Physical Health Campaign Underway!

Our first physical health campaign meeting was a great success!

A group of us met in the tiled hall cafe at Leeds City Art Gallery. Most of us had had mixed experiences of physical healthcare, some people had been passed back and forwards between services, other people had not seen specialists in time due to the state of their mental health at the time.

When we moved on to discuss solutions, several people said they’d used advance statements to make sure they got the right physical healthcare.

An advance statement is a short document you can write when you’re mentally well, explainign what you’re needs are. For example if you regularly took medication for your blood pressue and you had to go into a mental health unit suddenly – your advance statement would tell staff what medication you needed. Advance statements can help you keep your life on track in other ways to – for example it might say what family members you would like to be informed when you become unwell.

So at the end of this discussioin we all agreed that more people should have advance statments especially those who also have an ongoing physical health condition or a disability. And we’re going to do something about it!

We have created a summary explaing what advance statments are. We’re meeting again next week to decide how to promote advance statements to people with mental illness and their families in Leeds. Have you got any ideas? Should we speak at groups? Produce post-cards? Would a personal story bring it to life? Please leave a comment and let us know what would work in Leeds. And do you know anyone else who might like to get involved? Or know any professionals who might help us?

If you’re interested in this issue, we’d love to have you along to our next meeting. It’s very informal and everyone’s friendly so you’ll be fine if you want to come on your own but do bring a friend if you’d like to:

7th December
The Tiled Hall Cafe, Leeds Art Gallery

Words for Wellbeing

Have you ever thrown yourself into something and then just when it’s too late to draw back, you panic? That’s how I felt when I started a weekly writing group for patients in a mental health unit. I was motivated to start the sessions by my own personal experience of the enjoyment and therapy that writing can bring, and by the large amount of research evidence I’d read showing that writing can be of therapeutic benefit – both psychologically and physically. But I was nervous – would I enjoy the sessions or hate them? Did I have the right skills? Would the patients gain any benefit? Fortunately the answers to those questions were: yes I loved doing the sessions from the beginning; yes I had prepared enough beforehand so that my skills were up to the job (but I am still learning all the time); and yes patients do tell me that they gain benefit from the sessions.

At the time of writing I’m leading weekly groups in a mental health ward and a psychiatric intensive care unit, and a monthly group. In my writing groups I do not feel like a therapist or a teacher (I am neither), I feel I just sit down with some people, we get to know each other a little, and we write together. I believe that writing does you good, whatever you write, but that different people need to write different things and in different styles, for example: thoughts and feelings, memories, imaginative stories, poems. What I aim to do is help people discover what they need (or want) to write and inspire them to keep writing – and they inspire me right back!

Freewriting is a powerful writing technique that can draw out unexpected thoughts and feelings. When working in a mental health unit I feel it’s helpful to use prompts for Freewriting, such as sets of words: pool, moon, sky, cloud; or snow, cave, mountain, river; or red, blue, green, yellow. Freewriting is just one of the techniques I use; others include writing about postcards of beautiful landscapes, and photographs of people. For example, writing a detailed description of a beautiful or interesting place, from life or from a picture postcard, is calming when someone is feeling anxious or distressed. It’s a sort of writing meditation.

Sometimes a patient has something going on in their life that I can see would be a good thing for them to write about, for example, I suggested to one patient she write a letter from her future self (a time when she is well) to her small grandson to tell him how much he inspired her to get well. Her daughter has put the letter away in a box until the little boy is old enough to read it.

Another woman told me part way through a writing session that her mother had sadly just died, and that she’d been unable to get out of the psychiatric ward to say goodbye. She mentioned that she had happy memories of her mother. So I abandoned the writing exercise I’d planned and suggested instead that she write about one of her happy memories, which she did. She said afterwards how surprised she was that she hadn’t cried when writing the memory about her mother and that she’d found doing the writing a great comfort.

Writing about painful thoughts and feelings can sometimes be helpful, for example, to achieve clarity or catharsis. But it’s important not to write down your negative thoughts if all your thoughts are negative. And please believe me – writing does not have to hurt to do you good. Writing about happy memories is good for your wellbeing, writing imaginative stories and poems is good for your wellbeing. Write whatever you want to write, and why not write a little every day?

I’ve edited/co-authored and published a not-for-profit book, WORDS FOR WELLBEING, to encourage people to write for their wellbeing. It’s an uplifting read and packed with writing ideas and personal stories. To find out more follow this link:

Best wishes and get writing! Carol.

Carol Ross was born in Ryhill in West Yorkshire and is married with a 15-year-old son. She has lived and worked (in the NHS) in Cumbria since 1995. If you would like to know more about Carol’s work, and get further writing ideas and inspiration: look on her blog, Facebook page and National Health Service web page Carol is on Twitter as Trio33.

The importance of getting out

Image by Janina Holubecki

This is a guest post from Char March, a local writer who gave a lot of support to Leeds Survivors Poetry in its early days. Char has published a lot of poetry and stories and had many plays on the radio, my favourite being ‘People Come Here To Cry’, the story of a woman (Sue Johnston) who visits a crisis centre. The poems this play is based on were published in Char’s 2011 collection ‘The Thousand Natural Shocks’

I live in a dark damp crack in the earth.  And yes, I have even started to look like a toad – all warty and wrinkly – because of the excessive rain we have had this ‘summer’.

The dark damp crack is called Hebden Bridge.  Actually it is a stunning steep wooded valley with gorgeous walks off in all directions, and a veritable plethora of excellent teashops to gorge yourself in when you get back glowing from a brisk walk on the moors.  Plus there’s dozens of splendid knick-knack shoppies to get all your gift wants for the coming festive season.  We keep winning the Best Independent Shops in Britain prize, so this town really is as special as you often hear.  And we’ve been badly hit by three nasty floods this summer, so there’s yet another reason to come and spend your tourist ££££s here!

However, the valley is steep-sided (all the glaciers stopped at about Keighley, so our valleys were cut with the massive run-off from roaring torrents as the glaciers melted).  So, on overcast days, it can feel like you’re in a tightly-lidded box.

Since I got up and walked – Lazarus-style – from my hospital bed and almost certain death (all I remember from my delirium is the consultant trying to shake me awake to tell me “We don’t think you’re going to make it through the night, so who’s your next of kin?”) I have been exceptionally keen on getting out walking again.  I grew up in Scotland, so the Great Outdoors, and in particular getting out onto the mountains, was formative to me.   So, I took it steady, but I’ve got there.  It took a few months of being bedridden and being looked after hand and foot by my marvelous friends, then a bit in a wheelchair (bloody thing!), then on two sticks, then one, and very gradually increasing the distance I could walk without collapsing, and lo, the hills are once more (12 years later) if not my oyster, then certainly a whitebait starter.

So, getting out of this particular damp dark crack in the earth (no matter how cosy and trendy and full of Reiki healers and Shamanic drummers it is) has become a daily necessity.  I go out whatever the weather – it’s ALWAYS better outside than it looks like it is from the inside!  And now, although I can’t do the mileage I used to do before the consultant shook me, I can certainly tackle all the steep hills around here no problem.

It was a real privilege for me to be Writer-in-Residence for the Pennine Watershed Project last year.  My ‘office’ was the moors from Ilkley right down to Saddleworth, and I could get onto my ‘office’ just three fields up from my house.  Throughout my year, I worked with masses of different groups who had either never been out on the moor, or hadn’t been there for decades, and I took them up there kite-flying, eating hawthorn leaves, cloud-spotting, building sculptures, writing poems, drawing, gathering smells and sounds and textures, and generally filling ourselves with wild moor air and fun.

So, get up there and try it.  It doesn’t matter if it’s foul or fair (and let’s face it, this is Yorkshire, so it’s more likely to be foul!), just get some sort of waterproof on (a bin bag will do!) and get out there, even if it’s only for half an hour.  The moors are elemental, and, I reckon, good for your spirit.

Here’s a poem from my latest collection:  ‘The Cloud Appreciation Society’s Day Out’.  It’s all about my year as Writer-in-Residence of the Pennine Watershed, and you can get a copy direct from me through my website:  or from my publisher Indigo Dreams, or, if you really want to support a multi-national that doesn’t pay any tax, through Amazon.

Nesh    by Char March

Last week they said it was cold in London.

A thin bit of mizzle brought them out

in a rash of umbrellas, much buttoning.

Up here, cold

is the landscape;

rain the absolute norm.

And no pissing about

with mizzle, drizzle, mist –

we shove through solid water,

that holds us lurching

at gravestone angles,

across Heptonstall’s cobbles;

through bucketclanking farmyards;

out onto the moor.

