Category Archives: Press/Media

The Psychology of Violent Extremism

Since the last newsletter where violent extremism was discussed, there have been a number of further acts of violence within the UK.  Thinking about what drives people to engage in such behaviour has become more pertinent.  Dr Hannah FarrAlongside this it also feels important that we think about how we talk to our young people about these acts, especially after the suicide bomber at the Ariana Grande concert, where many young people were involved.  At the end of this piece I will provide details outlining where to find information on trauma, how to support people who have been through a traumatic experience and how to talk to young people about what has been happening in their world.  However, I want to start by presenting some of the psychological research which has tried to develop a profile of someone who becomes involved in extremism.

Psychological research into those who carry out acts of violent extremism has been somewhat minimal to date.  However, there are some characteristics which have been identified and provide us with some insight into what drives a person to join these groups.  It is suggested that those young men (I will focus on men here as they are the majority in these groups) who feel marginalised and unrepresented in places of authority e.g. the government, and who perceive an injustice are more likely to join an extremist group.  They appear to be searching for a sense of belonging, connectedness and affiliation (Silke, 2008), which they don’t feel they get elsewhere in society or their community.  It is suggested that they feel uncertain about themselves and their world (Bonim, 2014) and seek danger and excitement as a way of giving their life meaning.  They feel they are unable to make changes in any other way than through extreme and unconventional means (Saucier et al., 2009).  They believe they represent a broader victimised group who need someone to stand up for them (Horgan, 2017).  Motivation, ideology and social process all come together to play a role in the radicalisation of men who join extremist groups.  Understanding this interplay is the first step towards developing policies to intervene (Kruglanski et al., 2014), it may also be important for society to understand and play a role in expressing concerns about possible extremism in their communities.

How communities can play a role in expressing concerns about suspicious behaviour has also been an ongoing discussion especially after an attack.  Dando (2017) stated that when it comes to ‘pointing the finger at a neighbour or friend’ when they are suspicious of their values/beliefs/behaviour the impact may be too great.  She considers the impact of a reduction in community police officers, as it may be that a rapport between communities and police could encourage people to have more of the difficult conversations.  ‘When people feel socially and economically excluded, and when groups feel marginalised they tend to look inwards rather than outwards’.

Violent extremism effects us all, either directly as a victim or family/friend member of a victim; even as a family member/friend of the perpetrator; as an observer and member of a community or as a parent (carer) trying to explain to a child what is happening in their world, whilst trying to make sense of it yourself.  These experiences are traumatic and leave us with questions and difficult emotions, so I have attached some links to websites which may help to provide some support.

By: Dr Hannah Farr, Clinical Psychologist
July 2017

Dr Hannah Farr works at Wendy Bramham Therapy on Thursday mornings in Marlborough.

Links

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2016/03/23/how-to-talk-to-children-about-terrorism_n_8580612.html

  • Helping children understand their responses to difficult news stories

http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/13865002

 

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Wendy Bramham Therapy on BBC Radio Wiltshire

Wendy Bramham Therapy has contributed their expertise about mental health on BBC Wiltshire in 2013 and again recently.

In March 2016 we were asked to contribute to a discussion about whether time is a healer.  One of our team, Briony Martin, stepped into the breach to discuss this topic with radio presenter Graham Seaman.  Listen here

In 2013, when BBC Wilts presenter, Mark O’Donnell, suffered a panic attack in the streets of Swindon – and found that people gave him a wide berth! – he decided to try to break down the myths, fears and stigma surrounding mental health, by talking about it on the radio!

BBC Wiltshire - Bipolar programme September 2013

In the studio L to R: David Lathan (Richmond Fellowship), Wendy Bramham, Denise (bipolar sufferer) and Mark O’Donnell

Wendy Bramham gave professional insights and advice on this series of 7 programmes, which covered the following topics:

Unfortunately all the recordings have been lost except for the one on suicide – listen here.

However, following each programme, Wendy wrote self-help resources for listeners who would like to learn more.  Read more by clicking on the links above for each topic.

 

Wendy Bramham
April 2016

Wellbeing in schools – “not good-enough”

Edited large nautilusWe commend Sir Antony Seldon – who has co-founded Action for Happiness and is the author of “Beyond Happiness” – and was interviewed on Radio 4 today. He believes that schools are tricking children and parents into believing that the only route to validation is through exam results, and that we are not doing a good-enough job in promoting wellbeing.

He argues that we should be helping our young people to begin to find out who they are, to be creative, and discover what they want to do. To discover not whether they are intellligent, but how they are intelligent; to find out what their unique qualities are and what their personal life’s journey might be.

