afield, mother – leaping ditches, scrambling through hedges, running down steep banks, up and away, and hurrying on. The wind has been lowing, and the rushes and young plants bowing and bending to it, lest it should do them harm, the cowards – and Grip – ha ha ha! – brave Grip, has quarrelled with every little bowing twig – thinking, he told me, that it mocked him – and has worried it like a bull – dog. Ha ha ha!’

Barnaby’s madness may be depict as challenging behaviour, sometimes  excitable or distressed, anxious that he has displeased his widowed mother, his protector, and unaware of impending dangers. 

Barnaby is presented as optimistic and hopeful, if a little unknowing in nature. He is not someone to ridicule, but be respected and maybe pitied. Dickens writes in the novel  that, ‘It is something to look upon enjoyment, so that it be free and wild and in the face of nature, though it is but the enjoyment of an idiot.’ 

Dickens furthers this argument by challenging those who seek the right to punish harshly, and who may perversely enjoy the sufferings of others. ’Who would not rather see a poor idiot happy in the sunlight, that a wise man pining in a darkened room.’


Wellbeing News/ #2

Accident Prone Places
Melton, the Leicestershire borough, has been named as most accident-prone place in Britain, while Runneymede in Surrey was found to be safest. (I wonder how long it would stay that way if I moved there!)

The National Audit of Schizophrenia (NAS)
 The National Audit of Schizophrenia (NAS), the largest ever clinical audit of schizophrenia, published its national report in December 2012. The report shows very low levels of physical health monitoring for people with schizophrenia and variable prescribing practice. It also shows that people with schizophrenia are often not involved in decisions about their care and treatment, and are given information that is inaccessible and difficult to understand. 

George Osborne’s Autumn Statement
5 December 2012 saw the delivery of George Osborne’s Autumn Statement, and worryingly Mind has stated that they believe that ‘the Autumn Statement will have disproportionate impact on those with mental health problems’, and are particularly concerned with cuts to benefits.(

Compassion in Practice
This year has also seen a push to the development of a culture of compassionate care, with a new three-year vision and strategy for nursing, midwifery and care staff that aims to build the culture of compassionate care in all areas of practice. Called Compassion in Practice, it has been drawn up by Jane Cummings, the Chief Nursing Officer for England (CNO), based with the NHS Commissioning Board, and Viv Bennett, Director of Nursing at the Department of Health. (

Patients Get New Rights
Patients with mental health problems are to be given new rights over which consultant psychiatrist they see under new plans to end institutional bias against them in the NHS, although this may not come into place until 2014. Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, who has been instrumental in securing the change, said: ‘It does not make any sense that some of the most vulnerable members of our society have little control about how their condition is treated. If any group of patients could benefit from being empowered by taking control of their own care, it is people with mental illness. 

My overriding priority is to ensure that mental health is finally considered in all aspects of NHS care, so that it no longer suffers from the institutional bias that has existed for so long.’

Health and Social Care Act 2012
‘Without a shadow of a doubt, the biggest health and wellbeing related thing to happen in 2012 was the passage of the Health and Social Care Act 2012 after a year of wrangling. Changing as it does the nature of the way the NHS works and will work in future, what local authorities are responsible for and how health and social care will be run, it’s hard to think of anything that will have more impact on your heath and wellbeing over the next few years. Well, apart from the ongoing effects of austerity and recession on the overall way our own lives feel and what happens in them.’ Mark Brown (OneInFour)

How The Mind Responds: Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation and Transcendental Meditation. Ian Stewart

The article ‘Zen and the Art of Genius’, describes how scientists are experimenting with a new technology, reminiscent of what was once known as electric shock treatment. Called transcranial direct current stimulation (or tDCS), they are concentrating on trying to produce what they describe as a ‘flow’ in the mind, which enables subjects to improve their capacity to learn new skills in half the time. They say that it usually takes 10,000 hours to become an expert in a field, whether it be a golfer or a chess player. The term ‘flow’ is used to describe the ability to perform an action effortlessly.

