You must be Barking (Tales)

Picture courtesy of Harriet Dyer / Barking Comedy

I’m not quite sure when I came across stand-up comedian Harriet Dyer, but I think it was nearly five years ago at the Addictive Comedy night (alas no more) at Nexus Art Cafe in Manchester.

Harriet spoke candidly but hilariously about her history of mental illness and addiction to alcohol. Sometimes it’s the darkest material that can bring a sense of connection with the audience.

Strangely, the very next day it turned out I was in the same train carriage as Harriet and I took the liberty of introducing myself. We had a good old gossip and found out we have lots in common.

She told me about the monthly comedy night she’d set up called Barking Tales and how it was a haven for the socially awkward – including herself!

The rise and rise of Harriet Dyer

I continued to follow Harriet’s progress, mostly from a distance as I like going to bed quite early. I saw her appear on BBC Ouch, and rack up a series of Edinburgh shows and start to get recognition for her work.

Most recently, Barking Tales won a City Life award for Best Comedy Night in Manchester. When I read a BBC piece about Harriet’s work I decided it was finally time that I postponed bedtime and got down to the gig.

Light, sound and giggles all round

There are several things that makes Barking Tales more inclusive than most comedy nights. Doors open at 7pm and the show finishes around half past ten. There’s no ticket price but you are asked to ‘pay as you feel’ on the way out.

I arrive just as the show is kicking off. I am delighted to see that there is full, but not too full house for the three acts due on that night.

The place feels instantly welcoming and I take a seat towards the back. I am sitting next to Vanessa and Geoff who have clocked I’m taking notes. I tell them I have a mental health blog and they become my gig buddies.

As Harriet takes to the stage she’s at pains to make sure the audience are comfortable. Nothing’s too much trouble. The lights are adjusted at the request of a couple of punters and the sound levels are also sensitively altered during the evening.

The line-up…

First up is Scott Gibson who is preparing for his Edinburgh show. A straight-talking Glaswegian, Scott references his own dark moments before launching into a routine that can only be described as going from self-deprecating to self-defecating.

Lindsey Davies lives locally in Leigh but is recovering from a panic attack on the way back from a trip to Amsterdam. She talks about her anxiety disorder before riffing on her son’s ADHD, being a ‘Grandma’ at 42 and getting back in the dating game only to be branded a ‘cougar’.

Steve Harris quips about childhood Tourettes and losing weight as an adult. He lunges from harsh 1970s parenting to strange incidents in the gym. Steve plays the guitar (a bit) and his style reminds me of Graham Fellowes creation John Shuttleworth (in a good way).

Can I go to Barking Tales?

Barking Tales comedy night logo.

You totally should. I went on my own on a Wednesday evening in central Manchester and had a lovely time.

Yes, you can. The best place to find out information is on the Barking Tales Facebook Page or by following Harriet Dyer on Twitter.

You can also find more Harriet Dyer goodness on her regular podcast Don’t Worry, Bi (Polar) Happy on Podbean, Stitcher or Apple iTunes.

Psst…

Harriet did this rather stunning interview with comedian Sofie Hagen on her Made Of Human podcast. Harriet talks about her mental health history and how Barking Tales is an open space for people who are different. There are trigger warnings.

Pint of Science: Breaking the stigma

What is Pint of Science?

Pint of Science is an annual festival of scientific research mostly held in relaxed environments like bars and cafes.

Over three days each May, events take place all over the world. In Manchester a range of venues across the city host presentations from three academic researchers.

Academics share their research with members of the public and invite questions about their work. There is also a fun sciencey quiz with the chance to win a Pint of Science t-shirt or pint glass!

What did I learn?

At Monday’s session held at Didsbury Sports Ground in Manchester, there were three speakers whose research was showcased under the title: Breaking the stigma: discussing the taboos of society

Professor Jonathan Green – How can we help with autistic spectrum disorders?

Jonathan is, among other long titles, Professor of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry in the University of Manchester. He spoke about an area of his work called ‘Pre-school autism communication therapy’ (PACT)

This intervention worked directly with the parents of very young autistic children. The parents were given therapeutic advice on how they could more fruitfully interact with their children.

This research showed a long term benefit for the children, long after the therapeutic work had finished, with a positive impact seen ten years on.