Our air is luscious,

alive, viscous,

slapping us awake

like a wet cod

across our chops.

widgets and tag clouds

While recently being housebound with a cold, boredom set in, since the accompanying conjunctivitis limited both computing and reading to limited periods of time, a slump into  low mood followedI …….the ‘what ifs’ of catastrophic thinking,………what if it’s something worse! …don’t get better?..never able to read or use a computer again? … or two days in pyjamas  can be therapeutic but ‘five days straight’? all like an ‘115th dream’ …..nightmare!. Perhaps previous experience of  mental distress make me vulnerable to this type of mood slump, I don’t have any answers,…… often times though a snooze, snatched during the day in my armchair, or the usual  overnight sleep, finds me awaken refreshed to enable me find an enjoyable pastime or a solution to whatever was troubling me. This week it was my inquisitiveness about ‘Tag Clouds’ and’Widgets’!! and the challenge of an assignment deadline which pushed my mood to lift……. Oh! I wonder what that button does……Tag clouds disappeared…….fortunately one of the other ‘administrators’ retrieved it/them…….pending further training…..but in the meantime I’ve branched out to try creating my own blog, where I can’t cause too much damage,…’s quite easy to design a page as Word Press have a large number of free design templates, mostly just a case of knowing the right  buttons to click!

When I’m clearer what I want the content of my blog to be I may publish.


First physical health campaign meeting

My last blog post on physical health got quite a few comments – it seems like many people feel their phsycial health symptoms get overlooked because of their mental illness.

Now some of us are coming together to do something about it. We’ll be meeting at 10am at Leeds City Art Gallery cafe tomorrow morning, 14th November. We’ll be coming up with some actions that we can take in Leeds that will make a differnece. If you’ve got an interest in this topic and want to see things improve come along and add your voice.

If you’re reading this post after the meeting’s happened there’s still chance to get involved, you can email me on or follow us on twitter @MHActivismNorth.

Remember the past, live in the present. Remembrance day, Leeds.

Depending on when you read this blog, there will either be or have been a two-minute silence and a wreath laying service at Leeds cenotaph on Sunday 11th November at 11.00 am.  I visited last year and found it moving and meaningful. The reason of course being Remembrance Day.

Remembrance Day is a memorial day which has been observed since the end of World War I to remember the members of the armed forces who sadly died in duty. It falls on the 11th November, which is the date that WWI ended.

A good place to visit is the Royal Armouries to see the exhibitions: A War Within and Other Ranks.

A War Within is on until the 30th of November. Photojournalist James Arthur Allen  is the man behind this photographic exhibition regarding Mental Health and the Armed forces, which highlights issues such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Other Ranks is on until March 2013 and is an exhibition at the War Museum, Royal Armouries and is a sound-based installation by Sound artist, Amie Slavin.  Amie is totally blind, and has been since 1997, I think there is a message here about overcoming adversity!

Finally I thought I would share this photograph

My Great Grandfather; William Edward Stainton, who sadly died in WWI only a month before the war ended in October 1918. He was in the Royal Engineers, and is buried in Ypres, Belgium. Although it seems sad, remembering the past can sometimes add meaning to our lives, as long as we remember to live in the present!

Hope you found this interesting,

Thanks Vicky 🙂

Fireworks on Woodhouse Moor

‘The Chartist movement in Leeds may be said to date from the early Autumn of 1837, when, at a meeting on the Moor, the decision was taken to form a Leeds Working Men’s Association. In that same year, 40,000 people assembled to consider nominations for the Leeds MP’ -according to local historian Ian Harker in his book ‘A History of Woodhouse Moor’.

It felt like that number last Monday – it was heaving. At least this time they had some floodlights so you could see more or less where you were going. I remember coming to the bonfire here a few years ago and once you were away from the fire it was really hard to see anything.

The bonfire was impressive, probably the biggest I’ve ever seen – it looked about 40 feet high, a bit like the one on ‘The Wicker Man’, but let’s not go there.

There is something really exciting about being in a big crowd, and the atmosphere it creates, although I did find myself a bit nostalgic for the days of childhood when each street had its own little version, and bonfire night was more of a neighbourhood thing. This was spectacle, and once it was over the army was suddenly moving in all directions, to the funfair, or the local pubs.

I didn’t know how it would work filming the display, but I think you get some of the atmosphere. Terry

Creative Space Cafe @ Swarthmore Education Centre – Wednesdays 3pm-5pm

Recently I painted a butterfly in an art project at Swarthmore Education Centre.  The project H(art) was run by Erica Mitchell who is the new Community Engagement Project Worker at Swarthmore.  It was Erica’s clever idea to paint jigsaw pieces which were then to be assembled together to create a giant heart-shaped jigsaw. The brief was that you could paint anything using the colours; red, white and black.