They define it as:

a) ‘An intense and focused absorption that makes you lose all sense of time’;
b) Something called autolicity: ‘the sense that the activity you are engaged in is rewarding for its own sake’; 
c) ‘Finding the ‘sweet spot’, a feeling that your skills are perfectly matched to the task at hand’ – and, importantly, ‘leaving you neither frustrated nor bored’.

The scientists involved talk of being able to ‘silence self critical thoughts’ and allow more ‘automatic processes to take hold, which would in turn produce that effortless feeling of flow’.

The article caught my eye as it reminded me of the experiments performed by scientists researching the transcendental meditation (TM) technique, who have measured the brainwave activity of subjects practising the technique and have underlined the teaching of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who taught of the effortless way that the mind responds when practising TM. He has characterised in his Science of Creative Intelligence the way that the mind is able to harness the laws of nature that govern the universe on the individual level by the increasing ‘charm’ the mind experiences during TM; this effortless flow is due to the experience of pure consciousness. In TM, the technique uses a mantra, which is a pleasing sounding vehicle that takes the mind to infinity, leading to more subtle forms of thought. Our thoughts are like bubbles at the bottom of an ocean, and the stress in our nervous system brought about by everyday worries and woes prevent us from experiencing our thoughts in their full purity. 

The ocean is our consciousness, and meditation allows for the subconscious to become a part of the conscious mind, which at the same time provides a deep rest for the body. Experiments have shown that TM triggers certain unique brain activity. In his science, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi refers to the process of ‘skill in action’, where the mind is able to do less and accomplish more, as actions become more effortless and we become more attuned to the laws of nature and thus more efficient in our actions.

I know the practice of TM and how it’s helped me, and feel perhaps the tDCS scientists could deepen their studies by practicing TM, and I hope to see it in future studies. 

Article ‘Zen and the Art of Genius’ 
from the New Scientist (4 Feb 2012)

Don’t Bottle it Up Schizophrenia: My advice on how to deal with it. Dev

According to some websites, ‘Schizophrenia’ is a mental illness with symptoms which include hallucinations (such as hearing voices), delusions (false ideas), disordered thoughts, and problems with feelings, behaviour and motivation. But this is just a broad summary; not many people have the same symptoms.  It is common to think that having this disorder means that a person is mad, which is not true. There are people with mild variations of it and some with severe versions of schizophrenia.

For a person with this disorder it is difficult to explain. Sometimes a person might hear something like there is going to be a crash near by. It just might be rumour or gossip. This where schizophrenia may come into effect. The person hearing this may decide to take this thing seriously and start to perceive it as reality. This is when they tend to start hallucinate and visualizing it happening repeatedly and hence losing track of what is real and what is false. Sometimes people will start to pace and start to do things with their hands, start talking to them selves (this is a manifestation of their delusional state) or they may start to swear. For that person it is very difficult to get control of their mind.

In this case, I suggest that the person must be with another person for the duration of this behaviour and these symptoms, and constantly told that it is not true over a long period of time. It would also be useful if the other person would repeatedly show other possible scenarios to what he is thinking of. It is important at this state that the person is not left alone where ever he/she is. Remember: they are vulnerable and may do something harmful. If this continues to happen on regular bases on any subject, then the person may need to see a psychologist or psychiatrist.    

It is also possible the person might even go the opposite direction and become more introvert and bottle things up, which many people do. This means they are thinking about the car crash happening, but not showing any reaction. Over time it may build up, like a bottle filling up with water, causing an out burst, similar to an over flowing water bottle. This is a useful metaphor. 

Schizophrenia can also cause a person to start to create his or her own utopian world in their head. In this they maybe the main character and play out anything happening in the real world the way they want it to be. Unlike the previous example where they have an outburst, this time they tend to become more delusional and get trapped in their own make believe world.