Dr Pauline Turnbull – Beyond suicide prevention: research that saves lives

Suicide awareness has improved hugely in the past few years, but any life lost is one too many. Suicide places a huge burden on individuals and society with 6,000 people taking their lives in the UK every year.

Pauline spoke about the work she and the team at the National Confidential Inquiry into Suicide and Safety in Mental Health (NCISH) at the University of Manchester.

Large scale research projects have allowed the team to identify ten key areas in which suicide prevention measure could be improved in hospitals and the community. See the diagram below.

NCISH -  10 key elements for safer care for patients.

You can read more about these on the NCISH website.

Dr Dawn Edge – The Schizophrenia ‘epidemic’ among people of African and Caribbean descent

Dawn Edge is academic lead for Equality Diversity & Inclusion at Manchester University and senior lecturer in their Division of Psychology & Mental Health in the School of Health Sciences.

Dawn spoke about her research looking a the prevalence of schizophrenia among people of African and Caribbean descent in the UK and how treatments could be made more relevant to this particular group.

She introduced a research project called Culturally-Adapted Family Intervention Study (CaFI). This work led to the development of a family intervention for African and Caribbean people diagnosed with psychosis and their families.

Importantly, service users who access mental health support were placed at the heart of the research process.

I had heard Dawn and CaFI research participants talks about this work at the ‘Ladder of Co-production’ at Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Trust (during Mental Health Awareness Week) and could see the pride the participants took from their involvement in the project.

Hear more from the research team and ‘experts by experience’ in this film.

Thank you Pint of Science #pint19

Another great night of science for the public. See @pintofscience #pint19 for tweets.

Mental Health Awareness Week 2019

I’ve not written a proper blog on here for a while but I’ve been involved with some pretty cool stuff during Mental Health Awareness Week, so I’m jotting down a few notes here.

Monday: Tech Manchester Wellness Festival

This was my first visit to UK Fast Campus for this event focusing on managing the stresses of leadership in the tech industry.

As well as talks on everything from resilience to personality profiling there were yoga and meditation sessions on offer.

The great selection of healthy snacks and drinks was very welcome, especially as many events neglect this aspect of attendee wellbeing.

Thank you Tech Manchester.

Wednesday: WP&P Podcast Recording

I’ve recently become part of an online community called WP&UP. It’s a charity which supports people who use WordPress for business, many of these people work independently without a broader professional support network.

As part of my Care Labels For Humans project research I’ve been looking at the features of a range of mental health and well-being apps and I was invited onto the WP&UP podcast Press Forward to talk about my findings.

I’ll post more when the podcast goes live.

Thursday: Access All Areas at the BBC

This event is the BBC’s contribution to Global Accessibility Awareness Day. When we think of accessibility, we tend to focus on differences in mobility and sensory experience.

Accessibility also has everything to do with mental health and meeting the needs of people who think, feel or communicate differently.

It was really positive day and I really enjoyed hearing how experts by experience are increasingly visible in the accessibility world. You can read, hear or watch event highlights on the BBC website.

Friday: Mental Health & Co-production

To round this busy week off, I went to a one day event at The Curve in Prestwich. This is the home of Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Trust including a number of research teams.

There has been a genuine drive by the trust to put patients at the heart of research and service design by including ‘service users’ in these processes in a way that allows their knowledge and lived experience to be used to improve services. This is part of what’s called ‘co-production’.

It was interesting to hear from a number of researchers and their collaborators. I was particularly touched by the work done Dr Sophie Walker and a number of service users, represented by one of the group, Anton.

Patients were involved at every stage of the research which focused on early intervention for young people experiencing psychosis. Working creatively, and using visual arts, it was possible to authentically express the wishes of the participants.

I also demo-ed the virtual reality (VR) gameChange prototype which helps people with psychosis to reduce their anxiety about interactions outside the home by providing a scenarios such as getting on a bus or visiting a cafe.

You can read more about this research on the Psychosis Research Unit website.

Move over Care Labels…

I have neglected this blog.

But it’s OK. We’ve had a chat and we both agree that maybe having some time out was best for both of us. The blog has been most forgiving.

There are rules though.

  1. This blog will now be the home of reviews and comments about mood, mental health and wellbeing apps and related online and offline services.
  2. Care Labels For Humans now has to exist on its own website and mostly not be mentioned on here.
  3. Rules 1 and 2 can be broken.

