Mental health

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Policing Without Cops Finds Its Way from Oregon to New York

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 28/07/2021 - 6:00pm in

East coast transplant

A few months back we wrote about a program in Eugene, Oregon called CAHOOTS that dispatches social workers instead of police to certain nonviolent 911 calls. The results have been impressive: CAHOOTS has decreased the number of harmful interactions between police and people with drug or mental health issues. It has also saved the city millions of dollars, since CAHOOTS’s operating costs are only about two percent of the police department’s budget, yet it handles about 20 percent of calls to the cops.

But the big question has always been whether the CAHOOTS model could work in larger, more diverse cities, where issues of policing, mental health, drug addiction and homelessness are deeply connected to racial discrimination. (Only about two percent of Eugene’s residents are Black.) 

Now, there’s evidence that it might. New York City just piloted a similar program that dispatches behavioral health specialists to mental health crisis calls. The program, called B-HEARD, launched last month in Harlem, where teams of three social workers responded to over a hundred 911 calls. Some 95 percent of the people B-HEARD responders approached accepted their help, compared to 82 percent who typically accept help from police or EMS workers. 

The B-HEARD responders were also more meticulous about what kind of help they provided, sending fewer people to hospitals and more to community-based health centers. The pilot’s success has already convinced the city to expand it, increasing the number of B-HEARD dispatches from 25 percent of 911 calls to 50 percent. “This is great news,” tweeted U.S. Rep. Jamaal Bowman. “A smarter approach to public health and public safety. A smarter use of resources. And the evidence… shows that responding with care works.”

Read more at NPR

Use your words

Neuroscientists will tell you that making art can be mentally stabilizing, which is why Kathy Friedman, a Toronto-area writer who struggles with mental health issues, decided to launch a series of writing workshops for people like herself. “I’d been writing creatively since I learned how to hold a pencil, and I’d been dealing with mental health issues for almost as long. But I had never really put the two together,” she says.

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Now, in partnership with the Canadian Mental Health Association, Friedman runs Inkwell Workshops, an organization that holds free weekly drop-in writing seminars for people who have experienced addiction or mental health challenges. Each class is led by a professional writer who has struggled with mental health issues themselves. These days, the workshops are held virtually, attracting about 20 participants each time (before the pandemic they were larger) and in some cases have even led to published work — a series called “New Writing from Inkwell Workshops” just had its fourth book in the anthology put out by one of Canada’s largest independent publishing houses.

Lately, the group has worked to encourage more participants from Indigenous groups, many of which struggle with high rates of addiction and mental health challenges. “We don’t just want to say to people, ‘You’re welcome to join us,’” Friedman told the Toronto Star. “We want to be able to say, ‘You’re welcome to join us, and we have created this space with you in mind.’”

Read more at the Toronto Star

Making moves

How do you convince a bird to relocate? In the old-growth forests of the Oregon coast, scientists are leveraging one particular seabird’s desire for company.

seabirdCredit: esle9 / Flickr

The marbled murrelet builds its cozy nests in the branches of old-growth trees, a habitat under threat from the commercial logging industry. To lure the birds out of harm’s way, Oregon State University biologists have been broadcasting the recorded calls of murrelets to encourage them to move to safer parts of the forest. It turns out the murrelets follow the sounds of their feathered friends when deciding where to nest. After trying out the trick during the 2016 breeding season, the scientists found that four times as many murrelets nested where the recorded calls were broadcast as in the control area.

Crucially, even after the broadcasts stop, it appears that the birds remain in their new locations once they’ve moved there. “They’ll return year after year to the same stand to nest as long as there are no changes,” said one OSU biologist. “Despite their solitary nesting habits, marbled murrelets are still a sociable bird.”

Read more at Hakai

The post Policing Without Cops Finds Its Way from Oregon to New York appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

Now comes the mental health pandemic

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 18/06/2021 - 4:24am in

Patients and therapists have suffered from the pandemic, but some have benefited.

Aleena* was halfway through a series of cognitive behavioural therapy sessions at a small NHS clinic in London, where she was finishing her last year of university, when the pandemic forced her to travel back to her hometown in Pakistan. Now she has to sneak off to her bedroom for sessions that, due to the time difference, interrupt her day. The sudden changes in her routine caused a definite setback, with her weekly mood chart showing significantly elevated signs of depression and anxiety.

