New working mothers: risks of depression and relationship problems

We know that the working environment is not easy for anyone, and particularly not for working mothers.

A new study suggests in fact that mothers who are either under-employed or over-employed are at greater risk of depression. These findings come from work by researchers as part of the “Growing up in Ireland” project in association with the Tavistock Institute.

Based on analysis of data from dual earner heterosexual couples with nine month old babies, the researchers looked at levels of relationship strain in women who were working longer hours than they wished, fewer hours than they wished and those working as much as they wished.

Those women working more or fewer hours than they thought ideal turned out to be at significantly higher risk of depression. The male partners of these women were also much less likely to be satisfied with their relationship. But curiously the same did not appear to be true for the women in these relationships.

Put another way, these findings could mean that up to 71% of women were thus also at increased risk of both depression and strained relationships.

The researchers concluded that their findings suggest that greater attention should be directed at a governmental and organizational level to create a better fit between actual and preferred working hours for mothers of infants and their partners.

At the level of the individual couple, however, we need to recognise that this period with a new baby can be a time of both joy and strain for both partners. In most cases, couples can work through any problems, perhaps with the help of the wider family.

But sometimes some external professional help might be needed through individual or couples counselling. As a fully qualified therapist, counselling in Hastings,, I would be glad to see whether I could help if you are facing these sort of problems.

 

Emotional well-being in the older person

Several recent studies have shone a light on emotional issues for older people, particularly around depression, loneliness and bereavement. These studies have raised questions about the availability of counselling for older people.

Researchers in Amsterdam have shown that depression can last longer in older people. Although treatment is known to be effective in older people, their research showed that the over-70s were twice to three times as likely still to be depressed after two years compared with the under-30s. On average, remission took longer in older people, and improvement in the severity of symptoms tended to be half as much.

The Dutch team concluded that there is a growing need for age-tailored treatment for depression, with different approaches for older and younger people.

Another study, from the charity Independent Age, highlighted the impact of bereavement on depression in older people. This showed that older people whose partner had died were up to four times more likely to experience depression than those who hadn’t been bereaved. Yet Independent Age found that fewer than one in five people aged over 60 had received bereavement counselling. This means that many older people can find it much more difficult to get therapy. In many cases, they are not even told that it is an option.

The issue of loneliness among older people seems more complex, and perhaps surprising. Here there is some new information from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) which suggests that young adults are more likely than older age groups to say that they feel lonely. But the researchers wondered if this was because older people have become more resilient. Among those most likely to be lonely are older, widowed women living alone, especially if they are also physically unwell. But those less likely to be lonely are older men, living with a partner and in good health.

It seems that while older people are generally more at risk of loneliness, the study found that younger people are more likely to report feelings of loneliness, and that loneliness tended actually to decrease with age. The researchers speculated that people become more resilient to loneliness with age, possibly through the experience of significant life events and life transitions.

As a therapist offering counselling in Hastings  I am well aware of the inconsistency of support offered to older people who are depressed, bereaved or lonely. Sometimes the medical profession can be pessimistic about the chances of improvement in older people with emotional issues. As a fully qualified counsellor, my experience leads me to be more optimistic: as with other age groups, the real issue is about the willingness to embrace change so as to improve emotional well-being

Trying too hard to be perfect? It can affect our emotional health

Are our perfectionist tendencies a strength or a weakness? Or a mixture of the two?

There is a natural tendency in most of us to want to be as good as we can be, or to do our best. We set high standards for ourselves and can be disappointed if we fall short.

But when we feel that only the perfect is good enough, we might be setting ourselves up for increased stress. And many aspects of our modern life tend to push us in that direction.

In schools, the A* is now seen as only prima facie evidence of high achievement. Getting only an A – or heaven forbid, even a B – can lead us to think that life-as-we-know-it is collapsing beneath us.

And grade-craving gives us a ready-made parameter for comparing ourselves against others. But it is that sort of comparison which can be another source of stress and which can tip us into a spiral of negative thoughts. It can be an easy assumption that everybody else is cleverer, has more friends, has a better sex life, has a nicer car – and generally is having more fun!

There is an obvious statistical flaw in that form of thinking. But it is the sort of thinking which social media is increasingly driving. Nobody posts pics of horrible holidays or ugly baby nephews. They just send us the nice ones. And this can lead us into depressive or anxious feelings if as a result we start to think that our lives are sad by comparison.