Take a look at this colourful and fun short film I made about the day. See if you can see my butterfly!

H(art) was a one-off event and was part of The Love Arts Festival but don’t panic as Erica also runs a weekly drop-in Creative Space Cafe.

 The Creative Space Café –  every Wednesday during term time from 3pm until 5pm.

 It is a weekly art and craft session which is held in the Swarthmore Coffee Shop. There is no cost and no need to book – just turn up and join in.

For more information please contact Erica at or just turn up!

Erica also mentioned that she is looking for volunteers to support the Creative Space Café. If you are interested in arts and crafts, and can offer help and guidance to other people during the craft session, contact Erica.

 Thanks Vicky 🙂

Swarthmore now offers ‘taster sessions’ with groups in community settings.  Taster sessions allow people to give-it-a-go without having to commit to a full course. Many people find that this increases their confidence to come down and see what Swarthmore has to offer. Contact Erica for more information whether you are an individual or community group.

There are many courses available at Swarthmore Education Centre, 0113 2432210.

Truth stranger than fiction

At times when experiencing disturbing ‘paranoid’ thoughts, how reassuring it was to have trusted and trusting friends who did not deny my sense of reality. They might well have doubted some of the content of my conversation!

Entrusting my thoughts to the psychiatrist who was responsible for my treatment plan was hard. I’d had no previous contact with him, neither had I any previous psychiatric history. Despite working within mainstream constraints he was kindly and willing to concede ‘a kernel of truth’ is always present in ‘bizarre’ thinking, this proved a comfort to me. Although the state of mind I was in proved chaotic I managed to keep some things ‘close to my chest’. The saying ‘truth is stranger than fiction’ applied, had I entrusted him with  the ‘whole truth’ of  the events I’d experienced, and which led me in to his presence, I might well have appeared more bizarre, whatever that means. This might have led to receiving a different diagnosis, as it was the label, ‘ bi-polar 1’, was ‘attached’…..yes, the DSM considers there are differing types! “Oh!” I thought, “I’ve only got grade 1”, after looking at the criteria for them, I considered I’d rather have been a 2 or 3,….. preferably none.

Over the last 11 years  I’ve been trying to find ways  how  best to describe the experience of breakdown. Events surrounding the onset of the first ‘blip’ were  overwhelmingly out of the context of my usual everyday experience. The process of breaking ‘down/up/through’ patterns of thought enabled me to reorder and process  them. My existing preferred mode of being had become untenable, no longer useful. How I wish there had been a system in place that allowed this to happen with limited use of medication or electro-convulsive therapy.

Years before I’d seen someone close to me receive a psychiatric label, it was only in recent that the diagnosis was revoked. The person’s current psychiatrist was of the opinion that schizophrenia, was an outdated  term, and that it had  previously been used ‘conveniently’  to categorise  and lump together people with serious social problems. In addition this  psychiatrist also saw no point in the prolonged use of  medication for my loved one’s ‘psychotic’  symptoms. However enlightened and progressive this particular doctor is, and I believe he is not a lone voice, other support professionals working alongside him continued to use those terms in connection with my loved one. It has  not engendered my trust in services.

If someone becomes vulnerable for whatever reason, retaining a healthy dose of skepticism for those who exert influence on their well being might be a useful defense.

Physical Health Symptoms

Why is a mental health charity campaigning on physical health? Isn’t that all sorted out by GPs? These are some of the questions I’ve been asked while campaigning on physical health. I’m an Activism Officer at Rethink Mental Illness and I’ve been looking at why people with severe mental illness usually have poorer physical health than the rest of the population – yes there’s lots of stats to prove that!

One of the problems we’ve seen is that symptoms are not always taken seriously by healthcare staff. So someone goes to the doctor and tells them what’s physically wrong and the doctor assumes that it must be caused by their mental illness.

I know one woman who was told for months that her intense abdominal pain was all in her head. It turned out she had gall stones and a diseased gall bladder!

I’d be interested to hear if this happens in Leeds. Have you had staff tell you that your physical symptoms were down to your mental illness – and were they right or wrong?

Many people do get psychosomatic symptoms, such as tummy ache from anxiety and it must be very hard for doctors to tell the difference. But then people with mental illness are just as likely to get appendicitis, irritable bowel syndrome or chrons disease as anyone else. So it’s not a clear cut issue. What’s your experience of this?
twitter: @MHActivismNorth