Posted in Weekly Blog

Words make worlds


Today we considered how the language we use can be stigmatising, and how language can be extremely powerful, so much so that we can change a culture by changing the language. For example, a lot has been done over the last few decades to change the way we speak about racial differences, hopefully helping to bring about more understanding and acceptance.  Offensive terms that were once commonplace would now be frowned upon in most contexts.  The language used around addiction has also seen a shift over the last couple of decades with more emphasis on recovery than addiction.  Today we were focusing on the language and labels used around mental health and suicide.

The group looked at examples of labels and sayings some people used in society and discussed them. Below are the examples of the labels or sayings:

‘Nut-job’,  ‘Psycho’, ‘Junkie’,  ‘Loony’, ‘Space Cadet’, ‘Jakey’, ‘Depressive’, ‘Addict’, and sayings like; “She’s just attention seeking”.  We discussed again people’s feelings around the term ‘Commit suicide’.

Some of the discussion was around how much these terms have been normalised and accepted, particularly when the media continue to use these terms.  We acknowledged that there is a difference between people who aware of the impact of they say, and education and understanding is important. Just because it’s seen as normal, doesn’t mean it is okay.  However, some people use these terms maliciously knowing the impact it is going to have. If you know what you are doing is hurting someone, this is unacceptable behaviour.

When we talk about suicide we need to be aware that language is so powerful, it can increase the problem.  Typically the language “commit suicide” still infers a crime with its associated shame and stigma further contributing to the distress of those who are bereaved following the loss of someone who died in this way.  Some communities may feel they cannot openly grieve or speak about how their loved one died.  If, however we understand that depression is an illness, along with other mental health issues, suicidal feelings may occur.  What we all want to do is prevent suicide.  A more helpful, compassionate and understanding discourse around this by talking in terms of an illness may bring more hope and healing.  For example saying;

“My loved one died tragically after a long illness”.  Some people felt this was helpful.

We also talked about getting the right balance in language, so that we were not so oversensitive that people couldn’t openly express their feelings, but to be aware that some terms are categorically offensive and that language forms culture and belief.  For example if a standard assessment is called a ‘needs assessment’ it automatically implies a deficiency, where as a ‘strength based assessment’ more positively implies that a person has strengths which will increase a persons confidence.

Group members agreed that if labels are heard in the group which are unhelpful, there is permission to challenge the terminology.

To read a guest blog we wrote on this topic please click this link.

Posted in Weekly Blog



Today in the group we explored goals and aspirations by using some SMART Recovery tools.  First of all we had a think about what were the top five things that we valued most in life e.g. Family, health, peace of mind e.t.c.  From these we began to think of what would we like to have in our future e.g. good health, and so what are we doing right now to achieve this e.g. walking regularly which we feel good about or the opposite could be watching too much T.V and feeling bad about that but the exercise then helps to prompt us to work towards our goal.  Using these tools today helped some people to put active plans into place while it helped others to begin exploring what they may want to do and possible ways to go about it.  As we chatted it became apparent that trying something new or reaching for a goal can feel intimidating.  However, if we break it down and do it in small steps it can feel more manageable as the first step may be just be a toe in the water or an inquiry and doesn’t require a big commitment, sacrifice or huge life change and can feel OK to just put feelers out about something.  If we feel OK or excited about that, we can move onto the next step without feeling any sense of pressure.


Posted in Weekly Blog

Looking at the bigger picture


One of the aims of the Choose Life group is to help people to be more self-aware.  Self-awareness can help us to reflect on how we respond to situations or people, and when we know this, we will recognise what is difficult for us and we can then put boundaries into place to help us to stay safe.

In order to improve our mood, it is important that we can learn how to look at the whole picture rather than focusing on  just certain parts.  When our mood is low it may be a tendency  to focus on the negative side of situations and forget about the achievements or good things we have in our lives.  For example if a piece of work you had created was being reviewed by 100 people and 99 people praised it and 1 person was critical of it, you may tend to focus on the one critical review and dismiss the 99 people who praised it!  We want to help people to look at the whole picture, to be able to learn from mistakes in life but also to “bank” good experiences and achievements in life.  That is why just over a year ago the group created the “Good notice board” part of the meeting. This is held near the end of the meeting and is an opportunity for group members to log good and positive things that have happened for them in the last week.  This can feel hard for people to do if their mood is low.   However, it can really help us to have a brighter day if we take notice of some of the small things that make a difference such as “somebody held the door for me today at the supermarket”.  Doing this can help us have a more rounded look at our lives as a whole.

Posted in Weekly Blog

More than a survivor

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We discussed what happens in the brain when there is a traumatic event.  Trauma is defined by the Royal college of psychiatrists as:

“…events which undermine our sense that life is fair, that it is reasonably safe and that we are secure. A traumatic experience makes it very clear that we can die at any time.  The symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder are part of a normal reaction to narrowly-avoided death.”

For more information on this please click here

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is characterized by recurrent distressing memories of an emotionally traumatic event.  Looking at it simply, an area in the back of the brain is called the amygdala and the area at the front or forehead is called the pre-frontal cortex. The amygdala controls automatic responses associated with fear, arousal, and emotional stimulation, so this is our breathing, temperature, blood flow, readiness to run away etc, and if we learned fear from a traumatic event we can experience enhanced emotional memory.  The prefrontal cortex is where we find reason, rationale, logic and decision making, this area of the brain brings balance in the midst of managing fear and negative emotion.

It is understood that through trauma the prefrontal cortex almost shuts down and the amygdala takes over meaning that those with PTSD experience fear, negative emotion and enhanced emotional memory placing the person right back in the trauma because the reasoning and logical part of the brain is not working and doesn’t step in to help and bring any reassurance or logic.  The good news is that things in the brain do not need to stay this way, we can change the way information is processed in the brain, the brain can change and healing is possible.    

This information is very simplified from a number of sources, the main one being ‘Post-traumatic stress disorder: The role of medial prefrontal cortex and amygdala nueroscientist on pubmed by Michael Koenigs and Jordan Grafman    and information from the Royal College of Psychiatrists as cited.

Group members said they found this information helpful, to know what is actually going on in the brain.

We also looked at a quote from a lady called Joyce Meyer who had a long history of abuse from her father.  In telling her story she talked about the effects of the trauma and the ways it impacted on her life; the burden of carrying this ‘secret’, holding a false responsibility, the shame and embarrassment which poisons everything, the feeling that there is no place of safety and being constantly in fear.

For Joyce, some of the things that have helped her to recover and live a life free from burdens and fear are; speaking positive words about her life and having goals, her faith, her husband, and repeating that she is not a bad person.  She says:

“I had to begin my journey of healing by being willing to look at the problem inside me rather than blaming all my problems on someone else.  I even had to stop blaming them on my father and the people who had not helped me.  Even though what they did or didn’t do to help was the source of my problem and the reason why my behaviour was so emotionally erratic rather than stable.  I had to take responsibility for the changes that needed to be made in me…”

We talked as a group about the importance of a place of safety, and about how, even though others had caused damage, if we could own the responsibility for how we now responded this would empower and bring healing.