Exam stress rising? No, pupils are just better at seeking help | Laura McInerney

Of course sitting GCSEs can be a trying experience, but with good support, study pressure can be positive

Across the country at the moment, young people are engaging in a practice that will give them nightmares for decades. Nope, not fidget spinners or Snapchat filters: those give only adults nightmares. The real answer is exams.

It’s almost 20 years since my maths GCSE and yet the bad dreams are still the same. No revision done, the exam hall lost in a labyrinth of corridors, the start already missed. I am not alone. Exam anxiety dreams are among the most common in adults. Is it these painful associations, then, that mean a quarter of British parents report their mental health was negatively affected by having children who are currently taking exams? Or is it, as the parents will more often tell you, because watching your child break under the pressure is enough to make anyone sick?

Related: GCSEs and A-levels: how are young people coping with exam stress?

Among boys, the number experiencing any psychological distress has actually gone down

Related: Six tactics to help your students deal with stress

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Crisps, keyboards, pens​ – how do you treat an unusual phobia?

When you are plagued by unusual fears, people’s reactions can be the hardest thing to bear. One writer with a phobia of jewellery explores what can be done

If a friend confided in you they had a fear of door handles or toenail clippings, would you laugh or sympathise? The instinctive reaction might be the former, but we can all get phobias of absolutely anything, and some can be debilitating. I have lived with my own fear of jewellery for as long as I can remember. If you were to place a metallic necklace or earring into my hands, it would send a shiver through my body, I’d feel instantly sick, have to throw the object away and wash my hands. The response from family, friends and colleagues has only ever been amusement or bemusement. I can live a normal life, despite consternation from some for not wearing a wedding ring, and have never got to the root cause.

Phobias are described as an overwhelming and debilitating fear of something. They are more pronounced than just fears alone. A dislike of rats, for example, is pretty common. But if it extends to musophobia (a fear of mice or rats), then it can be life-changing. “One person called our helpline who was so scared of rats they couldn’t even say the word ‘rat’ itself,” explains Trilby Breckman, a development manager at the charity organisation Triumph Over Phobia (TOP UK). “It was stopping her going out for fear of seeing one.”

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‘I can’t fight anorexia any more. I’ve tried so hard’

Pip McManus died three years after becoming ill with an eating disorder. Her parents explain how medical care failed their daughter

Marie McManus wants to show me the final photograph taken of her daughter Pip. It was 9 December 2015, and the 15-year-old is standing on the platform of a railway station five minutes’ walk from the family home. In the CCTV image, Pip is wearing a red hoodie and looking up the track to see if her train is coming. But she’s not going to get on it.

Related: Mother of anorexic girl killed by train criticises care failings after inquest

I thought, they’ll put a drip in, they’ll give her fluids. They’ll make her better

Related: Mental health services turn away 23% of under-18s referred to them

Related: Anorexia: you don’t just grow out of it | Carrie Arnold

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Model Adwoa Aboah: ‘In 2017, there is more than one way to be beautiful ​and cool’

The in-demand face of Gap and Versace is changing the rules of how to make it big in fashion. She talks about authenticity, her depression – and why her shaved head was a two fingers to the industry

Adwoa Aboah is ridiculously beautiful, but that is not what makes her the most in-demand model of the moment. Sure, the razor-sharp cheekbones and the blown-glass lips don’t do her prospects any harm. But there is something in her gaze to camera that makes her beauty seem as if it’s not the most compelling thing about her. It is this that has raised Aboah – face of a new Gap campaign, muse to Donatella Versace, booked for the catwalk by everyone from Christian Dior and Chanel to Marc Jacobs and Alexander Wang – above the modelling rank and file.

My first appointment with Aboah is cancelled because she hasn’t yet got out of bed. So far, so supermodel. But when we finally speak, it becomes clear that this Linda Evangelista moment is about as far as Aboah goes in terms of conformity to the modelling tradition of aloof, enigmatic beauty. After our interview, she has a busy day ahead. First, a meeting with Dr Lauren Hazzouri, a psychologist specialising in young women’s mental health. After that, it’s off to Gurls Talk, the online platform she founded to enable discussion about mental health, body image and sexuality, to plan an upcoming event. Forget castings and go-sees: Aboah is changing the rules of how a modern model makes it big.

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‘It was quasi-religious’: the great self-esteem con

In the 1980s, Californian politician John Vasconcellos set up a task force to promote high self-esteem as the answer to all social ills. But was his science based on a lie?

In 2014, a heartwarming letter sent to year 6 pupils at Barrowford primary school in Lancashire went viral. Handed out with their Key Stage 2 exam results, it reassured them: “These tests do not always assess all of what it is that make each of you special and unique… They do not know that your friends count on you to be there for them or that your laughter can brighten the dreariest day. They do not know that you write poetry or songs, play sports, wonder about the future, or that sometimes you take care of your little brother or sister.”

At Barrowford, people learned, teachers were discouraged from issuing punishments, defining a child as “naughty” and raising their voices. The school’s guiding philosophy, said headteacher Rachel Tomlinson, was that kids were to be treated with “unconditional positive regard”.

