How to look after your mental health while waiting for NHS support

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With nearly a quarter of us having to wait to start treatment for our mental health, we share eight ways you can look after yourself while waiting to access support

How to look after your mental health while waiting for NHS support

The Royal College of Psychiatrists revealed that two in five (43%) adults with a mental illness feel that long waits for treatment have led to their mental health getting worse. With almost one in four (23%) of us waiting more than 12 weeks to start treatment - and many areas having limited types of support and numbers of sessions available - it’s no wonder so many of us feel like we’re not only struggling with our mental health, but aren’t getting the help that we need when we need it.

Non-urgent referrals for consultant-led treatments in England are legally entitled to be seen within 18 weeks, from the day the service or hospital receives your referral letter or the day your appointment is booked through the NHS e-Referral Service. But that can feel like a long time when you are struggling and feel like you need help now.

Taking that step and seeking a referral is huge. But it’s not always the instant fix we hope for - especially when faced with delays in receiving support. It’s natural to feel disappointed, overwhelmed, or unsure of what you can do while waiting to access help and support. So, what can you do to look after yourself until support becomes available?

If you’re worried you may be in crisis, seek help immediately

If you think you may have reached a crisis point, or are in immediate danger of harming yourself or others, seek help immediately. Call 999 or go to your nearest A&E department.

If you need to talk to someone now without worrying about being judged, you can call the Samaritans on 116 123 anytime, any day, or get in contact with them another way.

Reach out to friends and family

Asking for help from those we love when we’re struggling can feel impossible. When you’re struggling with your mental health, you may worry about opening up to friends or family, as you may fear you are being an inconvenience, adding extra stress to their lives, or may be seen as ‘over-reacting’.

You may worry about being judged or rejected, yet reaching out can help you to feel a deeper sense of connection with others, gain valuable outside perspective, and help to feel unstuck.

Try these tips on how to ask friends and family for help when you’re struggling.

Have a conversation with your boss

Talking about mental health in the workplace has become much more commonplace in recent years. Yet many of us may hesitate to let our employers know when we are struggling. It’s important to remember that your employer is legally obligated to make reasonable adjustments to help accommodate you – but in order to do so, they need to k

What are age-gap relationships (and why are they controversial?)

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Can age-gap relationships really work? We answer your frequently asked questions about age gap relationships and explain more about what the research has to say

What are age-gap relationships (and why are they controversial?)

If there’s one thing that is bound to make headlines, it’s celebrity relationships with a big age gap. From the trending chart of Leonardo DiCaprio’s dating history (which revealed the then 47-year-old had never dated anyone over the age of 25), to top 10 lists of celeb couples successfully (and not so successfully) navigating big age gaps, we’re fascinated with the idea that there may be a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ number of years between our perfect partner and us.

But why is it that relationships with age gaps cause so much controversy? And what does the research actually have to say? We explore some of the most commonly asked questions about dating someone who is significantly older or younger than you.

What are age gap relationships?

An ‘age gap relationship’ typically refers to a couple who are seriously or casually dating, with an age difference of at least 10 years, though some people use the term to refer to shorter gaps. The exact number of years for a relationship to ‘count’ as having an age gap can also vary based on what is considered culturally normal, with other factors – such as a person’s gender or age – affecting how ‘acceptable’ others may see that gap as. For example, someone may be more likely to show concern over a younger woman dating an older man due to fears of grooming, despite the fact that young people of any gender identity and sexual preference can be at risk of grooming.

Anyone can be in an age-gap relationship – a celebrity, a friend, a family member, or a colleague. Age gap relationships can also happen at any point in your life, though someone in their 20s dating someone in their 30s may be more likely to experience comments or pushback from others than a couple in their 50s and 60s.

Why are age-gap relationships frowned upon?

Many people in age-gap relationships report facing stigma, despite nearly four in 10 (39%) of us have dated someone 10 years older or younger than us. According to research, men are more likely to have dated someone 10 or more years younger than them (25% vs 14% of women), while women are more likely to have dated someone 10+ years older (28% vs 21% of men). Over half (57%) of us would be open to dating someone a decade or more older than us, while just under half of us (49%) would consider seeing someone 10 years younger.

