Let’s start the conversation now

Jean Balchin

Kia ora. My name is Jean and I’ve been involved with Life Matters Suicide Prevention Trust for a couple of years. I’d like to begin this blog by telling you a story about me and my brother John, who died by suicide three years ago.

I’m the oldest of nine children – Jean, John, Andrew, Will, Jill, Lucy, Peter, Rebecca and Jack. Together with my parents, we have enough kids for a soccer team, almost enough for five-aside rugby, and more than enough for a nervous breakdown.

My childhood was messy, chaotic, and full of love. I had my usual teenage angst, and rebellious phase, but nothing serious had ever really happened. I hadn’t known real sadness, depression or anxiety. I hadn’t yet been touched by suicide.

Naturally, I was always very protective of my brothers and sisters. That’s not to say I didn’t tease them. On my little brother Will’s first day at school, I convinced him that a tube of wasabi I had was green ice-cream. He ate a whole teaspoon and began to bawl. I ran away. Obviously, this was not my finest hour. But when it really mattered, we stuck together. Playground skirmishes would sometimes escalate into full-on clan wars if someone dared to pick a fight with one of my siblings. And when my brother John began to show signs of depression, I was worried.

Three years ago, I was a second year student at Otago University. I was living in a flat in North East Valley, and I thought it would be great fun if my brother John – the next one closest in age – would come flat with me. So he moved down, and for awhile, it was great fun. We would go to parties together, and he would put me on his skateboard, and tow me home when I was tipsy and tired, and it was three o’clock in the morning. He did alright at his studies at first, but it soon became evident that university just wasn’t for him.

I’m not quite sure what happened to my brother, but a number of factors – university stress, poor sleep, anxiety, signs of developing schizophrenia, and of course being away from home – combined in him to produce severe depression, anxiety and other mental health issues. To cut a long story short, my lovely aunt and I did our best to help him. We took him to the doctors, counsellors and fed him well. He withdrew from university and headed home to work and rest for awhile. But at home, John didn’t get the rest, support and medical attention he needed. I don’t want to blame anyone for his death, and I won’t go into specifics, but his death was entirely preventable.

On the 24th of September 2014, John died by suicide. He was only 18. He was my best friend, a gentle boy who saw the best in everyone. John was the boy who befriended the outsiders. He was the class clown. He was the kindest human being I knew.

I felt like I had somehow let him down. I was in Edinburgh at the time, two weeks into a student exchange. I was on the other side of the world. I thought he was doing ok – just a week earlier, we’d been having a pretty normal conversation on Facebook. I’d ignored his most recent request to Skype.

For a long time, I refused to acknowledge the true circumstances of my brother’s death. I buried the memory in the attic of my mind and desperately tried to distract myself. And then, when I too began to spiral downwards into that deep, dark pit of depression, I kept my mouth shut. I was too afraid to tell anyone that my hair was falling out in clumps, that I woke up each morning with a heavy weight on my chest, pushing me down into the mattress.

I was too ashamed to admit that I couldn’t sleep, that I was beginning to hear voices, or that secretly I longed for everything to just stop. I was on the brink of suicide myself, and it wasn’t until a friend confronted me with five simple words, that I realised I needed help. “Are you thinking about suicide?” she asked. I got the help I needed, and while I’m not 100% better, I am doing well, and I have a wonderful support system.

Focus on the happy memories:

I can’t ever forget the sad resolution to John’s life.  life, but I can dwell on those funny, happy memories. So, here are a few:

When I was eight years old, we lived on a farm in Mangatangi. We had the most infuriating, useless chickens ever. They hardly ever laid eggs for us, and they weren’t affectionate in the slightest. John’s rooster was downright evil, and would attack us every time we left the house. However, one afternoon Andrew and I went to inspect the egg-boxes, only to find that there were twelve spotless, perfectly oval, creamy eggs nestled carefully within the straw. I was amazed. Our chickens had finally rewarded us! Andrew and I trotted home, crowing excitedly to Mum and Dad. It was only a few years ago that I found out my wily parents had enlisted John to hide a carton of eggs in our henhouse, in order to surprise us for once. He never breathed a word.

