Thursday, 30 January 2014

Black Cat Project

In July last year I posted about self-harm in Powys, and linked to the blog posts of Black Star on the TOWIP website (The Only Website in Powys) which is where young people in the county get to write about issues important to them. Black Star writes powerfully about child abuse, eating disorders and emotional distress. This week I found out that she is setting up a new project focussing on mental health and young people, and working in conjunction with a nationwide project called Fixers. Appropriately for Black Star it is called the Black Cat project.

Black Star writes: “I have decided to go into the colleges (and hopefully schools too) in Powys to educate young people about mental health, promoting good mental health, help young people recognise the signs of mental health and encourage them to speak up about it.”

It’s great to hear of the new project. We know from calls to our Information Line that there is a real need for more information to be widely available for young people, especially those in severe emotional distress. We signpost people to the Samaritans, Kooth and other support organisations – but how much better would it be if they knew who they could ask for help before things got really bad?

I didn’t know much about The Fixers project, so I checked it out online. It was launched in 2008 by the Public Service Broadcasting Trust. Young people (aged 16 – 25) receive professional support to develop ideas they are passionate about such as issues that have impacted on their own lives. They are helped to set up websites, make videos, or produce promotional material. In return they have to show that they have made a difference to at least one other person.

The social issues which are explored include bullying, child abuse, alcohol and drug use, prejudices and environmental concerns and the videos can be hard-hitting. But they work. They capture the attention, not just of other young people who check out the website, but of wider audiences, as some are featured on the ITV news slot reaching out to over 5 million viewers. In 2012 the award-winning project was expanded across the UK with a grant of £7.2 million from the Big Lottery Fund.

Some “fixers” have gone on to start their own charities and set up websites including Imogen Smith from Bristol, who has produced the Self Harm Organisation website. She says: “while there are support networks out there, a lot of the time young people simply don’t know who to turn to. Self-harming makes you feel very lonely, very isolated, and very different to anybody else. Through a website, I hope to offer support to young people throughout the country who want to seek help to deal with their situation. Also the site will give parents, teachers, and other people advice on how to spot self-harm signs, and how to deal with them.”

So keep your eye out for Fixers on the telly, and Black Star – if you’re reading this, let us know how it goes!

I’ll let Black Star sign off with a question which I found on her Black Cat Project Facebook page (love the emoticon!):

What mental health workshops would you like to participate in? One idea at the moment is a workshop on Psychosis. Any ideas?

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Man to Man - let's talk

Mike Buckley, who lives in Radnorshire, tells us more about the mens’ group which he organises which meets monthly in Llandrindod Wells.

Why did you decide to start the Man to Man group?
Men tend to find it more difficult to talk about the issues which they encounter in life. The group was formed to provide a place where men can be themselves fully without fear of being judged and to discuss things like anxiety, shame, self worth as well as happiness and joy.

What has been the response to the meetings so far?

Only a few people attend so far and I think it will grow by word of mouth. Those that have come to the first three meetings have responded in a really heartfelt way. One person went away after a meeting and wrote a piece describing an encounter in his past, which we then discussed at the next meeting.

Who can join the group?
Any males over 18. Anyone who wants to drop in. There is no course as such so someone can join at any stage.

When is your next meeting?
Our next meeting is on Thursday 30th January from 7.00 to 8.30 at The Court, Lant Avenue, Llandrindod Wells, LD1 5HY.

Tell us a bit about what will happen at the meeting
At this meeting there will be two ten minute periods of sitting in silence with guidance. The topic for the evening is identity. We will explore who we think we are and from where we derive our sense of identity. This will include looking at areas where our sense of self comes under question and how that makes us feel.

What plans do you have for future meetings?
The January meeting is the beginning place for a discussion which will span the next few meetings. We will go on to look at the viewpoint from which we look out at life and discuss how we come to hold our opinions and attitudes. We could for example look at what happens in an argument where two people disagree about any given thing. The group will be asked to consider whether the story about who 'I' am is completely related to the past and to a life story, and what happens to this 'I' in the present moment.

