Tag Archives: Mental

Disruption of daily rhythms linked to mental health problems

People who experience disrupted 24-hour cycles of rest and activity are more likely to have mood disorders, lower levels of happiness and greater feelings of loneliness, research suggests.

While the study does not reveal whether disruptions to circadian rhythms are a cause of mental health problems, a result of them or some mixture of the two, the authors say the findings highlight the importance of how we balance rest and activity.

“Because people have these 24-hour patterns of living nowadays and because by 2050 two-thirds of the world’s population will live in cities where circadian disruption is much more likely, it is quite a big public health issue. How do we take account of our natural patterns of rest and activity and how do we design cities or jobs to protect people’s mental health?” said Daniel Smith, professor of psychiatry at the University of Glasgow and lead author of the research.

Writing in the journal Lancet Psychiatry, a team of researchers from Scotland, Ireland and Sweden report how they carried out the largest study of its kind to date by harnessing data from the UK BioBank, a research endeavour that has collected health information on 500,000 participants, aged between 37 and 73, since 2006.

To explore the link between mental health and the 24-hour cycles of sleep and activity known as circadian rhythms, the team looked at data from more than 91,000 participants who had worn a wrist-based activity tracker for a week at some point between 2013 and 2015.

“[It collects] 100 movement data points in three dimensions per second over a seven [day] period,” said Smith.

The team then looked at how active individuals were on average during their most active 10 hours each day compared to their least active five hours to calculate a figure known as the relative amplitude.

“What that tells us is about the inconsistency or the disruption in the regularity of the routine of rest and activity,” said Smith. “People who are active during the day and sleep well at night, that is a very healthy profile … they would have a high score in relative amplitude. Whereas people who tend to be disturbed in their sleep, are up a couple of times in the night and conversely tend to be not very active during the day, they score low in relative amplitude.”

The researchers then looked at the results from questionnaires completed by the participants when they signed up as a participant to the UK Biobank that probed factors including loneliness, reaction times and neuroticism, as well as participants’ responses to a later questionnaire probing whether they had ever had depression or bipolar disorder. While not all participants who wore a tracker answered all questions, the team say the sample is large enough to unpick links.

Participants were then divided into five groups of almost equal size, based on their relative amplitude, and the results analysed.

The findings reveal that once factors including age, sex, season during which the tracker was worn, socioeconomic status, smoking status and experience of childhood trauma were taken into account, a low relative amplitude appeared to be linked to poorer mental health.

On moving from one group to the next lowest for relative amplitude, the team found among other results that the odds of loneliness increased by 9%, and ever having had depression or bipolar disorder by 6% and 11% respectively. Meanwhile, measures of happiness and health satisfaction dropped, and reaction times became slower.

While Smith admitted the figures were small, he said they were noteworthy. “This is important because it seems to be across the board,” he said, “so it is a very consistent finding for these negative mental health and cognitive outcomes.” Smith added that it was striking that the link remained even when so many factors were taken into account.

However, the study had limitations, including that the activity data was only collected during one week, and at a different time to the questionnaire data, and that it did not look at teenagers – an important time of life both in terms of mental health and the body clock.

Dr Paul Kelley of the Open University welcomed the study, saying its findings added to a growing body of research linking circadian rhythms and mental health. But, he added, it was important to note that body clocks differ between individuals, meaning flexibility is important in both the workplace and schools. “There is no timing that is optimal for everyone,” he said.

Mental health: awareness is great, but action is essential | Dean Burnett

It’s mental health awareness week, 2018. And that’s good. It’s important to be aware of something that affects literally everyone, and that a quarter of the population regularly struggle with. It’s weird that anyone wouldn’t be when you put it in those terms, but that does seem to the case.

Perhaps the term is a bit misleading, or not specific enough. It’s not exactly mental health that people need to be made aware of, so much as the fact that mental health can, and regularly does, go wrong. And when someone’s mental health does falter or fail, they should receive the same concern and help that someone with a more obvious “physical” ailment should get, not scorn and stigma, as often happens.

This is where awareness helps. If you end up with depression, anxiety, OCD or any other condition, it can be hugely debilitating, often consuming your daily existence. Having someone, be they a family member or total stranger, dismiss it outright or accuse you of “faking it” or similar can only make it worse, compounding the problem.

This is how campaigns to raise awareness of the issues can be beneficial. Just like how increased exposure to people of different ethnicities or backgrounds has been shown to reduced feelings of prejudice and suspicion, so increased exposure to, or discussions about, mental health problems and what they mean for those who deal with them can enhance the understanding, or even just the patience, of those who don’t have to.

The human brain, powerful as it is, can still be overwhelmed by the complex world we inhabit, so when it comes to creating mental models of how the world works, it operates a general “stick to what you know” policy. As such, things that are different or unfamiliar, especially if they’re confusing and uncertain or introduce an element of perceived threat or danger, are met with suspicion, doubt, dismissal and so on. All are defence mechanisms, in a way; it’s the brain saying “this is NOT how the world is meant to work, so I must dismiss this challenging new information”.

But the brain is not that inflexible. Our idea of how the world (and those in it) works is adaptable and ever-updating, based on what we experience in our day-to-day lives. And if those experiences involve people discussing mental health and the issues around it, that’s more likely to become part of how we see the world and so has less chance of unsettling us overall.

Woman with her head in her hands as levels of anxiety among British people are rising, a mental health charity has warned. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Monday May 12, 2014. Almost one in five people from around the UK feels anxious a lot or all the time, the Mental Health Foundation said. A survey conducted by the charity found that almost half of Britons feel more anxious than they used to. Around three-fifths of the 2,300 British adults polled said that they experience anxiety on a daily basis.


There have been many years of progress, but still the most common image in any mental health search is the classic ‘headclutcher’. Photograph: David Cheskin/PA

This is especially important for mental health, as opposed to more physical ailments, because mental health problems often affect people’s minds and understanding rather than their bodies (although there’s copious overlap). Basically, someone experiencing a mental health problem or crisis may not realise this. Many need help and assistance to even accept they have an issue that requires dealing with. And the more there are people around them who are “aware” of mental health problems and how they manifest, the more likely this assistance is.

