Sophie’s Kirkstall Abbey Photos

Walk in the Kirkstall Abbey Area with Leeds Wellbeing Web. Weather was a bit cold but quite pleasant spring afternoon

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Wellbeing – Dialogue or Overused Umbrella?

According to the Oxford dictionary, well-being is ‘the state of being or doing well in life; a happy, healthy or prospering condition; welfare’. The term was first noted in 1613, and in recent years has increasingly been used in the field of, (and sometimes as an alternative to), ‘mental health’, writes Terry Simpson.

In thinking about how to evaluate our Community Reporter training course as part of the Leeds ‘Wellbeing Web’, it seemed like a good idea to try and measure two things – firstly the well-being of participants over the course, and secondly their hopes at the beginning, and whether they were fulfilled.

It turned out that people’s hopes, although very different, were consistent, but ideas about well-being varied considerably.

Rather than take a formal measure, we decided to look at what well-being meant to individual people. In response to the question ‘what does well-being mean to you personally’, the following points were made:

To be honest I think that ‘well-being’ is a little overused within mental health services. I think one can have a relationship with ones mental states that is much more finely grained than wellness or illness, something more akin to a dialogue. Perhaps then well-being is the dialogue. If the dialogue is absent then perhaps that is when things are problematic?
The idea of well-being, to me, is not a specific entity or concept by itself, but it is the conglomeration of different aspects of myself that, together, improve my mood and my ability to function.
The concept of well-being, if there is a definite one, would have to be a loose and fairly ambiguous term so that it is malleable and able to be adapted for the individual. It would have to be closely tied to the idea of holistic care i.e. that there are component parts that make up the entirety (rather than being a distinct entity).

I would analogise this to an umbrella – each of the sections of the hood are the factors contributing to wellbeing and are there to shelter the person from the elements. If one section tears (e.g. there is a setback with their personal relationships) then they are left exposed to the elements.
One idea taken up in the discussion we had at the first meeting of the group was that well-being might be different for each individual, and change as life changes.
The problems that I have had since adolescence have become my normality: I am accustomed to them and anything other would be frightening and unfamiliar.

I do, however, recognise that my state of wellness/illness has moved along a scale with different aspects shifting.
The point is not to make us all ‘happy’ in the same way, but for each person to work out their own path, to their own goal, which they may or may not call ‘well-being’.

On the receiving end…

Mike Bush learnt a lot by looking at the services from the other side…

In November 2000, due to a combination of extremely stressful work-related problems and pressures, I suffered a severe mental breakdown. This occurred ironically while I was working as a mental health social worker in a inner city community mental health team, surrounded by community psychiatric nurses (CPNs), occupational therapists and a consultant psychiatrist, all of whom were embarrassed and rather lost for words at seeing their long-established fellow team member losing it at a rate of knots. However, I got on well with the CPN manager and so I spoke to her about my plight, the outcome of which was that we both agreed that I needed ‘professional help’. After a very difficult conversation with a receptionist at my GP surgery, it was finally rather reluctantly agreed that I would be seen that day by my GP — a lovely woman with an interest in mental health issues. After hearing a self-assessment of my dire circumstances the GP said, ‘you know a lot more about mental health than I do: what do you want to do?’ I said that I wanted to see a consultant psychiatrist, and she said she’d make arrangements for me to be seen as soon as possible. Two days later the consultant came to see me at home, where he took a very detailed history/assessment and prescribed major tranquillizers and antidepressants. He was friendly, supportive and kind, and he used a cognitive therapy approach with me, which was very appropriate. Yet despite all this I was terrified out of my mind: everything felt completely surreal and I had a sense of real dread as to what was to become of me. As I was not improving on the medication, and in fact was experiencing strong suicidal thoughts and feeling completely out of control, the consultant suggested that I should attend a day hospital.

I attended the day hospital five days a week for approximately one year. In this shabby, squalid environment, I learnt in every way what it was to be a service user with severe clinical depression. I felt stripped right down to my very core: my status, self-esteem, personhood, even my sense of taste were all obliterated, and emotionally I was totally flat. Worst of all among the many terrible effects I experienced was the inability to take any sense of comfort from another human being. I felt like a walking dead man. The body machine was some how still working, but there was no one at the controls anymore. It had been a very abrupt change – one moment I had been a senior psychiatric social worker, a very busy, ‘together’ professional — the next I was designated a mental health service user, feeling utterly useless, extremely vulnerable, powerless and terrified — not easy things for a man to accept. As a result of this experience, I feel I have travelled light years in my mind in terms of understanding what a hell clinical depression is, and how stigmatization and discrimination is so often the lot of the mental health service user. By my suffering I learnt true humility; I learnt understanding, compassion and kindness from other service users — people who, despite the weight of their own suffering, would reach out to offer a word of support or encouragement to others around them on the same painful path. I learnt that severe mental distress can bring out the worst and the best in people, and in my own case I discovered an awful lot about myself — some good and some not so good!

After some months I was offered some counseling by an occupational therapist, which proved to be a less than helpful experience. At our first session together this counselor began by shooting a lot of questions at me, and shortly thereafter her mobile phone started ringing. She answered various phone calls, and then to my astonishment told me that: ‘this might be important. I’ll have to go’! I thought: ‘Am I not important then?’ Despite suffering from severe clinical depression I thought that could do better than this in terms of counseling and emotional support.

As a social worker, I used to visit people with depression. I had my training, I had read books on the subject, and I had thought I had a good understanding of it. I realize now that I had not had the first idea about how indescribably awful the experience is. This service user experience and perspective has contributed more than I can say to my understanding of mental distress, and has informed my practice as mental health lecturer work at Universities in the Yorkshire area.

I’m making a splash about Bramley Baths!

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Bramley Baths are brilliant. Period. Discussion over, writes John Baron.

They’re also incredibly beautiful and full of character and history. The Edwardian Baths are some 108 years old and still include many of the original features.

Entering the pool is a bit like stepping inside Doctor Who’s Tardis, as you feel like you’ve been transported back to a bygone era. The changing rooms are located around the side of the pool, there’s a fabulously beautiful balcony, and just gazing up at the incredibly detailed roof on a dark winters’ night is a sight to behold.

It makes me forget the stresses of the day. Problems seem to just wash away as you swim. There’s also nothing remotely like it in Leeds as it’s a place you can escape to and lose yourself in its history.

It’s got real character. But its charm and beauty don’t just extend to the Grade II Listed building. The staff are friendly, and there’s a real sense of community surrounding it. I take my five year old son on a Friday evening (he thinks it’s great fun to splash daddy) and you often bump into the same people there – and you strike up friendships, which has been an unexpected bonus.

Bramley Baths was restored in 1992 and it is the last survivor of eight public baths built in Leeds between 1899 and 1904 but sadly it faces an uncertain future due to council budget cuts. The Friends of Bramley Baths group – which is made up of local swimmers and Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves amongst others – is hoping to take over the swimming pool. It also hopes to raise money by issuing ‘community shares’ to local residents and users.

I do hope the future of this fantastic resource can be safeguarded for another 100 years. It’s a real lifeline for me.

Around Christmas time I felt really dark, as if there was a black cloud havering over me that wouldn’t shift. I put it down to overwork but knew something wasn’t quite right. I was quite shocked when the doctor (my GP, not the Time Lord!) diagnosed me with a mild depression (I’d never even considered it) and offered me a choice between regular exercise and tablets to get me back up to speed. I chose Bramley Baths. Long may it make a splash!