Archive for category Public Health

You Can’t Moisturise Away Depression – The Commodification of Self Care

I live with anxiety and depression. I’m not alone in this with 1 in 4 people experiencing a mental health problem each year. I regularly feel like getting out of bed is an insurmountable task, that I’m drowning in the weight of my failings and that life is hopeless. Sometimes the world is so scary, so fraught with risk, that I’m not sure I can keep myself safe. When I’m in a particularly low ebb, it can feel like I won’t ever get better and I rely on self care to get me through the day, and maintain some amount of wellbeing for other days.

Self care is a difficult, but essential, part of recovery for a lot of people. It isn’t glamorous or hashtag Instagram worthy for the most part. It’s doing the basic things you need to do to survive, and hopefully thrive at some point. It’s getting out of bed, showering, sticking to a treatment plan that works for you (be that therapy or medication or a combination of both), working towards good sleep hygiene, cooking and eating something nutritious, exercising in a way you can and paying your bills. A lot of this might seem pretty easy to a well person, but it’s not. It can be hard but it’s necessary.Two Instagram posts from @makedaisychains from the artist's "boring self-care". On the left is a bed reading "changed my bed sheets" and on the right a heart shaped dinner plate with the words "cooked and ate a nourishing meal"

Self care has become a huge trend on social media, in fact this week is #selfcareweek. Your social timelines are likely to be filled with pictures of people practicing self care, though it might not look like what I just described. Self care has been utilised by brands and influencers who have everything you need to be better…at a price. There is no shortage of companies willing to exploit illness to sell their bath bombs, face masks, cosy blankets and scented candles. Don’t get me wrong, I love all of those things, what I don’t love is that self care is being redefined to be about expensive pampering sessions and products that aren’t going to have the impact they claim.A woman relaxing in a bubble bath surrounded by lit candles

To get a real idea of the problem, let’s look at some of those products, shall we? Goop have a ‘Self Care for the Cubicle-Bound’ kit which promises to “sharpen your wits, improve your mood, and liven up your skin”, for a hefty price tag of £380. If that is too much for you to invest, don’t worry, the combination of “potent, miracle” face oil, cuticle cream, lipstick and dental floss probably wasn’t going to be all that helpful anyway. For the much lower cost of £25.99 you could purchase an Anxiety Kit, but it’s contents of an aromatherapy roller, positive thinking deck and healing crystal are no less problematic.  If a subscription is more your thing, you could pay £38.00 monthly to receive a WILDWOMAN box which claims to be able to make you “live the life you truly desire and deserve” through a book, stationary, crystals and sweet treats.

A selection of brightly coloured cut crystals on a wooden table

As well as hawking chocolates, pretty stationary and beauty products, most of these packages also include the usual pseudoscience culprits. Crystals feature heavily, which makes sense because those who endorse crystals claim they support and heal your body, and can be used in many ways including wearing in a locket, rolling on your face and even inserting inside yourself. However, there remains no scientific evidence that crystals are useful at all. Similarly, aromatherapy products are included in a lot of these self care kits despite there being very little evidence for all the claims made by aromatherapists regarding the various healing properties of oils. With all of that considered, you could be setting yourself back hundreds of pounds to receive a whole heap of nothing useful, and potentially end up feeling worse that it hasn’t worked when you were promised that it would.

If having a bubble bath or taking a nap under a fluffy blanket makes you feel better, great, do that. Taking time to enjoy small pleasures is definitely an aspect of self care, but it isn’t the whole story. Mental health conditions are never going to be cured by having a dewy complexion or wearing a necklace with a phrase of affirmation on it. It’s important we don’t accept that potentially vulnerable people are being peddled luxury (and mostly useless) products in the name of self care. Commodifying recovery isn’t okay and it shouldn’t be a trend we allow to go unchallenged.

 

A photo of Christina Berry-Moorcroft. She is a white woman with dark, curly hair. She is wearing a brightly coloured scarf and bright pink lipstick. Christina Berry-Moorcroft

Christina is a Communications and Fundraising Manager for a dementia carers charity, and Trustee for a women’s refugee and asylum seeker charity. With over a decade of experience in the third sector, and a specialism in campaigns, capacity building and social impact, Christina has worked internationally on issues like global health, hunger, and wealth inequality.  In her spare time she’s an avid bad dancing doer, board game player, city break haver and tea drinker. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @ChrissieBM for political ramblings, mental health honesty and far too many selfies.

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Can video gaming help save lives?

Gamers get a bad rep in society (no seriously, we did a panel on it at QED) but every year gamers of all kinds get together to do something brilliant: Extra Life. What is Extra Life? It’s a fundraising event started by gamers back in 2008 which has raised over $40 million for children’s hospitals. Each year from November 3rd people all over the world stream marathons of games of all kinds: from video games to Dungeons and Dragons. They do it not for prestige or fake internet points, but to fund lifesaving treatments for sick kids.