So, yes. Mental health awareness is good.

But it’s not an answer in and of itself. And it can actually be detrimental in some circumstances.

The main problem is, the human brain is very good at becoming aware of things, but it’s a lot harder for this awareness to lead to changes in behaviour. Abstract concepts and understanding can be useful, but things that cause strong sensory or emotional reactions carry more “weight” as far as our grey matter is concerned. For instance, dieting is hard because although we know the risks of high-calorie foods etc, we like pizza and cake. The sensory pleasure you get from the latter often outweighs the intangible understanding of the former when it comes to deciding what to do and what decisions to make. Cigarette packaging has been emblazoned with images of the ghastly consequences smoking can have for years, and yet smoking is still pretty common.

Similarly, having an abstract awareness of mental health issues does not automatically translate to a willingness or ability to do anything about them. Someone may be newly aware of what’s happening when a friend is in the grips of depression, but they could also be aware that helping them is likely to be demanding, stressful and largely unrewarding. The latter could well be what sways their behaviour, compelling them to keep their distance rather than intervene.

The point is, raising awareness of mental health is all well and good, but it doesn’t automatically follow that the problems and concerns around mental health will be affected in any appreciable way. Many people are “aware” that their clothes are probably made in sweatshops, or that their elected leaders are corrupt, or that their car is harming the environment, but do little or nothing about these things.

Prozac capsules


Often the discussion around mental health turns into one about the pros and cons of medication, but many people struggle to get to the point where that’s even an option. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

The danger essentially lies in people thinking “raising awareness” is sufficient to deal with the issue, whatever it may be. In most cases, it isn’t. And this isn’t ideal. It’s a common complaint, about the people who, following a tragedy, change their profile pic on Facebook, or tweet “thoughts and prayers”, or sign a petition, or what have you. While an action like that may be 100% well intended, all it really achieves is making the individual feel better because they’ve “done something”. A sense of control in the face of unpleasant events in the world is restored: a sense of achievement at getting something “out there”. But in real-world terms, it changes nothing. And people feeling like they’ve done something when they haven’t is counterproductive when it comes to dealing with big, complex problems like mental health, because they’re less likely to feel motivated to do something else. Something that may be genuinely useful.

Essentially, mental health awareness is fine, but action is what’s actually needed. Awareness is great for prompting those with issues to seek help, but effectively meaningless if there’s no help available. And with ongoing cuts and shocking provisions to mental health services, that’s where the real problems lie.

If mental health awareness can be channelled in to actually dealing with the issues around it, then that would be great. But raising awareness is just the start of the process, not the end. There’s a lot of work that needs doing here. And that’s something we should all be aware of.

Dean Burnett discusses these issues further in his new book The Happy Brain and his previous book The Idiot Brain, both available now.

Mental health: awareness is great, but action is essential | Dean Burnett

It’s mental health awareness week, 2018. And that’s good. It’s important to be aware of something that affects literally everyone, and that a quarter of the population regularly struggle with. It’s weird that anyone wouldn’t be when you put it in those terms, but that does seem to the case.

Perhaps the term is a bit misleading, or not specific enough. It’s not exactly mental health that people need to be made aware of, so much as the fact that mental health can, and regularly does, go wrong. And when someone’s mental health does falter or fail, they should receive the same concern and help that someone with a more obvious “physical” ailment should get, not scorn and stigma, as often happens.

This is where awareness helps. If you end up with depression, anxiety, OCD or any other condition, it can be hugely debilitating, often consuming your daily existence. Having someone, be they a family member or total stranger, dismiss it outright or accuse you of “faking it” or similar can only make it worse, compounding the problem.

This is how campaigns to raise awareness of the issues can be beneficial. Just like how increased exposure to people of different ethnicities or backgrounds has been shown to reduced feelings of prejudice and suspicion, so increased exposure to, or discussions about, mental health problems and what they mean for those who deal with them can enhance the understanding, or even just the patience, of those who don’t have to.

The human brain, powerful as it is, can still be overwhelmed by the complex world we inhabit, so when it comes to creating mental models of how the world works, it operates a general “stick to what you know” policy. As such, things that are different or unfamiliar, especially if they’re confusing and uncertain or introduce an element of perceived threat or danger, are met with suspicion, doubt, dismissal and so on. All are defence mechanisms, in a way; it’s the brain saying “this is NOT how the world is meant to work, so I must dismiss this challenging new information”.

But the brain is not that inflexible. Our idea of how the world (and those in it) works is adaptable and ever-updating, based on what we experience in our day-to-day lives. And if those experiences involve people discussing mental health and the issues around it, that’s more likely to become part of how we see the world and so has less chance of unsettling us overall.

Woman with her head in her hands as levels of anxiety among British people are rising, a mental health charity has warned. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Monday May 12, 2014. Almost one in five people from around the UK feels anxious a lot or all the time, the Mental Health Foundation said. A survey conducted by the charity found that almost half of Britons feel more anxious than they used to. Around three-fifths of the 2,300 British adults polled said that they experience anxiety on a daily basis.


There have been many years of progress, but still the most common image in any mental health search is the classic ‘headclutcher’. Photograph: David Cheskin/PA

This is especially important for mental health, as opposed to more physical ailments, because mental health problems often affect people’s minds and understanding rather than their bodies (although there’s copious overlap). Basically, someone experiencing a mental health problem or crisis may not realise this. Many need help and assistance to even accept they have an issue that requires dealing with. And the more there are people around them who are “aware” of mental health problems and how they manifest, the more likely this assistance is.

So, yes. Mental health awareness is good.

But it’s not an answer in and of itself. And it can actually be detrimental in some circumstances.