With a renewed focus on the future of this blog I have selected just a few of my favourite entries to give a taste of what once was.

My hope is that by pruning back the old I will be leaving space for new shoots to grow.

Onwards!

Street art tour in Manchester’s fashionable Northern Quarter

hayley-portrait
Hayley Flynn aka Skyliner

Manchester is brimming with street art and the Northern Quarter, playground of the hip crowd, has probably attracted more than any part of the city.

I took a walking tour with award-winning local expert Hayley Flynn AKA Skyliner. I learned more about the street art I had seen and was guided to pieces I would have missed on my own.

Hayley’s knowledge of the history of the Northern Quarter was extensive, giving us background on each artist and work.

Delivered with great humour and a true passion for our burgeoning city of Manchester.

Look up!

These days we can find our tendency to look down at our phones means that we miss the beauty and spectacle in our own surrounding. So, using my  mobile purely for its camera function I set off on a mini adventure.

I’m not going to give a blow by blow account of the tour or tell you where you can find the art – you really should try Hayley’s tour  yourself.

Below is selection of my snaps from the tour. Find out more at Skyliner.org

 

Mood Nudges: The Science Bit

bookcover

I’d like to give a massive thanks to everyone who attended my workshop on ‘Mood Nudges’ as part of Manchester Girl Geeks (MGG) event for Geek Mental Help Week.

I’ve written about the workshop in more detail on the MGG website, where we used exercises from Jon Cousins’ Nudge Your Way to Happiness: The 30 Day Workbook for a Happier You to generate simple mood-boosting ideas.

You can read more about what we did in the workshop here.

The Science Bit

At the end of the workshop I alluded to some recent research Jon that suggested the Mood Nudges 30 day programme made a real difference to those who completed the workbook.

Jon has given me a sneak preview of the findings which are outlined below:

“We set out to understand whether using the book Nudge Your Way To Happiness can help people who are clinically depressed.

If we measured their depression with a test that doctors use, before and after working their way through the book (which takes 30 days) would we see a difference?

The test we used, called the PHQ-9 – the 9-item Patient Health Questionnaire) – produces a score between 0 and 27, with 0 meaning no depression, and 27 representing the most severe depression possible.

The score range is divided into five bands that, apart from the highest division, are drawn at five-point intervals.

Healthcare professionals use the PHQ-9 to help decide, in part, what treatment – such as antidepressants or psychotherapy / counselling might best help a patient.

They also ask patients to complete the test as one way of determining whether or not a chosen treatment is working.

When the PHQ-9 is used to measure progress, the rule of thumb is that a reduction in score of 5 points or more over a period of 4-6 weeks means the current treatment regime is working, and should therefore be continued.

We asked 51 people to use the book for 30 days, completing the PHQ-9 before they started, and again when they’d finished.

The participants were a randomly chosen subset of readers of the Moodnudges blog who weren’t pre-selected on the basis of being depressed, so the sample included a range of individuals from those who had only the most minimal depression to others who were experiencing moderately severe depression.

detailed-crop
Click for bigger version

The results, which can be seen in graph form, show two important findings:1. Across the board, the average reduction in PHQ-9 score over 30 days was 5.3, suggesting that using Nudge Your Way to Happiness can be as clinically effective as antidepressants or psychotherapy.

2. The greatest reductions in score were seen in those who were most depressed to start with. On average these participants’ scores fell from a level definitely placing them in the Moderately Severe category to one at the very lowest end of the Moderate division: only a whisker away from being labelled Mild.

Future work could involve working with a larger sample, and structuring the study as a randomized controlled trial. But these early results do seem promising.”

Resources

Find out what we did at the Mood Nudges workshop for Geek Mental Help Week hosted by Manchester Girl Geeks.

Mood Nudges website and daily blog: http://moodnudges.com/

Moodscope (free and paid options): https://www.moodscope.com/

Geek Mental Help website

Geek Mental Help on Twitter

Thanks to Mark Brown aka @markoneinfour and my brother Ellis for helping me develop the workshop format.

“Cheer up love… it might never happen!”

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A collage of my mother’s many psychedelic photographs

“Cheer up love… it might never happen!” is a common cat-call a woman might be subjected to (almost always by a man) should she fail to wear an agreeable facial expression when out of doors.

Vagenda magazine does a pretty good job of explaining just how annoying this is, and I hated it so much I (ironically) named my blog after it.