In his book Seldon distinguishes the difference between pleasure, happiness and joy.  He argues that we must find a balance between a self-centred notion of pleasure with the joy that can be found beyond this, through a harmonious connnection with others.

Wendy Bramham
1/4/15

Counselling for children, adolescents and teenagers

imageWendy Bramham Therapy – at centres in Newbury and Marlborough – provides counselling to children, adolescents and teenagers, as well as adults of all ages. Helping people when they are young can help prevent mental health issues from developing or worsening later in life.  This message is endorsed by the Duchess of Cambridge who records for the BBC a supportive video message to mark the start of Children’s Mental Health Week.   http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-31483315

 

Robin Williams

Robin Williams

Many of us were shocked and saddened by the news of Robin Williams’ suicide in August 2014. In 2013 as part of BBC Wiltshire’s series on mental health, Wendy Bramham spoke about this devastating issue.  The following information offers a resource for people experiencing suicidal feelings; or for those bereaved by suicide; and for people who are attempting to help those affected by this issue.

What causes a person to feel suicidal?

Suicide may seem to be the only way to end severe mental pain; the only thing that’s left within the person’s control.  It may also be a way to convey desperate feelings to others. Most people who feel suicidal are actually quite confused and conflicted about the desire for death.  Most wish there was an alternative.

What causes it is usually a complex mix of factors that builds up into despair that becomes overwhelming.  It may be caused by a sudden crisis, a major setback or loss, but more typically there is a slower build-up over time.

Many kinds of emotional pain can lead to thoughts of suicide.  Each person responds and copes differently and uniquely to the myriad problems and crises we all encounter through life.  Each person has their own psychological and social history and genetic make up, which means that what is bearable to one person can be unbearable to another, and vice versa.

Tragic Statistics

This devastating problem is much more common than many of us realise.  Shockingly, in the UK suicide remains the most common form of death in men under the age of 35 (Mental Health Foundation and Department of Health).  It is the second largest killer of people worldwide between the ages of  16-19.  In the  last 45 years suicide rates have increased by 60% worldwide (source: World Health Organisation).).  It’s estimated that approximately 5% of people attempt suicide at least once in their life.  Men are 3 to 4 times more likely to kill themselves than women. However, unsuccessful attempts are more common in women and young people.   More people die by suicide each year than by murder and war combined.

Accusation of selfishness?

Some people accuse those who have committed suicide as selfish, and that they took the “easy way out”.  This is extremely hurtful and shows a lack of understanding of mental illness and the suffering that some people try to endure.  The following quote is taken from theguardian.com on 12 august by Dean Burnett who I think argues the point well:

“One of the main problems with mental illness is that it prevents you from thinking “normally” (although what that means is a discussion for another time).  A depression sufferer is not thinking like a non-sufferer in the same way that someone who is drowning is not “breathing air” like a person on land is.  (…..) The selfish accusation  implies that there are other options that the sufferer has, but has chosen suicide or that it’s the easy way out.  There are many ways to describe the sort of suffering that overrides a survival instinct that has evolved over millions of years,  but ‘easy’ is not an obvious one to go for. Perhaps none of it makes sense from a logical perspective but insisting on logical thinking from someone in the grips of a mental illness is like insisting that someone with a broken leg walks normally.  Logically you shouldn’t do that.”

Who is at risk?

Most important factors that put people at risk include mental disorders, such as depression, bipolar, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).  The second biggest influencing factor is substance abuse.  Eg alcoholism is a factor in 15-60% of all suicides.

Having  depression or bipolar increases the risk of suicide by 20%.  Depression accounts for approximately 50% of suicides.  Those suffering from severe depression and feelings of hopelessness, and who have little or no social support are probably the most at risk.  Often people who are just recovering from depression are in fact more at risk of suicide, because it is then that they actually have the energy to carry out the act of suicide.

War veterans are a high risk category due to the mental trauma and physical ill-health from war.  Genetics and social-economic factors play a part too, eg poverty, discrimination, financial worries, unemployment, bereavement, social isolation.

Some medical conditions can trigger suicidal feelings, such as traumatic head injuries. A diagnosis of cancer can double the risk of suicide.  Such medical conditions can lead to depression and suicidal feelings, and carers should be aware of this.

Media and internet can cause a copycat syndrome of suicide whereby it is romanticised or glorified.