The main problem is, the human brain is very good at becoming aware of things, but it’s a lot harder for this awareness to lead to changes in behaviour. Abstract concepts and understanding can be useful, but things that cause strong sensory or emotional reactions carry more “weight” as far as our grey matter is concerned. For instance, dieting is hard because although we know the risks of high-calorie foods etc, we like pizza and cake. The sensory pleasure you get from the latter often outweighs the intangible understanding of the former when it comes to deciding what to do and what decisions to make. Cigarette packaging has been emblazoned with images of the ghastly consequences smoking can have for years, and yet smoking is still pretty common.

Similarly, having an abstract awareness of mental health issues does not automatically translate to a willingness or ability to do anything about them. Someone may be newly aware of what’s happening when a friend is in the grips of depression, but they could also be aware that helping them is likely to be demanding, stressful and largely unrewarding. The latter could well be what sways their behaviour, compelling them to keep their distance rather than intervene.

The point is, raising awareness of mental health is all well and good, but it doesn’t automatically follow that the problems and concerns around mental health will be affected in any appreciable way. Many people are “aware” that their clothes are probably made in sweatshops, or that their elected leaders are corrupt, or that their car is harming the environment, but do little or nothing about these things.

Prozac capsules


Often the discussion around mental health turns into one about the pros and cons of medication, but many people struggle to get to the point where that’s even an option. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

The danger essentially lies in people thinking “raising awareness” is sufficient to deal with the issue, whatever it may be. In most cases, it isn’t. And this isn’t ideal. It’s a common complaint, about the people who, following a tragedy, change their profile pic on Facebook, or tweet “thoughts and prayers”, or sign a petition, or what have you. While an action like that may be 100% well intended, all it really achieves is making the individual feel better because they’ve “done something”. A sense of control in the face of unpleasant events in the world is restored: a sense of achievement at getting something “out there”. But in real-world terms, it changes nothing. And people feeling like they’ve done something when they haven’t is counterproductive when it comes to dealing with big, complex problems like mental health, because they’re less likely to feel motivated to do something else. Something that may be genuinely useful.

Essentially, mental health awareness is fine, but action is what’s actually needed. Awareness is great for prompting those with issues to seek help, but effectively meaningless if there’s no help available. And with ongoing cuts and shocking provisions to mental health services, that’s where the real problems lie.

If mental health awareness can be channelled in to actually dealing with the issues around it, then that would be great. But raising awareness is just the start of the process, not the end. There’s a lot of work that needs doing here. And that’s something we should all be aware of.

Dean Burnett discusses these issues further in his new book The Happy Brain and his previous book The Idiot Brain, both available now.

Mental health: awareness is great, but action is essential | Dean Burnett

It’s mental health awareness week, 2018. And that’s good. It’s important to be aware of something that affects literally everyone, and that a quarter of the population regularly struggle with. It’s weird that anyone wouldn’t be when you put it in those terms, but that does seem to the case.

Perhaps the term is a bit misleading, or not specific enough. It’s not exactly mental health that people need to be made aware of, so much as the fact that mental health can, and regularly does, go wrong. And when someone’s mental health does falter or fail, they should receive the same concern and help that someone with a more obvious “physical” ailment should get, not scorn and stigma, as often happens.

This is where awareness helps. If you end up with depression, anxiety, OCD or any other condition, it can be hugely debilitating, often consuming your daily existence. Having someone, be they a family member or total stranger, dismiss it outright or accuse you of “faking it” or similar can only make it worse, compounding the problem.

This is how campaigns to raise awareness of the issues can be beneficial. Just like how increased exposure to people of different ethnicities or backgrounds has been shown to reduced feelings of prejudice and suspicion, so increased exposure to, or discussions about, mental health problems and what they mean for those who deal with them can enhance the understanding, or even just the patience, of those who don’t have to.

The human brain, powerful as it is, can still be overwhelmed by the complex world we inhabit, so when it comes to creating mental models of how the world works, it operates a general “stick to what you know” policy. As such, things that are different or unfamiliar, especially if they’re confusing and uncertain or introduce an element of perceived threat or danger, are met with suspicion, doubt, dismissal and so on. All are defence mechanisms, in a way; it’s the brain saying “this is NOT how the world is meant to work, so I must dismiss this challenging new information”.

But the brain is not that inflexible. Our idea of how the world (and those in it) works is adaptable and ever-updating, based on what we experience in our day-to-day lives. And if those experiences involve people discussing mental health and the issues around it, that’s more likely to become part of how we see the world and so has less chance of unsettling us overall.

Woman with her head in her hands as levels of anxiety among British people are rising, a mental health charity has warned. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Monday May 12, 2014. Almost one in five people from around the UK feels anxious a lot or all the time, the Mental Health Foundation said. A survey conducted by the charity found that almost half of Britons feel more anxious than they used to. Around three-fifths of the 2,300 British adults polled said that they experience anxiety on a daily basis.


There have been many years of progress, but still the most common image in any mental health search is the classic ‘headclutcher’. Photograph: David Cheskin/PA

This is especially important for mental health, as opposed to more physical ailments, because mental health problems often affect people’s minds and understanding rather than their bodies (although there’s copious overlap). Basically, someone experiencing a mental health problem or crisis may not realise this. Many need help and assistance to even accept they have an issue that requires dealing with. And the more there are people around them who are “aware” of mental health problems and how they manifest, the more likely this assistance is.

So, yes. Mental health awareness is good.

But it’s not an answer in and of itself. And it can actually be detrimental in some circumstances.

The main problem is, the human brain is very good at becoming aware of things, but it’s a lot harder for this awareness to lead to changes in behaviour. Abstract concepts and understanding can be useful, but things that cause strong sensory or emotional reactions carry more “weight” as far as our grey matter is concerned. For instance, dieting is hard because although we know the risks of high-calorie foods etc, we like pizza and cake. The sensory pleasure you get from the latter often outweighs the intangible understanding of the former when it comes to deciding what to do and what decisions to make. Cigarette packaging has been emblazoned with images of the ghastly consequences smoking can have for years, and yet smoking is still pretty common.