The impact of the pandemic on mental health has been the subject of much discussion. But more needs to be done to address the needs of those who saw their therapy disrupted by a sudden change in daily routine and geographical location. Like the pandemic, the interruption in access to mental healthcare is a global problem. Aleena has not been able to return to the routines that had started working for her.  She worries that she never will.

Some have had better experiences in navigating a more flexible, hybrid work-life balance that brings together online work and in person experiences. Dr Becky Clark, a licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist based in New York, said that some of her patients benefited from flexible scheduling and the convenience of remote therapy. 

Dr. Naomi Graham is an occupational therapist and founder of Growing Hope, a Christian charity based in London that provides free services for children with special needs, including therapy. By working with families and school services, the charity created successful hybrid models that have worked for their patients. They expect more families to come in for help as the pandemic’s toll on mental health continues to grow. For families isolated from support networks while living with digital poverty, the pandemic has been particularly difficult, said Dr. Graham, noting that “not everyone has been able to move online the same way.”

For some, digital poverty means being unable to afford phones, tablets, computers or the monthly cost of an internet service provider. For others, particularly older people, it manifests in a lack of internet skills. For these reasons, Dr. Clark said, many of her patients had decided to wait out the pandemic and return when in person therapy was possible.

Cultural contexts and experiences vary, but the need for good, consistent mental healthcare remains constant. Even without the complications of the pandemic, therapy still remains a sensitive, and in some cases even taboo, topic. Now it’s become a double edged sword—need is increasing, but access and availability are more complicated than ever.

Dr. Clark said that her experiences with online therapy has varied greatly from patient to patient. An additional challenge for those in the United States is the constantly changing and often confusing status of federal and state regulations governing teletherapy. This has been an issue for people who had been seeing a therapist in one state but were sheltering in place in another. 

Angela, a recent high school graduate in Canada, was one of those who managed to continue with her therapy sessions, but she says online therapy came with its own challenges—chiefly, a loss of privacy and fear of being overheard. This, she said “…significantly impacted the quality” of her sessions.

For those who are in therapy to deal with domestic problems, a therapist’s office can be a safe haven. Switching to home sessions often means that young people like Angela find themselves self censoring for fear of being overheard. According to digital privacy expert Jo O’Reilly, “this type of environmental privacy concern is something that patients and therapists must discuss to ensure that sessions are carried out in as much seclusion and privacy as possible, using headphones, or code words when required.”

But these adjustments are not always sufficient for many, particularly for those in the most difficult and precarious domestic situations. 

Palwasha lives in the city of Peshawar in Pakistan. She has been in therapy for both depression and grief counselling for more than four years and was already familiar with online sessions, since her therapist is based in Islamabad, which is over two-and-a-half hours away by car. But being unable to visit Islamabad at all during lockdown— previously she had visited as frequently as once a week when needed—made therapy that much more difficult. “In person [therapy] is much better because it allows you to leave home and come out of your shell. This is especially important for someone like me who feels trapped by her circumstances and is a survivor of domestic abuse. COVID has been particularly hard for me,” she said. 

Therapists have also suffered. According to Dr. Clark, many of her colleagues chose to close their practice, while those  who stuck it out, as she did, have been paying full rent for empty clinics. The reliance on digital communication has also had a negative impact on her own mental health. “Extended meetings can cause physical and mental fatigue from sitting and working on a computer screen for five to eight hours per day with patients,” she said. She misses the intimacy of in-person therapy, adding: “Nonverbal cues are [more] limited online than in person.” 

Unsurprisingly, patients and therapists in countries where the pandemic has subsided somewhat have celebrated the return to in-person sessions. After six months of teletherapy, Angela was in her comfort zone, opening up and connecting in her therapist’s office in ways she hadn’t been able to online.

Others have observed an upside to online therapy. Dr. Graham of Growing Hope explained that certain children, particularly those with special needs, have actually responded better to remote therapy sessions from home. For these children, “online therapy meant they were in their home environment which made them feel safer and more comfortable.” While they still prefer in-person sessions, she and her fellow therapists are now planning to be more flexible, adjusting to the use of online therapy for those who prefer it, even as their clinics have started re-opening. 

