World Mental Health Day 2014

wmhd-2014Schizophrenia affects around 26 million people across the world and is the focus of World Mental Health Day this year.

Despite being a treatable disorder, more than 50% of people with schizophrenia cannot access adequate treatment, and 90% of people with untreated schizophrenia live in the developing world.
On 10 October we celebrate the most important day in the mental health calendar and shine the spotlight on “living” with schizophrenia. From those who face every day of their lives with it, to their families, friends, doctors and even society as a whole, we all have a part to play in raising awareness of schizophrenic illness.
We want to ensure that people with schizophrenia get the best possible care and support to manage their illness and to help them recover.
What is schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia affects how a person thinks, feels, and acts but it’s actually a word that describes a number of symptoms that psychiatry has labelled a disorder. Not everyone with schizophrenia has the same symptoms and the definition of the disorder is wide, including a number of combinations of different things.
Schizophrenia may make it hard for people to judge reality and key features of early psychosis include:

  • Sleep disturbance
  • Appetite disturbance
  • Marked unusual behaviour
  • Feelings that are flat or seem inconsistent to others
  • Speech that is difficult to follow
  • Marked preoccupation with unusual ideas
  • Ideas of reference – thinking unrelated things have a special meaning, ie people on television talking to you
  • Persistent feelings of unreality
  • Changes in the way things appear, sound or smell

Schizophrenia can occur in anyone but it’s a treatable disorder. Long term medication may be necessary for some people but talking therapies and self-help groups can also be effective.

If you’re dealing with Schizophrenia, depression, seeking treatment for abuse or having problems conquering other personal issues and would like to learn more about how hypnotherapy and other similar treatments available at our bespoke health retreats could benefit you, visit www.breakthrough-retreats.co.uk. There you’ll be able to claim your free copy of my new guide, “Unlocking your full potential: An introduction to the incredible impact of personal development retreats”, packed with information on everything from what a spiritual retreat looks like to the benefits of getting away from it all.

The effects of Bulimia on the Body

Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder in which a person creates a destructive pattern of eating in order to control their weight. People with bulimia tend to go on eating binges, consuming large amounts of food in a short period of time. This is usually followed by an attempt to rid the food from their body using laxatives or self-induced vomiting. This behaviour is usually carried out in secret, taking a tremendous emotional toll.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, up to 3 percent of the population has bulimia. Roughly 9 out of 10 people with bulimia are female.

In addition to mental stress, continued bingeing and purging also puts great strain the body. Unlike the eating disorder anorexia, people with bulimia may not appear to have significant weight loss. However, complications due to bulimia are serious and can put your life at risk.

Bulimia nervosa is a mental health disorder that puts enormous strain on the body and the spirit.

The effects of Bulimia on the Body

The Effects of Bulimia on the Body

Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder in which a person creates a destructive pattern of eating in order to control their weight. People with bulimia tend to go on eating binges, consuming large amounts of food in a short period of time. This is usually followed by an attempt to rid the food from their body using laxatives or self-induced vomiting. This behaviour is usually carried out in secret, taking a tremendous emotional toll.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, up to 3 percent of the population has bulimia. Roughly 9 out of 10 people with bulimia are female.

In addition to mental stress, continued bingeing and purging also puts great strain the body. Unlike the eating disorder anorexia, people with bulimia may not appear to have significant weight loss. However, complications due to bulimia are serious and can put your life at risk.

 

Mental and Emotional Health

Bulimia is a mental health disorder. People with bulimia tend to show signs of depression, anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive disorders. They’re also at risk for substance abuse problems and suicidal behaviour.

Constant monitoring of food and weight can become an obsession. A person with bulimia may binge in secret and hide evidence of food and laxatives. Having to keep secrets contributes to the cycle of stress and anxiety.

Bulimia may cause moodiness and irritability. Compulsive exercising or preoccupation with appearance are common symptoms. It’s not unusual for someone with bulimia to spend a lot of time thinking about food and how to control it. This may be accompanied by feelings of embarrassment and shame. It’s hard to measure the emotional cost.

 

Digestive System

A sore throat or stomach pain may be the first obvious physical side effects of bulimia.

Chronic self-induced vomiting can cause a variety of symptoms in the digestive tract, beginning at the mouth. The high acid content of vomit can damage teeth, causing enamel erosion, tooth sensitivity, and gum disease. Puffy cheeks or jaws come from swollen salivary glands. Excessive vomiting may cause a sore or swollen throat.

Acid can irritate or tear the oesophagus. Blood in vomit may be a sign of a ruptured oesophagus. The stomach also becomes irritated. Stomach aches; heartburn, and acid reflux are common.

Putting your finger down your own throat is one way that people with bulimia induce vomiting. Doing this over and over can scar the skin on your fingers and hands, due to exposure to acidity.