The value of all this will hopefully be felt when the discussion spills into the sense of self-worth, which is a topic we have already heard in the group. It is central to how a person feels about themselves and most people doubt their value to some degree or other.

At the next meeting we will also listen to about 10 minutes of a talk by Eckhart Tolle which neatly addresses the above points.

If people want to find out more, who can they contact?
People can call me on 07866 497 604.

Thanks Mike, for telling us more about the group. If you have ever been along to a men's group either in Powys or elsewhere, let us know your experiences.

Look out for dates of future meetings on our website here.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

It's the inside that matters

by Jane Cooke, DIY Futures Project Manager

That’s a truth that many of us recognise – it’s not how we look but how we feel, what we feel strongly about, what hurts or has hurt us, what has shaped us, what brings us joy that matters. That is one of the essential messages of our beautiful book. We were struggling to find a title, going over many suggestions, some of us liked one, some another, but when one of the contributors to the book said, “After all it’s the inside that matters” we all realised immediately that this was the title we had been searching for.

The book launch at the DIY Futures Celebration October 2013
This is a book of thirteen accounts of life, whatever aspect of life that the contributor wanted to talk about.

We also ran, through Celf o Gwmpas, a series of ‘visual poetry’ workshops. Through these workshops, led by Sean Burn, an outsider artist with a growing international reputation, we achieved some moving work which, through layered and intriguing images reflects the experiences and feelings of the artist.

Jane promotes the book at the Powys Mental Health Alliance AGM 

How to get free copies of the book!

Thanks to the Big Lottery Fund, the books can be freely given away – but they do have a job to do – we want the books to help us challenge the stigma and discrimination that is so often faced by people who receive mental health services, willingly or not, and/or who experience emotional distress. Sometimes those negative and disturbing ideas about dangerousness, unpredictability, strangeness or other views are held internally about ourselves – none of us lives in a bubble isolated from media comments and sensationalised reporting. The stories show how life is, what has been experienced and endured, how circumstances and life affect us.

You or your group can receive free copies of the book – provided that you use it to help challenge the stigma experienced by people who use mental health services or who experience emotional distress. One way that you could do that is to invite people to meet together, look through the book and individually choose one story to read. And then discuss the stories and how you felt reading them. Then talk about what you might do as individuals or as a group to help challenge stigma.

Get in touch to say that you are interested and we will send you some books and some paperwork – nothing too demanding – we just need to know numbers of people taking part, some comments, quotes, reactions and any actions people or groups will be taking as a result. Actions can vary from talking to family and friends to thinking about the meaning and impact of using words like ‘nutter’ or ‘mental’, deciding to follow relevant blogs or twitter accounts, asking if where you work is a ‘mindful employer’, getting some leaflets for your workplace or club, church group etc. You might want to suggest getting a speaker to come and talk to your group or club, or seeing if, for example, your sporting association is tackling stigma in mental health. (Read this BBC blog about mental health and sport). There is plenty you can do and we can help with suggestions.

Contact us by emailing: or

Or by ringing 01597 822191 or 01686 628300 or...  leave a comment below. 

You can watch a video of the book launch here, and a video of Marion Aslan speaking at the same event here.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Top mental health blogs 2013

First off - a Happy New Year to all our readers! We've really enjoyed blogging through 2013, and are always thrilled when people comment and engage with the debate or give us more information or even disagree with us! So, please keep reading and telling us what you think.

Last year I posted the top blogs of 2012 according to The World of the Mentalists (TWIM) online mental health magazine. Well, TWIM has now changed its name to
Mentally Wealthy, but the awards continue. There do seem to be some new categories though, and the first "vlog" or video blog  features too. As it proved a popular post last year, it seemed only right to start 2014 with links to some of the best blogs out there.

So, here is a list of the winners and their corresponding categories:
You can read more on Mentally Wealthy about why these particular blogs won. What do you think? Do you have favourite blogs you'd like to tell us about? Are you writing one of your own? Let us know.

As always, some of our favourite blogs are listed in the right hand column of this blog.

Happy reading!