From my experience as a counsellor in Hastings, perfectionism often seems to drive procrastination. Because many of us want the perfect outcome, but know really that that is unattainable, we find ways of delaying getting down to that revision, or writing that article before the deadline looms. Unconsciously, we are delaying too that inevitable moment when we realise that the perfect will always elude our grasp. It was a light bulb moment for a teacher client when he concluded that being 80% good enough, 80% of the time in his profession was a reasonable target and one which reduced the risk of stress and anxiety.

Perfectionism can help us to aim high and to achieve the best we can. But perfectionism is a mirage, a will of the wisp. In chasing it, we might as well be after wild geese. Perfectionists are bound to fail if they are setting themselves standards which are beyond the reach of mere mortals. It is good to have goals in life. But, with so much of our lives outside our controls, we are not going to achieve all of them.

For many of us, our future emotional well-being depends on us checking our perfectionist tendencies and bringing them back to the real world. This is where counselling might be a real help.

 

 

Why talking to workmates about emotional issues can seem difficult

Apparently, we would rather talk to our colleagues about relationship issues, money problems and even sex, before we would raise the issue of our mental health with them.

That’s one of the findings from a survey of over 2000 adults by Time to Change, the mental health campaigning group. This suggests that mental health is still one of the last taboos in the workplace and that, despite progress, issues of mental health still do seem to attract a stigma.

When asked to select from a list the topics they felt they could talk openly about with their colleagues, 30% of respondents felt comfortable discussing a relationship break-up and 18% talking about sex, whereas only 13% said mental health, the subject ranking lowest out of ten possible topics.

One in four of us will experience a mental health problem in any given year. And yet Time to Change says these figures show that, when it comes to employment, the vast majority of people still feel unable to speak openly about their mental health with their line managers and even their close colleagues.

On the other hand, while people still feel uncomfortable talking about their own mental health, the survey shows they do want to support others. Over half said they would support a colleague if they noticed they were struggling with their mental health. However, 39% of these people said they wouldn’t know how to go about it.

But Time for Change suggests that offering support can be as simple as a text or email to say you are there to talk and to listen: that way we can all help to create more open, supportive workplaces when it comes to mental health.

But sometimes, even if we do feel able to open up to others, that won’t be enough. Our colleagues, friends and families might be well-meaning, but they will find it difficult to remain impartial. And they might struggle to help with more deep-seated emotional issues.

That is where talking therapies can help. Professional counsellors  can help us to understand why we might be feeling depressed, anxious or angry and then to use that understanding to make the changes in life which we are looking for. As an experienced Hastings counsellor, I would feel privileged to be able to work with you on the issues which you might be facing when turning to workmates and friends doesn’t seem to be the answer.

Men, work and mental health: it’s good to talk

New research from Mind, the leading mental health charity shows that men are twice as likely to have mental health problems due to their job, compared to their problems outside of work.

These are part of the findings which have come out Mind’s innovative Workplace Wellbeing Index, with data drawn from some 15000 members of staff employed by 30 organisations. Mind want their Index to be a benchmark for good practice in the mental health of employees.

Mind’s first survey shows that one in three men (32%) attribute poor mental health to their job, compared to one in seven men (14%) who say it’s problems outside work. Women, on the other hand, say that their job and problems outside of work are equal contributing factors; one in five women say that their job is the reason for their poor mental health, the same as those who say problems outside work is to blame (19%).

The data also shows that men are less prepared to seek help and take time off than women. While two in five women feel the culture in their organisation makes it possible to speak openly about their mental health problems, only one in three men say the same. Over two in five women have taken time off for poor mental health at some point in their career, but this is true for just one in three men.

This suggests that although men are more likely to have mental health problems because of their job, women are more likely to open up and seek support from their line manager or employer. Previous Mind research suggests that men often try to find ways of dealing with their problems independently rather than reaching out and sharing their problems. Instead of talking about their problems, men prefer to watch TV, exercise or self-medicate, such as drink alcohol. Mind urges men to open up and ask for help earlier on, so they can receive the support they need, before they reach crisis point.

Emma Mamo, Head of Workplace Wellbeing at Mind, said: “Our research shows that work is the main factor causing men poor mental health, above problems outside work. Many men work in industries where a macho culture prevails or where a competitive environment may exist which prevents them from feeling able to be open. It is concerning that so many men find themselves unable to speak to their bosses about the impact that work is having on their wellbeing and even more worrying that they are then not asking to take time off when they need it.”