Similarly, having an abstract awareness of mental health issues does not automatically translate to a willingness or ability to do anything about them. Someone may be newly aware of what’s happening when a friend is in the grips of depression, but they could also be aware that helping them is likely to be demanding, stressful and largely unrewarding. The latter could well be what sways their behaviour, compelling them to keep their distance rather than intervene.

The point is, raising awareness of mental health is all well and good, but it doesn’t automatically follow that the problems and concerns around mental health will be affected in any appreciable way. Many people are “aware” that their clothes are probably made in sweatshops, or that their elected leaders are corrupt, or that their car is harming the environment, but do little or nothing about these things.

Prozac capsules


Often the discussion around mental health turns into one about the pros and cons of medication, but many people struggle to get to the point where that’s even an option. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

The danger essentially lies in people thinking “raising awareness” is sufficient to deal with the issue, whatever it may be. In most cases, it isn’t. And this isn’t ideal. It’s a common complaint, about the people who, following a tragedy, change their profile pic on Facebook, or tweet “thoughts and prayers”, or sign a petition, or what have you. While an action like that may be 100% well intended, all it really achieves is making the individual feel better because they’ve “done something”. A sense of control in the face of unpleasant events in the world is restored: a sense of achievement at getting something “out there”. But in real-world terms, it changes nothing. And people feeling like they’ve done something when they haven’t is counterproductive when it comes to dealing with big, complex problems like mental health, because they’re less likely to feel motivated to do something else. Something that may be genuinely useful.

Essentially, mental health awareness is fine, but action is what’s actually needed. Awareness is great for prompting those with issues to seek help, but effectively meaningless if there’s no help available. And with ongoing cuts and shocking provisions to mental health services, that’s where the real problems lie.

If mental health awareness can be channelled in to actually dealing with the issues around it, then that would be great. But raising awareness is just the start of the process, not the end. There’s a lot of work that needs doing here. And that’s something we should all be aware of.

Dean Burnett discusses these issues further in his new book The Happy Brain and his previous book The Idiot Brain, both available now.

Mental health: awareness is great, but action is essential | Dean Burnett

It’s mental health awareness week, 2018. And that’s good. It’s important to be aware of something that affects literally everyone, and that a quarter of the population regularly struggle with. It’s weird that anyone wouldn’t be when you put it in those terms, but that does seem to the case.

Perhaps the term is a bit misleading, or not specific enough. It’s not exactly mental health that people need to be made aware of, so much as the fact that mental health can, and regularly does, go wrong. And when someone’s mental health does falter or fail, they should receive the same concern and help that someone with a more obvious “physical” ailment should get, not scorn and stigma, as often happens.

This is where awareness helps. If you end up with depression, anxiety, OCD or any other condition, it can be hugely debilitating, often consuming your daily existence. Having someone, be they a family member or total stranger, dismiss it outright or accuse you of “faking it” or similar can only make it worse, compounding the problem.

This is how campaigns to raise awareness of the issues can be beneficial. Just like how increased exposure to people of different ethnicities or backgrounds has been shown to reduced feelings of prejudice and suspicion, so increased exposure to, or discussions about, mental health problems and what they mean for those who deal with them can enhance the understanding, or even just the patience, of those who don’t have to.

The human brain, powerful as it is, can still be overwhelmed by the complex world we inhabit, so when it comes to creating mental models of how the world works, it operates a general “stick to what you know” policy. As such, things that are different or unfamiliar, especially if they’re confusing and uncertain or introduce an element of perceived threat or danger, are met with suspicion, doubt, dismissal and so on. All are defence mechanisms, in a way; it’s the brain saying “this is NOT how the world is meant to work, so I must dismiss this challenging new information”.

But the brain is not that inflexible. Our idea of how the world (and those in it) works is adaptable and ever-updating, based on what we experience in our day-to-day lives. And if those experiences involve people discussing mental health and the issues around it, that’s more likely to become part of how we see the world and so has less chance of unsettling us overall.

Woman with her head in her hands as levels of anxiety among British people are rising, a mental health charity has warned. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Monday May 12, 2014. Almost one in five people from around the UK feels anxious a lot or all the time, the Mental Health Foundation said. A survey conducted by the charity found that almost half of Britons feel more anxious than they used to. Around three-fifths of the 2,300 British adults polled said that they experience anxiety on a daily basis.


There have been many years of progress, but still the most common image in any mental health search is the classic ‘headclutcher’. Photograph: David Cheskin/PA

This is especially important for mental health, as opposed to more physical ailments, because mental health problems often affect people’s minds and understanding rather than their bodies (although there’s copious overlap). Basically, someone experiencing a mental health problem or crisis may not realise this. Many need help and assistance to even accept they have an issue that requires dealing with. And the more there are people around them who are “aware” of mental health problems and how they manifest, the more likely this assistance is.

So, yes. Mental health awareness is good.

But it’s not an answer in and of itself. And it can actually be detrimental in some circumstances.

The main problem is, the human brain is very good at becoming aware of things, but it’s a lot harder for this awareness to lead to changes in behaviour. Abstract concepts and understanding can be useful, but things that cause strong sensory or emotional reactions carry more “weight” as far as our grey matter is concerned. For instance, dieting is hard because although we know the risks of high-calorie foods etc, we like pizza and cake. The sensory pleasure you get from the latter often outweighs the intangible understanding of the former when it comes to deciding what to do and what decisions to make. Cigarette packaging has been emblazoned with images of the ghastly consequences smoking can have for years, and yet smoking is still pretty common.

Similarly, having an abstract awareness of mental health issues does not automatically translate to a willingness or ability to do anything about them. Someone may be newly aware of what’s happening when a friend is in the grips of depression, but they could also be aware that helping them is likely to be demanding, stressful and largely unrewarding. The latter could well be what sways their behaviour, compelling them to keep their distance rather than intervene.

The point is, raising awareness of mental health is all well and good, but it doesn’t automatically follow that the problems and concerns around mental health will be affected in any appreciable way. Many people are “aware” that their clothes are probably made in sweatshops, or that their elected leaders are corrupt, or that their car is harming the environment, but do little or nothing about these things.