Despite around half of us being open to age-gap dating, research has shown an imbalance in how socially acceptable we see it to be for men and women to date someone significantly younger than them. 55% of people believe it’s

Art imitating life: exploring art therapy and its benefits on our wellbeing

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Paintings, photography, sculptures, and scrapbooks – how can art be used to support us through difficult times?

Art imitating life: exploring art therapy and its benefits on our wellbeing

In the 20th century, tuberculosis was a big problem in the UK, claiming countless lives, and seeing many others confined to sanatoriums. As you might expect, this would have been a frightening and frustrating time, but among the sickness and sadness, doctors observed that patients who drew and painted were better able to cope with both their illness, and their stay at the hospitals. The practice quickly spread and, in 1964, the British Association of Art Therapists was founded.

From 1948 until he retired in 1981, Edward Adamson became the first artist to be employed by the NHS. When Edward first began his work, people living with mental health problems did not have rights, and were subjected to brutal treatment. But Edward saw another way forward. For him, art therapy was about creative expression – not evidence to pass on to psychiatrists to be analysed – but art for art’s sake, and for healing. In his lifetime, Edward gathered more than 5,000 works of art from his patients, from drawing to ceramics, sculptures to paintings, preserved today by the Adamson Collection Trust.

Painting a picture

These days, the NHS states that there are more than 4,400 registered art therapists in the UK, including art, drama, and music therapists, like Chloe Sparrow.

“I remember so clearly what it was like to experience really big feelings, but not have the vocabulary, or confidence, to talk about it,” Chloe says. “For me, art psychotherapy offered a bridge between those big feelings and the expression of those feelings. Being able to express ourselves, and feel understood by another, feels like such a healing human experience. Combining that with one of my great loves, art, feels like such a privilege and pleasure.

“Art psychotherapy is a form of psychotherapy practised by qualified, registered art psychotherapists,” she explains. “It can provide you with an opportunity to use artmaking to explore issues or themes that are relevant and personal to you, and can be used to explore a wide range of difficulties.

“You don’t need to be ‘good’ at art in order to benefit from art psychotherapy. The purpose of the artmaking is to facilitate personal growth, and a greater understanding of the self, and you may find that particular themes begin to emerge through the colours, shapes, and concepts, in your artwork.”

Chloe explains how, in most sessions, the therapist will provide you with a variety of art materials and options that you can then pick from. With this as your starting point, you might work from a prompt provided by the therapist or, instead, approach your work with pure creativity and spontaneity. From there, there may then be time for discussion and reflection though, of course, the precise structure of a session will be entirely unique from person to person.

Art imitating life: exploring art therapy and its benefits on our wellbeing

The focus point

When it comes to therapy, one size really doesn’t fit all, and art therapy offers a positive alternative.

“Because art psychotherapy combines psychotherapeutic techniques with cre

Trauma dumping: what is it, why is it bad, and how to get friends to stop trauma dumping?

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What is trauma dumping, why do some people do it, and what can you do to stop friends (and ourselves) from oversharing difficult thoughts and emotions at inappropriate times? We answer your top trauma dumping questions and share more about how you can set healthy boundaries with friends who overshare

Trauma dumping: what is it, why is it bad, and how to get friends to stop trauma dumping?

We’ve all experienced friendships where one person overshares. I know I’ve been guilty of it more than once in the past. Knowing where the boundaries lie between sharing your worries with friends and overburdening them with your troubles can be tough. For those experiencing trauma dumping first-hand from a friend, it can feel impossible to know when or even if you should speak out. After all, aren’t we all supposed to be encouraging each other to reach out when we’re worried or overwhelmed?

But friendship is supposed to be a two-way street. And no matter how much we care for our friends and family, we aren’t there to act as their personal therapists. So, what can we do when oversharing becomes overwhelming, and frequent trauma dumps start to take their toll on our mental health and emotional wellbeing?

