Five a day

We are advised to eat five portions of fruit and/or vegetables a day to keep healthy. Good sound advice.

image mjorge at Flickr

The Times reports today on a different kind of five-a-day target that relates more specifically to mental health.

The advised steps to happiness are:

Developing relationships with family, friends, colleagues and neighbours will enrich your life and bring you support

Be active
Sports, hobbies such as gardening or dancing, or just a daily stroll will make you feel good and maintain mobility and fitness

Be curious
Noting the beauty of everyday moments as well as the unusual and reflecting on them helps you to appreciate what matters to you

Fixing a bike, learning an instrument, cooking – the challenge and satisfaction brings fun and confidence

Helping friends and strangers links your happiness to a wider community and is very rewarding

So there you go, some thoughts for an early new years resolution or two perhaps. They all seem fairly sensible to me as long as we can count virtual as well as ‘real’ connections!

One other pertinent fact came out of this research and is quoted in the article – namely

Half of people in Britain who are in debt have a mental disorder, compared with just 16 per cent of the general population.

That’s an enormous amount of people. It might be a thought for another day to consider the ways and means that these two factors influence each other, but that’s possibly too much for me to take on on a Saturday morning.

But a salutary thought as we move towards a recession.

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On Studying

This is around the time that a new batch of students turn up at the universities to enter training. I am no expert but I have been considering the ‘now’ me, would give to the ‘then’ me as it is now 10 years (gulp) since I started my MA in Social Work.

image scui3asteveo at Flickr

1. Reflection. Initially you’ll find it hard and not really ‘get’ it. They talk about it a lot, particularly in the placements. But it is worth it. Reflect, reflect again, and then reflect on your reflection. You might not see it now but it will improve the way you work.

2. Self-advocacy and assertiveness. You will never be able to speak on behalf of others if you are not able to speak for yourself. This is not a place for shyness. Assertiveness is not the same as blurting out things. It needs to be measured with respect and should not overpower or denigrate anyone.

3. Do not be afraid of perceived power in others – lecturers, supervisors. Remember the feeling of authority that they have and transfer that – because that may well be the way you are perceived in the future.

4. Don’t be afraid of fear. It is a good check on some of the powers that you will use. But channel it and use it. Don’t let it control you.

5. Remember that every word, phrase, action, expression will not necessarily be interpreted the way that you intend. Good intentions are not enough.

6. If someone either in the university or the placement, advises you to do something that you are uncomfortable with, don’t back down, it won’t make you feel better. At least discuss your feelings, opinions and differences. Instinct can be a good guide but it should not be your only guide.

7. Study. Take advantage of the university resources. You won’t need to spend so much money on books if you use the library more effectively. And keep going with those Italian classes – they will be your conduit to all those dreams you’ve been storing up (OK, a bit me-specific – but I was so uncertain as to whether I should have been wasting crucial study time on language classes!).

8. In the words of Alexander Pope

‘Know then thyself, presume not God to scan

The proper study of mankind is man.’.

People will never fail to surprise and not all knowledge is garnered through books. Eclectic theoretical approaches will be your friend!

9. You only gain respect by giving it.

10.  You can change the world. Not necessarily everyone’s world. Not necessarily every day. But one step at a time, for individuals, you can change perceptions of the world. Changing one person’s view of the world is as if you have changed the world. Don’t stop hoping and dreaming.

11. Admit mistakes. Don’t ever try to cover them up. Especially if they affect other people. Covering things up is a long and slippery road.

12. Enjoy it!

What would you consider to be advice that you would give to yourself, 10 years ago?

How I write

While I was flicking through some websites, I thought I’d explain a bit about what I actually do when I write and post to this blog. I wouldn’t say I’ve set the world ablaze but for myself, I’ve found the process to be an interesting experience regarding writing in a more social and interactive (and less formal) manner than I have ever done before.

The blog has taken on something of a life of its own. Sometimes I wonder if I will be able to sustain it but those thoughts have been becoming less frequent with time. You plant the seeds and see what, if anything, will grow.

Firstly, I almost without fail write in the morning before work. It’s a quiet time in the house when my partner is still asleep. Not that he’s a bother, I just find it much easier to think when I’m on my own in the room!

Usually, I try and mix up a bit between personal stories of things that happen at work, some general social work stuff and some general mental health stuff. I work with older people so usually there is a bias towards issues that affect them as it is the area that I remain the most interested in.