To get ahead in the 1980s, you had to be ruthless, relentless. You had to believe in yourself

Vasco’s credibility turned on a single fact: that the professors had confirmed his hunch. The only problem? They hadn’t

What had really happened at that meeting? I found the answer on an old audio cassette, hissy and faint

Related: The appeal of narcissists: why do we love people who’d rather love themselves?

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A letter to … my husband, who copes with my anxiety disorder

The letter you always wanted to write

You have always known that I struggle with anxiety. At some stages of our life together, I have been paralysed by it, living it, breathing it but seeing little else, including you. My anxiety can stifle our time together. In my worst moments I constantly seek reassurance, I display symptoms of OCD and hyperventilate. I often wonder how you have managed to see the person beyond the anxiety, how you have tolerated me and stayed.

When things are on a more even keel we have wonderful times. I cling on to these in the dark moments, storing them like bright snapshots in my mind. How do you cope? There are times when we laugh, live and love but often we simply exist. We go through the motions, or rather you drag me through them. There have been times when I haven’t been able to work. There have been times when I have constantly harangued you – via text, email, phone – crying, convinced I was dying of yet another life-threatening illness. Again I wonder how you cope, why you stay?

At 12 weeks old our little boy had open-heart surgery. The weeks running up to that are a blur of fear, sadness and joy

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Am I normal? You asked Google. Here’s the answer | Eleanor Morgan

Every day millions of internet users ask Google life’s most difficult questions, big and small. Our writers answer some of the commonest queries

“The camera has the power to catch so-called normal people in such a way as to make them look extremely disturbed,” writes Susan Sontag in an essay from 1973 called Freak Show. “The camera chooses oddity, chases it, names it, elects it, frames it, develops it, titles it.” Sontag was talking about photography, but this concept of naming-and-framing is a useful analogy for how we view one another in society at large.

We muscle through life constantly framing the “normality” of others against our own patchwork of knowledge, life experiences, values and opinions. We can’t help it. Yet normality is probably the most subjective concept human beings can ponder.

Related: Is mental illness real? You asked Google – here’s the answer | Jay Watts

Related: Why don’t people like me? You asked Google – here’s the answer | Anouchka Grose

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Experience: I made peace with my daughter’s killer

This is not about forgiveness. What happened cannot be changed; this is our way of dealing with it

My daughter Renske met her boyfriend Samarie on the train. She was heading from the Netherlands to Switzerland; he was an asylum seeker from Benin. They got chatting and exchanged phone numbers. That was how it started. They had a good relationship. He was attentive and they were very respectful towards each other. They spent holidays with me and my wife Lieuwkje.

Just before midnight on 13 April 2011, I saw on the news that a girl had been killed in Baflo, where Renske lived. About an hour later, they showed a picture of the scene, and I recognised her flat. I called the police and said, “I think my daughter is the victim of the incident in Baflo.” At 5am, two officers came to the house and we learned what had happened.

Related: Experience: I’ve been protesting for more than 60 years

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Ruby Wax: ‘The kids didn’t know I had depression until they were older. My husband covered for me’

The comedian talks about her mother’s obsessive compulsive disorder, her own depression and marrying her husband for his family

I was born and raised in Evanston, outside Chicago. My dad, Edward Wachs, and my mum, Bertha, fled Austria in 1938. My family were Jewish but they never practised, so it’s not something I really identify with. My dad ran a catering company so we ate a lot of different kinds of hot dogs. We lived on a lake and if you saw it you’d think, “Oh my God, it’s so beautiful!” It was this American Pie happiness but something wasn’t right.

My mother had obsessive compulsive disorder, although I didn’t know it was called that then. Everything had to be incredibly clean and she went around with sponges in both hands, constantly wiping up. I had girlfriends whose mothers would fill their refrigerators full of food but ours only had mayonnaise and my dad’s cigars. My mother would often get hysterical and there was lots of screaming, but rather than deal with it, my father would just turn the opera up on the radio.

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Why men should keep a journal | Ollie Aplin

Writing down how you are feeling has immense mental and physical health benefits – and men need it most, says Ollie Aplin

History is littered with men who kept journals, from Ernest Hemingway and Bruce Lee to Winston Churchill and Thomas Jefferson. They couldn’t be more different, yet these men had one thing in common – they found strength and comfort through writing down their thoughts.

Professor James Pennebaker, who specialises in social psychology at the University of Texas, has spent many years looking at how writing down our feelings may boost immune functioning. In Opening Up by Writing it Down, which he co-authored with Joshua Smyth, Pennebaker says expressive writing improves health and eases emotional pain. He includes findings from hundreds of studies showing the health benefits of expressing emotions, particularly after trauma.

Part of the problem is that when men are depressed, they tend to conceal their feelings

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Experience: I rescued a woman from an oncoming train

I didn’t have time to think. I jumped out of my car, ran to the gates and ducked under them as they came down

I first saw her when I was in a drive-through restaurant near where I work in New Jersey in early March. I’d ordered my lunch and was sitting in my car when an elderly woman, who was having trouble walking, slowly crossed in front of me. She was using two canes to support herself and was hunched over. I thought, “This doesn’t seem right.” I considered giving her a ride, but my car was packed with things for work.

