Tag Archives: mental health

My love affair with singing

I’d love to be able to say that my mum and dad met through singing in a choir together. The latter is true – they both sang with the Liverpool Welsh Choral Union (where my Mum would apparently swoon over principal conductor Sir Malcolm Sargent) but they knew each other before that.

A lasting memory is of my mum’s enthusiasm for Wednesday nights when us kids were put to bed by my dad and she went off to choir rehearsal. ‘Me time’ was how she described it and she always said that having one night a week to sing in the choir saved her sanity as a mother with four children!

‘Getting away from the kids’ was just one of a range of benefits given by choir members at Royston Choral Society when asked why they liked to sing in the choir (apart from enjoying music and singing). Other reasons given were ‘unwinding after a busy day’, ‘mixing with like-minded people in a friendly environment’, ‘de-stressing’ and ‘the drink in the pub afterwards’. I personally think the buzz when all the parts of the choir come together in harmony is pretty unbeatable.

My love of singing probably has a lot to do with my upbringing. Not only did my parents sing, but my three elder sisters used to perform in the folk clubs on Merseyside. We were also fed a diet of Jacqui and Bridie and The Spinners alongside Flanders and Swan. My own association with folk clubs is more for listening than performing; fortnightly I enjoy incredibly talented acts at the Royston Folk Club – there’s something about live music…

I sang in the school choir up to the age of 18 (we had a top tenor at our school so we ended up doing pretty advanced stuff, including St Matthew Passion) which makes it all the more surprising that I didn’t join the Royston Choral Society until 2000 – more than 25 years after leaving school.

I actually took it up during two decades when I was living with mental ill health. It’s well known that singing can lift the spirits, but it was more complicated than that. I had a fixture in my week – a bit like my mum’s ‘me-time’ – and I was surrounded by people who didn’t know what was going on in my head, so I had to act ‘normally’ – no sympathy, but plenty of support.

That original therapeutic reason for singing in a choir is, I’m happy to say, no longer necessary (or maybe it’s singing that’s keeping the ‘black dog’ at bay?) but I’ve stayed with the choir and, apart from one sabbatical term off, I’ve been a member for close to 20 years. I reckon that’s something to sing about!

For other blog posts in the ‘My love affair with…’ series, go to https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/category/my-love-affair-with

With business in mind

When people are motivated to set up a business because of something very personal to them, the impact on the development of that business can be good and bad. It’s about balancing head and heart issues – how to harness that lived experience to drive business success while remaining objective enough to make hard commercial decisions.

For Jon Manning, founder of Arthur Ellis Mental Health Support (AEMHS), the motivation behind his business start-up could not be more personal and powerful; diagnosis of bi-polar disorder two years ago, aged 27, after first being hospitalised when six years old. The creation of the business is, Jon admits, as much about his own route to better health as helping others with their mental ill-health.

I’d been through all the NHS services but couldn’t get a lot of support. Different diagnoses at different stages meant different places to go and new waiting lists to join – I was getting fed up.  After the bi-polar diagnosis, I went to talks to learn about my disorder, but it didn’t help and I felt others in the room wouldn’t be able to help me either. So I thought I’d come up with new training; sharing clinical techniques for ‘normal people’ to learn how to help their unwell colleagues quickly, without having to wait.”

Jon is clearly frustrated about the time it takes to get through the mental health system – up to two years from initial GP referral to diagnosis. Average diagnosis of bipolar disorder, due to its complexities, he says, is 13 years; one explanation of a rise in suicide rates.  Which is why Jon set up Arthur Ellis Mental Health Support – named after his two grandfathers one of whom, Ellis, had bi-polar disorder and schizophrenia, spending 30 years in hospital.

Luckily the development of Jon’s business has been spectacularly fast compared with the workings of the NHS. “Our first year’s income was achieved in the first four months, meaning I could bring in a team of ten clinicians – psychologists and health practitioners – to do the training.”

After the first year, 8 Award Nominations and 2 business awards followed bringing support from major companies and the ability to increase his professional fees from £200 a session to £1,000 a day. A new annual package for businesses means turnover is expected to be £300,000 in just the second year.