A blue background with a family (two parents, two kids, two grandparents) playing a board game. Over is white lettering saying "game day is November 3!" and the Extra Life logo with the tagline "play games, heal kids" plus the logo for the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals'"

MSS have never been involved with Extra Life before, but this year more than any other it’s something I feel strongly about so I reached out. Why?

On April 28th a little boy named Alfie Evans passed away from an untreatable, progressive neuro-degenerative disorder. If you’re a layman like me, translation: he was born with a rare genetic disorder that affected his brain and got worse over time. You may have heard of Alfie Evans, probably not for the excellent work of the doctors and nurses who treated him during his 18 month stay in the ICU at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital here in Liverpool, but for the extended legal case between Alfie’s parents and Alder Hey which dominated the news in the early part of this year.

You can read more about the case all over the internet, but it is an unfortunate example of where religious agenda, poor media reporting and pseudoscience can harm not only patients; but hospitals and scientific institutions who become embroiled in their controversy. It is estimated that Alder Hey Children’s Hospital spent over £145,000 in legal fees during the case which concluded that continued life support was ‘unkind and inhumane’, and with pediatric ICU beds costing the NHS around £2000 per day that could amount to an additional £250,000 during the time where Alfie was kept on ventilators against doctors advice.

However, people’s lives are worth more than money: and the most heartbreaking thing about this case was not the NHS funds that could have been used elsewhere but the unnecessary suffering endured by Alfie himself, the exploitation of Alfie’s parents grief and the abuse of Alder Hey staff at the hands of misinformed protesters dubbed ‘Alfies Army’. My thoughts go out to Alfie’s parents, the families of seriously ill children everywhere, and I stand in solidarity with the medical professionals who work bravely and tirelessly each day to do what is objectively best for their patients. Even in the face of hostility from media and misguided public opinion.

A photo of Alder Hey Children's Hospital - the hospital was recently redesigned and rebuilt using ideas from children. Two of the blocks of windows are surrounded by coloured tiling and the roof is curved and sloped.

Alder Hey Children’s Hospital

So this year for Extra Life MSS are kindly donating £250 to Alder Hey, thank you! November 3rd has come and gone, but it’s not too late to join in by donating yourself, or watching and supporting an Extra Life stream to see what all this gamer stuff is about.

A photo of Lana's face. Lana is white with blondish red, straight hair just past her shoulders. She's wearing a black top and smokey dark eye make up. She is looking at the camera and smiling.

Lana Donaghy

Lana Donaghy is a former games developer and professional video gamer: spending years questing through Azeroth, competing with some of the world’s top World of Warcraft players. These days Lana works in software development and is still a devoted gamer who loves esports. If you want to read more of her ramblings and obscure video game jargon or see pictures of her cat you should check out her twitter @lanadonaghy

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“Sugar Awareness” Awarenesss

Back in July, this image was shared on the Facebook page of Natural Child World Magazine.

Board depicting several beverages, with bags of sugar hung below them.

“Sugar Awareness: This should be displayed in every school. What do you think?”

Browsing through their content, NCW seems to predominantly publish fluffy pieces about how lovely it is to be a parent. But they do seem to have something of a bee in their bonnet about sugar.

In itself, this is reasonable. Sugar is likely a contributing factor to rising obesity, especially childhood obesity, and reducing it could plausibly help with that. But the image itself raised a few red flags for me.

It depicts what looks like a display in a school, with several popular drinks cable-tied to a backing board. Below each drink is a transparent plastic bag, which appears to represent the amount of sugar in that drink. As best I can tell, the drinks are 1) a bottle of water, 2) a carton of chocolate milk, 3) a carton of pineapple squash, 4) a can of orange juice, 5) a can of Red Bull, 6) a bottle of lemon iced tea, and 7) a can of Coca Cola. NCW captioned this “Sugar Awareness: This should be displayed in every school.”

Mostly notably for me, the volume of sugar presented as being in the can of Coke seems to exceed the volume of the can itself! I know Coke is notorious for its sugar content, but that seems rather over the top.
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Measles Myths: Redux

You’d imagine that, by the second decade of the 21st century, we’d be done talking about measles. Like small pox, measles would be a distant and unpleasant memory of days gone by – at very least in the developed world.

Sadly, that is not the case. Although measles was looking distinctly peaky in the late 90s (with fewer than 100 confirmed cases annually in England and Wales), infections have risen sharply in the past few years with highly-publicised outbreaks in south Wales and Liverpool, including one possible death.

In response, Public Health England have today launched the MMR ‘catch up’ campaign, with the aim of vaccinating one million unvaccinated children between the ages of 10 and 16 before the start of the new school year.