I’m not always cheery, I have what I consider to be a fairly normal range of emotions, but I reserve the right not to be cheerful on demand.

While it might be true that many things we ruminate on allow our anxiety to grow out of all proportion, there are times where we are dealing with something grave. Something painful or difficult and inevitable – specifically something bad that will happen – but in its own way that’s ok too.

Life’s not fair!

carol-coventry-dark
Carol Ann Breen: 1st June 1947 – 22nd June 2016

My mum, Carol Breen,  passed away on 22nd June this year. She waited until we’d broken our round-the-clock vigil to finally ‘do one’. She’d also managed it through the longest day of the year, the summer solstice, though I don’t imagine that she was aware of that fact at the time.

One of the statements my mum used to come out with, far too often for my comfort, was “Life’s not fair”. I was not brought up with an expectation that life is or should be fair, which at times I found rather sad.

Cancer confidential

Around a year ago mum was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Even before a full prognosis had been delivered, she was acutely aware of the fact she might have only a short time left.

She was deeply private about her diagnosis and prognosis, and like most things in life chose to deal with the details alone.

In early days of her illness, we had hope. We researched different treatments and looked for hospitals with expertise in treating this difficult to treat cancer.

Chemo and hoping for a ‘cure’

zoe-mum
In Eaton Park with mum, spring 2016

Mum started chemo last November, it had a terrible effect her causing severe nausea and weight loss – she used to boast about how she now weighed less than me!

In January, mum decided to try some experimental surgery. The site of her tumour was such that conventional surgery was not ‘viable’, but this treatment may have reduced the size of the growth that it would buy mum valuable months or even years.

Soon after the operation it became apparent that in mum’s case it had not been successful. This is something that we accepted as part and parcel of a treatment that was in its infancy and not extensively tried and tested.

Watching the days go by

From February this year, mum’s health took a nosedive. Fortunately my brother, Ellis, had been able to take some time out to be there for her in her own home – for this I am truly grateful to him.

She was too sick to continue with chemo and pain relief took over as the main focus of managing the effects of the cancer. She was taken into a hospice to have this stabilised but was glad to be back in her own home three weeks later.

The following weeks seemed to take on a timescale of their own…

The slowness of watching a woman holding on to life, contrasted with the rapidly revolving door carrying, doctors, nurses, carers, friends and neighbours into the home.

Beauty beyond the body

boatshed
At the boatyard for Norfolk & Norwich Open Studios

One thing we were adamant that mum would do before she passed away was to visit her exhibition which was part of Norwich & Norfolk Open Studios (along with fellow artists Denise Wingrove and Joan Sandford-Cook).

Ellis and I couldn’t persuade her to go to the opening weekend. Despite this Denise and Joan sold over £150 of mum’s jewellery and photographs.

The next weekend we took an uncompromising approach – we told mum she HAD TO get ready for the exhibition. Our usually stubborn mother allowed herself to be cajoled into the trip.

We are thankful for the help of friends Carole and Bruce and their delightful doggies Lulu and Leo in making this happen.

In the following weeks, mum began to let go as her health deteriorated. I consider myself very lucky to have spent time with her as she edged closer to death. Within three weeks she had passed away.

Carol Breen – a lasting legacy

Mum's photos (left) with Denise's collages (right)
Mum’s photos (left) with Denise’s collages (right)

We were pleased that so many of mum’s friends could come to celebrate her life in they was she would’ve wish – with wine, art, flowers and laughs.

Her digital photography was really something. You can view much of her wonderful work on Flickr – but she was also a talented silversmith, potter and sculptor.

She was also huge reader and we made sure that her precious collection of art books were given to artist friends in return for donations to two local charities.

The last word…

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With the funky gold Buddhist hearse we booked for mum (left to right) Ellis, Karen, Zoe and Linda.

I miss my mother terribly, even the times when she told me that life wasn’t fair!

I hope that I have inherited some of her creativity and resourcefulness, and I am blessed that I will soon be able to decorate my own home with  many of her artworks.

Thanks to everyone who cared about and for Carol, I’m not going to name names because you know who you are.

And. To anyone, anywhere who utters the words “Cheer up love, it might never happen!” to a woman going about her own business, I’d like to extend a swiftly delivered two fingers on behalf of my mother!