Archive for May, 2008

Monmouthshire Mental Health Service User & Carer Forum

May 26, 2008

Next meeting of the Forum is this Wednesday, 28th May, at the Sessions House, 43 Maryport Street, Usk.

Assemble 1pm onwards for a 1.30pm start.   The meeting will take place in the Mental Health Resource room, and will have a break at 2.30pm, and will end around 3.45pm.  Anyone living in Monmouthshire with an interest in mental health matters, is welcome to the Forum meeting.   Hope to see you there.  


Stop Bullying Resources – For Children & Adults.

May 25, 2008

Follow this link if you would like to access this resource about bullying – provided by the US Department of Health and Human Services.   A site for young people to explore and also for adults worried about children who are being bullied, or who are bullies.

Bullying – two viewpoints.

May 13, 2008

A few weeks ago I was wasting some time watching a TV programme about the work of the RSPCA.   Well, it wasn’t so much ‘wasting’ as idly watching, and as the minutes passed I became increasingly surprised.   The programme focussed on the young male swan that was being bullied by another male swan using the same ‘patch’ of water.    It did not seem to be related to mating, but simply to one swan wanting to dominate another by preventing it feeding, constantly harassing, and even going to the lengths of holding its head underwater by gripping its’ neck.   The RSPCA was called in, and after observing the situation for a while the decision was made to use a boat to rescue the young swan before it was killed.  In fact, it was severely under weight, and its wing feathers so damaged it could not fly away, effectively imprisoning it with it’s tormenter.   By now you probably know where I am going.   Did the Inspectors follow the example of many people who become aware of bullying – by leaving the young swan to get on with it and just ignore it, or by asking the young swan what it had done to upset the bully, or telling it to go ‘talk’ to another young swan who was equally terrified of the aggressive swan, or, or….   No.  They took the decision that the situation was serious, needed immediate action to protect the young swan physically and mentally, and removed it from the lake.   It was then driven several miles to a safe sanctuary where it was fed and made comfortable in a secure pen but able to communicate with and see other animals, and then allowed to recover and rest for several days.  The change was remarkable to watch – after 24 hours of what can only be described as depression the young swan started to feed constantly, and within three days was acting with hostility to its human protectors.   By the end of the week it was introduced to a nearby river and quickly started to fend for itself.  


Maybe the RSPCA should be contracted to provide training for those responsible for designing and operating anti-bully programmes and interventions in schools?   They had no doubt about the lifelong damage that would be caused the swan if the bullying were allowed to continue.   Why do those responsible for children have such a problem reaching a similar decision?   


I have permission from Winawer to publish the following post, written by him, on our blog.   If you would like to see the post in Winawer’s blog Mild Opinions then please click the link below.  Thank you Winawer for this permission.  Thank you too Clay for your comment and the selection of text.  A link to Clay’s blog ‘Beyond School’ is also below.


  My bullying success story.

Through the usual maze of the Internet, I wound up at a post on the Beyond School blog in which Clay Burell proposes a new internet meme. Not many people read this blog, so I’m sure I’m a memetic dead end as it were, but the idea was relevant enough for me that I thought I might respond anyway. In response to a reader who heard Clay’s podcast about bullying survival stories and wrote to say that Clay’s survival story helped him deal with the bullying he’s facing, Clay wrote:

“I’ve already thanked Jack, but I want to thank him again. He confirms that for him, at least, “Stop Bullying” messages may be nice and all, but they don’t do much to comfort those trying to cope with being bullied.”



I’m not saying anti-anything messages have no positive value. I’m just saying they often fail to help the victims of the thing being opposed. Telling bullies not to bully may be worth the effort, though it’s apparently predicated on the dubious belief that it’s effective to appeal to the compassionate side of bullies, who in my experience have almost always been a pretty heartless bunch. Bullies enjoy psycho-social benefits from bullying – profits, in a sense – in the same way arms dealers do from selling weapons. Appeals to delicate instincts require delicate audiences, and delicacy is a thing usually absent from these hardened types.

But as Jack testifies, just hearing Bullied Success Stories – that survival is worth it and life gets better? That’s a speech-act worth performing.

So the Meme: Share Your “Bullied Then, Successful Now” Stories

In light of that, I thought that I might share my own experiences with bullying.

It began in grade 7 for me. I was an overweight, shy, nerdy kid with a sense of fashion that might charitably have been called “out of step”, so you can imagine the world of hurt that I was in for. It began right then and there, first day of school, in a new class with new people: I was a target. It ranged from social isolation to active attacks, but it always hurt. I was called names, I was pushed around, I was made to feel incredibly stupid. It lasted for almost the entirety of my time at that school, from the beginning of Grade 7 until the middle of Grade 9.

Worse, it had a face, and an embarassing one at that. It was a tiny, scrawny kid whom I’ll just call D. for now. I’m convinced, looking back now with the long lens of hindsight, that he chose me as a target simply because he didn’t want to be one himself, but at the time it didn’t matter. He did everything he could to rally the class against me (and for some reason, he ended up in my class all three years). At one point, I walked into our Language Arts class before our teacher got there, and he had the entire class throw pencils, chalks, even books at me. The teacher found me cowering and crying outside the room and her subsequent punishment of D. and the other ringleaders did little to curry favour with the class for me.

It wasn’t just D., of course. I was picked on by just about every “cool” kid in the grade, and ignored by the rest. In fact, I was occasionally the target of a beast of a kid who later went on to be a local rapist who’s still in jail, as far as I know. But D.’s torment was the worst, and at the time it drove me even to thoughts of suicide. I doubt I would ever have gone through with it, but the fact that I was even thinking of it is enough.

It all came to a head about halfway through Grade 9. For reasons that to this day still escape me, D. had been agitating for a fight between us for some time; the notion was ludicrous to me, because he was certainly as unskilled at fighting as I was, and my 2:1 weight advantage was sure to be a crippling handicap for him. Yet he pushed, and pushed, and finally (to my shame), I gave in. One afternoon, we moved off school property and at the urging of a crowd of people we started fighting. It was a fairly uninspiring affair to watch, I’m sure. We both flailed about for a bit, and then I landed a couple of blows. His face was bleeding a little – from a split lip, I think – and I came off unscathed. Considering it a victory, I walked away.

Things started to get a little better after that. My “victory” had bought me enough respect that the active persecution lapsed into a cone of silence around me, especially after D. demanded a rematch about a week later, which he summarily lost again. I spent most of high school isolated as well, since I was completely socially inept by now (and having to change schools three quarters of the way through grade 10 didn’t help either), but I was generally left alone to get on with my life.

Gradually, my life just started improving. In the last year of high school, I met a new group of friends which included my future wife. Heading to university was a massive change for me which opened new horizons and led me to finally start taking control of my life and make my own decisions. I moved from computer science to take photography (which I was unfortunately rubbish at!), after which I took some time off to just try things out and see what life would bring for me. Discovering that “real” life wasn’t for me, I returned to school and banged through my B.A. and M.Sc in short order (while taking a year to explore Europe as well). I recently got married and began my Ph.D, and I’m actually really happy. As I think of it now, I’ve been generally happy for years now.

This isn’t so much a “survival” story in a classic sense, with a catastrophic event and a heroic stand against all odds. My bullying story is more about the promise of the future: I provide anecdotal evidence that things will probably just get better. The fight I had with D. was a watershed, but it really just provides a focus for my memory and a hook for the story; I’m convinced that even if it had never happened, things would have proceeded largely the same (except, perhaps, for the second half of Grade 9).

One thing I need to make clear is that I am ashamed of how I handled things with D. I consider it a failure on my part, that I gave in to violence to solve my problems instead of finding another way to stand up for myself. My current self understands why my past self did it, but current self is still disappointed that it happened that way. Having said that, though, the lesson to be taken from that episode is that picking the right moment to stand up to your tormenter can have important effects. I just hope that anyone reading this who is in the same situation will find a better way to do it than I did.

And that’s it, really. It feels good to talk about this now and if it gives anyone else a moment’s hope, I’ll consider the time I spent writing it up to be well worth it. I welcome any comments you might have, and I urge you to head over to Clay’s blog to share your own stories or keep spreading his meme.

So there it is – for those of you recalling and maybe frequently reliving bully experiences, links to two more blogs which you may well find helpful.  I am always grateful when other bloggers allow me to put their writings and links on our blog as it opens up other opinions and positives to what is for many young and older people a damaging and negative experience.  For many of the individuals that I have known over the years serious bully experiences which were not dealt with at the time by those who have that duty, whether parents or professional workers, have led onto problems and instability in their mental health.  And as many who are affected by mental unwellness know, this so often leads into the experiences of stigma and discrimination – adding yet another layer of bully related problems to their life experience.  What is refreshing about the blogs of Winawer and Clay is that they lead forward to a more positive theme and experience – and that has to be mentally healthy. 


A lesson in controlled assertiveness!

May 13, 2008

Taken from the Guardian, an actual letter sent by the Inland Revenue:

Dear Mr Addison,

I am writing to you to express our thanks for your more than prompt reply to our latest communication, and also to answer some of the points you raise. I will address them, as ever, in order. Firstly, I must take issue with your description of our last as a “begging letter”. It might perhaps more properly be referred to as a “tax demand”. This is how we, at the Inland Revenue have always, for reasons of accuracy; traditionally referred to such documents.

Secondly, your frustration at our adding to the “endless stream of crapulent whining and panhandling vomited daily through the letterbox on to the doormat” has been noted. However, whilst I have naturally not seen the other letters to which you refer I would cautiously suggest that their being from “pauper councils, Lombardy pirate banking houses and pissant gas-mongerers” might indicate that your decision to “file them next to the toilet in case of emergencies” is at best a little ill-advised. In common with my own organisation, it is unlikely that the senders of these letters do see you as a “lackwit bumpkin” or, come to that, a “sodding charity”. More likely they see you as a citizen of Great Britain , with a responsibility to contribute to the upkeep of the nation as a whole.

Which brings me to my next point. Whilst there may be some spirit of truth in your assertion that the taxes you pay “go to shore up the canker-blighted, toppling folly that is the Public Services”, a moment’s rudimentary calculation ought to disabuse you of the notion that the government in any way expects you to “stump up for the whole damned party” yourself. The estimates you provide for the Chancellor’s disbursement of the funds levied by taxation, whilst colourful, are, in fairness, a little off the mark. Less than you seem to imagine is spent on “junkets for Bunterish lickspittles” and “dancing whores” whilst far more than you have accounted for is allocated to, for example, “that box-ticking façade of a university system.”

A couple of technical points arising from direct queries:

1. The reason we don’t simply write “Muggins” on the envelope has to do with the vagaries of the postal system;

2. You can rest assured that “sucking the very marrows of those with nothing else to give” has never been considered as a practice because even if the Personal Allowance didn’t render it irrelevant, the sheer medicallogistics involved would make it financially unviable.

I trust this has helped. In the meantime, whilst I would not in any way wish to influence your decision one way or the other, I ought to point out that even if you did choose to “give the whole foul jamboree up and go and live in India ” you would still owe us the money.

Please forward it by Friday.

Stammering – request for help.

May 12, 2008

About two weeks ago a young person wrote to SpeakEasy in Mons asking for help with stammering.   I am sorry to say that I missed replying to that message and now cannot find it.   I hope that the writer will look at this ‘blog’ again and find this message.

“You may find the following links helpful and like to have a look at them with your parents.  If you want to write to me again, please do, and I will not lose the message this time.  Sorry.”






BBC – Mental health – Self harm.

May 8, 2008


Friends, relatives and professionals are often so distressed when someone deliberately harms themselves that they don’t know how to help, leaving the person inflicting self-harm feeling alone. James Tighe explains the help available.

 Self-harm is a way of dealing with very strong emotions. For some people it gives the relief that crying may provide for the rest of us.  Some self-harming people feel so angry and aggressive they can’t control their emotions. They become afraid that they may hurt someone, so they turn their aggression inwards to get relief.

People who self-harm are often labelled as ‘attention seeking’. However, a person who self-harms may believe this is the only way to communicate their distress, and self-harm can be a hidden problem that goes on for years.  It may start as a spur-of-the-moment outlet for anger and frustration (such as punching a wall) and then develop into a major way of coping with stress that, because it remains hidden, generates more stress.

The severity of self-harm doesn’t depend on the severity of a person’s underlying problems. Usually, as time passes, the person who is self-harming becomes more accustomed to the pain they inflict on themselves and so has harm themselves more severely to get the same level of relief.This spiral can lead to permanent injury and serious infections.