Prozac capsules


Often the discussion around mental health turns into one about the pros and cons of medication, but many people struggle to get to the point where that’s even an option. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

The danger essentially lies in people thinking “raising awareness” is sufficient to deal with the issue, whatever it may be. In most cases, it isn’t. And this isn’t ideal. It’s a common complaint, about the people who, following a tragedy, change their profile pic on Facebook, or tweet “thoughts and prayers”, or sign a petition, or what have you. While an action like that may be 100% well intended, all it really achieves is making the individual feel better because they’ve “done something”. A sense of control in the face of unpleasant events in the world is restored: a sense of achievement at getting something “out there”. But in real-world terms, it changes nothing. And people feeling like they’ve done something when they haven’t is counterproductive when it comes to dealing with big, complex problems like mental health, because they’re less likely to feel motivated to do something else. Something that may be genuinely useful.

Essentially, mental health awareness is fine, but action is what’s actually needed. Awareness is great for prompting those with issues to seek help, but effectively meaningless if there’s no help available. And with ongoing cuts and shocking provisions to mental health services, that’s where the real problems lie.

If mental health awareness can be channelled in to actually dealing with the issues around it, then that would be great. But raising awareness is just the start of the process, not the end. There’s a lot of work that needs doing here. And that’s something we should all be aware of.

Dean Burnett discusses these issues further in his new book The Happy Brain and his previous book The Idiot Brain, both available now.

Mental health: awareness is great, but action is essential | Dean Burnett

It’s mental health awareness week, 2018. And that’s good. It’s important to be aware of something that affects literally everyone, and that a quarter of the population regularly struggle with. It’s weird that anyone wouldn’t be when you put it in those terms, but that does seem to the case.

Perhaps the term is a bit misleading, or not specific enough. It’s not exactly mental health that people need to be made aware of, so much as the fact that mental health can, and regularly does, go wrong. And when someone’s mental health does falter or fail, they should receive the same concern and help that someone with a more obvious “physical” ailment should get, not scorn and stigma, as often happens.

This is where awareness helps. If you end up with depression, anxiety, OCD or any other condition, it can be hugely debilitating, often consuming your daily existence. Having someone, be they a family member or total stranger, dismiss it outright or accuse you of “faking it” or similar can only make it worse, compounding the problem.

This is how campaigns to raise awareness of the issues can be beneficial. Just like how increased exposure to people of different ethnicities or backgrounds has been shown to reduced feelings of prejudice and suspicion, so increased exposure to, or discussions about, mental health problems and what they mean for those who deal with them can enhance the understanding, or even just the patience, of those who don’t have to.

The human brain, powerful as it is, can still be overwhelmed by the complex world we inhabit, so when it comes to creating mental models of how the world works, it operates a general “stick to what you know” policy. As such, things that are different or unfamiliar, especially if they’re confusing and uncertain or introduce an element of perceived threat or danger, are met with suspicion, doubt, dismissal and so on. All are defence mechanisms, in a way; it’s the brain saying “this is NOT how the world is meant to work, so I must dismiss this challenging new information”.

But the brain is not that inflexible. Our idea of how the world (and those in it) works is adaptable and ever-updating, based on what we experience in our day-to-day lives. And if those experiences involve people discussing mental health and the issues around it, that’s more likely to become part of how we see the world and so has less chance of unsettling us overall.

Woman with her head in her hands as levels of anxiety among British people are rising, a mental health charity has warned. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Monday May 12, 2014. Almost one in five people from around the UK feels anxious a lot or all the time, the Mental Health Foundation said. A survey conducted by the charity found that almost half of Britons feel more anxious than they used to. Around three-fifths of the 2,300 British adults polled said that they experience anxiety on a daily basis.


There have been many years of progress, but still the most common image in any mental health search is the classic ‘headclutcher’. Photograph: David Cheskin/PA

This is especially important for mental health, as opposed to more physical ailments, because mental health problems often affect people’s minds and understanding rather than their bodies (although there’s copious overlap). Basically, someone experiencing a mental health problem or crisis may not realise this. Many need help and assistance to even accept they have an issue that requires dealing with. And the more there are people around them who are “aware” of mental health problems and how they manifest, the more likely this assistance is.

So, yes. Mental health awareness is good.

But it’s not an answer in and of itself. And it can actually be detrimental in some circumstances.

The main problem is, the human brain is very good at becoming aware of things, but it’s a lot harder for this awareness to lead to changes in behaviour. Abstract concepts and understanding can be useful, but things that cause strong sensory or emotional reactions carry more “weight” as far as our grey matter is concerned. For instance, dieting is hard because although we know the risks of high-calorie foods etc, we like pizza and cake. The sensory pleasure you get from the latter often outweighs the intangible understanding of the former when it comes to deciding what to do and what decisions to make. Cigarette packaging has been emblazoned with images of the ghastly consequences smoking can have for years, and yet smoking is still pretty common.

Similarly, having an abstract awareness of mental health issues does not automatically translate to a willingness or ability to do anything about them. Someone may be newly aware of what’s happening when a friend is in the grips of depression, but they could also be aware that helping them is likely to be demanding, stressful and largely unrewarding. The latter could well be what sways their behaviour, compelling them to keep their distance rather than intervene.

The point is, raising awareness of mental health is all well and good, but it doesn’t automatically follow that the problems and concerns around mental health will be affected in any appreciable way. Many people are “aware” that their clothes are probably made in sweatshops, or that their elected leaders are corrupt, or that their car is harming the environment, but do little or nothing about these things.

Prozac capsules


Often the discussion around mental health turns into one about the pros and cons of medication, but many people struggle to get to the point where that’s even an option. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

The danger essentially lies in people thinking “raising awareness” is sufficient to deal with the issue, whatever it may be. In most cases, it isn’t. And this isn’t ideal. It’s a common complaint, about the people who, following a tragedy, change their profile pic on Facebook, or tweet “thoughts and prayers”, or sign a petition, or what have you. While an action like that may be 100% well intended, all it really achieves is making the individual feel better because they’ve “done something”. A sense of control in the face of unpleasant events in the world is restored: a sense of achievement at getting something “out there”. But in real-world terms, it changes nothing. And people feeling like they’ve done something when they haven’t is counterproductive when it comes to dealing with big, complex problems like mental health, because they’re less likely to feel motivated to do something else. Something that may be genuinely useful.