I’m a wine salesman and spend most of my days driving between restaurants. Because I’m in the car so much and have been involved in a couple of accidents that weren’t my fault, I’ve got a dash camera. It records what happens in front of me.

Related: Experience: I found my stolen dog

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It’s good to talk about mental health. But is it enough? | Eva Wiseman

With Princes William and Harry speaking up about the death of their mother, mental health awareness has had a much needed boost. But it’s what happens next that really counts

My toddler has recently learned to talk, and she speaks as if she’s recording her podcast, an unedited till roll of thoughts with a small pause for congratulations at the end. Occasionally she will prod me for praise. “That was a lovely story I just told wasn’t it?” Yes baby. “I piggy pardon?” Yes, that was a lovely story.

It very often is a lovely story, but a time will have to come, maybe when she turns three, when she will learn that talking is not enough. Talking is rarely the end – talking is the vehicle, the bus, the bike. The meandering journey to another place.

May has pledged to tackle the ‘stigma’ of mental health. But the crisis has been fuelled by her party’s cuts

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Postnatal depression – ‘I felt disembodied for so long but suddenly I was back in my own body’

Jessica Friedmann talks to Viv Groskop about the terrifying years she experienced after the birth of her son

Jessica Friedmann thought she was managing well after the birth of her son. Then suddenly her thoughts took a dark turn. “I had to come back into hospital two weeks later for a checkup and I realised that all I wanted to do was get out of the moving car. I was feeling as though I couldn’t handle being alive any more and that it would be better for Owen if I wasn’t.”

Friedmann, 30, has written an extraordinary account of extreme postnatal depression as seen from the eye of the storm. She lives in Canberra, Australia, with her husband, Mike, 34, who is in the Australian air force. Their son, Owen, is four. The period of “feeling foggy”, as she calls it, dates it back to Owen’s early weeks. Friedmann’s experience is at the sharp end of things. While the NHS suggests that the “baby blues” usually don’t last more than two weeks after giving birth, Friedmann was ill for, she estimates, two and a half to three years.

Related: Postnatal depression is not a new phenomenon, only a chronically ignored one

Mental illness is such a bear trap because in any other crisis you can articulate what is going on. But I couldn’t

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It’s hard to talk about mental health at the best of times, which these are not

‘Nobody, even Trump, should be blamed for being mentally ill. But nor should we pretend mental illness affects only the nice’

Should we talk more openly about mental illness, or should we shut up? It depends which side of the Atlantic you’re on. In Britain, the future head of state has thrown his weight behind an admirable campaign for more conversation, but in America, where the current head of state seems profoundly psychologically disordered, the official position is to zip it. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) is standing firm on the “Goldwater Rule”, which prohibits members from offering opinions, let alone formal diagnoses, on those they haven’t evaluated in person. (It was devised after a poll of psychiatrists deemed Barry Goldwater, the 1964 Republican presidential candidate, unfit for office.) Needless to say, the rule hasn’t stifled media speculation about celebrity mental health; instead, it precludes precisely those who might bring some credibility and sobriety to the discussion.

The best argument for the royal family’s Heads Together initiative is that it could reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness, yet the APA’s best argument for not talking about Trump’s problems is also to avoid stigmatising other mentally ill people through association with the Orange Horror. There’s something amiss here: we claim we want to acknowledge that mental illness affects pretty much everyone, but at the same time, we don’t want to acknowledge that it affects some highly unsavoury people. And we certainly don’t want to acknowledge that their illness and bad actions might be intertwined.

Related: Want to live twice as long? Meditation might help | Oliver Burkeman

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A moment that changed me: realising, aged 16, that I couldn’t handle alcohol | Lou Sanders

I did drink quite a bit more after that. But that night in Alicante was the first inkling I had that my relationship with alcohol was a dangerous one

I was 16, on holiday in Alicante on my own – my Aunty Sue was due to join me the next day. So in preparation for her arrival, I drank almost a litre of vodka, hit the town and passed out. A Spanish stranger called an ambulance and the local hospital kindly pumped my stomach. “Olé! Olé!” as they say (translation: Oi! Oi!).

I was in a foreign place, didn’t speak the language, and had no idea where my hostel was. I thought I was streetwise but I was a street idiot. Like many people my age, I was a turbulent sea of emotions: a mix of hormones, some unprocessed family happenings, and a classic case of a broken heart. Because of this emotional maelstrom, the male nurse thought he could drop me back to my hostel via his place and have sex with me, since I was too low on self-esteem, and way too out of it, to put up any sort of counter-argument. Turns out he was right. Muchas gracias, maaate!

Related: Alcohol can ruin our mental health, but it’s rarely discussed. I know | Matthew Todd

There was no knowing when the beast would be unleashed. But, at some point, the beast was always unleashed

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