The person with Schizophrenia may also show no symptoms for a long period of time and may start to act normally. One thing you must remember is that symptoms can re-occur.  This maybe a double jeopardy, because the person may think that they have fully recovered. 

For a person who has a family member that has schizophrenia, they may have difficulty in accepting that a person in their family has this problem. As a consequence they may feel angry (Why did he have to get it?), fearful (How are we going to manage?), guilty (Is this my fault?), frustrated (There must be something I’m not doing?) and hopeless (Why can’t I help them? They need my help but I don’t know how to help?).  You might be tempted to hide your family member’s illness from the outside, i.e. protecting your family member from any abuse or getting hurt.  My advice to 
families if:

1. You need accept that your family member has schizophrenia. 
2. Accept, no matter how hard it is, that this is not your fault.  
3. Get some help for you and that family member. 
4. Be realistic 
5. Know what to expect from him or her, i.e. panic, becoming quiet or acting differently. 
6. Keep a sense of humour. 

The last one, no matter how crude it sounds, really does help on both sides. 

Moustache Movember: Changing the Face of Men’s Health

In 2003, thirty people came together in Melbourne, Australia, with an aim to raise awareness for men’s health, an issue sadly ignored by much of society. They raised no money, but their decision to refuse to shave their top lip in an effort to bring the real issue of prostate and testicular cancer to the forefront of people’s thoughts, ignited a fire that has since spread around the globe. This of course, raises the question, how can growing a moustache make any difference? And how did this simple idea end up recruiting over a million Mo Bros to the cause? 
Founders Travis Garone and Luke Slattery thought up the idea in a bar in Melbourne, intending, as only two friends in a bar can do, to revolutionise the fashion industry and give a rebirth to the classic moustache. The idea to use this as a platform to raise awareness for men’s health was inspired by a friend’s mother who was fundraising for breast cancer at the time they hatched the plans. 

The rules were written, and have stayed unchanged for almost a decade, their faces were shaved on Movember 1st and history was made. The story of Movember can be found on the now hugely popular website, which shows the growth of the campaign of awareness. 

My personal Movember of 2012 is my second attempt, and this time round not only is the ‘tache fuller and thicker (slightly), but I am part of a team of guys all jumping aboard with excitement I rarely see in people today. I work as a police officer and eight of us from my shift have signed on for what has now become known as a challenge. The emasculating attempt to shoot hair through skin pores in our faces have left a few of us struggling to claw back our manhood, especially when the day to day job sees us go and deal with people we would like to take us seriously, a task anyone would find difficult looking at the incredible range of bristles under our noses. The disconcerting thing for the general public must be that those there to protect and uphold the law now look like mexican bandits or mafia godfathers themselves. 

The camaraderie between my group of Mo Bros is incredible, the outright bullying of those unable to grow the ‘Magnum P.I’, the appreciation of those willing to go for the riskier styles like the pencil or trucker, the support from those who sadly due to gender, are unable to join in. 

The thing that strikes me above all else is that the main purpose of this brilliant idea has clearly been achieved. People everywhere know of Movember, and thus they are aware of the men’s health issues it is there to promote. All the people I meet in my day at work who say: ‘Are you trying to do Movember?’ not only humiliate me, but also make me smile with the knowledge that today I reminded somebody of Movember and its cause. 

Movember is something that will stay with us now as long as there is a month of November in the calendar. Although the cause is worthy and commendable, it is not the reason for Movember’s global success; if truth be told, it is that secret desire in every man’s heart to want to be the guy who grows the ‘tache to top them all. Every man doing Movember has dreams of being able to slap on the styling wax in the morning and the moustache net before bed, and it is this fierce competition that drives Movember. Of course everyone knows why Movember exists, and every year tens of millions are raised by hundreds of thousands of Mo Bros across the world, but without the simple genius of the idea itself, Movember would fizzle away.