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World Mental Health Day 2014 5 October, 2014

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World Mental Health Day is on 10 Oct, and (Australian) National Mental Health Week is between 5-12 October 2014. The theme for WMHD2014 is “Living With Schizophrenia”.

The ABC will be running a week’s worth of mental health-centred programming – check out the highlights here: ABC’s Mental As.

About 1 in 2 Australians will experience a mental health problem at some point in their life, and we are all affected by mental health issues: our own, those of our family and loved ones, and in our communities. Mental health Week is a good incentive to get people to think a bit more about their own mental health as well as those of others, to reduce stigma around mental health, and to connect with others.

With these three points in mind, I will post a few resources to check out:

1. Mental health info and services.

    BeyondBlue is a good place to start reading about mental health issues, especially depression and anxiety, which are the most common mental health conditions.

    For young people, ReachOut is also a good place to visit when things get tough.

    Project Air Strategy, maintained by the University of Wollongong, is a resource specifically for personality disorders, and includes a state-by-state treatment directory.

    National Eating Disorders Collaboration is a repository of good information about eating disorders and their treatment.

    In NSW there is a great resource for schizophrenia: The Schizophrenia Fellowship.

2. Stigma is alive and well.

    Not only is there stigma towards having a mental health condition, but also stigma and discrimination towards other personal characteristics (such as race, sexuality, gender) can greatly contribute to mental health problems. Check out BeyondBlue’s Stop. Think. Respect. campaign – they have some great videos on this issue.

    Think before you call someone “mad” or “crazy”, before you assume that people with mental health issues are “lazy”, “attention-seeking”, “manipulative” or “aggressive”, or before you ascribe mental health difficulties to behaviour that seems unusual *to you*.

    This goes not only for the more well-known mental health issues, but also for ones that don’t garner as much attention or support, such as personality disorders, which are often described in pejorative terms or not taken seriously, despite the fact that they represent long-standing, severe difficulties that can pervasively affect many aspects of life.

3. Get connected.

    SANE Australia has forums for people with mental health issues, as well as carers’ forums.

    BlueBoard, maintained by the Australian National University, is another good forum for sharing experiences with mental health difficulties.

    ReachOut also have forums for young people with mental health concerns.

If you’re after a mental health professional (such as a GP with an interest in mental health, a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist) in your area, check out this “Find a Professional” service provided by BeyondBlue.

And of course, if in crisis, call Lifeline (13 11 14) – they are there 24/7 to lend an ear.

Season change 4 April, 2014

Posted by Queen of Spades in clinical, life, postgrad, university.
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I much prefer autumn and spring to summer and winter – I see them as transitional seasons, which of course isn’t quite accurate, as every season is a transition. But in spring and autumn, it feels like the transition is somehow more extreme, and so it’s not as monotonous as three months of heat or cold.

This summer has left me battered and bruised, and I’m glad it’s now autumn. I can feel the cool change in the air, especially in the morning and at night, a touch of crispness. It feels like I’m slowly waking up – opening my eyes, moving on. This is not really a personal blog so I won’t go into the details, but the past few months have played havoc with my internal and external life. I hope now is the time to get some distance and heal.

My course continues and I still love it, although it’s hard at times. In this clinical rotation the emphasis is much more on process, a notion which is hard to describe. Basically it’s focusing on the dynamics in the therapy room between therapist and patient, rather than solely on the presenting problems. This is challenging for me as a novice therapist, as it is quite a confronting process, both for therapist and patient, as it involves pointing out the “backstage” elements of what is a constructed social interaction. Therapy is about being truthful, rather than being nice, but it’s hard to be truthful in a nice way at times. I’m also learning about different ways of “being” in the therapy room with different types of patients, which is also challenging. Being “nice, supportive therapist” will not get some (most?) people to shift.

There’s also only a couple of months until we are released into the “real world” for our external placements, which is quite scary/exciting. In the mean time, I’m also learning lots of neuro, and there may be some brain dissectin’ going on in the future. Not having done a human brain before, this is exciting.

Things I am loving right now: coffee, Swedish crime fiction (everyone in these books drinks so much coffee), and that it’s cool enough to wear leggings. Yes, sometimes it’s the little things that get you through.