The most common forms are cutting the arms, hands and legs, and less commonly the face, abdomen, breasts and even genitals. Some people burn or scald themselves, others inflict blows on their bodies, or bang themselves against something.  Other forms of self-harm include scratching, picking, biting, scraping and occasionally inserting sharp objects under the skin or into body orifices, and swallowing sharp objects or harmful substances.  Common forms of self-injury that rarely reach medical attention include people pulling out their own hair and eyelashes, and scrubbing themselves so hard they break the skin (sometimes using cleaners such as bleach).

How common is it?

About ten per cent of admissions to UK medical wards are as a result of self-harm. Women are at the most risk of self-harming between the ages of 15 and 19; men, between 20 and 24.

Women have higher rates of self-harm than men.

Methods of self-harm vary, but the majority of hospital admissions are for drug overdoses – only five to 15 per cent are caused by cutting.

These figures probably hide another group of people who regularly self-harm to relieve stress. These people have usually found ways to keep their problem hidden and, when they do harm themselves badly enough to need treatment, will often have a story prepared, or will not seek help at all. The result can be permanent disfigurement or a serious infection.

About half the men admitted to hospital for self-harm and a quarter of women have drunk alcohol in the hours beforehand. This is a very worrying figure. A person who has taken a drug overdose runs the risk of the drugs interacting with the alcohol. Both tcould become more potent when mixed, with tragic consequences.

Self-harm paradox

It’s important to make a distinction between self-harm and attempted suicide, though people who self-mutilate often go on to attempt suicide.  In the case of attempted suicide (most usually by swallowing pills) the harm caused is uncertain and basically invisible. By contrast, in self-harm by cutting, the degree of harm is clear, predictable and often highly visible.

Many people indulge in behaviour that’s harmful to themselves, such as smoking or drinking to excess. But people don’t smoke to damage themselves – harm is an unfortunate side-effect. The reason they smoke is for pleasure. Yet people who cut themselves intend to hurt themselves.  If you self-harm as a way of coping with stressful or difficult feelings, such as anger, frustration or worthlessness, the important thing to realise is that you’re not alone. Many people do this and come through it. There is help out there.  The kind of personal exploration needed to resolve these issues is often best done with a mental health professional or counsellor. But this doesn’t mean that people who self-harm can’t take some control of their situation.  Most people who self-harm want to stop hurting themselves and they can do this by trying to develop new ways of coping and communicating. However, some people feel a need not only to change their behaviour but also to understand why they have resorted to harming themselves.

There are a number of techniques that can reduce the risk of serious injury or minimise the harm caused by self-inflicted injury. This list is not exhaustive – different people find different things useful in various situations. So if one doesn’t work, try another.

  • Stop and try to work out what would have to change to make you no longer feel like hurting yourself
  • Count down from ten (nine, eight, seven)
  • Point out five things, one for each sense, in your surroundings to bring your attention on to the present
  • Breathe slowly – in through the nose and out through the mouth 

If you still feel like cutting, try:

  • Marking yourself with a red water-soluble felt-tip pen instead of cutting
  • A punch bag to vent the anger and frustration
  • Plunging your hands into a bowl of ice cubes (not for too long, though)
  • Rubbing ice where you’d otherwise cut yourself
    If you’re nervous about seeking professional help and wish to remain anonymous it may be a good idea to contact the Samaritans.

Professional help

Self-harm is almost always a symptom of another underlying problem. While the problem can be addressed directly through behavioural and stress-management techniques, it may also be necessary to look at and treat other problems. This could involve anything from medication to psychodynamic therapy.

Most local mental health teams are prepared to see and assess people who self-harm but, where the underlying problems are too complex, may decide to refer the patient to more specialist services.

Self-harm theories

A lot of people say they start self-harming behaviour in childhood, disguising scratches and bumps as accidents and progressing to more systematic cutting and burning in adolescence.

There are different theories as to why people self-mutilate. One is that because victims of childhood sexual abuse were forbidden to reveal the truth about their abuse, they use self-mutilation or self-cutting to express the horror of their abuse to the world.

Another theory is that sexual abuse in early childhood leads to extremely low self-esteem. If very low self-esteem develops, self-harm as an expression of self-hatred is understandable.

One research finding is that self-harmers tend to grow up in an ‘invalidating environment’ – one where the communication of private experiences is met with unreliable, inappropriate or extreme responses. As a result, expressing private experiences is trivialised or punished.

The problem with these theories is that (in the case of the sexual abuse theory, for example) not everyone who’s been sexually abused starts to self-harm, and not everyone who self-harms has been sexually abused.

Another theory is that self-cutting triggers release of the body’s natural opiate-like chemicals to reduce the pain. Perhaps self-cutters have become addicted to their body’s heroin-like reaction to cutting, which is why they do it again and again. They may also experience withdrawal if they haven’t done it for a while.

Drugs used to treat heroin addicts may behelpful with self-cutters, but mostly for those who describe a ‘high’ after they’ve cut themselves.

Another theory, which inpatient units often use, is based on the psychological principle that all behaviour has consequences that are somehow rewarding. Cutting usually leads to a sequence of behaviour – increased attention, for example – that may become the rewarding reason to repeat the behaviour.

Staff in specialist units are specially trained to ensure that no consequences follow from an episode of cutting that could be rewarding. Instead, when the patient stops cutting themselves they’re rewarded with increased attention from staff.

Self-harm culture

It’s essential self-harm is destigmatised so that people seek help early on. Modifying our bodies is part of contemporary culture, for example piercing, cosmetic surgery (breast enhancement and nose jobs), hair removal, skin bleaching, hair straightening and tattooing.

This article was last reviewed in September 2006.
First published in June 2000.

If you would like to comment on this article from the BBC, then please send your comments to:     I will be very pleased to hear from you.        Oberon.

Self Harm Inquiry.

May 8, 2008

Self Harm Inquiry

Launched at the House of Commons in 2004, the two-year Inquiry has heard evidence from over 350 individuals and organisations, and most importantly listened to the voices of young people who have experience of self-harm.


The campaign calls on the Government to launch a UK-wide initiative to develop better and more appropriate responses to young people who self-harm, starting with an awareness campaign targeted at professionals, parents and young people.


More information about the inquiry at

Suicide and the internet.

May 7, 2008

The following is an abstract of the full article in the British Medical Journal.  If you would like to read the article then e-mail susan jennings (below). 

Abstract: Media reporting of suicide and its fictional portrayal on television are known to influence suicidal behaviour, particularly the choice of method used. Indeed, epidemics of suicides using particular methods have occurred after media portrayal of their use. As some methods of suicide are more likely to cause death than others, such influences may affect the outcome of suicide attempts and national suicide rates.

For the full-text of this article please email:

Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training

May 7, 2008

Mind Cymru is offering this training, and if you are interested please click on the link which will take you to the site of Mind Cymru for more information.

The challenge

Every year more people die by suicide than from all the armed conflicts around the world.

In any year as many as 6 per cent of the population have serious thoughts of suicide.

How can Mind Cymru prevent further deaths and injuries?

How can we support people to choose life when something prevents them from seeing a way forward?

The workshop

Mind Cymru now provides the internationally recognised Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST), which is already well established in Canada, USA, Australia, Norway, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

ASIST provides practical training for caregivers seeking to prevent the immediate risk of suicide.

Participants often include:

  • people concerned about family and friends
  • natural helpers and advisers
  • emergency service workers
  • counsellors, teachers and ministers
  • mental health practitioners
  • workers in health, welfare and justice
  • community volunteers

Cutting the Risk

May 7, 2008

is a book published by The National Self Harm Network on Self Harm, Self Care and Risk Reduction.  It is one of many books and dvd’s which you can borrow from our library in the Resource Room at Usk.  If you want to know what is available, give us a call on 01291-673728 and we will help. You can also come and look for yourself and read or watch items while you are here.    

A reader reviews the book as follows:  “Easy to read book.   Gives lots of suggestions about safer ways to self harm and how to treat injuries.   Plenty of coping strategies and ways to stand up for yourself”.

“The National Self-Harm Network (UK based but available to everyone from ANY country: forum topic) has been a survivor-led organisation since 1994. We’re committed campaigners for the rights and understanding of people who self-harm.”

Click this link to access the site:   Front page of the site does contain a caution warning.   If you find the site helpful please let us know.