Another way to rid the body of food is to use diuretics, diet pills, or laxatives. Overuse of these products can make it difficult to have a bowel movement without them. Misdirected use of diuretics may also damage the kidneys. Damage to the intestines can cause bloating, diarrhoea, or constipation. Straining to move your bowels can result in haemorrhoids.

Recurrent bingeing and purging is physically demanding and can bring on general weakness and fatigue.

 

Circulatory System

Frequent purging can cause dehydration, leading to dry skin, weak muscles, and extreme fatigue. Vomiting often can throw your electrolytes out of balance. Low levels of potassium, magnesium, and sodium are not uncommon. This is hard on the heart and can cause irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia), weakened heart muscle, and heart failure.

Bulimia can cause low blood pressure, weak pulse, and anaemia. Throwing up can be a violent event. The sheer force of it can even cause blood vessels in the eyes to rupture.

 

Reproductive System

Bulimia can interfere with your menstrual cycle or stop it altogether. A hormonal imbalance and fatigue can kill your sex drive. If the ovaries no longer release eggs, conceiving a child becomes impossible.

Pregnant women who continue to engage in bingeing and purging behaviours face additional complications for themselves and their babies. These include:

  • Maternal high blood pressure
  • Gestational diabetes
  • Miscarriage
  • Premature birth
  • Breech birth
  • Higher risk of C-section
  • Low birth weight babies
  • Birth defects
  • Stillbirth
  • Breastfeeding difficulties

Use of diuretics or laxatives during pregnancy may be harmful to your unborn baby.

 

Source: http://www.healthline.com/health/bulimia/effects-on-body

10 Ways to Look After Your Mental Health

anxiety awareAnyone can make simple changes that have a huge impact on their mental health and wellbeing. We’ve come up with ten practical ways to take care of yourself and get the most from life.

Mental health is about the way you think and feel and your ability to deal with ups and downs. Making simple changes to how you live doesn’t need to cost a fortune or take up loads of time. Anyone can follow our advice.

 

Talk About Your Feelings

Talking about your feelings can help you stay in good mental health and deal with times when you feel troubled. It’s part of taking charge of your wellbeing and doing what you can to stay healthy.

 

Eat Well

There are strong links between what we eat and how we feel – for example, caffeine and sugar can have an immediate effect. But food can also have a long-lasting effect on your mental health.

 

Keep in Touch

Friends and family can make you feel included and cared for. They can offer different views from whatever’s going on inside your own head. They can help keep you active, keep you grounded and help you solve practical problems.

 

Take a Break

A change of scene or a change of pace is good for your mental health. It could be a five-minute pause from cleaning your kitchen, a half-hour lunch break at work or a weekend exploring somewhere new. A few minutes can be enough to de-stress you.

 

Accept Who You Are

Some of us make people laugh, some are good at maths, and others cook fantastic meals. Some of us share our lifestyle with the people who live close to us, others live very differently. We’re all different.

 

Keep Active

Experts believe exercise releases chemicals in your brain that make you feel good. Regular exercise can boost your self-esteem and help you concentrate, sleep, look and feel better. Exercise also keeps the brain and your other vital organs healthy.

 

Drink Sensibly

We often drink alcohol to change our mood. Some people drink to deal with fear or loneliness, but the effect is only temporary.

 

Ask for Help

None of us are superhuman. We all sometimes get tired or overwhelmed by how we feel or when things go wrong. If things are getting too much for you and you feel you can’t cope, ask for help.

 

Do Something You’re Good At

What do you love doing? What activities can you lose yourself in? What did you love doing in the past? Enjoying yourself helps beat stress. Doing an activity you enjoy probably means you’re good at it and achieving something boosts your self-esteem.

 

Care for Others

Caring for others is often an important part of keeping up relationships with people close to you. It can even bring you closer together.

 

If you’re dealing with depression, seeking treatment for abuse or having problems conquering other personal issues and would like to learn more about how our bespoke health retreats could benefit you, visit www.breakthrough-retreats.co.uk. There you’ll be able to claim your free copy of my new guide, “Unlocking your full potential: An introduction to the incredible impact of personal development retreats”, packed with information on everything from what a spiritual retreat looks like to the benefits of getting away from it all.

Welcome to The Briers Country House; New Retreat Centre Review

We ran our first retreat at our custom Retreat Centre earlier this month. We were so bowled over by the review that we got from our very treasured Dr client that we had to share it with you. Our treasured client also provided us with some lovely pictures that we know you will appreciate. Please enjoy his words.

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The Retreat

The retreat was well organised and ran smoothly.  The experience sought to achieve a holistic healing of mind, body and spirit and involved a number of different psychological and holistic therapies/techniques.  In between specific therapies, there was ample time to chat with Maureen (Courtney) to explore issues and to provide feedback about therapies.