As if that isn’t likely to keep Jon busy enough, he has set up a schools service alongside the business – a not-for-profit arm to develop a programme of support for the 75% of children who are rejected for mental health support. Schools can refer students directly to AEMHS for a course of treatment (involving their parents) to try to keep them out of the health service system.

Keep it simple

Of course the development of the business has been nowhere near as smooth as the story this far may sound; like most entrepreneurs, Jon has to learn some hard lessons. Keep it simple is his top tip…

If you do just one thing but do it really well, you can profit from that. You don’t necessarily have to start with a huge range of products or services. Focus on one thing at a time, once you’ve aced one, you can add another. I started out with 16 services – all the things I wanted to do. I took advice and reduced the list to 11, but was then advised even that was too much. Now I’m focusing on two – training workshops and an online coaching platform.”

Getting started with the workshops wasn’t all plain sailing either. “No one wanted to do them at first” admits Jon. “I thought about what medical conditions had most impact on people – treatment for anxiety and depression are top of the list – so I developed exercises and imagery to simulate those conditions.”

Feedback – good and bad – on those re-focused workshops was important for adapting and improving the offer. Invitations to a free event won some paid business, which meant Jon could afford to recruit mental health practitioners to develop new workshops. The annual package of quarterly workshops – on anxiety, depression, trauma and enduring illnesses – was born, including clinicians proactively reporting on issues each month to help tackle anything before is has a business impact.

Know your purpose

Jon’s stresses the importance of understanding the purpose of any new business – not just what you’re doing but, why you want to do it. For him it’s about doing a good job and working on something that’s worthwhile. Communicating this is also important. “If your purpose is clear to everyone you work with, that will pay off. People need to buy into you – what you’re doing and why – that’s the way to get clients.”

Letting go

As well as balancing head and heart, another issue for people with a deeply personal motivation for starting a business is being able to let go – trusting others to help run the business when it becomes too much for one person. Jon agrees…

“It’s hard, but if you have specific strengths in one area, you need to see the specific strengths in other people. If you bring in people who are better than you [trained and with more relevant experience – for example, clinical staff] delegation is easier because they’ll do a much better job.”

Because ‘people buy people’ – which is certainly the case at the start-up stage – bringing in other staff can be an issue, but Jon believes this is about being open and managing client expectations. This relates to another of Jon’s guiding principles – honestly – particularly if things go wrong…

 “I’ve told clients exactly what’s happened when things didn’t go as planned. I’d rather put work back a month than rush it. I’m sometimes guilty of over-sharing, but I believe honesty can really help build your reputation, as can asking your clients for advice – they appreciate being consulted; they like to help.”

Thinking long term

“The big question is… do you want to do something for now, or create a business? For a business to succeed, you need a long term view – a vision – and you need long term agreements, long term clients, and long term goals. Solving a minor problem is probably not the basis for a sustainable business. If you’re tackling a bigger problem [like mental health and wellbeing at work] it’s about chipping away and coming up with long term solutions.”

Which brings us back to the ‘why’ of the business you’re starting. For Jon Manning, that purpose became increasingly clear through dissatisfaction with his previous employment. “I realised the work I was doing was good money and quite flexible, but it was menial and without purpose – I needed to help myself.” A year later, Jon is sure he made the right move. “I haven’t had a salary for the past 12 months so I’ve left all that life behind, but I feel a lot better now than I’ve ever been.”

Further information about Arthur Ellis Mental Health Servicehttps://arthurellismhs.com

Jon is based at the NatWest Accelerator Hub in Milton Keynes, https://www.business.natwest.com/business/business-banking/services/entrepreneur-accelerator.html#hubs

Changing mindsets

Profiling a Prince’s Trust – supported entrepreneur

That her new app to help young people build essential mindset skills has been successfully launched is, says creator Elise Williams, a testimony to the power of the tools she shares through the app.  She explains how she faced lots of challenges, with all the self-doubt that comes from spending money on developing an unproven resource. But she’s come through it in one piece by tapping into many of the mental strength developing skills she advocates!