Throughout high school, I was incredibly straight laced and reserved. My rebellion was more of an intellectual one, rather than the traditional sex, drugs and rock’n’roll defiance of usual teenagers. To this end, I arrived at the ripe old age of 18 without ever having been to a party. My dear friend Sequoia decided to fix this, and so one evening I snuck out to my first party. It was ineffably strange. Inebriated teenagers were stumbling around in a muddy field, a decrepit old donkey was wandering around foraging for party snacks, and a cluster of tangle-haired hippies were hotboxing a caravan. I stood there in bemusement, watching the chaos unfold. And then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw my cheeky brother pull up on his bicycle. We made eye contact, and an unspoken agreement was made: I won’t tell if you don’t. We always looked out for each other. He was my best friend.

Finally, I was lucky enough to flat with John for a brief while down in Dunedin. It was the funniest, most infuriating time of my life. But John was always kind, sweet and gentle. Having moved on from the previously mentioned teetotal period, I would occasionally head out to town with my friends until the small hours of the morning. John would always leave his phone on in case I needed someone to walk me home. One night I called him at 3 in the morning. I was stuck in the centre of town, and didn’t want to walk through the dark, dank North East Valley by myself. Without complaining, my brother came to find me, skateboard under his arm. He placed me on the skateboard and towed me home, stopping off for refreshments on the way home. I will never forget how kind and caring John was, or how much fun it was to share a McFlurry with him, bumbling along the deserted roads of North Dunedin in the middle of the night.

So, to conclude:

It is the fear of losing more people to suicide that drives me forward. I am no longer ashamed of how my mind plays tricks on me, or the deficient levels of dopamine in my brain. Talking about suicide and mental health is a matter of life and death in New Zealand. Let’s start the conversation now.

I’d like to leave you with a Maori proverb that took on great significance to me after my brother died:

He aha te mea nu-nui o te ao

What is the most important thing in the world?

He tangata, he tangata, he tangata

It is the people, it is the people, it is the people

How a good diet and the right nutrients can benefit our mental health.

Brendon McIntosh

Kia Ora koutou, my name is Brendon McIntosh and I am a Community Pharmacist. I am very grateful to be asked by Corinda Taylor from the Life Matters Suicide Prevention Trust, to talk today about how a good diet and the right nutrients can benefit our mental health.

Now I know mental wellbeing is multi-factorial and there are a huge number of factors contributing to our outrageous suicide rates and rates of depression, but today I am just going to focus on some dietary things we can be doing to improve our mood.

So what would a Pharmacist know about diet and mood you may ask? Well we know a lot about biochemistry and specific human body systems including the nervous system. But for me personally, I also have a degree in Neuroscience, so I have studied the brain for 3 years and I have also completed postgraduate study in nutritional medicine so I have looked at the effects different nutrients have on our bodies and in turn, the effects our bodies have on these nutrients.

The effects our diet has on our mental health has been well documented and more and more research is coming out in support of certain foods that have a positive effect on our moods and those that can have a negative effect. Numerous studies on depressed people have shown that even minor adjustments to their diets such as eating less junk food and eating more nutrient-rich foods can lead to improvement in symptoms and depression scores.

So what are some nutrients we should be eating to help our mental wellness and what foods are these found in?

  • Selenium – This is important as our soils in New Zealand have low levels of selenium, which in turn means our food will have low levels. Low selenium has been linked to low mood. Foods to increase for selenium intake are whole grains, Brazil nuts, seafood and organ meats.
  • Vitamin D – This is the sunshine vitamin. There is a theory that our depression rates are so high due to our position relative to the sun. The same is true in countries like Sweden. It is highly recommended that kiwis supplement with Vitamin D over winter. Not only is it good for mood but has also been shown to help our immune systems.
  • Omega 3 – This is an essential fatty acid made up of EPA and DHA. The DHA is the part that’s good for brain health. A quality and environmentally conscious fish oil supplement is good for increasing our levels but ensure it is a reputable brand that the fish oil hasn’t been sitting in the Pharmacy window and been degraded by the sunlight. You can also increase omega 3 intake via food. Sardines are the best. You can also get it from salmon or tuna but beware that the bigger the fish the more risk of toxins such as mercury which have the opposite effects on our brain health. Some plants have good amounts of omega 3’s like flaxseed, hemp and chia seeds, also walnuts and almonds can be a good source.
  • Antioxidants – These include Vitamin C, Vitamin E and Beta Carotene. Antioxidants may help us deal with the stress associated with mood disorders. These can come from foods like kiwifruit, oranges, carrots, raw nuts and leafy greens. If you are going to supplement ensure they are in the correct form, especially the vitamin E as a cheap supplement can cause negative effects.
  • B vitamins – These are great for those with busy lifestyles. Important for energy production and stress management. Especially vitamin b12 and folate but the B’s work best all together so eating whole foods like eggs, meat, poultry and fish but also whole grains, leafy greens, fruit and nuts. Basically if you eat a varied diet you should get enough B’s but in times of high stress you may need to supplement with a quality B complex vitamin.
  • Zinc – Zinc is an essential trace element important for most reactions in our bodies. It has also been shown to increase effectiveness of antidepressants. Zinc can be found in oysters, beef and lamb or also in whole grains, chickpeas and cashew nuts.
  • Protein – lastly it is important we are eating enough high quality proteins, as these are the building blocks for life. This comes from foods like meat but plants also have good protein levels, especially pea or hemp.