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Location-wise, the retreat centre could not have been better placed: The Briers is situated on the outskirts of Newcastle, County Down, in close proximity to the Tollymore Forest, the Mourne Mountains and the Irish Sea, an ideal place to “get back to nature” and a sanctuary to find peace and serenity.

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The Therapists

Therapists I worked with in the Breakthrough Retreats team included:

  • Gareth for Bio Cranial Sacral therapy
  • Joanne for Reflexology
  • Jacquie for EMDR
  • Janine for Massage
  • As well as Maureen for Hypnosis, reiki, journey therapy, regression therapy

All the therapists I worked with were very friendly, supportive and positive; it was very easy to build rapport with them.  Each therapist is very experienced and an expert in their field, and passionate about holistic therapy.

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As the organiser of the retreat, Maureen was the therapist with whom I spent the most time.  She was very friendly and approachable, and in between specific therapies, I found it easy to chat to her about my issues and also about my own developing interests in holistic healing.  In her capacity as hostess, Maureen was always keen to make sure that my stay at The Briers was comfortable and pleasant.

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NI Bootcamp Activities

Incorporating outdoor / adventure activities into the retreat was inspirational.  Ian, from NI Bootcamp (Who Breakthrough Retreats work in conjunction with to produce the outdoor leg of their Retreats), was a joy to work with; a gentleman, professional, passionate about what he does, he provided me with support and motivation in all activities we did together (running + circuits, mountain biking, hill walking, indoor climbing).  Ian was very easy to talk to, and share personal experiences with; we found that we had similar personalities and issues and I found chatting with him to be inspiring and illuminating.

First Retreat Kim Ian April 2014

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Food, Accommodation & Hospitality

The Briers Country House was like a home away from home; very comfortable and peaceful, an ideal place to escape from the hustle and bustle of 21st Century life.  The room I had would have been able to sleep 3 people (one double bed and one single) and had an en suite toilet and bath/shower.

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The home-cooked food was wonderful and well-portioned: with a choice of breakfasts, including full, cooked Ulster breakfast, smoked salmon and scrambled eggs, porridge, cereals, toast, fruit and yoghurt. The three-course dinners were always tasty and satisfying.

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Maureen was a wonderful host.  She was keen to make my stay as pleasant and as comfortable as possible. Maureen was also very kind enough to do some laundry for me (after I had got a bit muddy doing some of the NI Bootcamp activities).

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If you are interested in hearing more about our Group Retreats at The Briers then please Contact Us.

What exactly is transpersonal psychotherapy?

Having trained for five years to become a transpersonal therapist, this is an area of particular expertise for me.

Forming a large part of our health retreats, this incredibly effective form of therapy healing involves searching for the origin of your problem (be it stress, depression, anxiety or addiction) and helping you recognise negative behaviours in yourself and develop the means to tackle them effectively. Transpersonal psychotherapy sessions may also involve looking at your situation on a spiritual level. Lots of people have spiritual beliefs which are different to those of their family, which can be extremely difficult to come to terms with. Similarly, dream analysis can form an important part of these sessions.

In short, transpersonal therapy, like other effective mental therapy treatments such as hypnotherapy, is concerned with tracing everything back to its root cause. Often this won’t be immediately apparent, but will emerge gradually after several sessions at your retreat centre. For example, if you are struggling to deal with stress and anxiety, though you might initially think work is to blame, we may discover in the course of the therapy that the real cause is an inability to deal with abuse suffered in the past at the hands of parents or partners. Whatever the origin of your problem, identifying it is a huge step towards tackling and overcoming it, and essential if you are to be able to live the life you want in the future.

If you’re dealing with depression, seeking treatment for abuse or having problems conquering other personal issues and would like to learn more about how a break at one of our retreat centres could benefit you, visit www.breakthrough-retreats.co.uk. There you’ll be able to claim your free copy of my new guide, “Unlocking your full potential: An introduction to the incredible impact of personal development retreats”, packed with information on everything from what a spiritual retreat looks like to the benefits of getting away from it all.

Discovering Reiki: an underappreciated form of therapy healing

Reiki (meaning ‘wheel’ in Japanese) involves looking at the 7 energy centres, or ‘chakras’, in your body.

If you’ve suffered a trauma or accident – this can be anything from a miscarriage to a shunt in your car – your chakras may well have become misaligned. Once they are out of sync, this can have a distinctly negative impact on the way you feel.

During a Reiki session (which will usually last about an hour), your practitioner will place their hands over your body whilst channelling energy through a higher source in order to realign your chakras so they can work in harmony once more. Don’t worry – you will remain fully clothed throughout!

Often clients will require more healing in one part of their body than in another. For example, if you have particularly low self esteem and self confidence, meaning that you find it difficult to cope with conference calls and speeches, your treatment might focus largely on the throat and neck.

What you experience will be unique to you and may vary from session to session. Some people experience heat coming from my hands, others may experience a tingling sensation, and some nothing more than a deep sense of absolute calm and relaxation. Despite the physical nature of this treatment it is very much a mental therapy too, and can be remarkably effective.

Although this type of treatment can often meet with a certain amount of cynicism from some clients, it can be incredibly effective, especially for those struggling with self esteem and self confidence. For example, I was recently working with a woman who had been diagnosed with a severe blood condition and after only four sessions she returned for a check-up to find that her blood was completely clear!

Suffice to say, the healing power of the mind should never be underestimated.

If you’re dealing with depression, seeking treatment for abuse or having problems conquering other personal issues and would like to learn more about other treatments available on our spiritual retreats, visit www.breakthrough-retreats.co.uk. There you’ll be able to claim your free copy of my new guide, “Unlocking your full potential: An introduction to the incredible impact of personal development retreats”, packed with information on everything from what a spiritual retreat looks like to the benefits of getting away from it all.

What results can I expect to see following my bespoke health retreat?

Although it is impossible to provide statistical evidence of the benefits of a bespoke health retreat given the extremely subjective nature of personal development, the transformative power of a health retreat is astonishing.

Having spent anywhere from 1 day to 7 days with us, every single client we have helped has achieved a breakthrough of one sort or another during their stay, whether this comes in the form of an ‘aha!’ moment or at the end of a gradual process of self evaluation and therapy.

Among the most common results clients enjoy is finally being able to let go of memories, traumas and unhelpful attitudes which prevent them from being able to fulfil their true potential. Whereas people will come to us dealing with depression, low self esteem and self confidence, anxiety, anger or other such issues, we will help them get to the bottom of their problems, confront and conquer the root cause and develop a fresher and more positive approach to life.

“Can I claim treatment on my health insurance?”

As treatments such as psychotherapy and hypnotherapy are increasingly gaining recognition in medical circles, it is now possible to claim for certain treatments on your health insurance – or even via the NHS! Indeed, many of my clients have contacted me following their stay at one of our retreat centres to inform me that their insurance were willing to cover the treatment they received – no doubt thanks in part to the fact that the transformative power of the health retreat meant that the individual would most likely need no further treatment in the future.

By checking with your insurance provider or contacting your local GP, you should be able to find out whether or not this is possible for you.

Find out more…

If you’re dealing with depression, seeking treatment for abuse or simply looking for advice on how to be at one with yourself and would like to learn more about what a health retreat can do for you, visit www.breakthrough-retreats.co.uk. There you’ll be able to claim your free copy of my new guide, “Unlocking your full potential: An introduction to the incredible impact of personal development retreats”, packed with information on everything from what a spiritual retreat looks like to the benefits of getting away from it all.

How a change of setting can work wonders for those dealing with depression

When it comes to dealing with depression and learning how to be at one with yourself, breaking your current patterns of behaviour is extremely important. Unfortunately, however, despite the fact that many people are unhappy or unsatisfied with the way their life is going, they still neglect to change their daily routine.

A spiritual retreat is the perfect way to get away from your day to day life. Whether you choose a weekend, 5-day or 7-day retreat, putting physical distance between yourself and your normal surroundings can be enormously helpful and allow you to evaluate your lifestyle more effectively.

Whereas therapy healing is usually a somewhat formal affair, in the context of a spiritual retreat, you will be having breakfast, lunch and dinner with your therapist as well as engaging in activities such as yoga with them. This far more informal approach not only creates an atmosphere more conducive to personal development, resulting in clients opening up about themselves much more freely, but also helps to get clients used to incorporating self reflection and development into their daily routine – something that is incredibly useful when the time comes to return to their day-to-day lives.

If you’re dealing with depression, seeking treatment for abuse or having problems conquering other personal issues and would like to learn more about how a spiritual retreat can help, visit www.breakthrough-retreats.co.uk. There you’ll be able to claim your free copy of my new guide, “Unlocking your full potential: An introduction to the incredible impact of personal development retreats”, packed with information on everything from what a spiritual retreat looks like to the benefits of getting away from it all.

What is a personal health retreat?

Set in the heart of the countryside, a personal health retreat offers individuals a far more effective way of coming to grips with any issues they have than is possible via traditional therapy healing sessions. In the remarkable comfort of a retreat centre, and with the help of a wide range of treatments and numerous experts, clients are perfectly positioned to experience a dramatic transformation – something that can change them for the rest of their life.

Whilst hour-long sessions of psychotherapy, hypnotherapy or other such treatments can be a great help to individuals, they simply cannot compare to the impact of a retreat tailored specifically to your needs. What we are able to do on a personal health retreat equates to around 3 years’ worth of psychotherapy sessions – making these retreats not only cost-effective, but perfect for those with particularly time-consuming jobs.