Elise describes her app – Make Your Mind Up – as “Everything you wish you knew but weren’t taught at school – resilience, motivation, focus, confidence, stress control – tools for building a positive mindset and mental strength.” The evidence-based videos and tools are informed by research from many disciplines including sports psychology, mindfulness and neuroscience.

Elise’s commitment to developing the app reflects her own personal experience after leaving school and university. “I came out and stepped into the big wide world and, very quickly, I realised how unprepared I was for coping with the stress of even small things. Speaking to friends I realised I wasn’t alone – which was reassuring – we’d all gone through 18 years of education but still felt unprepared without a foundation of essential skills.”

For Elise, an important element is that the app provides an urgent solution – to help users get through a challenge. She describes Make Your Mind Up as “a pocket mentoravailable when people most need it” The plan is to spread understanding of the tools and mindset thinking through workshops with schools, teachers and parent groups; schools are invited to get in touch about trialling the materials for free. A growing Facebook community also offers valuable peer-to-peer support to users and is a useful source of feedback on content and ideas for new resources.

Despite their value in emergency situations, Elise stresses the need for regular use of the mindset tools. “There’s a danger you don’t keep the tools in your kit sharpened – it can help prevent serious development of unhealthy responses if you practice and keep your skills updated. It’s all about building up healthy habits – reminding yourself, for example, why you might be having negative thoughts.”

 As someone who knew little about app development when she started out, Elise had some useful insights for other would-be app creators. For her, finding the right developer, which wasn’t easy, is top of the list. “It took maybe six months, and I think some providers took advantage of my inexperience. When I finally found the right people I could see they really understood the concept, and they were parents of children in my target market which helped! Meeting face-to-face at the start was really important to assess whether they were genuinely interested in helping to make my idea a reality.”

As with many other businesses buying-in professional services, assessing financial estimates from would-be providers is not easy. Again, Elise took the common-sense approach. “I went to as many people as possible and got lots of quotes which I assessed against each specification for the work involved. In the end it was a matter of balancing what was on offer with what I needed and, ultimately, what I could afford. Elise urges patience in finding the right person “It’s important you don’t feel pressured into going with the first quote you get.”

Wider business lessons Elise has learnt along the way include “Not putting a ridiculous amount of pressure on yourself to make things happen instantly; they’re not going to. Trust the process – Rome wasn’t built in a day!” That said, Elise does advise others to have confidence in their ability – to be assertive with suppliers from the start, and keeping them to deadlines. Advance research can help entrepreneurs speak with more authority and Elise looked at lots of other apps (on a range of topics) to decide what feel and functionality she wanted for her own.

Which all sounds like appropriately good advice from someone who has just launched a practical advice-giving app to help us cope with whatever life throws at us.

For more about the Make Your Mind Up app go to www.makeyourmindup.co.uk, join the Facebook community at https://www.facebook.com/groups/283258582152043/?ref=bookmarks, contact Elise direct elise@makeyourmindup.co.uk

Elise is supported through the Prince’s Trust Enterprise Programme, details at https://www.princes-trust.org.uk/help-for-young-people/support-starting-business

 

How to stay healthier and happier for longer

In June 2016 I gave a TEDx Talk – ‘Male, stale and in a Shed’ with mixed success. Following that scary but exciting experience, I resolved to write a series of blog posts under a ‘No man’s land umbrella. The blog posts attempt to explore the issues in my short talk and, in particular, to try to identify the roots of my mental ill-health over the past two decades.

12 months ago I published the first of my ‘No man’s land blog posts and, although I only intended it should be a year-long series, the posts continue. The more personal they get, the harder they are to write.

One thing that writing and reflection has done is to help me identify what I think has worked for me in keeping at bay for the past two years what Churchill famously described as his ‘black dog’. There are three main ingredients in my recipe for staying healthier and happier for longer, the first is connecting…

Connecting with people – I used to say with like-minded people, but some of my most interesting recent encounters have been with people with whom I disagree but who are prepared to debate in a grown-up and respectful way. It can be scary but exciting to have your views challenged!