Jen, whose autistic son is non-verbal, decided for his safety to continue with at-home therapy through Growing Hope. “Although this was the right decision, it was really hard for Jen having to care for her son 24/7 without any support,” said Dr. Graham. But it was during those online sessions that her son learned to eat with a spoon unaided. Growing Hope stayed in touch virtually with the young boy’s school as it reopened, which made his transition back to the classroom much easier. By managing the boy’s therapy and relationship with his school online, Jen and Growing Hope opened productive new avenues to help him. 

The past 15 months have provided some positive lessons. “We have seen that digital support can be beneficial, but we also know it doesn’t work for everybody. We want to first and foremost tailor our therapy to what the individual and their family needs,” said Dr. Graham. As patients return to in-office sessions, it’s important that these more flexible arrangements become better defined and that patients are kept informed of their options, whether they be in-person or remote. Now they must begin the work of healing from the trauma of the pandemic year.

*All the patients’ names have been changed to protect their privacy.

 

The post Now comes the mental health pandemic appeared first on The Conversationalist.

Memoir and the Creative Process

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 16/06/2021 - 2:33am in

In a recent post, I discussed some of my challenges with mental health and depression.

I have been thinking about writing about this for some time, mainly as a way to reflect and make sense of it.

I always put it off as I was concerned about what others would say. There is the hesitance to not get too real with others. I was worried that people would look at me differently, or measure their words and be gentle around me.

The truth is that I’m absolutely fine. I needed to come to terms with some skeletons in the closet. The funny thing about skeletons in the closet is that when you don’t deal with them…they not only stick around, but they start lifting weights and getting stronger.

I’m fine. If I wasn’t…I wouldn’t have written that post.

Finding Gifts in the Suffering

One of the pieces that inspired me to write the post and share more about myself was this interview with Mary Karr on the Tim Ferriss Show.

Mary Karr is the author of three award-winning, bestselling memoirs (The Liars’ Club, Cherry, Lit). She is also the author of The Art of Memoir, which details her own process as she breaks down the craft of memoir, and Tropic of Squalor, her latest volume of poetry.

Listening to Karr, I continued to think about the challenges of writing and creating digital content. We’re always trying to position ourselves a certain way. There’s a certain amount of concern in how much we share about ourselves.

I reflected on my experiences guiding individuals in K-12 and in higher ed as they write, and develop a digital identity. My guidance has always indicated that they have a choice to share as much about themselves as possible. I indicated that I strive to be as open as possible. That is not entirely true.

I realized that I wasn’t being real on this blog. I have almost 500 posts just on this blog. My newsletter has about 300 issues to this date. While talking with a friend after my last post, we both agreed that I’m not truly myself in my writing in these spaces. I’m a facsimile of what I think others want to see from me.

I’ll try to use this blog as a way to be honest with myself…and my readers. We don’t always recognize the gifts we’re given by suffering through disappointing and difficult times until long after the fact. I chose to not ignore trauma from my past and only share in person with those close to me.

Keeping It Real

After I wrote up and shared the post, I had a number of friends and colleagues reach out on social media, or through private channels to thank me for being brave and sharing. I honestly just wanted to share my story, and hopefully, this would normalize discussions about mental health.

I also took some time (thanks to COVID) to think about what is important in my life. I decided that I matter. I also decided that my partner and children matter. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got a lot of friends that I value deeply. But, at the end of the day, I realized that if my partner and kids were okay with me sharing…it’s ok.

There is some danger in this work. As Karr indicates in the interview, “everybody I know who wades deep enough into memory’s waters drowns a little.”

Some of these posts will show me to be a fraud and a fool. Some will show me to be a human being trying to figure things out. Sometimes I’ll get it right. Many other times I’ll be completely wrong.

As I make space for more of my memories in my writing, I’ll remember that our memories are not a perfect storage system. It is a filter of who we are. As I write about how I perceive things in the world, it’ll be a reflection of my landscape and the filters that keep me from truly seeing what is going on.

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

The post Memoir and the Creative Process first appeared on Dr. Ian O'Byrne.