Essentially, mental health awareness is fine, but action is what’s actually needed. Awareness is great for prompting those with issues to seek help, but effectively meaningless if there’s no help available. And with ongoing cuts and shocking provisions to mental health services, that’s where the real problems lie.

If mental health awareness can be channelled in to actually dealing with the issues around it, then that would be great. But raising awareness is just the start of the process, not the end. There’s a lot of work that needs doing here. And that’s something we should all be aware of.

Dean Burnett discusses these issues further in his new book The Happy Brain and his previous book The Idiot Brain, both available now.

Mental health: awareness is great, but action is essential | Dean Burnett

It’s mental health awareness week, 2018. And that’s good. It’s important to be aware of something that affects literally everyone, and that a quarter of the population regularly struggle with. It’s weird that anyone wouldn’t be when you put it in those terms, but that does seem to the case.

Perhaps the term is a bit misleading, or not specific enough. It’s not exactly mental health that people need to be made aware of, so much as the fact that mental health can, and regularly does, go wrong. And when someone’s mental health does falter or fail, they should receive the same concern and help that someone with a more obvious “physical” ailment should get, not scorn and stigma, as often happens.

This is where awareness helps. If you end up with depression, anxiety, OCD or any other condition, it can be hugely debilitating, often consuming your daily existence. Having someone, be they a family member or total stranger, dismiss it outright or accuse you of “faking it” or similar can only make it worse, compounding the problem.

This is how campaigns to raise awareness of the issues can be beneficial. Just like how increased exposure to people of different ethnicities or backgrounds has been shown to reduced feelings of prejudice and suspicion, so increased exposure to, or discussions about, mental health problems and what they mean for those who deal with them can enhance the understanding, or even just the patience, of those who don’t have to.

The human brain, powerful as it is, can still be overwhelmed by the complex world we inhabit, so when it comes to creating mental models of how the world works, it operates a general “stick to what you know” policy. As such, things that are different or unfamiliar, especially if they’re confusing and uncertain or introduce an element of perceived threat or danger, are met with suspicion, doubt, dismissal and so on. All are defence mechanisms, in a way; it’s the brain saying “this is NOT how the world is meant to work, so I must dismiss this challenging new information”.

But the brain is not that inflexible. Our idea of how the world (and those in it) works is adaptable and ever-updating, based on what we experience in our day-to-day lives. And if those experiences involve people discussing mental health and the issues around it, that’s more likely to become part of how we see the world and so has less chance of unsettling us overall.

Woman with her head in her hands as levels of anxiety among British people are rising, a mental health charity has warned. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Monday May 12, 2014. Almost one in five people from around the UK feels anxious a lot or all the time, the Mental Health Foundation said. A survey conducted by the charity found that almost half of Britons feel more anxious than they used to. Around three-fifths of the 2,300 British adults polled said that they experience anxiety on a daily basis.


There have been many years of progress, but still the most common image in any mental health search is the classic ‘headclutcher’. Photograph: David Cheskin/PA

This is especially important for mental health, as opposed to more physical ailments, because mental health problems often affect people’s minds and understanding rather than their bodies (although there’s copious overlap). Basically, someone experiencing a mental health problem or crisis may not realise this. Many need help and assistance to even accept they have an issue that requires dealing with. And the more there are people around them who are “aware” of mental health problems and how they manifest, the more likely this assistance is.

So, yes. Mental health awareness is good.

But it’s not an answer in and of itself. And it can actually be detrimental in some circumstances.

The main problem is, the human brain is very good at becoming aware of things, but it’s a lot harder for this awareness to lead to changes in behaviour. Abstract concepts and understanding can be useful, but things that cause strong sensory or emotional reactions carry more “weight” as far as our grey matter is concerned. For instance, dieting is hard because although we know the risks of high-calorie foods etc, we like pizza and cake. The sensory pleasure you get from the latter often outweighs the intangible understanding of the former when it comes to deciding what to do and what decisions to make. Cigarette packaging has been emblazoned with images of the ghastly consequences smoking can have for years, and yet smoking is still pretty common.

Similarly, having an abstract awareness of mental health issues does not automatically translate to a willingness or ability to do anything about them. Someone may be newly aware of what’s happening when a friend is in the grips of depression, but they could also be aware that helping them is likely to be demanding, stressful and largely unrewarding. The latter could well be what sways their behaviour, compelling them to keep their distance rather than intervene.

The point is, raising awareness of mental health is all well and good, but it doesn’t automatically follow that the problems and concerns around mental health will be affected in any appreciable way. Many people are “aware” that their clothes are probably made in sweatshops, or that their elected leaders are corrupt, or that their car is harming the environment, but do little or nothing about these things.

Prozac capsules


Often the discussion around mental health turns into one about the pros and cons of medication, but many people struggle to get to the point where that’s even an option. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

The danger essentially lies in people thinking “raising awareness” is sufficient to deal with the issue, whatever it may be. In most cases, it isn’t. And this isn’t ideal. It’s a common complaint, about the people who, following a tragedy, change their profile pic on Facebook, or tweet “thoughts and prayers”, or sign a petition, or what have you. While an action like that may be 100% well intended, all it really achieves is making the individual feel better because they’ve “done something”. A sense of control in the face of unpleasant events in the world is restored: a sense of achievement at getting something “out there”. But in real-world terms, it changes nothing. And people feeling like they’ve done something when they haven’t is counterproductive when it comes to dealing with big, complex problems like mental health, because they’re less likely to feel motivated to do something else. Something that may be genuinely useful.

Essentially, mental health awareness is fine, but action is what’s actually needed. Awareness is great for prompting those with issues to seek help, but effectively meaningless if there’s no help available. And with ongoing cuts and shocking provisions to mental health services, that’s where the real problems lie.