Warning signs

Suicidal feelings are more likely to build up when a person feels they can’t talk about their feelings.  They may be experiencing or have experienced some of the following, which can also be signs and symptoms of depression:

  • withdrawal from friends, family and regular activities
  • isolation and hopelessness
  • sense of futility and meaningless
  • self-loathing (“everyone would be better off without me”)
  • loss of energy
  • major and sudden changes in personality or mood
  • big changes in sleeping and eating habits
  • difficulty in functioning, such as going to work, or cooking dinner
  • unusual neglect of personal appearance
  • feeling cut off from their body, feeling numb
  • impulsivity, lethargy or aggressiveness (especially in adolescents)

Obvious major warning signs include

  • talking about killing or harming oneself (it is a myth that people who talk about suicide don’t do it)
  • talking or writing a lot about death or dying
  • seeking out things that could be used in a suicide attempt, such as weapons and drugs.

The above signals are even more dangerous if the person has a mood disorder such as depression or bipolar disorder, suffers from alcohol dependence, has previously attempted suicide, or has a family history of suicide.

How to help someone who is suicidal

Talking about it can save a life.  Try not to feel embarrassed or afraid.  Talking about suicide won’t give the sufferer morbid thoughts – quite the opposite, it is the most helpful thing you can do.

However, it is not usually helpful to say things like “you should feel lucky because you’ve got a lovely house, job, family”, etc., or “that’s not enough of a reason to feel suicidal”.   The best way to help is by offering an empathetic, listening ear.   See notes below on “How to talk with  someone about suicide”.  Don’t take responsibility, however, for making the other person well. You can offer support, but you can’t get better for a suicidal person. He or she has to make a personal commitment to recovery. If you are helping a suicidal person, make sure you get support for yourself.

Practical steps:

  • Get professional help. Call a crisis line such as The Samaritans for advice and referrals.  Encourage the person to see a counsellor, or take them to a doctor’s appointment.
  • Follow-up on treatment. If the doctor prescribes medication, encourage them to take it.  Help to communicate about any side effects and be aware that it can be a trial and error process to find the right medication.
  • Be proactive. Don’t wait for the person to call you, or to return your calls. People who are severely depressed find it difficult to ask for help.  Drop by, call again, invite the person out.
  • Encourage positive lifestyle changes, such as a healthy diet, plenty of sleep, and getting out in the sun or into nature for at least 30 minutes each day. Exercise is also extremely important as it releases endorphins, relieves stress, and promotes emotional well-being.
  • Make a safety plan, help the person develop a set of steps if they feel suicidal, such as who they will call.  Include friends, family and crisis line numbers.
  • Remove potential means of suicide, such as pills, knives, razors, or firearms. If the person is likely to take an overdose, keep medications locked away or give out only as the person needs them.
  • Continue your support over the long haul. Even after the immediate suicidal crisis has passed, stay in touch with the person, periodically checking in or dropping by.

How to help yourself if you feel suicidal

Asking for help is not a sign of weakness but a sign of strength, wisdom and self-responsibility.  If we try to do everything on our own we will become mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted.

However, if you have suicidal thoughts it can feel impossible to tell your family and friends how bad you feel.  You may feel rage, fear, guilt and shame.  If you have been hurt by someone, it is natural to feel anger, and sometimes suicide can seem a way to get back at that person.  However, suicide is anger turned against ourselves.

The intense emotional pain that you’re experiencing right now can distort your thinking so it becomes harder to see possible solutions to problems, or to connect with those who can offer support.

It is important to work out with a professional counsellor why you feel the way you do.  Give this process time and commitment even after you begin to feel better.

Coping strategies:

  • Promise not to do anything right now.  Make a promise to yourself: “I will wait 24 hours and won’t do anything drastic during that time.” Or, wait a week. Wait and put some distance between your suicidal thoughts and suicidal action.
  • Avoid drugs and alcohol
  • Make your home safe. Remove things you could use to hurt yourself, such as pills, knives, razors, or firearms.
  • Take hope – people do get through this.   Give yourself the time needed and don’t try to go it alone.
  • Speak to someone you trust, whether it be a friend, GP, clergyman, teacher, family member or therapistOr call a helpline such as The Samaritans.

How to talk with someone who is (or might be) suicidal

Following text is taken from http://beta.helpguide.org/mental/suicide.  Adapted from: Metanoia.org

Ways to start a conversation about suicide:

·         I have been feeling concerned about you lately.

·         Recently, I have noticed some differences in you and wondered how you are doing.

·         I wanted to check in with you because you haven’t seemed yourself lately.

Questions you can ask:

·         When did you begin feeling like this?

·         Did something happen that made you start feeling this way?

·         How can I best support you right now?

·         Have you thought about getting help?

What you can say that helps:

·         You are not alone in this. I’m here for you.

·         You may not believe it now, but the way you’re feeling will change.

·         I may not be able to understand exactly how you feel, but I care about you and want to help.