The above are all nutrients and foods we can increase to improve our mood. There are also foods to avoid if we want to give our bodies the best chance of vitality.

  • Caffeine – This is hard for me to say, as I love long blacks. But for those with depression that has anxiety associated with it, it is important to try and limit stimulants such as caffeine.
  • Alcohol – Again another hard one to say. But we all know the consequences of excess alcohol consumption. I cut alcohol out of my life for 9 months once and the things I learnt about myself were very eye-opening, especially in social situations.
  • Refined foods – These are high in calories but low in nutrients and usually high in sugar, which can cause a crash and obviously affect a person’s mood. Do I need to say no Big Macs or Wikid Wings?
  • Processed oils – Like Safflower and corn oil, these are high in omega 6 which can contribute to inflammation – one theory on the cause of depression.

Lastly I want to touch on our gut health. 70% of our feel-good hormone serotonin is made in our gut. This is the gut-brain connection via our microbiome. Increasing fermented foods like low-fat, low sugar yoghurt, Kim-chi and sauerkraut are good for general gut health but if you are taking certain medications or have a poor diet then I highly recommend a strain-specific probiotic that can help grow the number of good bacteria in our gut and help with depressive symptoms. Our microbiome can be improved with a diet that includes all the above nutrients I just talked about.

So to summarise, here are some foods and how many servings you should have to help improve mood. Some people would call this a happy meal:
1. Whole grains – 5 servings a day
2. Veges – 6 servings a day
3. Fruit – 3/day
4. Legumes – 3-4 servings per week
5. Low-fat unsweetened dairy – 2 servings a day
6. Raw nuts – 1 serving a day
7. Fish – at least 2 servings per week
8. Lean red meats – 3 to 4 servings per week
9. Chicken – 2 to 3 servings per week
10. Eggs – maximum of 6 per week
11. Olive/coconut oil – 3 teaspoons per day

And at the very least, please do you best to reduce intake of:
1. Sweets
2. Refined cereals
3. Fried foods
4. Fast food
5. Processed meat
6. Sugary drinks

Thanks for listening, if you have any questions you can add SnapChemist on Snapchat or follow SnapChemist on Facebook or Instagram and send Brendon McIntosh a direct message.

Huge thanks to Brendon for this very informative messsage, Keep following our page as we will bring you more on good healthy diets and lifestyles.

 

I lost my son

Corinda Taylor
I woke up this morning and reality hit me like a cold hard slap in the face.

I lost my son to suicide.

Not only did we lose our beautiful boy to suicide but we have kept relatively silent about it for four years. This is my first blog about the terrifying experience that no parent wants to have. I have kept silent because of the ongoing investigation into the care that my son, Ross Taylor, received at the hands of his psychiatrist and nurses.

This week the Mental Health Commissioner released his report after more than four long excruciating years after my son’s suicide.  The Southern District Health Board and the consultant psychiatrist Dr C  failed to provide services to Ross Taylor with reasonable care and skill and breached Right 4(1) of the Health and Disability Code. The independent psychiatrist who did the investigation for the commissioner stated that in her opinion the quality of clinical care that Ross received during the last three months of his life is a significant deviation from expected clinical standards. They have validated our complaint that the individuals concerned and the services failed our son.

This week our story also went public in New Zealand. We are extremely private people but felt compelled to speak up for the sake of current and future users of the mental health system.

I will be blogging regularly about our experience and how we were stonewalled repeatedly by the Southern District Health Board and clinicians before and after Ross died and how we battled to get positive changes to happen to ensure that nobody suffers a similar fate.

This week showed us who were prepared to support us to bring about positive changes. People from agencies have shown support for what they described and I quote “unethical conduct”, “neglect” and many more harder words that cannot be mentioned here. It has brought disgrace to the medical profession and tarred many good professionals with the same brush unfortunately. That was not our intention.