What is trauma dumping?

The phrase trauma dumping (also called emotional dumping) is used to refer to when someone overshares typically difficult thoughts, emotions, stressful situations or traumatic experiences. This could happen frequently or at irregular intervals (though there is often a consistent pattern), and most often happens at a time that is considered inappropriate. For example, sharing intimate details of a bad breakup with a work colleague or oversharing details of a traumatic medical experience on social media without providing warnings or considering who may be reading and how it may affect them.

Over time, trauma dumping (whether with friends, family, colleagues, acquaintances or even on social media) can start to take its toll and negatively affect everyone involved. For some, this can lead to compassion fatigue, stress, burnout, and may even feel like experiencing second-hand trauma.

What’s the difference between trauma dumping and venting?

While on the surface, venting and trauma dumping can sound a little similar, they have significant differences. When you open up to someone to vent about something that is bothering you, it’s typical to wait for an opportune time. You may wait until they ask how you are, ensure that the conversation is balanced and you’re asking about how they are feeling too.

Venting typically happens in a way that is respectful of the listener’s time, feelings, and personal situation. You wouldn’t necessarily vent to a friend who’s clearly overwhelmed and needing to share themselves, you’d wait for a more appropriate time. Someone who is venting may also be open to receiving feedback, comments, or possible solutions to help with their situation.

Someone who is trauma dumping typically won’t set or listen to boundaries around the other person’s time, feelings, or needs, instead focusing on releasing their own is

How to ask for help when you’re struggling

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We all struggle from time to time. So why does reaching out for help feel so scary? We share more about how to ask for help

How to ask for help when you’re struggling

Why does asking for help feel so hard? Despite our growing understanding of mental and emotional health and wellbeing, many of us struggle to speak out and ask for help when we need it the most.

According to the latest figures from the United Nations, nearly one billion of us worldwide are experiencing some form of mental disorder. For teens, that is around one in seven. With ill mental health becoming more and more recognised, why aren't we asking for help sooner?

Why do we find it so hard to ask for help?

While accessing help can be a struggle, many of us find it hard to even ask for help. This can be due to a wide range of reasons. Some people worry that they will be a bother or an inconvenience to friends, family or loved ones, or add extra stress and worry to those around them if they admit they need help. Others may be hesitant to speak up out of fear of being judged, seen as weak or ‘less than’ others who aren't outwardly struggling. Some of us may hold back from asking for help out of fear of rejection or not receiving the help we are looking for, so we convince ourselves it is better not to ask, rather than to ask and still not get help.

Counselling Directory member, Psychotherapist and Clinical Supervisor Fe Robinson explains more. “It can feel very difficult to reach out and ask for support. You may feel vulnerable or uncertain, or asking may simply be too much right now. You may not feel there is anyone there that can be a support for you, or you may fear rejection. You may simply want to talk about how to improve relationships and get the support you need. In all of these situations, counselling can be a useful aide.”

Does asking for help actually work?

While asking for help isn’t always successful on the first try, we can still gain so much. By asking for help, we can:

  • Stop ourselves from feeling stuck. The longer we wait to ask for help, the more stressed, anxious and overwhelmed we can feel. Speaking up can help us to regain the ability to move forward and see positive changes in the areas we most need them.
  • Feel connected with others. When we need to ask for help - either that’s due to mental health, emotional wellbeing, or another reason - we can often feel lonely and isolated. Seeking advice, asking for help, or just sharing what is worrying us allows us to share our burden, connect with others who may be experiencing similar feelings, and dispel the fear that may have built up about admitting something is wrong.
  • Gain an outside perspective. Sometimes, talking things through with a loved one is enough to help us see a problem in a new light. Other times, it can help us to recognise when we may need more help in the form of talk therapy, group therapy, peer support, or medication.

How do I ask for emotional help?

Asking for emotional support can feel tough. How do you start the conversation? Who should you turn to first? What do you say? It’s important to remember that everyone deserves to feel supported emotionally. When we feel too overwhelmed, we can ri