I have all my RSS feeds on Google Reader – although I’ve found there’s a bit of a delay on the feeder picking them up.

So firstly, I run through a few websites (mostly those highlighted on the sidebar with a few extras) just to see what is happening and what other people are saying.

If the day has brought anything in the ‘real world’  that I think is particularly interesting or even if it hasn’t and it just inspires me to write, I might write about an incident, a meeting or expand on a thought that I had during the day when I was sitting on the bus or trudging the streets on my way to see someone.

If a news story grabs me, and sometimes it isn’t the most obvious, I might write about it. My initial idea was that I’d do a few ‘link posts’ during the week but I  haven’t really been managing that very well – partly because I generally like to find something I can apply a little commentary on.

Most of my news comes from Community Care, Guardian Society, socialworknews and Google News which I search with ‘social work’, ‘social care’, ‘mental health’ and sometimes just random general words that tickle my fancy!

I try and skim, at least, some of the main newspaper sites, the Guardian, the Times, The Independent, The Telegraph, Reuters (I know it isn’t a newspaper but I count it!), BBCThe Daily Mail (I know, I know – to understand the enemy you have to know him.. )  and The Evening Standard.

When I find something that grabs me, I’ll write.

I use delicious, the ‘social bookmarking’ site, extensively. I don’t do very much social with it, but it keeps my bookmarks in order. I also tag anything I see that I think I might write about later with a ‘todo’ note.

Apart from my family, there are three people I know that I have told about this. One is a social worker that I did my MA with now working in Children Services in a different local authority from me. Another is an OT that I’ve known before either of us even considered professional qualifications when we worked together as care assistants and the other works in a completely different field (funnily enough, I think she’s the only one that actually reads this on a consistent basis and she should recognise herself from this.. and if either of the other two are (who should also know, then this is their chance to tell me!).

My decision to remain anonymous wasn’t because I thought I’d be particularly critical about work. Apart from gripes and some dissatisfaction with policies which I am sure would happen anywhere – I am, for the most part, fine with things there. If I didn’t complain, I wouldn’t be human! I made the decision because I thought full disclosure would expose me – I also write about some of the people I see (although I do change some of the details).  I also want to reserve the right to be possibly critical in the future!

I use Windows Live Writer. I love it and could honestly not do a thing without it.

I find it much much easier to put in links and pictures – I know WordPress is easy but not easy enough for me! Live Writer, however, is and for me it’s the difference between writing and not writing.

I can’t honestly remember why I chose WordPress rather than Blogger to start with. But I’m glad I did. I like it!

For pictures, I use Flickr and on the front screen I click on the ‘Creative Commons’ part (so I don’t have to worry about copyright as long as the photos are attributed)  and then do a search on something that might be relevant to what I’m writing about.

I try to find pictures without faces if I can. I know it isn’t necessary but it’s just something I try to do.

I love Flickr. I put lots of my photos on there anyway and have been using it for years!

The only pictures I don’t credit are pictures that I have taken myself (or the ones from my sister which are the where the cat photos come in!).

Another thing I’ve tried with pictures is Zemanta, which is a little programme that automatically finds licence-free pictures, links, related articles based on the content of the post. My experience has been a little mixed but that’s where the photos from Wikipedia come from – and the links from Wikipedia. It’s a nice little tool but not one I’d depend wholly on!

Sometimes I schedule posts, for example, last weekend, I had some houseguests staying in the lounge (where my computer is) so I wrote some posts before they came and scheduled them to publish.

I currently have about 5 or 6 ‘nearly’ posts that I’d be able to drop immediately if I didn’t have time or woke up late (that’s happened a few times!). I often write something extra at the weekend.

Forget what it says in my ‘about me’ section. I don’t really take Sunday off. I might write a few drafts – but I don’t want to commit to posting daily so I try to withhold any thoughts for Monday!

Things I have gained through blogging

I feel a part of different communities as a result. Comment is king in that sense. You really feel you get to know people and that is the most wonderful thing.

A deeper and more whole understanding to some extent of what is it like to experience the service that I provide

I pay more attention to relevant news in my field

I actually read more about research papers and take a more active interest

Reflection, reflection, reflection.


Better writing (I’m not entirely convinced on this but it’s supposed to be good for you to write consistently!).

Less television (not always a bad thing, but in some ways I think some of my free time is more gainfully used now!).

I’m sure there are lots more positives and would welcome any additional ideas!