Naomi Osaka, Athletes, and Mental Health

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 09/06/2021 - 1:28am in

In this episode, Natalia, Neil, and Niki discuss the controversy over tennis champion Naomi Osaka’s decision not to participate in...

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The Social Distance Between Us

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 28/05/2021 - 3:01pm in

Host, Ross Ashcroft, met up with McGarvey to discuss some of the issues that the political response to the pandemic has laid bare.

The post The Social Distance Between Us appeared first on Renegade Inc.

The Social Distance Between Us

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 28/05/2021 - 3:01pm in

Host, Ross Ashcroft, met up with McGarvey to discuss some of the issues that the political response to the pandemic has laid bare.

The post The Social Distance Between Us appeared first on Renegade Inc.

Mental Health and Depression

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 26/05/2021 - 2:48am in

Mental Health Month raises awareness of trauma and the impact it can have on the physical, emotional, and mental well-being of children, families, and communities. Mental Health Month was established in 1949 to increase awareness of the importance of mental health and wellness in Americans’ lives, and to celebrate recovery from mental illness. Mental health is essential for a person’s overall health. Prevention works, treatment is effective, and people can recover from mental disorders and live full and productive lives.

In numerous spaces online, you can find people sharing their stories with the hashtags #NotAlone #BraveDays or #BreakTheStigma.

For further information about National Mental Health Month and related resources and events, visit:

I’ve suffered from depression, anxiety, and general poor mental health for most of my life. More to the point, I was really good at identifying it in other friends, family, and colleagues. I never took the time to think about my own mental health. That all changed a couple of years ago.

I’ve dealt with a lot of rejection, abuse, and depression as a child and through adolescence. There were numerous events that contributed, but if I tried to confide in adults to talk through these things, I was either told that it was “amazing how resilient I was”, or told that I was “using these events as excuses and to get over it.”

So that’s what I did. When faced with adversity, we have a response that is fight, flight, or freeze. My main response is to fight. My body is pumped with adrenaline and cortisol. My body prepares for battle. I conditioned my brain and body over the years to engage in conflict and win. In all honesty, I was very good at this. I had to help raise my brothers and sisters in high school. I dropped out of college and got back in. I earned my Masters, my PhD, got a job in academia, etc. Whether it was personal or professional, I encountered every event as a threat that I was determined to defeat it….and I did.

The challenge is that I needed to accept the negative side of this equation. I was never able to experience any real joy in life. With every success, I stopped to wait and see how it would ultimately all go to shit. Perceived threats would often haunt me, as I would look and prepare for something I considered to be dangerous.

I also paid no attention to the stress this placed on my body. I enjoyed the ability to have my blood run cold, focus my thinking, and go straight for the jugular in most situations. This ability to flip a switch became an exaggerated stress response. I was always on edge and always anxious. My blood would always run cold, my stomach would clench, my pulse quicken, and I’d tune out the outside world.

This also led me to the need to constantly feed my own ego. I was ambitious (still am), but it was never enough. With success came new obstacles, and new threats to be on the lookout for. Many times I lost…but I felt like I could maintain my own scorecard. Instead of calmly dealing with reality, I would make up events in my mind and replay those events over and over and over. I would play these tapes in my head looking for a better resolution.

The Breaking Point

During my first position in academia, things started to look like they were going well. I was married, had a child. Personally and professionally things seemed to be going well. I strangely even began to ask colleagues if there was something else out there…or if this was it. I slowly began to calm down and enjoy life. That’s when things went sideways again. My position and my entire department were being eliminated. I quickly went back to fight mode as I focused on my colleagues and students. I started to look for other jobs as our family was getting bigger with another child on the way. That resilience and grit paid off as I landed another job in academia and moved our family.

Not soon after we moved, I found that my anxiety was out of control. I couldn’t sleep at all. If I woke at any point during the night (which happens a lot with a newborn) I could feel the precise moment when my blood would begin to boil and my pulse quicken. I would often try and sleepwalk while helping the kids so I could try and get back to sleep. Most times this didn’t work and I stayed awake in bed.

I tried to combat this by waking early each day at 4:30 or 5:00. I would go meditate for a half-hour and then exercise for an hour. This coping mechanism helped by taking some time in the morning to calm my monkey mind while also taking time to get my blood pumping and tire me out.

This habit of meditation and exercise helped with some of the anxiety and depression, but only until an actual threat reared its head. Life soon brought that to me in the form of my third year review. All of a sudden I had numerous question marks about my work, my character, and identity as an educator and researcher.

On one day in particular, I came as close to a mental breakdown as possible. My pulse was very high and I paced around the house. My partner and children tried to calm me down, but I could not see or hear them. I felt like I was a video file that was sped up, and not in the same existence as my family.

I needed help. I felt like I was losing my mind. I went to go see a therapist.

Finding Balance

A funny thing happened when I started going to therapy. I believed that I was special, in that I had these problems. I thought that my anxiety and depression was the result of my mother’s death and other events in my life. I figured that all of this was just my story, and I needed to just deal with it.

I slowly realized that other family members were also exhibiting the same symptoms as me. I also noticed that one of my children would also begin to show early signs of anxiety. I was like…”wait a minute…this is my thing.” I realized that my experiences growing up were just part of the problem. I recognized that there was something deeper happening. Something that I needed to address, especially as it was showing up in my children.

My therapist listened and indicated that I was suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). People with PTSD feel a heightened sense of danger. The natural fight-or-flight response is altered, causing them to feel stressed or fearful, even when they’re safe. PTSD can disrupt normal activities and the ability to function. Words, sounds, or situations that remind you of trauma can trigger your symptoms.

In addition, I had an external locus of control as opposed to an internal locus of control. The locus of control refers to the extent to which people feel that they have control over the events that influence their lives. I felt that I could work hard, fight, and survive. But, with any success that may come…I needed to prepare for something else to come and ruin it.

In order to deal with these forces, I needed to cultivate humility, diligence, and self-awareness. I needed to recognize that I needed help. I needed to take time for self care and invest in my mental health. I needed to practice seeing myself from a distance. I needed to cultivate the ability to get out of my own head.

I also needed to listen. I listened to my therapist. I listened to my partner. I listened to my children. I try to not be a sponge. I try to not absorb what is going on around me, filter it, and latch on to what I can hold. I try to be a little less self-critical and self-motivated. I’m trying to not always move on to the next level, the next challenge.

My goal is to strive for purpose and realism. Purpose is like passion but with boundaries. Realism is detachment and perspective.

The work still continues. I continue to be humbled by the work in front of me and want to be more humbled and respectful of what I’ve already come through. I want to thank my mind and body for preparing me for these moments but also strive for harmony as we meet future circumstances.

Thank you for reading through this post. I wrote this post because I was seeing many around me suffering. I also will increasingly be more open and candid on this blog as I urge others to be more honest in sharing their narratives.

If you or someone you know is suffering from a mental health problem, please reach out for support. There is nothing wrong with going to talk to a therapist, or your primary care physician to get more information.

In addition, please take time for your own self care. I learned that our mental health, just like our physical health, is not a resilient as we would like to believe. Take time each day to laugh, cry, listen, and enjoy the ride. It’s really cool.

Photo by Michael Lai on Unsplash

The post Mental Health and Depression first appeared on Dr. Ian O'Byrne.

Government ‘Ministries of Loneliness’ Bridge the Gaps of Social Distance

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 26/04/2021 - 6:00pm in

A Ministry for Loneliness might sound like a poignant literary creation from José Saramago, Haruki Murakami or Gabriel García Márquez. But this governmental office is non-fiction — an official response to “one of the greatest public health challenges of our time,” as former U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May put it in 2018 when she launched “the world’s first ministerial lead” to tackle loneliness.

The move was designed to address a widespread problem. Even before the pandemic, a Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that loneliness affected about one in four U.K. adults. The global coronavirus pandemic and its lockdowns have made loneliness even worse, particularly among groups that already suffered from it

Now, countries around the world are recognizing the public health effects of loneliness, which England’s national strategy defines as what happens “when we have a mismatch between the quantity and quality of social relationships that we have, and those that we want.” Such mismatches, according to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, are “associated with poor physical and mental health outcomes, including higher rates of mortality, depression and cognitive decline.” 