Some have said that they admired how I have channeled my energy into holding people accountable. I do not want admiration and I do not want sympathy. I want to see change.

I have been inundated with stories by many parents who have experienced similar tragedies and shared with me their pain and the battles to navigate a complicated mental health system. They also shared how families have been treated with such disdain and contempt with some trespassed or banned from services after trying to get the best care possible for their loved ones. I now realize that what happened to us is a common theme and only the tip of the iceberg. Let’s lance this sore and expose it for what it is.

Many have been unable to get fair investigations happen. They expressed support for our cause but stated that they did not have the strength to do what we did.

We would like to see more support for people and their families when in distress and we would also like to see good postvention support put in place. We have had no support offered to us by the Southern District Health Board during the four year investigation that would have paralyzed most people. This needs to change.

My hope is that our case has paved the way for many others to bring about change and hope. Nobody should have to beg services to help our loved ones in distress. Nobody should have to go to the lengths like we did to get a fair hearing to expose the truth.

Better systems, healthy communities and workplaces with committed health care professionals will result in safer and more effective outcomes with less people in crisis.

Corinda Taylor mother of Ross Taylor

The scars are a part of me but not all of me. The story of my recovery.

Amanda Hutchins

This beautiful story of recovery was sent to us to share with you.

I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder and depression in my late teens. This followed numerous admissions to the Mental Health Unit in Whangarei. My behaviour and emotions were gradually becoming more and more erratic and destructive. Still some days were okay where I could function and achieve everyday tasks. However these functional days were becoming few and far between. Every other week I was being taken to the inpatient unit as I could not control my actions. I was self-harming; not only cutting but I developed a desire for alcohol to block all my thoughts and feelings out. I would drink until I passed out or drink until I lost all self-control and overdose, which ever came first. There was no logic to this, the more I drank the worse I felt. I hated myself with a passion. My only goal in life was to destroy myself.

 As a little girl I never imagined this is the war I would be fighting. A war within myself that nobody else could fight and it was beginning to look like I would lose. A decision was made that I would be sent to a private clinic in Dunedin as that was the place to ‘deal’ with my problems. Everyone had so much hope. It was such a sure thing that I was going to recover at this wonderful place that people forgot to mention it would only succeed if I worked my ass off. I was turning up to the clinic under the impression that these skilled professionals would share their knowledge and then I’d be good to go. There was never any discussion around, this may not work for you, or, if this doesn’t work for you.

This was the place. Needless to say it did not work and I became really unwell. This clinic was not a stable place for me to find myself and overcome my illness. Budget cuts, staff lay-offs and the constant politics of living with a large number ‘clients’ saw me spiral into a deeper depression, one that I honestly thought would end my life. I was discharged as I was not meeting the expectations of the health professionals. The only things I took away from here was new ways to self destruct and a greater fascination with death.

I returned home worse than when I left, and with the added guilt of wasting all my parents money for a treatment that never worked. I felt like I was the biggest burden, that everyone (including people who did not know me) would be better off without me. My days were taken up with finding the best ways to die, while also dreaming of the day someone would save me. I could not get out of bed. I would stay there for days. I would barely eat. I could not manage to do anything except swim in the destructive thoughts that plagued my head. Days turned into weeks and nothing changed. I hated myself so much. I was evil and worthless and I was so angry that I was so weak and pathetic that I could not snap out of this. The only times I would go out would be when I was going drinking. My parents hating me drinking because 9 times out of 10 I would end up in the hospital after taking an overdose. I was playing Russian roulette with my life and I did not care. I hurt everyone around me, but I was so stuck in my own destruction I did not see what I was doing to others. It’s not that I didn’t care about others, I couldn’t see them. I could not hear them begging me to live over the raging voice in my own head telling me to die. I was labelled the problem patient. My team at mental health were frustrated at my lack of improvement and sometimes that frustration simmered over into anger. I did not trust them. I did not trust anyone.

One particularly bad overdose landed me in intensive care. I think my parents thought that was it, that I was going to die. When I woke up I dismissed the whole situation. Instead of accepting my actions, I decided that it was the doctors at the hospital trying to trick me in to living, that I was never in danger, the doctors just exaggerated the whole thing. That is how distorted my thinking was. Of course now I see how bizarre that belief was, but it was my reality at the time. This behaviour went on for years. A cat and mouse game with the grave.