Connecting with places – I believe the need to belong is powerful for many people. It’s one I associate with places as well as people and it can be something as simple as going into town knowing I’ll probably meet someone I know. But it still took me around five years after moving from London to a market town of 17,000 to get that level of connection.

Connecting with our feelings – perhaps the most difficult for many older men. I try hard to fight an inbred tendency to supress emotions, particularly negative ones, and I avoid talking about my innermost concerns. I haven’t yet cracked it and I know I’m not alone. I organise school reunions and it was only six months ago that a friend from school days admitted to me something he’d told only his wife until then – that he’d been sexually assaulted when he was nine years old.

Then there’s creating… I most enjoy being in a Men’s Shed, or any shed for that matter, when problem-solving and being creative – it’s the closest I come to experiencing what they call ‘flow’. But that’s not what I’m talking about here. I mean creating stuff: making things; writing – stories, poetry; or cooking – creating a special meal, preferably to eat with others.  It could be gardening – growing plants of even creating natural colour in a garden, or maybe it’s artwork – painting or photography. It doesn’t have to be brilliant, but I think it’s important that it’s something that pleases the creator; something that matters to them. And if it pleases others, so much the better.

I once made a wooden case for carrying and displaying books. I still remember my mum – forty years ago – looking at it in wonder and saying to me and others present ‘He made this! He took pieces of wood and he made this!’ She was so proud and, looking back, so was I.

The last ingredient for staying healthier and happier for longer is carrying on… When older people say ‘I want to die’ I don’t believe them. I think when older people really want to die they simply stop carrying on – and do so. Until then there’s something – anger, curiosity, love or something else – keeping them alive.

Carry on learning: There’s a famous Gandhi quote… ‘Live like you’ll die tomorrow, learn like you’re going to live for ever.’ I love it for urging us to never stop learning new things – facts, skills, whatever. We know that learning keeps our brains ticking over and wards off deterioration. I’m learning to hula hoop – there’s no time to explain why I took it up and my longer term plans if I succeed. Suffice it to say I’m still learning!

Some years ago I read a book called ‘How to Age by Anne Karpf. I was struck by her observation that we talk about ‘growing’ old but ageing is usually seen in negative terms – a winding down rather than a process of growth and development. The University of the Third Age is the fastest growing community organisation in my home town and that delights me (I’m hoping a new Men’s Shed will come a close second) as they share that thirst for learning in later life.

Carry on moving: For me that means running and walking, for others it may be swimming, cycling, even dancing. It doesn’t have to be long, hard or fast – just regular and enjoyable (which raises the brain’s serotonin and lowers cortisol; good for managing stress)

My wife works in the NHS and knows the stresses and strains that afflict the service. As  a consumer of a full range of medications over the past 20 years – from Prozac for depression to Alendronic Acid for osteoporosis – I consider it my duty to try to now stay clear of the health service for as long as possible through self-medication with connecting, creating, and carrying on.

Male, stale and in a Shed https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GZ1e8FVcWEo

No man’s land https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/?s=no+mans+land 

Let’s talk about health and haircuts

 

 

 

Mental Health Awareness week is 8-14 May but, like dogs at Christmas, talking about mental health is for life, not just one week a year. So what about the reference to ‘hair’ I hear you ask. Bear with me…

We all know that men (myself included) are not very good when it comes to talking about the ‘important stuff’ – personal feelings, health and wellbeing etc.

Great news then that various new campaigns – In Your Corner and Heads Together being just two – are focusing on removing the stigma around mental ill health and getting people to talk (particularly men) about emotional health.

One of the problem for well-meaning people is that they don’t quite know how the get conversations started – they worry about ‘saying the wrong thing’. But you needn’t worry – just starting a conversation is a major contribution in itself. Ask ‘how are you feeling today?’, resist the temptation to interrupt if there’s a pregnant pause, and above all, listen.