Following the U.K.’s lead is Japan, which announced in February the creation of its own Ministry for Loneliness to coordinate efforts and promote policy across ministries and agencies to address loneliness and isolation. According to a statement from Japan’s Office for Policy on Loneliness and Isolation, the ministry “will act as a kind of control tower for efforts by the government as a whole to provide more appropriate assistance to those who need it.”

A “control tower” for loneliness

 Japan’s Health Ministry revealed that 20,919 people died by suicide in 2020, marking “the first year-on-year rise in suicides in more than a decade, with women and children in particular taking their lives at higher rates,” according to one media report. How many of these suicides had loneliness as a contributing factor is unclear. According to Tetsuya Matsubayashi, a professor at Osaka University who studies suicide prevention, “Loneliness is certainly an important determinant of suicidal risk, but we need more evidence to say it is more important than other major determinants, such as economic difficulties and family matters.” 

“The government,” observes Matsubayashi, “needs to continue to collect more evidence to develop an effective prevention strategy.” 

lonelinessA quiet street in Tokyo. Credit: Guiseppe Milo / Flickr

To this end, Japan’s new ministry has established a task force that will engage “in practical study toward future efforts” on loneliness and isolation. Following the creation of the loneliness initiative, an emergency forum was held in February to gather local input from organizations that assist efforts to combat loneliness. The government also held a coordination conference between ministries and allocated emergency funds of approximately six billion yen (USD$54.6 million) to nonprofits.

These steps represent a pivotal change in mindset in a country where social isolation has long been considered an issue to be dealt with personally. “In Japan, solitude can be seen as a virtue and something you are ultimately responsible for addressing yourself,” Junko Okamoto, author of Japanese Old Men: The Loneliest People in the World, told Nikkei Asia. “The government needs to swiftly conduct foundational research and craft strategy based on scientific evidence.” 

England’s experience

In its endeavor to craft such a strategy, Japan has, to some degree, borrowed from the U.K.’s approach. On December 7, 2017, a report from the British government’s Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness recommended that officials there implement actions and policies to alleviate loneliness and social isolation, including the appointment of a ministerial lead on the issue. The position was created the following month, a clear acknowledgment from the government that, through its strategy, it had a role to play in reducing loneliness.

This strategy, titled A Connected Society and unveiled in 2018, is an ambitious cross-departmental set of over 50 commitments laying the structure for long-term work on loneliness and changing how public services are viewed. It has three overarching goals: developing a national conversation on loneliness to reduce stigma, building evidence on loneliness, and driving a governmental shift so that relationships and loneliness are considered in policymaking.

lonelinessThe “A Connected Society” strategy aims to involve the public, government and many different stakeholders in combating loneliness in the U.K. Credit: HM Government

In England, where 45 percent of adults experience some degree of loneliness, the issue is both social and economic. A 2017 report by the New Economics Foundation found that loneliness costs U.K. employers £2.5 billion (USD$3.4 billion) per year in employee health problems, productivity losses and staff turnover.

To support organizations working to combat loneliness, the government announced £20 million (USD$27.5 million) in funding, including £11 million in grants to 126 organizations. It also made social prescribing one of its strategy’s central commitments, funding the recruitment of 1,000 additional “social prescribing link workers” within primary care networks by April 2021.

Social prescribing link workers — also known as community connectors, well being advisors, community navigators and health advisors — support non-clinical needs in a wide range of people, including those who feel lonely, according to England’s National Health Service (NHS). They are recruited for their listening skills and empathy, and may connect people in need to community groups and services for practical and emotional support.

In another of the strategy’s pledges, Royal Mail postal workers were tasked with checking in on older people as part of their delivery rounds and referring those who reported feeling lonely to appropriate support. An evaluation of this program by the Loneliness Action Group, jointly chaired by the British Red Cross and the Co-op Foundation, showed that “three quarters of people valued visits by postal workers” and “trial partners were exploring ways to scale-up the service.”  

lonelinessRoyal Mail postal workers in the U.K. have been tasked with checking in on older customers and referring them to support networks if necessary. Credit: Neil Moralee / Flickr

The government’s strategy also included collecting and tracking evidence to inform future policy, prompting the Office of National Statistics (ONS) to develop national standards for measuring and tracking loneliness — for instance, by surveying citizens with standardized questions on the topic, with variations on wording for children and detailed guidance on how to administer the surveys.