How long is a piece of string? 8 July, 2013

Posted by Queen of Spades in clinical, life, postgrad, research.
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Here’s the thing: changing careers is hard. Not just because of the need to pick up completely new skills, and hit the ground running, but also because everyone expects you to be unwaveringly enthusiastic about how you’re going in your new field. You feel a need to prove to everyone that this is not a mistake, that you’ll make it, that this is ‘it’.

So when the going gets hard, there’s still this need to keep smiling, because ‘you chose this’ and ‘if you don’t like it, why don’t you go do something easier’. This week, the going got hard. I’m trying to get my research off the ground, conceptually, and it’s like hitting my head against a brick wall. I have to bring something new to the table, so I had a couple of ideas that I thought would be pretty nifty to look at, and they are – but it turns out they’re also too involved for the scope of my current degree. It’s hard finding the ‘right’ idea: one that’s above all, interesting enough to sustain you throughout the degree, but that will also let you graduate at some point, and that’s also possible given the chronic lack of time. Not too little, not too big. (Hence the title of this post.)

While trying to get my research off the ground, I’m also trying to memorise hundreds of symptoms (plus changes from one diagnostic system to another), trying to learn different therapies and techniques so I can provide adequate treatment in the clinic, make weekly session plans, and prep for upcoming neuropsych assessments that we do throughout the degree. (And this is my ‘mid-year break’ – soon, coursework will start up again.) All these components are pretty much separate. Patients don’t (and shouldn’t have to!) care that you have to do research; the research supervisor doesn’t care that you have to do coursework; the neuropsych supervisor doesn’t care that you’ve had a hard clinical week and don’t feel like writing reports. And exactly zero people care that you also have to work for money. And the admin. Oh, the admin – it never ends, and I’m sure one day it will provide the subject for an absurdist play. So this is where I’m at right now.

I started writing this post a few days ago, but wanted to cool off a bit before submitting it. Now, looking back at it, I have to smile a little, because this really is what I want to be doing, and I do generally prefer to keep busy. But, the point is, there most certainly are bad days, and just because something is done by choice, there shouldn’t be an expectation (often self-imposed) of permanent cheerfulness.

Self-care 9 June, 2013

Posted by Queen of Spades in clinical, life, postgrad.
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So, I’m now almost a full semester into my clinical program, and a few short weeks away from starting the first placement. I’ve learned a lot in the past few months – I’ve picked up knowledge and skills, and I’ve heard plenty of both inspiring and shocking things (which doesn’t mean I feel at all prepared, by the way). What I am coming to learn about providing psychological therapy is that, essentially, its purpose is to get people to do all the things they don’t want to do: face terrible situations they don’t want to face, perform actions that they really don’t want to perform, do things that are really hard and painful.

Because the training program is demanding, we are told to implement as many self-care strategies as we can, now as students, and as future clinicians, to avoid burn-out and damage to our own health (pity these things aren’t built into the program).

So I thought I’d run through some of the things I do for self-care, as a reminder to myself when things get even more full-on, and also for anyone else looking for ideas.

1. Live life.
There’s often a temptation to hole up and shut the world out while you get through study. At some point last year, I noticed that if I held back from social occasions or other fun things I would stay home, possibly mope, most likely procrastinate, whereas if I did go out/have a holiday etc, even though that would leave less time for study, I would be more efficient. So this year I’m doing things outside the course (within reason – as there are some hard limits on my time and energy).

2. Exercise!
I cannot emphasise this enough. I started running 6 months ago and I’m *very* slowly building up to 5km. (In honour of Dr. Isis, I now refer to this as “rundouchery”.) I believe that I finished 4th year with my sanity mostly intact because of exercise. It’s an antidepressant, anxiolytic, analgesic, promotes neurogenesis (= will make you feel good *and* SMRT!), and also can give you a goal to work towards. WIN.

3. Good food.
Get your 5-6 veg + 2 fruit a day and everything will be better, I promise.

4. Be around people.
Family, friends, pets, professionals – whatever your needs are, don’t isolate yourself, as tempting as it may be when you have a mountain of work to conquer. Let people know you’re struggling, and that you need help. Get the help you need, practical, emotional, whatever it may be. Spend whatever time you can afford with the people who make life good.

5. Games and TV.
I am a big fan of games that have defined points where you can leave, e.g. finishing a chamber in Portal or a chapter in a story-driven adventure game. Also TV shows that are interesting but don’t leave you hanging (like Elementary). Sometimes you need to ‘switch off’ for a while, without getting sucked in.