Unfortunately, and despite the best efforts of public health campaigners, vaccination rates are still suffering as a result of uncritical reporting of the discredited Wakefield study which linked the MMR vaccine to autism. Many parents avoided vaccinating their children at the time, community immunity suffered, and with those children now of school age we are paying the price today.

Last time there was a big increase in measles cases, I wrote an article responding to common myths and misconceptions I had read in the ‘Have Your Say’ section of BBC News. Unfortunately, many of those same myths continue to persist today (my blog didn’t change the world – who’d have thought it?)

So in support of the Public Health England campaign, I’ve decided the time is right to give it another airing.

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NHS Wirral and The North West Friends Of Homeopathy: A Typical Wednesday Evening Out

I’ve had a rather interesting evening. Last week, MSS member and local councillor Darren Dodds alerted me to the fact that Wirral NHS were holding an open meeting to discuss whether to continue funding homeopathy in the region, with the recommendation being very much ‘No, we absolutely shouldn’t’. Needless to say, I agree with this recommendation, and wanted to go along to let them know that I – and by extension the hundred or more local MSS members – applaud their step in the right direction. Interested parties should read the report they came up with, it’s really pretty good. Some highlights:

The paper concludes that the lack of evidence on efficacy and cost-effectiveness of homeopathic therapies means that it should not be a high priority for the PCT at this time. It is recommended that NHS Wirral does not commission homeopathictherapies.

The key risk is that NHS Wirral fails to maintain its reputation as an evidence-based commissioning PCT.

Excellent stuff. Still, it seems we weren’t the only ones made aware of the open meeting – also invited were patients currently or formerly using homeopathy, and the ‘North West Friends of Homeopathy‘. This latter group are most interesting, and I’ll come back to them a little later in more detail, but first it’s worth pointing out that I appeared on local radio with a member of the group on Monday morning, in an exchange that might amuse, and will certainly give a far better impression of who John Cook is than I could ever do justice with words. UK-based readers can listen here, it starts around the 2hour 13minute mark and lasts about 10 minutes. I’ll wait.

For those not able, willing or interested in listening, what we have from John is a charming ability to hog a conversation, and the maniacal insistence that the date of the meeting was aired. Clearly, John wanted his supporters to arrive mob-handed. Fair enough, he probably feels he has a strong case. As it was, when I arrived with a couple of other MSS members there were maybe 40 or so people present, a number which I presume to be in excess of the general norm for these meetings.

John, having lobbied for inclusion, was amongst the speakers, joined by Dr. Hugh Neilsen BA MA BM BCh MRCP FFHom (it’s worth pointing out that his name is actually Hugh Nielsen, and the NWFoH’s own website, while painstaking in it’s detail of Hugh’s many qualifications, mispells the name of their own president), and the panel was completed by two local GPs who were involved in making the recommendation, and who spent the evening ranging between bemused, compassionate and at times startled. Startled, not least, by the quite spectacular opening by John, the homeopath’s friend (which I imagine is rather like a Fisherman’s Friend, but lacking in clout), in which he directed a quite flattering string of insults at me directly, and at the Merseyside Skeptics Society. Read the rest of this entry »

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Surveys On Rape And The Need For Clean Stats

Recently we asked you what really pushes your buttons and makes you angry. You may have answered, you may not – I hadn’t, and didn’t intend to… but bugger it, my spleen needs venting. So here goes – I have a couple of thing that particularly piss me off: psychics are definitely one of them. Sexuality discrimination (in either direction) is very much a second. And another biggie? Bad stats, where it matters.

Now, I appreciate it might seem like a bit of a nothingness, after all. So some numbers get inflated to make it look like men are shitty to their girlfriends, or that knife crime is on the rise, or that more than half of teenage girls are pregnant – these kind of issues might seem relatively minor, if slightly sexist, sensationalist or downright stupid. Nobody’s getting hurt here, you might think, and after all more than 33% of statistics are made up, and over half of the remaining two thirds are meaningless cliche anyway. However, consider the following headline, from Tuesday’s Metro:

One in four women has been raped, a shocking new survey reveals

I think it’s fair to say the statement that 25% of women have been raped is a shocking statement. Truly. If it were, in fact, true. But is it? Well, it’s right there in the headline, and surely nobody running those figures could do so without being 110% sure of their accuracy, and at the very least they’d make sure they were about 4/3rds positive of the interpretation? Well, a little digging around and I was able to locate a summary of the survey this stat was taken from – it was an online survey of 1061 people in London, broken down into 349 men and 712 women. There’s no indication as to how that sample of 1061 people was put together, so any discussion of the stats has to be with the caveat that any potential bias is undisclosed. Interestingly, when looked at in terms of self-defined sexuality there were only 71 homosexual, 52 bisexual and 16 asexual respondents – yet the summary merrily extrapolates the data of around four dozen bisexual respondents into statements of comparative risk Read the rest of this entry »

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