Still, quantifying progress on reducing loneliness can be difficult. One government campaign launched in 2019 called “Let’s Talk Loneliness” aimed to challenge the stigma surrounding loneliness by encouraging the importance of talking about it. The campaign was advertised across 20 big digital screens around the country and included a toolkit for organizations that help those experiencing loneliness. But according to the Loneliness Action Group, “little is known” about whether this or other types of public campaigns are effective in tackling loneliness. The report recommends measuring the impact of this campaign: “Using this data to inform future work will be vital.”

The Loneliness Action Group produced a one-year progress report on England’s strategy and found that while “progress has been made” in setting up the policy structures to drive action, there is “still more to do to secure tangible change in the levels of loneliness across the country.”

A tricky issue to tackle 

The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Loneliness, established in 2018 to raise parliament’s awareness of loneliness, recently published a report echoing the Loneliness Action Group’s call for consolidating and building on what was learned from the pilots in England’s loneliness strategy, such as the Royal Mail initiative. 

“Most of these pilots have now been completed, but best practice has often not been shared or spread,” says Olivia Field, head of health and resilience policy at the British Red Cross.

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Progress across departments has been uneven. For instance, transport and housing require more concrete action on loneliness, according to the Loneliness Action Group’s report. The APPG notes that both of these areas play an important role in supporting people’s ability to connect, calling on the government “to ‘loneliness-proof’ all new transport and housing developments.”

“During inquiry,” Field says, “the APPG heard how poorly designed or unsuitable housing environments can make it harder for people to host visitors as well as get out and about.” In other cases, says the APPG report, “a lack of affordable and suitable housing forced them to move away from the communities with which they were most connected. For others, poorly repaired or cramped housing conditions made it hard to maintain social connections.” 

When designing new housing developments and transport, says Field, groups at risk of loneliness and exclusion should be consulted. “Simple things like putting in more benches, putting seating in apartment block corridors, communal gardens and warm lighting can help neighborhoods connect.” Survey respondents highlighted the role of lobbies, shared outdoor spaces and lounges, access to the nearest bus stop, and ensuring all residents have the same access — to play areas, for instance — to foster connection between neighbors.

Inequities, inevitably, play a role. “The inequalities exposed and exacerbated during the pandemic show the need to do more to support areas with higher levels of deprivation and limited community and social infrastructure,” says Field. “It has also further exposed the link between financial hardship, mental health and loneliness.”

One component to fixing this, as the government’s strategy envisioned, is the roll-out, currently underway, of social prescribing as a universal offer in health care by 2023. Field says the British Red Cross has seen first-hand how effective social prescribing can be in tackling loneliness. The organization’s evaluation “found this service helped two thirds of the people it supported to feel less lonely and 76 percent saw an improvement in their well being,” she says. 

Taken as a whole, England’s strategy reflects a growing consensus that, while loneliness may be something that happens to an individual, the remedies for it can be supported by policy and government programs. As the APPG report puts it: “While we know that it’s locally, in our own communities, that people make friends and find companionship, national leadership is vital in setting the strategic direction, providing the impetus for action, and funding the activities and infrastructure needed to connect.” 

The post Government ‘Ministries of Loneliness’ Bridge the Gaps of Social Distance appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

Free the Playgrounds!

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 23/03/2021 - 4:39am in

When the newly renovated Willie “Woo Woo” Wong Playground opened in San Francisco’s Chinatown neighborhood in February, its sand play zones and abstract Dragon- and Phoenix-themed climbing structures came alive with shrieking kids enjoying a welcome respite from months of coronavirus lockdown.

Today, in countries around the world, children are leading more structured, indoor-oriented lives than ever before — one British study found that kids spend just four hours per week outside, half that of their parents. This has only worsened during the ongoing pandemic. And when kids do play outdoors, it is increasingly within the safe, controlled confines of a playground. Fading are the days when children were turned loose in a world of dirt, bugs, and sticks and rocks that could become swords or building blocks with a bit of imagination.

playground“Part of the design process is abstraction,” says Nathan Schleicher, lead playground designer at Earthscape. “It is always about how many opportunities a kid has to use their imagination with the space.” Credit: Earthscape Play

But the colorful play structures that dot suburban neighborhoods are full of fixed synthetic objects that leave little space for imagination. As parents and playground designers learn more about the importance of open-ended outdoor play, so-called “natural playgrounds,” like the Willie “Woo Woo” Wong Playground, have emerged to deliver the benefits of nature in a more controlled space.

What is a natural playground?

“A lot of times a natural playground is defined by what it’s not,” says Mike Salisbury, a landscape architect and lead designer at Earthartist Planning and Design. For example, Earthartist’s “playscapes” are designed to avoid being static or overly programmed. Nor are they manufactured en masse and sold unit by unit like most public playgrounds — which, for all the excitement they promise, are designed to guide and manage movement in a way that minimizes opportunities for unscripted play.

playgroundA natural playground in Queenston Heights, Ontario. Credit: Earthartist

Missing out on free play has consequences for healthy development. Research shows that children who spend more time engaged in free play during their formative years are more likely to contribute to their families and communities and less likely to have behavioral problems later in life. Free play has more immediate benefits, as well — one Scandinavian study demonstrated that children who play in unstructured environments develop better motor skills than kids on programmed playgrounds.

A natural playground in Saskatoon. Credit: Earthscape Play

Natural playgrounds are designed to nurture this free play. They tend to feature movable materials like dirt, sand and water. When natural playgrounds include play structures, they’re often abstract, their use not immediately apparent. A structure that looks like a larger-than-life fish to one kid might become a spaceship or a prehistoric cave in the mind of another. “When we’re doing a structure, whether it’s a tower or a giant animal … part of the design process is abstraction,” says Nathan Schleicher, lead playground designer at Earthscape. “It is always about how many opportunities a kid has to use their imagination with the space.” 

playgroundStudies show that kids spend twice as long playing on natural playgrounds as they do on traditional playgrounds. Credit: Earthartist

At Earthscape, Schleicher says the design process is collaborative. Designers start by working with city or park administrators to develop a vision for the space that honors the local landscape. “It is very much about doing design every single time so that the space is really imbued with a unique character,” Schleicher says. Once the team has a vision, it uses natural materials to produce the features of the playgrounds — from boulders and towers for climbing to the abstract animal-shaped play structures that distinguish their work.

The best of both worlds

The loose parts and changeable environments that characterize natural playgrounds invite constructive play which naturally appeals to children’s active brains. Studies show that kids spend twice as long playing on natural playgrounds as they do on traditional playgrounds. 

“These types of playgrounds really encourage [kids] to stop, to think, to figure things out — using the executive functioning part of the brain,” says Dr. Regine Muradian, a clinical psychologist specializing in children and adolescents. Executive function skills are those that enable us to plan, remember instructions and multitask, and they can only be developed through experience and practice. According to Dr. Muradian, using a combination of motor and cognitive skills to traverse abstract play structures also helps kids hone their executive function, critical thinking and conceptualization abilities. 

playgroundA natural playground in Calgary. Credit: Earthscape Play

Essentially, these spaces mimic the benefits of the wilderness environments that kids used to play in without sacrificing the safety or hygiene that many modern parents wring their hands over. “The beauty of [a natural playground] is that we’ve taken the same level of engagement that you might get climbing a tree in the forest … and introduced it into a formal environment that meets the requirements of safety,” explains Schleicher. 

As children spend more time indoors, especially during the pandemic, Muradian has seen increases in impulsivity and frustration. Kids are also growing fatigued from hours of screen time. Natural playgrounds can help mitigate these problems, even for families in urban or suburban environments. “I think that there’s a growing idea that we can do better for our children’s spaces,” Schleicher says.

The post Free the Playgrounds! appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

The Psychological Pandemic: Can We Confront Our Death Anxiety?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 06/03/2021 - 4:33am in

The COVID-19 pandemic creates universal death anxiety. We cannot see or touch or smell the virus that has now killed 500,000 Americans. It is everywhere and nowhere—making its lethal, invisible contamination seem almost a supernatural force. Continue reading

The post The Psychological Pandemic: Can We Confront Our Death Anxiety? appeared first on BillMoyers.com.

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