6. Maintain interests outside of study/work.
It’s good to have interests outside of professional ones, however, this I haven’t very good at. I haven’t written, drawn, painted, taken photos, gone bushwalking or caving in a long time – I hope to get back into this sometime soon.

This is what helps me – I’d be happy to hear about what works for other people, when the going gets tough.

Are you conscious? 29 September, 2012

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You know how sometimes it feels like your thoughts are simmering in a big cauldron, that you keep adding ingredients to, until the mixture really starts to bubble and froth, and turns an interesting colour? (Maybe that’s just me.) A few things have recently come together for me, making my thought-mixture very restless.

My research, in a nutshell, has been looking at things that shift controlled, purposeful action to behaviour that is not under executive control. Add to this a good dash of reading (The Neurology of Consciousness, and Saks’ The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat never far from my mind), an elective I’ve been doing this year, which looks at and takes apart the raw processes that construct what we view as completely endogenous, intact and fully-formed thoughts and beliefs, and a pinch of All in the Mind (especially this episode: Are You Conscious?) and you get some serious bubbling action.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the nature of consciousness and choice. If you are completely disengaged withy your surroundings, and on auto-pilot, are you actually conscious? If there are things you can do that make you much more likely to perform certain other behaviours either without wanting to, or without engaging with the outcomes or consequences, what does that mean for the theory of free will? Does personhood exist when behaviour is automatic? Are “we” really more than disparate processes that have somehow been brought together under the guise of cohesion and seamlessness?

In a concrete, every-day sense, these questions don’t matter, I suppose. Life goes on, regardless of whether or not we are actually conscious at every moment; the illusion (if it is, indeed, an illusion) is so pervasive that we live and breathe (and die) in the Matrix. But engaging with these concepts and thought experiments definitely feels unsettling, and I wonder if we’ll ever understand ourselves. If there truly is no “self” to understand though, who is asking the questions?

What I’ve learned this year 17 August, 2012

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Fun: drug stuff, behavioural addictions/compulsions, how to program operant conditioning chambers, that I can write things that get accepted for presentation, multivariate stats (yes – nerdy), seekrit psychology stuff (assessment), and that I am medium-hypnotisable (like 70% of the population).

Not-so-fun: that I actually have to do a conference presentation in the near future, 60+ hour weeks are crap, having to be somewhere every day including public holidays, weekends etc without a break for weeks and without getting paid sucks, that published papers lie about their methods, that results are sometimes really odd, and that, in general, 4th year is brutal.

Random: how to pH stuff, that I really like powder-free gloves and drawing-up needles (perhaps mostly because it’s harder – though not impossible – to hurt myself with these), that male fruit flies are jerks, that research facilities are kind of creepy when you’re the only one working late, that there are bunnies outside said research facility when you’re working late, that brain cupcakes are a thing.

The most important lesson, and a take-home for us all:

Do not drink the blue liquid.

Nicotine Valium Vicodin Marijuana Ecstasy and Alcohol 21 December, 2011

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Next year is the fourth year of my degree, which is part coursework, part research. I recently found out that I’ll be doing the research project in the neuropharmacology lab. At first I was a bit unsure about this, as addiction (the main focus of the neuropharma lab) is not my main area of interest, but then again, I realised it’s all about the brain, which makes it ok in my book (receptors! pathways! downregulation! agonists/antagonists! etc).

The things I’m excited about:

1. Getting a good grasp on brain chemistry and the action of substances of abuse (as well as psychiatric medication).

2. Working in a real lab – with all sorts of instruments and beakers and weird contraptions invented by the people in this centre. And maybe getting to use a mass spectrometer! (What can I say…Abby Sciuto is my geek girl hero.)

3. Being able to wear casual clothes and runners (very different to my job, which has clinical contact!). Shallow, I know, but I like being comfortable.

Exciting! But, at the same time, major changes are afoot in the future of my training/profession, changes that I don’t know a whole lot about yet, but that make me wary. On one hand, there is a (wholly justifiable) push to better regulate the profession, and to require a higher level of qualifications, in line with other countries. On the other, the federal government has recently and dramatically cut the number of sessions available to patients under Medicare (from 18 to 10), which doesn’t comply with evidence-based treatment for a lot of psychological disorders/severity (a good summary here). So on the one hand, lengthier and more stringent training is required, and on the other, you are somewhat thwarted once you finish the training. More changes may be coming up too. Anyway, all I can do is take it one step at a time and hope for the best.

Cultural competence 15 April, 2011

Posted by Queen of Spades in assessment, clinical, culture.
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It’s been a full-on few weeks/months, not leaving me with much time to post, even though I’ve been doing lots of psychology- and neuroscience-related things.

I recently attended some talks on mental health in refugees, people from CALD1 backgrounds, and Indigenous people. Really interesting and important stuff. How appropriate is it to assess someone with these backgrounds using established “mainstream” tools? How do mental illness symptoms manifest themselves differently in different cultures? What are some of the signs to look out for in terms of trauma, torture, domestic violence? And what are the risk factors for developing a mental illness in these populations? These are some of the points raised in the talks, and things I’ve been thinking about lately.

It all comes under the umbrella of culturally-competent practice, which in a nutshell, is not imposing assumptions, and being open to information that may conflict with your beliefs/stereotypes/established norms, etc to be able to treat people from cultural backgrounds different to your own. The main point I took away regarding culturally-competent practice is that it’s not necessarily “how much” you know, but how open you are to receiving information. I would add to this the need to be aware of your own context, and of biases and beliefs that influence you – no one is a blank slate and I think the only way to deal with this is to be mindful of your own position and what you’re bringing to the table.

Here are some points I picked up:

1. Being an immigrant does not inherently boost the risk of developing a mental illness. Pre- and post-migration factors play a big part. Pre-migration factors may be political turmoil in the country of origin, trauma/torture/persecution of yourself or family, having to leave family behind. Post-migration factors include not having a good support network, not being able to find employment, language and cultural barriers to receiving appropriate care, and discrimination.

2. In many cultures, it is perfectly appropriate to have experiences that would normally put you in the “severe, possibly psychotic mental illness” category quite squarely – such as hearing voices. This is quite usual for many Indigenous people, who may hear family members and friends who’ve passed away talking to them.

3. It’s important to look at methods of healing traditionally endorsed by the client’s/patient’s culture. Normally healthcare in Australia stays away (or tries to) from anything to do with spirituality or religion,
but in some cases it would be appropriate to ask a spiritual leader for a prayer, or wearing a holy talisman, having a house blessed, etc.

4. Advocacy is important, especially for people who’ve left family behind – producing supporting documentation to help reunite the family, for example, or that shows that certain types of work are not appropriate, or to help secure disability services as needed.

5. Respect for boundaries is very important, for example choosing age- and gender- appropriate health providers for people from cultures that emphasise a separation of values between such groups.

6. Body language may not always be read correctly. For example, avoiding eye contact may be a way of showing respect. Also, short “yes/no” answers may be a way of avoiding real issues in an attempt to make an assessment/interview/session come to an end quickly, so these are to be avoided. Open-ended questions and plenty of time for answers are best (although it’s frustrating that the health system in general really doesn’t encourage spending a lot of time with each individual).

7. This is really basic but also really important: explaining every procedure, therapy, medication, etc in a way that can be easily understood and making the treatment process collaborative, rather than something being ordered “from above” by an authority figure (which, let’s face it, would make many of the people in the above groups quite uneasy, frightened or non-compliant, and with really good reason – or, on the flipside, some people may comply too easily and not ask enough questions, without fully understanding a procedure). It’s best to have an interpreter or a cultural consultant present, rather than family members (although interpreters can be hard to find with languages that are not common community languages).

These are the things that come to mind – I may add more if I remember other points later.

And some links:

    NSW Multicultural Health Communication Service

    Health information and resources in languages other than English – by language or by topic

    NSW Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors (STARTTS)

    The Australian Indigenous Psychologists Association (AIPA)

______________________________________________________________________________________
1. CALD = culturally and linguistically diverse

World Suicide Prevention Day 2010 10 September, 2010

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Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. The International Association for Suicide Prevention has a lot of good information on suicide and prevention and a list of activities happening throughout the world, including Australia. There’s also a downloadable activity sheet.

The issue of suicide is very personal to me: like many of us, I’ve lost a loved one to suicide.

For WSPD this year I wanted to post some information about suicide and where to get help.

National Crisis Services
Emergency: 000
Lifeline (telephone crisis counselling): 13 11 14
Suicide Callback Service: 1300 659 467

Please see the bottom of this post for state-specific resources and for national information lines.