When I was around 27 a group was offered in Whangarei that specialised in helping patients with BPD. I had not attended any group since leaving Dunedin so I was skeptical as to how this would even work. I did not want to go, nor did I want to participate in my recovery (if I could even recover). My counsellor was extremely supportive, encouraging me to at least give it a chance. I mainly agreed because she was nagging every time I saw her, which was rather annoying.
Whangarei is a 2 hour drive from where I live and the group was every week so this was going to be a serious commitment for me. I met with one of the facilitators who asked if I was committed to this, to changing. I gave her a less than enthusiastic nod. I was left with the impression that she had about the same amount of faith in me as I did in the course. However, on the drive home I make a commitment to myself that I would give this a proper go. Even though it was going to be hard it could not be worse than what I was already feeling.

Going to the first group was one of the scariest things I had ever done in my life. We had to talk in group, about ourselves, which I hated. But I did it. And to my surprise the world did not fall down. We had homework each week, which I found myself doing well at. We tracked our emotions and thoughts which was surprisingly validating. It also helped to get them out of my head. We were taught skills, helpful ways to manage strong emotions, how to challenge our distorted thoughts and how to identify filters. Each week I gained more confidence in myself. I was improving. It was not a straight line improvement, some weeks were crap, I went back to old behaviours, I could not decide if I wanted to give up alcohol, at times I felt like I could not use the skills. However, I kept going back to group. I think this was a key step in my recovery. Even though some weeks I didn’t reach my expectations of being ‘perfect’ in my recovery I still returned to group. I think that is the most important time, when you don’t do so great, but you go back to group and learn from it. I started to believe I could get better. I graduated this first group and the following year moved on to the next group where we cemented what we had already learnt. I started to set goals, I thought about the future, even my future. I started to believe in myself.

Still during this group it was not all smooth sailing. Old behaviours continued to surface, old thoughts
still made an appearance daily. The difference was that I understood where they came from. I did not have to act on the thoughts, I could distract myself. I did not have to spend the whole day thinking horrible things about myself. If I did go back to an old behaviour, I did not have to hate myself for it. I did not have to ruin everything because I made a mistake. I could carry on my journey, I could learn from it. I learnt that nobody is perfect. I learnt that I did not have to be perfect. I learnt I could be proud of how far I have come.

Today I am at university, following my dream of becoming a psychologist. I had never thought this was possible. The days where I could not get out of bed I had all but given up on this dream. The two years of group were the hardest years of my life. So much harder than the years I spent trying to end my life. Fighting to live while your brain is telling you to die is the bravest thing I believe anybody can undertake. Even when you think nothing will ever get better, give tomorrow a chance. Even when you think therapy or group is not going to help, give it a chance. You never know what is going to help you lay the foundations upon which you can rebuild your life. I am so glad I gave myself a chance.

I still have BPD, as far as I know there is no ‘cure’. I have good days and I have bad days like the rest of the population. Sometimes I have old thoughts running through my head. Sometimes I want to go back to old behaviours. Sometimes things get a bit too much for me to handle on my own and I need help. I lost many relationships through my illness, some friends, some family. I work to rebuild the ones I can, and, though incredibly painful, I work on accepting the ones I have lost. This is okay though. This is what life is, up’s and down’s, asking for help, sharing your experiences, and connecting with others.

I have many scars from my war with mental illness. Many are visible and many more that are not.

I sometimes get asked about the scars on my arm and if I would ever get them removed. I have thought about that a lot. I don’t believe I would ever get them removed. They are a part of me, a part of my story, a part of where I came from. But they are not all of me, just like BDP is a part of me but it is not all of me. I am much more than a mental illness.

Psychosis: Delusions

Corinda Taylor

Someone with first episode of phychosis can also have delusions.
Delusions are firmly held beliefs which are not based on reality or are a distorted version of reality.
For instance they believe they are God, or they are being plotted against, or they are under surveillance, or that they have a radio transmitter planted in the head, or that the TV is speaking them directly.
These beliefs are real… to the person experiencing them and may cause them to have strong feelings such as fear, anger, or elation.

Confused thinking
* Thoughts become confused, jumbled or nonsensical
* Thoughts may seem to speed up or slow down
* Person may have difficulty concentrating, speaking clearly or understanding a conversation, or remembering things
* Person may have difficulty understanding the intentions of others in social situations

Changed feelings
* Unexplained mood swings
* Overexcited, depressed or anxious
* Hard to feel emotion – numb and shut out

Changed behaviour
* More active and impulsive than usual
* Less active – sit around all day, sleep a lot
* Laugh or become upset at no apparent reason

Remember, this too will pass with good help and support.