Choosing the right time is another concern – we all lead such active lives (which may be part of the problem!) and it’s easy to use ‘busy-ness’ as an excuse for delaying/ putting off the conversation.

Which is where hair comes in. Readers of an earlier blog will know I’m intrigued by the recent growth in the number (five at the last count) of barber shops in Royston where I live. Taking a lead from an initiative in London, I’ve launched a little local campaign – Two Heads – to get barbershops (a good place for head-to-heads) talking about men’s health. I’ve created a Facebook page and a resources pack for the five Royston barbers – with posters, a list of useful resources, including apps, organisations, and links to professionally produced information sheets. I’ve offered the barbers informal training in mental health awareness and the tell-tale signs of self-harm. Watch this space.

So what are you waiting for? Put together your own pack and get on down to your local barbers – whether or not you need a haircut (or, like me, have no hair worth cutting) – this Mental Health Awareness Week.

www.facebook.com/TwoHeadsHealth

https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2017/02/28/hair-care-in-the-barbers-chair/

https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/campaigns/mental-health-awareness-week

https://www.time-to-change.org.uk/news/be-in-your-mates-corner

https://www.headstogether.org.uk

 

 

 

 

 

Hair care – in the barber’s chair

royston-barbers‘There’s something about a barber’s chair, and the way the gown disables the arms, putting phones and real life out of reach. The mirror somehow forces introspection, under the caring eye and reassuring touch of a man who has seen it all.’ 

As those fine folk at Time to Change launch their latest campaign to raise awareness about, and reduce the stigma associated with, mental ill health, it seems like a good time to talk about barber shops. In your corner is the campaign targeting those men and boys least likely to talk about mental health. Which is where barbers come in.

This time last year journalist Simon Usborne re-visited his old barber in south-east London 25 years after first being sat on a plank for a short back and sides. Simon discovered another side to his barber Paul’s business – the male mental health care he’s been administering right there in his chair for over five decades.

As Simon observes: ‘For more than half a century [Paul] has watched hairlines recede, fashions change and lines around eyes map the advance of age and changing fortunes. New jobs, bereavement, illness, depression and big decisions: all of life has been here, and so has Paul. “It’s a peaceful place, you know,” he says. “There’s no rush here and you can talk.”

Such is the relationship between cutter and customer that five barbers in North London have received “first aid” training in mental health, to help them reach vulnerable young black men in particular who, Simon Usborne writes, can be even less inclined to reveal their suffering.

At a time when issues around male mental ill-health are at last, slowly, coming out of the closet to be discussed if not face-to-face, then should-to-shoulder in Men’s Sheds, and now face-to-scalp, it’s a welcome development – retell, as opposed to retail, therapy.

LawnMowerHead
Regular readers of this blog will know that hair is, unlike my own, a recurring theme– I have laughed at the expense of slap-heads like me, grown silly moustaches each Movember, and reminisced about the time the Guardian newspaper published my letter about anti-dandruff shampoo for men with beards – Chin and Chest.

I was thinking about this the other day when I noticed that in Royston where I live, like the miracle fix for Elton John and Wayne Rooney’s follicly-challenged pates, barber shops have started sprouting up all over the north Hertfordshire market town. No less than five have joined Royston’s nine women’s hairdressers – all this for a population of just 16,000 heads, and not all of us needing haircuts. Will any of them, I wonder, be hair today but gone tomorrow?

Further information:

royston-hair-spots

Going head-to-head: Those fourteen Royston hair carers in alphabetical order: Anderson’s  /  Archer’s /  Carlo & Co / Gio’s / Head Quarters / Hendrick’s  / Jane Hair Stylist /   Lordsman / Manmade/ Nina’s Hair /  Royston Gents / Saks /  Studio 26 / The Hair Boutique

Time to change In Your Corner campaign http://www.time-to-change.org.uk/get-involved/share-your-corner

In Paul the barber’s chair http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/features/barbers-are-receiving-first-aid-training-in-mental-health-so-could-they-offer-the-best-talking-cure-a6882216.html

Balding and blogging https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2016/04/19/balding-and-blogging