Risk factors for suicide in Australian youth
Being male, living rurally, being Indigenous, non-heterosexual, having a mood disorder, a history of suicide attempts, substance abuse, stressful or traumatic life events, family problems, family history of suicide, easy access to means of suicide, social disengagement, unemployment.

Suicide Myths
1. Talking about suicide will cause suicide. False: Talking openly about suicide can save a life. Sometimes people don’t want to die, but don’t feel they have a choice.

2. People who threaten to commit suicide won’t do it. False: Threatening to commit suicide is not just attention-seeking. It needs to be taken seriously as a cry for help.

3. After an unsuccessful attempt, the danger has passed. False: The danger period is not over. The person needs to be monitored for at least 90 days.

4. Suicide is an impulsive act. False: Not always – sometimes it’s planned for a long time and/or in detail.

5. “Truly” suicidal people have already made up their mind to die. False: some people don’t want to continue living in their current situation but don’t necessarily want to die. Suicide may be seen as the lesser of two evils.

6. A suicide attempt is not serious and the person is just “seeking attention”. False: Take every suicide attempt seriously.

7. If a previously depressed person suddenly seems happy, relieved or upbeat it means that they feel better. False: sometimes the person may seem “happy” or “content” because they’ve made the decision to take their own life as an option to get out of current pain and suffering. Watch for any sudden swings in mood. Also watch for the person giving away personal belongings and putting affairs in order.

8. Suicide is a cowardly act. False: It’s often a desperate act for people who are overwhelmed by their circumstances, who are sometimes not thinking clearly, and who need help.

National Information Services
Beyondblue Info Line: 1300 224 636
MensLine Australia: 1300 789 978
Australian Psychological Society Referral Line: 1800 333 497
SANE Australia: 1800 187 263
Relationships Australia: 1300 364 277
Carers Australia: 1800 242 636

ACT
Crisis Assessment and Treatment Team: 1800 629 354
Gay and Lesbian Telephone Help, Referral and Outreach Bureau (THROB): (02) 6247 2726

NSW
Suicide Prevention and Support: 1300 133 911
Salvation Army Prevention & Crisis Line: 02 9331 2000 (Metro) and 1300 363 622 (Rural)
Gay and Lesbian Counselling Service of NSW: 1800 184 527 or (02) 8594 9596

NT
Mental Health on Call Team: Top End (08) 8999 4988
Mental Health on Call Team: Central Australia (08) 8951 7777
Gay & Bisexual Mens Line Telephone Service: 1800 181 888

QLD
Salvo Crisis Counselling Service: Metro (07) 3831 9016 & Rural 1300 363 622
Gay and Lesbian Welfare Association: 1 800 184 527 or (07) 3017 1717

SA
Mental Health Assessment and Crisis Intervention Service: 13 14 65
Gay and Lesbian Counselling Service of SA: 1 800 182 233 or (08) 8334 1623

TAS
Mental Health Services Helpline: 1800 332 388
Working It Out: http://www.workingitout.org.au/contact.html

VIC
Mental Health Advice Line: 1300 280 737
SuicideLine: 1300 651 251
Gay and Lesbian Switchboard: 1 800 184 527 or (03) 9827 8544

WA
Mental Health Emergency Response Line (Metro): 1300 555 788
Rural Link (Rural): 1800 552 002
Gay and Lesbian Community Services of Western Australia: 1 800 184 527 or (08) 9420 7201
Samaritans Crisis Line: 1800 198 313

Bite-sized 5 May, 2010

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I’m still around and I have lots of tasty things to blog about, but at the moment I only have the time for Twitter-length posts. I’m halfway through a demanding semester and have been offered a new job, among other things.

The new job I’m quite excited about; it will have a high interaction component with a clinical population, as part of a large treatment trial. I’m also planning to study a related subject next semester, and hopefully the synergy will make the (large) workload more manageable. I’m looking forward to learning more about this particular population.

Here are some of the things I’ve been thinking and reading about lately:

* SSRIs vs placebo in different severities of depression (yes, via “that JAMA article”)
* the relationship between pharma companies and how healthcare is conceptualised, delivered, and researched (Big Pharma, Bad Medicine, an article by Marcia Angell, the ex-editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine)
* the hyperreality of the consumerism-constructed world (via The Last Psychiatrist)
* Gordon, the robot(/chimera) with a biological brain made up of rat neurons (not exactly “news” – two years old, but still fascinating).

Regular blogging will resume once I finish writing the report I’m working on (about self-esteem/body image).

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