As opposed to group health retreats, a personal health retreat is just that – personal! Far from simply subscribing to a set package, each individual, whether they are with us as part of a group or not, will enjoy a totally unique experience, tailored precisely to their exact needs.

During your few days with us, we will help you get to the bottom of why you’re feeling the way you are, work out ways in which you can make a positive change in your life, and help you to recognise and eradicate negative behaviour patterns. What’s more, once you leave, we are always contactable via email or telephone.

In short, Breakthrough Retreats offer quality, valuable, accessible and cost effective therapy healing in a supportive, respectful and confidential environment specifically designed to bring about positive and lasting change in the life of the individual.

If you’re dealing with depression, seeking treatment for abuse or having problems conquering other personal issues and would like to learn more about how a health retreat can help, visit www.breakthrough-retreats.co.uk. There you’ll be able to claim your free copy of my new guide, “Unlocking your full potential: An introduction to the incredible impact of personal development retreats”, packed with information on everything from what a spiritual retreat looks like to the benefits of getting away from it all.

Students and Depression: The Struggle to Survive

The parents of two young men who took their own lives call for greater support for students who are struggling to cope.

Toby Thorn left a few words on the back of a letter he had recently received from Barclays. The message was almost flippant. “Thank you to all my friends. I appreciate your support. Later, ANON.” Thorn killed himself in a field just outside Cambridge on a Saturday night in July 2011.

Like many students, 23-year-old Thorn couldn’t cope with his debt: the bank had just informed him he would not be able to withdraw any more money. When he died, he was £3,000 overdrawn and had a £5,000 student loan to pay off. At his inquest, the coroner said it would be wrong to suggest he had killed himself simply because of his debt, but it was a major contributory factor.

The number of students who took their own lives in England and Walesrose by 50% between 2007 and 2011 – from 75 to 112 – despite the number of students as a whole rising by only 14%. That these figures have emerged at a time of recession, when student fees are rising sharply, has caused some to ask whether enough is being done about the increasing pressures facing students today.

“Of course I was angry with Toby,” his mother, Anne Thorn, says. We’re looking out over the Cornish coast in Penzance: beach, sea, palm trees, it couldn’t be more serene. This is where she had come to semi-retire after leaving a well-paid job in IT. She was angry that he had been too proud or ashamed to confide in her about his money problems, angry that he threw his life away, perhaps most of all angry that she had lost her closest friend.

Anne and Toby had always been a team. Toby was born in America where Anne was working and had met his father. The couple split up when Toby was two, and Anne returned to England to bring Toby up by herself. There were boyfriends at times, but mostly it was just the two of them. Toby lost touch with his father.

He was a bright little boy, crazy about computers. By his teens, he was quirky and likable, but introverted. He didn’t get the results he was capable of and, at home, would retreat to his private world of computer games. He didn’t drink or smoke or do any of the things that worry parents. “I’d think, ‘My god, when I was your age I’d be lying to my parents and going down the Tottenham Royal and meeting boys.’ He was quite conservative, a late bloomer.”

In his GCSE years he stopped going to school for three months – no explanation, no dramas, he just didn’t feel like it. Anne cajoled him back into education and Toby passed seven GCSEs. It was the same story with his A-levels. Anne would drive him into college to hand in work when he didn’t feel like it. “Looking back, I think maybe I should have just left him. I was always there rescuing him.”

He never complained about depression. He was withdrawn, but they were still close – they went to see Toy Story together seven times; he wrote her loving cards in which he apologised for his attitude and thanked her for her love. And even though he was in and out of college, whenever he went for job interviews he impressed. After A-levels, he was hired on an IT apprenticeship for £21,000 a year – ironically, at Barclays – but at the end of the year the department was outsourced to India and the scheme was cut. Toby returned to Chingford, where Anne was living with her father and working as a project manager.

Toby told her he wanted to go to university if he could find somewhere that would accept his grades. His mother looked around, and discovered that he could do a two-year HND in computing at Anglia Ruskin university in Cambridge, and turn it into a degree in the third year. It seemed perfect: he was an hour from home, he shared a house with five students, made friends, enjoyed his independence. She was proud. “I used to tell people that he didn’t go to school, but look at him now: he’s at uni, he’s sorted his life out. He even had his first girlfriend, who was one of his housemates. He shyly told me about that. I said, ‘Do you still play on the computer?’ and he said, ‘No, no, just a little bit.’ I naively thought this was it – I didn’t have to worry about him any more.”

But in Toby’s second year she received a letter saying he hadn’t paid his rent. “I was his guarantor. So I paid the rent and spoke to him, and he said he’d just fallen behind a bit.” Did he spend extravagantly? “I don’t think so. When you looked at his bank statements, there wasn’t any huge spending. He just wasn’t managing his money well. One of his friends said at his funeral that he had Balti King on speed dial.”