·         When you want to give up, tell yourself you will hold off for just one more day, hour, minute—whatever you can manage.

When talking to a suicidal person

Do:

·         Be yourself. Let the person know you care, that he/she is not alone. The right words are often unimportant. If you are concerned, your voice and manner will show it.

·         Listen. Let the suicidal person unload despair, ventilate anger. No matter how negative the conversation seems, the fact that it exists is a positive sign.

·         Be sympathetic, non-judgmental, patient, calm, accepting. Your friend or family member is doing the right thing by talking about his/her feelings.

·         Offer hope. Reassure the person that help is available and that the suicidal feelings are temporary. Let the person know that his or her life is important to you.

·         If the person says things like, “I’m so depressed, I can’t go on,” ask the question: “Are you having thoughts of suicide?” You are not putting ideas in their head, you are showing that you are concerned, that you take them seriously, and that it’s OK for them to share their pain with you.

But don’t:

·         Argue with the suicidal person. Avoid saying things like: “You have so much to live for,” “Your suicide will hurt your family,” or “Look on the bright side.”

·         Act shocked, lecture on the value of life, or say that suicide is wrong.

·         Promise confidentiality. Refuse to be sworn to secrecy. A life is at stake and you may need to speak to a mental health professional in order to keep the suicidal person safe. If you promise to keep your discussions secret, you may have to break your word.

·         Offer ways to fix their problems, or give advice, or make them feel like they have to justify their suicidal feelings. It is not about how bad the problem is, but how badly it’s hurting your friend or loved one.

·         Blame yourself. You can’t “fix” someone’s depression. Your loved one’s happiness, or lack thereof, is not your responsibility.

How to help someone who is bereaved by suicide

Bereavement by suicide can be more complicated because it is common for people to feel confused or guilty that they didn’t know the extent to which the person was suffering, and that they were not able to help.  They may also feel angry and disappointed with the person who committed suicide.  Because of stigma, they may feel they can’t talk about either the mental illness (if this was a factor) or suicide, adding to feelings of isolation.  Bereavement by suicide often carries feelings of deep shame. Following information is taken from sane.org

Common responses:

I don’t know what to say.

·         If not sure what to say, ask ‘ How are you feeling today? ‘

·         Tell the person you’re not sure what to say. Being honest will help to build trust

·         Try to listen 80% of the time and talk 20% of the time

·         Avoid making unhelpful statements such as, ‘It’s God’s will’ or ‘Time heals all wounds’.

I don’t want to make it worse for them. By allowing the person to express their grief you will be helping. Nothing you do can take away the sadness, but it is important to be there for them.

·         Allow tears or accept no tears

·         Understand that the way the person expresses grief may be different from the way you would express it

·         Don’t take anger personally.

They have lots of family and friends around. They don’t need me. People with lots of friends and family still need support from others. It’s important to have grief acknowledged by friends and colleagues so the person doesn’t begin to feel isolated.

They need help from a professional. There is nothing I can do. While professional help can be very important, don’t underestimate the importance of friendship when someone is grieving. You can do things a professional person can’t such as going for walks, cooking a meal or being there in the evenings and on weekends, remembering the birthday and anniversaries of the person who died.

I’m not sure what to say about the mental illness. Ask the bereaved person how they feel about this and reassure them you are happy to talk about mental illness if they want. Seek out some information so you know something of what the person may have been experiencing. Be compassionate and understanding about difficulties it may have caused in their relationship, and encourage them to talk to a bereavement counsellor if they are not coping or do not feel they can talk to anyone else.

 Useful Contact Numbers

Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide – 0844 561 6855

Samaritans –  08457 90 90 90

by: Wendy Bramham
Written as a resource for listeners of BBC Wiltshire mental health series, October 2013
Updated August 2014

Extraordinary testimony to survival and forgiveness

Don’t miss listening to this extraordinary story of Michelle Knight’s unbelievable ordeal at the hands of Ariel Castro who imprisoned her for 11 years in Cleveland, Ohio until last year when she was able to escape.  She is interviewed on radio 4 and you can listen again here:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0436h12.

This is a testimony to show that extreme and prolonged abuse does not have to determine or define the victim’s character or their future. It also exemplifies how forgiveness (as opposed to forgetting) can be achieved through understanding the deeper psychological motivation behind cruelty.

Michelle suffered unimaginable cruelty which included almost daily rape and being chained up in the basement for months on end with a sock in her mouth and a motorcycle helmet on her head. She was beaten, starved and exposed to cold temperatures for 6 months without clothes or blankets. Her several pregnancies resulted in miscarriages due to beatings by Castro.

Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus were also kidnapped and imprisoned by Ariel Castro. Gina was only 14. Amanda Berry had Castro’s child.

Michelle has now written a memoire Finding Me: A Decade of Darkness, a Life Reclaimed’ is published by Weinstein Books.

Bipolar Disorder, BBC Wilts, by Wendy Bramham

BIPOLAR DISORDER

Bipolar is also known as manic-depression or manic-depressive illness.  This may be diagnosed by a psychiatrist if a person experiences extreme mood swings over a period of time, which in turn affects their ability to function in their everyday life.  The illness, if untreated, can often be destructive to the person’s job, marriage and family life. These changes of mood are much more extreme than the normal ups and downs we all experience and which are part of normal  life.  The change in mood can happen within seconds, or over months, or a person can experience both simultaneously.

A person with bipolar will usually experience several of the following symptoms during a manic phase:

  • a confidence, exhilaration and energy in the early phases but which can lead to a desperate restlessness, irritability and turbulence in the later phases
  • a tendency to spend money they haven’t got, leading to serious debts
  • sleep disturbance, and early waking which offers the person the opportunity to become excessively productive
  • a feeling of “grandiosity” – feeling at the centre of the world, and as if nothing is impossible
  • loss of any regularity in normal everyday activities
  • disinhibition to the extreme
  • rapid thinking and talking; a flight of ideas (one thought leading to another at a pace that is hard to keep up with); the need to communicate your ideas; dominating the conversation
  • speech feels incredibly easy; sense of absolute vitality turbo charges speech
  • imposing oneself on others, visiting and phoning to the point of exhausting the other
  • a tendency to begin grand projects or ventures, often taking big risks
  • a powerful feeling of connectedness between things
  • the future holds much promise, with certainties of success, wealth and achievement
  • senses are heightened, colours more vivid and contours better defined
  • an unwavering belief in the goodness of the world
  • behaving impulsively with activities such as drink, drugs or sex
  • in the final stages of mania, a person may become suspicious of others, paranoid, and unwilling to be helped or treated as they are fixated on their own delusions of greatness

A depressive phase can be experienced as:

  • an emptiness that is totally devastating
  • unbearable loneliness, mental pain, terror or rage
  • a sense of paralysis that makes simple everyday decisions, (such as what clothes to wear once you get out of bed, what direction to walk in, how to respond when someone greets them) seem impossible
  • feelings of worthlessness and self-reproach, but also thoughts of how others have wronged them
  • a feeling that human endeavour and achievement are meaningless
  • suicidal thoughts

For further information about depression on its own, please see our other blogs.

Causes of Bipolar

Exact causes are not fully known although there is a strong family link.   This is not just genetic inheritance, but perhaps more importantly it can also be caused by the experience of interacting with a parent who is bipolar.  For example, a child can be frightened and confused by a parent’s unexpected and inconsistent mood changes.  The child may learn that attachments are unstable and precarious.  A parent who is bipolar may seek relationships which require dependency as a way of guaranteeing closeness; as a way of coping with an internal fragile sense of connection with others, and the fear of  abandonment.  This would then become problematic for the child as s/he becomes independent and the parent’s love collapses.  Bipolar sufferers can often be children who have been earmarked to raise the family’s social status; the child may be burdened by these ideals, but conforms.

Mania can be triggered after a stressful or traumatic experience, such as a loss, a physical illness, or when something is too bad to think about.  Such a trauma or loss may have happened many years previously.  It is thought by psychotherapists that apparently arbitrary cycles of mania and depression are not accidental, but often the connection is not made in the conscious mind.

Getting Help

If you are worried, visit your GP in the first instance.  He or she may then refer you to a psychiatrist.  Getting help early is very important.  Subsequently, if you do receive a diagnosis of bipolar you will be prescribed medication and also possibly offered some form of talking therapy.  For those people who suffer debilitating depressive episodes, a manic phase can be a welcome relief!  This is why it is very tempting for sufferers to either resist getting help in the first place, or to deny the need for medication.

It is helpful to:

  • accept that you have a problem and receive help
  • educate yourself about the condition, and where appropriate involve family or friends
  • recognise the early warning signs around your symptoms, such as restlessness, changes in sleep patterns, etc.  Gather support from family to help recognise these.
  • share your experiences with others suffering from the same condition
  • once your moods are more stable, seek a psychological therapy to talk through your feelings, the details of your highs and lows, to manage stress, and to explore your past in relation to your current difficulties.
  • try to lead a healthy lifestyle and improve well-being, by incorporating exercise, sleep and good nutrition etc.

Wendy Bramham September 2013, for BBC Wiltshire series on mental health

References: