Unfiltered Talks: mental health out in the open

Meaningful connections in a digital age

Unfiltered Talks is a series of events founded by Amazing Minds, WeAreASSIF and 0161Marketing ‘in an attempt to Empower, Inspire and Improve direct and indirect sufferers of mental health issues‘.

The Unfiltered Talks banner declares ‘Empower, Inspire, Improve’, and the line up of panellists delivers on this message, but gave so much more.

This event has a distinctive flavour – an openness and honesty that many speaking line ups don’t often allow space for.

Beth Wilshaw from mental health startup WeAreASSIF artfully mixed direct questions from audience members with those submitted through online platform slido.com (this also allows anonymous questions).

The speakers

Each guest took a few minutes to tell their story, each speaking honestly about their lived experiences of mental distress, as well relating this to the suffering of friends and family and wider society.

Emilia Kolbjørnsen – Manchester Girl

AKA @itsAmeliaKoko, Emilia who is a marketing specialist, spoke about her difficult and disjointed childhood growing up in different countries and struggling to find her place in the world.

From her teenage years depression and anxiety followed her around as she moved from one country to another.

Working hard and playing hard took their toll and Emilia took stock of her support network with a ‘friends cleanse’. She says:

Diet is so much more than what you’re eating. It’s what you’re seeing and experiencing, including the people around you.

It was at this point she connected with women’s friendship network Manchester Girl where she now volunteers as community manager.

While Emilia urges others to watch their ‘mental hygiene’ with social media, she’s also keen to point out the abundance of opportunities our online connections can bring in terms of friendship and community.

You can hear Emilia speaking to Bilal Jogi in the latest edition of the Amazing Minds podcast.

Bilal Jogi – Amazing Minds

Bilal (@iambilaljogi) talked with welcome openness about his history of panic attacks and anxiety. He’s researched a wide range of drug-free approaches to managing his condition, including vitamin and mineral supplements which he feels have helped him a lot.

It’s taken time for Bilal to find the things that help his anxiety and he’s put much time and effort into understanding the thought processes that underpin his panic attacks.

He warns others not to use online advice to self-diagnose by searching for answers online:

People want quick answers – it’s a huge problem because people google symptoms, but we’re vulnerable. Don’t do it. Be careful what you read and listen to.

Omar Latif

Omar is about to launch WeAreASSIF a new platform which empowers people to manage their own mental wellbeing by engaging with artificial intelligence (AI) tools and innovative approaches to content delivery.

I had heard Omar speak before about the loss of a very close friend to suicide. This time expanded on the impact of this experience, readily expressing the negative effect these events had had on his mental health.

WeAreASSIF is at a very exciting point as the app prepares for launch later this year. Although social media is a vital part of product promotion, Omar worries about the effect it’s having on our minds:

It’s scary how the need for [social media] validation changes us. It can be a ‘bad garden path’ to poor mental health. These apps are keeping people hooked – delete and unfollow!

A very healthy evening

Unfiltered Talks had a very different feel to many evening speaking events. By keeping speaker introductions brief there was lots of time and space for questions and chat.

The size and intimacy of the venue were just right and comments from the audience were welcomed and responded to, the atmosphere was more friendly debate than straight content delivery from the speakers.

I certainly came away feeling uplifted and I’m very much looking forward to the next Unfiltered Talks event.

Photographs courtesy of Unfiltered Talks / Amazing Minds.

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.