He started to miss lectures, spending time with a friend who ran a computer shop. The second year turned into the third, and Anne became suspicious. He should have received his HND in the summer of 2010, and started the degree course, but there was no mention of it. “That was his standard thing, to say everything is OK, so you don’t have to confront it. I used to call him the ostrich. I kept asking when he was getting his results. Then it all came out, and it was a huge shock.” He admitted he had stopped going to university and failed to complete his course. Toby was devastated, saying he’d made a mess of his life. But Anne spoke to the university, it was suggested that he redo the second year, and it looked as if things were back on course. Soon after, she felt positive enough to make her dream move to Penzance. She told Toby she would pay his rent for the next six months, but insisted on transferring the money directly to his landlord’s account.

Anne Thorn

Anne Thorn: ‘I probably talk to him every day. I come in from work and say, “Hi, Toby, how are you?”’ Photograph: Vince Bevan for the Guardian

The last time she saw Toby was when he helped her and his grandfather move to Penzance. He stayed overnight, then said he was keen to get back. She smiles when she tells me about their final conversation later that week. Typical, really: it was about computers. “It was completely stupid. It was 5 July. I phoned him up because I was trying to install Word on a new laptop, and my last conversation with him was, ‘How do I know the difference between 64 bit and 32 bit?’ ”

On Sunday 10 July, a police officer knocked on the door at 10pm. “It is just like those TV dramas when they say, ‘Sit down’, and you know before they say it… It was just the one officer – a young man, 26 years old. I ended up comforting him.”

Since Toby’s death, she has been able to piece together his final few months by talking to friends and reading through diaries and scraps of writing he left. None of his friends knew that he had quit university again. “He wrote about how he didn’t understand why he couldn’t just go to university, and what was he going to do with his life? He said, ‘I don’t understand. I never feel any emotion. I don’t feel happy, I don’t feel sad.’ I found it after he died, and it was almost like he was speaking to me.” In retrospect, she says, it was obvious he had crippling depression.

How significant was the debt? “I think it tipped him over the edge.” The week he killed himself, the bank sent the letter saying it was pulling the plug. “He would have put his card in the machine and not been able to get any money out.”

Toby still had access to money. A few months earlier, she had given him a credit card for emergencies. But he didn’t use the card until the end. “After he died I got the statement and he’d bought a pizza on that credit card on that Saturday afternoon… That would have been his last meal.”

Anne organised a funeral for Toby, and then it hit her. “I’d try to get through an hour at a time. I’d sit outside here, and think, ‘I don’t want to go on.’ After three weeks I reached this terrible dark point. And then I thought, ‘Nothing’s going to change. Nothing’s going to bring him back. I’ll never really know why. I’ve got a choice: I can either think my life’s not going to be worth living from now on, or I can choose to make the best life I can in the circumstances.’ ” She comes to a stop. “I’m not saying it’s been plain sailing. It’s like a life sentence. Every day you’re going to wake up and your son’s going to be dead.”

Elfie starts barking, and scratches at the door. She bought the terrier just after Toby died. Since then, Anne has put much of her energy into campaigning. Depression is a huge issue for young people, she says, and society has to address it. “I had no idea that my son was more likely to die from suicide than anything else: it is the leading cause of death in 18- to 24-year-old males in the UK. As a parent, I would have liked to have known that, because I worried about drugs, getting mugged, knife crime. I never ever worried about him walking into a field and ending his life.”

Around 1,400 under-35s kill themselves in the UK every year, and three-quarters of those are men or boys. It is hard to put a figure on how many of these deaths are related to the issue of debt, but according to a YouGov poll, money was the most common worry across the UK last year, with almost half of all callers to the Samaritans‘ helpline naming it as their main concern.

In 2011, a report from the Royal College of Psychiatrists revealed that an increasing number of British students were seeking help from mental health support services at a time of rising debt and fewer employment opportunities. Many of these services are now being stripped back. Yet demand is unlikely to abate over the next few years: with many British students paying £9,000 a year in tuition fees alone, it is estimated that young people will leave university with average debts of £40,000.

The figures showing a 50% increase in student suicides between 2007 and 2011 were released by the Office for National Statistics after a Freedom of Information request by Ed Pinkney, the founder of Mental Wealth UK, a student body committed to promoting wellbeing on university campuses. A spokesperson for the ONS warned against drawing conclusions, due to the small numbers involved, but Pinkney says, “It is difficult to see the rise in student suicides reversing if student debts continue to increase and support services continue to have their budgets threatened with cuts. This isn’t just about the personal issues facing a minority of students. It’s an academic issue, too. Just as buildings require strong foundations, students cannot be expected to thrive if they lack adequate support.”

Stephen Platt, professor of health policy research at the University of Edinburgh and a trustee of the Samaritans, urges caution in making a direct link between student debt and suicides. “Students are no more likely to kill themselves than the general population in the same age group,” he says. “Of course there are many risk factors for suicidal behaviour: 90% of the people who commit suicide will have a psychiatric illness at the time of their death, and there are many other cultural and social factors. But studies show that a greater proportion of people in debt will report mental health problems. And we know that mental health problems increase the risk of suicide.”

Dr Denise Meyer, a psychologist who works for the website Students Against Depression, agrees: “You can’t say depression is caused by debt. Depression comes about when coping resources are overwhelmed, and that takes place for a variety of reasons.”

However, in some cases, as in Toby’s, debt has been a contributing factor. In 2008, 34-year-old science graduate Claire Ashing killed herself after being pursued over £40,000 she owed, as did mechanical engineering student Marc Wadjas, who could not afford to buy food. In 2006 computer student Geraint Banks-Wilkinson ended his life after his bank called in his £1,000 overdraft, and in 2005 26-year-old Lisa Taylor did the same because she felt she would never be able to pay back the £14,000 debt accrued while studying for her degree. She left a note blaming her depression on debt.

Stephen Habgood spent almost 30 years as a prison governor. As part of his remit, he was responsible for prisoners considered a suicide risk, and he was proud of his record. “When I was governor of a juvenile prison, I was really panicking that we’d lose a juvenile to suicide, but I never did. It just didn’t happen to me. And bugger me, the first one I lose is my son.” He comes to a stop. “It’s not like losing your uncle or aunt or grandmother. It is the most terrible, terrible thing to happen.”

It’s four years since 26-year-old Chris killed himself. “You don’t believe you’re going to lose your children, and to lose them to suicide leaves you with such awful guilt that you could have done something different, youshould have done something different.”

As we talk at his home in Staffordshire, I’m looking at photographs of Chris – with his father, his two stepsisters, his last girlfriend. He was a handsome boy, I say. Stephen says he hates it when people say that – as if his life was worth more because he found it easy to get girlfriends. Actually, he says, Chris was aware of how lucky he was, and it just made him feel worse – ungrateful.

He tells Chris’s story, and it is eerily familiar – a clever boy with a short attention span who grew into a clever man with a short attention span; popular but a loner; a computer whizz who only had to turn up for an interview to be offered a job; useless with money. His father can’t begin to count the number of jobs he walked away from.

Eventually he decided to go to university to study forensic computing. He was older than most of his fellow students, and told his father that he didn’t have anything in common with them. It was only after he died that Stephen realised how popular he was.

Like Toby, Chris got into trouble with money. One day he told his father he’d had suicidal thoughts and was leaving for America. When Chris returned to Staffordshire, he was in a state. “He told us he’d injured his neck, somehow dislocated it, and he’d had to have treatment in America. We took him to the doctor, and the doctor referred him to a psychiatrist.” For the first time, Chris admitted he suffered from depression.

A short while later, police turned up at Stephen’s house and said that, while on a work placement in London, Chris had stolen a credit card and forged public transport tickets. “We wanted to sort out his criminal position, so we took him to the police station to admit he’d stolen the card. I made him go to see the counsellors at university.” No charges were pressed.

Chris then went on another placement, this time in Northampton. “He was only there two weeks,” his stepmother Sheila says. “He came back home with his girlfriend Laura,” Stephen adds. They often finish each other’s sentences.

Again, he was in a bad way. “He went back on the Sunday night,” Stephen says. “On the Monday he drank some brandy, wrote a five-page letter to us, and did a video message to Laura, which was awful because he was just crying. He texted me to say goodbye.” Stephen’s eyes are raw as he recounts his son’s final moments.

They rushed round, but it was too late. The police were already there when Stephen arrived. It emerged that on his last weekend at home Chris had stolen Sheila’s credit card and gambled £10,000 online. At one point, he had made £20,000, but he lost everything.

The morning after Chris’s death, his GP told his father that Chris had tried to hang himself in October. “That was when we knew for sure why his neck was dislocated, and that’s why he went to America.”

Stephen is furious that the doctor waited until Chris had killed himself to tell him. Nor has he forgiven the psychiatrist who told Chris he wasn’t clinically depressed and should focus on his new girlfriend.

After Chris’s death, Stephen took six months off work,  then left the prison service. Work seemed irrelevant. He had previously been an Anglican priest, and says his belief gave him comfort. “The advantage of having a faith was I knew where Chris was; that he’d be all right.”

Stephen decided to put the skills he had learned in prisons to use as the chairman of Papyrus, a charity dedicated to the prevention of young suicides. He talked to other parents who had lost children, and discovered that many felt they had been parenting in the dark – still supporting children at university but with no help from doctors or counselling services in reaching them when they were most needed. He asked the counselling service at Staffordshire University whether Chris had been in touch, only to be told it was confidential. “I said, ‘What do you mean, you can’t tell me? He’s dead now!’ ”

Habgood is sure that debt was a significant factor in Chris’s decision to take his life. He believes today’s students have higher material expectations than when he was at university and, at the same time, they are paying for courses that previous generations got for free. “There are no jobs for them. So having gone through a university course, they’ll still struggle to get a job. Then they’ll struggle to pay back the student loan. That looms large, doesn’t it? And how are they going to get a house? And for young women, when are they going to have children? Crikey, the pressure we are putting on young people…”

He began to study suicide statistics and coroners’ verdicts, and felt the figures were being understated. In 1961, suicide was decriminalised and the level of proof changed to balance of probabilities, but in 1985 it was changed back to beyond reasonable doubt – meaning that coroners are ruling many apparent suicides accidental death or recording open verdicts, especially when no letter has been left. “That in effect criminalised suicide again,” he says. “My view is that coroners are actually stigmatising suicide by insisting on such a high level of proof.”

Stephen wrote to the chief coroner of England and Wales, Peter Thornton, to argue that the standard of proof should be changed in suicides, and earlier this month received the following response: “I am myself supportive of the change which would reduce the standard of proof for suicide to the civil standard and have expressed my view to the MoJ [Ministry of Justice].”

Why does Stephen feel it is important that more suicides are recorded? “Because then we would have to accept it’s a huge killer of people and we’d have to do something about it. If we’re more open about it, it means more people can say how they feel, and we might start to discuss it in schools and colleges. Let’s talk about suicide and put some money into trying to understand it.”

In fact, in terms of funding, the opposite is happening. The Royal College of Psychiatrists report found that while students were struggling with rising debt and fewer employment opportunities, counselling services were being cut. Dr Leonard Fagin, consultant psychiatrist and a co-author of the report, said: “There are concerns that universities are programming cuts that will affect provision of counselling and psychiatric services to students, preventing effective early intervention.”

Dr Meyer of Students Against Depression says that even before these cuts there was a problem with the number of students seeking help for depression. “Fifty per cent of those affected by depression don’t seek professional help, and young men are particularly unlikely to identify themselves as needing help.”

It’s 20 months since Toby Thorn died, and his mother feels she has turned a corner. She has started working again, and finds it easier to see the positives in Toby’s life. “One key is acceptance,” she says. “The other thing is to keep a connection with the person and not to feel angry.” She looks at the photographs of her son on the mantelpiece. “I probably talk to Toby every day. I come in from work and say, ‘Hi, Toby, how are you?’ ” Anne admits there are times she has screamed at her dead son. After his funeral in Cambridge, she looked at the beautiful memory book his friends presented her with and for the first time realised how much he meant to them. “I was in the hotel room and I remember shouting, ‘You stupid boy! Didn’t you realise how much you were loved? These people loved you, and I would have done anything for you.’ I was just really cross.”

When she raises her voice, Elfie starts barking. “I think Elfie saved my life. This little puppy, she was so tiny and cute, and she gave me that will to live.” Why is she called Elfie? Anne smiles. “Ah, well. That’s another story. There is a book I used to read with Toby when he was a little boy. It’s a terrible book really, because the dog Elfie dies. The moral of the story is it’s OK, because this little boy told Elfie every day, ‘I’ll always love you.’ That became our mantra. We always said, ‘I’ll always love you’, or signed letters IALY. The idea is, if someone dies and you’ve told them every day ‘I’ll always love you’, you won’t have regrets. So when I got a dog, the name had to be Elfie. This book went in Toby’s casket with him when he was cremated, with a teddy and a card.”

These days she likes to look at old cards he sent her. He always used to tell her that he found it easier to express his emotions in writing. Often, she says, he would apologise because he felt he had let her down. She shows me a card he sent shortly before he died. “Dear Mom, I really do appreciate your patience with me while I attempt to make my way in life, and no matter how many mistakes I have made, understand I have always appreciated your continued faith and support, and I promise I will make you proud one day. IALY, Toby.”

Do you need help?

Depression can be effectively treated. If you are a student and you are feeling depressed, talk to someone: a friend, a family member, an anonymous listening service such as Nightline or the Samaritans, a student union welfare rep, your personal tutor, a student support services staff member, a counsellor or a doctor. If that doesn’t work out, try someone else. Talk to more than one person.

Most universities and many colleges have a counselling service that is free for students to use. Counselling offers an opportunity to talk confidentially to someone impartial, so you are free to explore your feelings and be supported without judgment.

If you are feeling suicidal, make a deal with yourself that you will not act just yet. Tell someone else how you are feeling or phone an all-hours contact such as the Samaritans on 08457 909090 or Papyrus on 0800 068 4141.

Information provided by Students Against Depression – for more self-help strategies, visit studentsagainstdepression.org.

 

Original Article Here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2013/mar/23/student-suicide-depression-debt-recession