Evidence from elsewhere suggests that men are now becoming more likely then in the past to seek professional therapy when they are troubled. Historically, as a counsellor in Hastings, East Sussex my client profile would have been heavily dominated by women, but that is now shifting. And that change is backed up by research by BACP, the leading professional body for counsellors and psychotherapists to which I belong. It asked 250 of its members for feedback on this issue. The results showed that 62% said that they were seeing more men as clients than five years ago. And nearly three-quarters agreed that men were more likely to see a counsellor or psychotherapist than previously.

 

 

 

 

Can face-time help to avoid depression?

Replacing face-to-face contact with friends and family with emails, text messages and phone calls could increase the risk of depression for older people, a major study suggests.

Research on 11,000 adults by Michigan University reported in the Daily Telegraph found that those who meet friends and family at least three times a week are far less likely to suffer from depression. But Individuals who had such contact just once every few months had more than a 10% of later suffering from depressive symptoms two years later.

On the other hand, those who met up with family and friends at least three times a week showed the least signs of depression..

Adults aged 50 and over were tracked for more than two years. While strong links were found between face-to-face contact and depression, regularity of contact with loved-ones by telephone, email or social media was shown to make no difference. Researchers reported that having more or fewer phone conversations, or written or email contact, had no effect on depression.

They found that all forms of socialisation aren’t equal: phone calls and digital communication with friends or family members, do not have the same power as face-to-face social interactions in helping to stave off depression.

The study found that, at different ages, participants benefited from different relationships. The researchers found that among adults aged 50 to 69, frequent face-to-face contact with friends reduced the risk of subsequent depression.

Among those aged 70 and over, contact with children and other family members had the greatest impact.

The researchers concluded that “Research has long supported the idea that strong social bonds strengthen people’s mental health. But this is the first look at the role that the type of communication with loved ones and friends plays in safeguarding people from depression.”

As a counsellor and therapist in Hastings, I can support these research findings from my practical experience.  My work with a wide range of clients shows a strong link between emotional health and the quality of social contact.

 

Therapy and the older client: relaxing the stiff upper lip

Is that stiff upper lip really helping you? Or is it masking feelings of sadness, depression or anxiety which you are bottling up inside? But bottles under too much pressure can explode, just as repressed feelings can, often in unpredictable or inappropriate ways.

Stiff upper lips have been in the news again recently: GPs have been given guidance on spotting mental illness in people used to bottling up their feelings. And that guidance is based on research for the NHS which shows that almost half of those aged over 55 have experienced depression. Nearly as many had suffered from anxiety.

The popular assumption is that it is these older generations who traditionally have been most likely to soldier on without external help. The research suggested that ill-health, bereavement and money worries were the most common triggers for depression and anxiety in older people. But a considerable proportion of them did not know where to turn for support. Hence, the encouragement to the GPs to look out for the warning signs and to ask a few questions, including wondering whether there might be an emotional element to the physical symptoms which patients might be describing. And vice-versa: might a sudden change in mental state be an indication of an underlying physical illness?

But there is another angle to this issue of therapeutic support for older people. Recent research at Plymouth University, led by Professor Richard Byng, suggests that older people are least likely to be referred for talking therapies. This is despite the fact that they are more likely to benefit than younger groups in terms of recovery rates. And the older the patient, the less likely they were to get that referral. The Plymouth study also showed that, if they are referred, older people are more likely to turn up for their first appointment. Professor Byng too suggests that doctors should do more to discuss mental health problems with older patients so that they can be aware of the therapy options available to them.

As a private therapist counselling in Hastings in East Sussex, I have been aware of some apparent bias by the medical profession: there sometimes seems to be an assumption that older people are no longer able to benefit from talking therapies. That has not generally been my experience. Rather, I find that the test for successful therapy is whether the client is motivated for change in life and able to engage. That is not necessarily a function of age.

Are older people being denied access to mental health care?

All mental health services across the UK are under strain, with rising demand from all generations. But a couple of recent reports suggest that access to mental health care is even harder for older people, leading to accusations of ageism.

Depression affects 22% of men and 28% of women aged over 65 in England, but 85% of older people with depression are said to get no help at all, according to data from BACP, the leading professional body for counsellors and psychotherapists. BACP has now made it a strategic priority for the organisation to push for access to therapy for our ageing population.

Other evidence from a study at Plymouth University found that the percentage of patients referred to NHS therapy services reduced significantly reduced with age: from 23% of people aged 20-24 to a mere 6% for those between 70 and 74.

Yet the Plymouth study, led by Professor Richard Byng, shows that older people are actually more likely than younger ones to turn up for therapy sessions and then to benefit from them in terms of their recovery rates.

Maybe doctors need to check any tendency to assume that being miserable is part of getting old and be more alert to signs of real depression and anxiety in older people presenting in their surgeries.

My experience as a Hastings counsellor tends to support these findings. Many clients of all ages can find it difficult to engage with therapy to start with, but it does tend to be the older ones who stick with the process and then come to benefit from being able to talk openly and confidentially to an independent professional. And it tends to be the older clients who are able to work on the existential issues which can often underlie the more obvious issues of depression, anxiety or anger.

Are men more likely to experience work-related mental health problems?

Mind, the leading mental health charity, has just reported on survey indicating that men are twice as likely to have mental health problems due to their job, compared to problems outside of work.

One in three men (32%) attribute poor mental health to their job. That’s more than double the men (14%) who say it’s problems outside of work. Women, on the other hand, say that their job and problems outside of work are equal contributing factors; one in five women say that their job is the reason for their poor mental health, the same as those who say problems outside of work is to blame (19%)

These figures come from Mind’s survey research comes from a survey of 15,000 employees across 30 organisations.

The data also show that men are less prepared to seek help and take time off than women. While nearly two in five women feel the culture in their organisation makes it possible to speak openly about their mental health problems, fewer than one in three men say the same. More than two in five women have taken time off for poor mental health at some point in their career, but this is true for fewer than one in three men.

This suggests that although men are more likely to have mental health problems because of their job, women are more likely to open up and seek support from their line manager or employer. Previous Mind research suggests that men often try to find ways of dealing with their problems independently rather than reaching out and sharing their problems. Instead of talking about their problems, men prefer to watch TV, exercise or self-medicate, such as drink alcohol.

The findings show a difference in how men and women feel they’re being supported in the workplace. While nearly three in five women feel their manager regularly checks in on how they are feeling, only half of men feel the same.

 Emma Mamo, Head of Workplace Wellbeing at Mind, said: “Our research shows that work is the main factor causing men poor mental health, above problems outside work. Many men work in industries where a macho culture prevails or where a competitive environment may exist which prevents them from feeling able to be open. It is concerning that so many men find themselves unable to speak to their bosses about the impact that work is having on their wellbeing and even more worrying that they are then not asking to take time off when they need it. Our research shows that the majority of managers feel confident in supporting employees with mental health problems, but they can only offer extra support if they’re aware there is a problem”.

“In the last few years, we’ve seen employers come on leaps and bounds when it comes to tackling stress and supporting the mental wellbeing of their staff, including those with a diagnosed mental health problem. However, there is more to do and employers do need to recognise the different approaches they may need to adopt in how they address mental health in the workplace”.

There is much in the data from Mind which I would recognise from my work as a therapist, counselling in Hastings in East Sussex. But I also have noticed in recent years that whatever the source of their emotional issues, men are increasingly likely to seek professional help. I hope that this marks a long-term trend in our society, so that men are less likely to view their problems through the bottom of a beer glass, to resort to uncontrolled anger to relieve their feelings, or to use other socially dysfunctional outlets.

 

 

 

 

 

Choosing treatment for depression and anxiety

Anti-depressants do have their place in treating depression. But my experience as a Hastings counsellor is that many people are reluctant to start taking medication if other choices are available.

However, the evidence suggests that anti-depressants are sometimes the only choice offered and that the increasing rate of prescribing them is faster than the increased rate of depression. These conclusions come in a report by the OECD, a research body for the leading developed countries.  ‘Health at a Glance’ indicates that the use of antidepressants has increased significantly in most countries surveyed since 2000.

The report points out that one explanation includes the extension of indicators of some anti-depressants to milder forms of depression, anxiety disorders and phobias. But other research suggests that worldwide rates of depression have not increased in step, although depression is being diagnosed more in certain countries.  It appears that anti-depressants are being prescribed more frequently, but for milder conditions which weren’t previously thought to need them.

If anti-depressants always worked all the time, with no side effects, this wouldn’t be a problem. But they don’t work for everyone and some people are troubled by side-effects.

Anti-depressants are better regarded as part of an overall plan for dealing with the issues troubling us. The natural partner for medication can often to be talking therapies such as counselling.

This can give us the chance to really explore the underlying causes of depression – as well as anxiety, anger, and relationship problems. Once we understand why we feel or behave the way we do we have a better chance to make better choices for the future, freed of some of the burdens of the past.

As a fully qualified counsellor and an accredited member of BACP, I have substantial experience in working with clients who want to work through their depression or other issues in this way. I am able to offer a safe, accessible and personalized approach to client issues for people in the Hastings area.