If mental health awareness can be channelled in to actually dealing with the issues around it, then that would be great. But raising awareness is just the start of the process, not the end. There’s a lot of work that needs doing here. And that’s something we should all be aware of.

Dean Burnett discusses these issues further in his new book The Happy Brain and his previous book The Idiot Brain, both available now.

Mental health self-help guides tend to be dull, so I created a vibrant zine | Andy Walton

I have struggled with anxiety, particularly overthinking, for a number of years. I’ve had cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and taken medication – and I’ve collected a lot of self-help literature.

I’ve found most of this material dull and lengthy, and if you have mental health issues, you might struggle with the motivation and concentration to read it. As a mental health nurse, I also noticed there were few resources for service users that were empowering or pleasing to the eye. There was a lot of stereotyping, with pictures of clouds, people frowning or sitting with their head in their hands. I wanted to create something that could take on those associations.

Last year, a number of zines around mental health were published, such as Doll Hospital Journal and Anxy. They were all aesthetically pleasing and empowering, doing their bit to strip down stigma – but many of them focused on very personal stories. I wanted to produce something similar that was more of a guide, to condense all the information from lengthy self-help books into something concise.

The result is Swirl – a vibrant, 20-page booklet that provides straightforward wisdom around overcoming overthinking. It is digestible and accessible.

SWIRLZINE SOCIALS 015


‘I wanted to create something that people would be proud to have on their coffee table.’ Photograph: Swirlzine

I worked for nine months to get the wording as succinct as possible. It was a hard task. I wanted to make it conversational and move away from jargon. The words “mental health” don’t appear until the last page.

The content is psychological, evidence-based advice led by CBT techniques. It depicts the worry tree and the stress vulnerability bucket to help readers manage and rationalise their thoughts, and be in the here and now. I sent it to colleagues and peers past and present for their input; mental health advocates in the UK and the US; clinical psychologists in the NHS; and occupational therapists at Combat Stress, a charity that helps military veterans with anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, where I work in the outreach team. I asked people who have struggled with anxiety if they thought it would work for them: is there anything you disagree with, anything you’d add or take away?


If you wake up in the middle of the night with your mind swirling with thoughts, my hope is that you can pick up Swirl and that it will soothe you

I also wanted to make the guide stand out. With a lot of mental health literature, I feel like you want to hide it away if someone visits. You don’t feel drawn to it or motivated to pick it up. I wanted to create something as striking as possible that people would be proud to have on their coffee table. Everyone can struggle with mental health; it’s not just one thing, it involves a spectrum of emotions. That’s what I’ve tried to get across with the mix of colours.

I’ve been lucky to work with some talented people. I worked with Gina Yu, a writer and marketer based in Atlanta, who helped with the stylistic elements. The illustrations were created by Nate Kitch and I had numerous conversations with the printers – Ex Why Zed – to make sure the paper was just so; I wanted the paper quality of Swirl to be conducive to helping people relax.

If you wake up in the middle of the night with your mind swirling with thoughts, my hope is that you can pick up Swirl and that it will soothe you, help you feel a bit more in control, bring you back to the here and now. It’s something you could read on the bus on your way to work that will give you the positive mindset that you are in control of your thoughts.

I also want to create a Swirl community and make Newcastle more of a place where people can talk about mental health, so I’m going to work with the New Bridge Project to run group sessions on managing worry. I’ve seen the power of group conversations to help veterans feel less alone and isolated.

I started work on the zine last summer, but I feel it’s been 20 years in the making – I started struggling with anxiety when I was about 15 and I’ve learned to deal with it through talking therapies, reading materials and learning what works for me. All the wording and advice in Swirl has come from the heart. My brain has been digesting these things over the years, and now I feel I’m in a good place to provide advice and make mental health part of everyday conversation. Everyone can struggle with anxiety. You might look for a complex fix, but sometimes it’s the simple things that help you get back on track.

  • Andy Walton is a community mental health nurse based in Newcastle. Swirl is available to buy online for £6 via Big Cartel

Join the Healthcare Professionals Network to read more pieces like this. And follow us on Twitter (@GdnHealthcare) to keep up with the latest healthcare news and views

If you’re looking for a healthcare job or need to recruit staff, visit Guardian Jobs

Mental health self-help guides tend to be dull, so I created a vibrant zine | Andy Walton

I have struggled with anxiety, particularly overthinking, for a number of years. I’ve had cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and taken medication – and I’ve collected a lot of self-help literature.

I’ve found most of this material dull and lengthy, and if you have mental health issues, you might struggle with the motivation and concentration to read it. As a mental health nurse, I also noticed there were few resources for service users that were empowering or pleasing to the eye. There was a lot of stereotyping, with pictures of clouds, people frowning or sitting with their head in their hands. I wanted to create something that could take on those associations.

Last year, a number of zines around mental health were published, such as Doll Hospital Journal and Anxy. They were all aesthetically pleasing and empowering, doing their bit to strip down stigma – but many of them focused on very personal stories. I wanted to produce something similar that was more of a guide, to condense all the information from lengthy self-help books into something concise.

The result is Swirl – a vibrant, 20-page booklet that provides straightforward wisdom around overcoming overthinking. It is digestible and accessible.

SWIRLZINE SOCIALS 015


‘I wanted to create something that people would be proud to have on their coffee table.’ Photograph: Swirlzine

I worked for nine months to get the wording as succinct as possible. It was a hard task. I wanted to make it conversational and move away from jargon. The words “mental health” don’t appear until the last page.

The content is psychological, evidence-based advice led by CBT techniques. It depicts the worry tree and the stress vulnerability bucket to help readers manage and rationalise their thoughts, and be in the here and now. I sent it to colleagues and peers past and present for their input; mental health advocates in the UK and the US; clinical psychologists in the NHS; and occupational therapists at Combat Stress, a charity that helps military veterans with anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, where I work in the outreach team. I asked people who have struggled with anxiety if they thought it would work for them: is there anything you disagree with, anything you’d add or take away?


If you wake up in the middle of the night with your mind swirling with thoughts, my hope is that you can pick up Swirl and that it will soothe you

I also wanted to make the guide stand out. With a lot of mental health literature, I feel like you want to hide it away if someone visits. You don’t feel drawn to it or motivated to pick it up. I wanted to create something as striking as possible that people would be proud to have on their coffee table. Everyone can struggle with mental health; it’s not just one thing, it involves a spectrum of emotions. That’s what I’ve tried to get across with the mix of colours.

I’ve been lucky to work with some talented people. I worked with Gina Yu, a writer and marketer based in Atlanta, who helped with the stylistic elements. The illustrations were created by Nate Kitch and I had numerous conversations with the printers – Ex Why Zed – to make sure the paper was just so; I wanted the paper quality of Swirl to be conducive to helping people relax.

If you wake up in the middle of the night with your mind swirling with thoughts, my hope is that you can pick up Swirl and that it will soothe you, help you feel a bit more in control, bring you back to the here and now. It’s something you could read on the bus on your way to work that will give you the positive mindset that you are in control of your thoughts.

I also want to create a Swirl community and make Newcastle more of a place where people can talk about mental health, so I’m going to work with the New Bridge Project to run group sessions on managing worry. I’ve seen the power of group conversations to help veterans feel less alone and isolated.

I started work on the zine last summer, but I feel it’s been 20 years in the making – I started struggling with anxiety when I was about 15 and I’ve learned to deal with it through talking therapies, reading materials and learning what works for me. All the wording and advice in Swirl has come from the heart. My brain has been digesting these things over the years, and now I feel I’m in a good place to provide advice and make mental health part of everyday conversation. Everyone can struggle with anxiety. You might look for a complex fix, but sometimes it’s the simple things that help you get back on track.

  • Andy Walton is a community mental health nurse based in Newcastle. Swirl is available to buy online for £6 via Big Cartel

Join the Healthcare Professionals Network to read more pieces like this. And follow us on Twitter (@GdnHealthcare) to keep up with the latest healthcare news and views

If you’re looking for a healthcare job or need to recruit staff, visit Guardian Jobs

Mental health self-help guides tend to be dull, so I created a vibrant zine | Andy Walton

I have struggled with anxiety, particularly overthinking, for a number of years. I’ve had cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and taken medication – and I’ve collected a lot of self-help literature.

I’ve found most of this material dull and lengthy, and if you have mental health issues, you might struggle with the motivation and concentration to read it. As a mental health nurse, I also noticed there were few resources for service users that were empowering or pleasing to the eye. There was a lot of stereotyping, with pictures of clouds, people frowning or sitting with their head in their hands. I wanted to create something that could take on those associations.

Last year, a number of zines around mental health were published, such as Doll Hospital Journal and Anxy. They were all aesthetically pleasing and empowering, doing their bit to strip down stigma – but many of them focused on very personal stories. I wanted to produce something similar that was more of a guide, to condense all the information from lengthy self-help books into something concise.

The result is Swirl – a vibrant, 20-page booklet that provides straightforward wisdom around overcoming overthinking. It is digestible and accessible.

SWIRLZINE SOCIALS 015


‘I wanted to create something that people would be proud to have on their coffee table.’ Photograph: Swirlzine

I worked for nine months to get the wording as succinct as possible. It was a hard task. I wanted to make it conversational and move away from jargon. The words “mental health” don’t appear until the last page.

The content is psychological, evidence-based advice led by CBT techniques. It depicts the worry tree and the stress vulnerability bucket to help readers manage and rationalise their thoughts, and be in the here and now. I sent it to colleagues and peers past and present for their input; mental health advocates in the UK and the US; clinical psychologists in the NHS; and occupational therapists at Combat Stress, a charity that helps military veterans with anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, where I work in the outreach team. I asked people who have struggled with anxiety if they thought it would work for them: is there anything you disagree with, anything you’d add or take away?


If you wake up in the middle of the night with your mind swirling with thoughts, my hope is that you can pick up Swirl and that it will soothe you

I also wanted to make the guide stand out. With a lot of mental health literature, I feel like you want to hide it away if someone visits. You don’t feel drawn to it or motivated to pick it up. I wanted to create something as striking as possible that people would be proud to have on their coffee table. Everyone can struggle with mental health; it’s not just one thing, it involves a spectrum of emotions. That’s what I’ve tried to get across with the mix of colours.

I’ve been lucky to work with some talented people. I worked with Gina Yu, a writer and marketer based in Atlanta, who helped with the stylistic elements. The illustrations were created by Nate Kitch and I had numerous conversations with the printers – Ex Why Zed – to make sure the paper was just so; I wanted the paper quality of Swirl to be conducive to helping people relax.

If you wake up in the middle of the night with your mind swirling with thoughts, my hope is that you can pick up Swirl and that it will soothe you, help you feel a bit more in control, bring you back to the here and now. It’s something you could read on the bus on your way to work that will give you the positive mindset that you are in control of your thoughts.

I also want to create a Swirl community and make Newcastle more of a place where people can talk about mental health, so I’m going to work with the New Bridge Project to run group sessions on managing worry. I’ve seen the power of group conversations to help veterans feel less alone and isolated.

I started work on the zine last summer, but I feel it’s been 20 years in the making – I started struggling with anxiety when I was about 15 and I’ve learned to deal with it through talking therapies, reading materials and learning what works for me. All the wording and advice in Swirl has come from the heart. My brain has been digesting these things over the years, and now I feel I’m in a good place to provide advice and make mental health part of everyday conversation. Everyone can struggle with anxiety. You might look for a complex fix, but sometimes it’s the simple things that help you get back on track.

  • Andy Walton is a community mental health nurse based in Newcastle. Swirl is available to buy online for £6 via Big Cartel

Join the Healthcare Professionals Network to read more pieces like this. And follow us on Twitter (@GdnHealthcare) to keep up with the latest healthcare news and views

If you’re looking for a healthcare job or need to recruit staff, visit Guardian Jobs