Accessing mental health services? A plan for difficult times.

A personal guide to accessing mental health services

Sometimes it feels like accessing mental health services is like trying to please Goldilocks. Sometimes you’re too unwell; sometimes you’re not unwell enough. You must jump through hoops to prove you are as badly in need of help as you say you are; but if you’re well enough to jump through them, are you really in need of help? Here’s a short guide on how to navigate that tricky dilemma, and access the help to which you’re entitled.

People sitting in a doctors waiting room

You don’t always have to go to the waiting room to get help with mental health

The dilemma

It’s the dilemma that many of us have faced – me included. The fluctuating nature of many mental health conditions means that when you’re at your lowest, it’s hard to perform even basic tasks, let alone face the outside world. To give an example: even leaving the house or communicating by telephone can be beyond the capabilities of someone who is undergoing a crisis. I’ve been there, sitting by the phone, looking at it in my hand, for hours, unable to press the buttons, or dialling and then feeling sick straight away, then waiting until it rings and hanging up. How can you even begin to help yourself when simply reaching out is so hard in the first place?

It might sound straightforward, then, to ride out the worst parts of a mental health crisis, then seek help when you’re feeling better. But it’s not that simple, for several reasons. You might not want to think about mental health, let alone talk about times when you’ve been at your worst, when things are finally coming together. You may hope that it was a temporary blip that has been overcome.

But it gets worse. Attempt to seek help for a long-term problem when you’re feeling well, and some people will tell you that they aren’t fully understood by health professionals, up to and including GPs and mental health professionals. If you’ve got back to the part where you’ve managed to leave the house, go to work and even book an appointment, everything’s all right again, isn’t it?

Isn’t it?

Well, no. It isn’t. But the irony is painful: you can only be in a place where you’re able to discuss your symptoms at the very point at which they are least visible and least present. To the outside world, you are presenting the face you would like them to see: they are not seeing you in a crisis, because the person you are in a crisis is one who might hide away and not even be able to speak to them at all.

Make a plan

It might seem counterintuitive to get help when you feel least symptomatic, but it can be a good idea. You can be lucid enough to make sense of what has been happening. Additionally, you are in a place where you’re most able to make use of your access to the outside world. And you’re also capable of talking and listening without being as highly stressed by these activities as you might otherwise be.

You might think that, when you’re well, it’s exactly the wrong time to make a plan about what to do when things get worse – after all, you hope against hope that they aren’t. But… suppose they do. You’ll thank yourself for having done that hard work when you were able to. So get a plan in place. Who will you speak to? How will you find help? Do you have everything to hand, in a place where you can find it? Do it, if you can. Just in case. It’s always just in case. A good place to start is the Rethink website, which has plenty of links and information. If it’s a crisis, you can speak to the Samaritans in person, on the phone or via email.

Write it down

That said, it might not be easy to access the rawness of the highs and lows you are able to experience at other times, so how can you get across how they feel? One way, if you can, and if you feel safe enough to do so, is to write it down. There’s something about putting feelings into words that touches a different part of yourself to just talking. It makes you think a little more deeply; at the very least you have to confront the reality of what happens, or happened. As I’ve alluded to, that is only something that should be done if you feel ready, but if you do, do it.

It might seem artificial to “perform” reading from a series of notes when you finally get in a room with someone, or on a telephone. But a script or a set of bullet points can help. There’s a chance that the sheer emotion of finally saying what you’ve been dying to say might make you trip over and forget your words. For some of us, we end up sounding like we’re speaking so slowly that there’s a lifetime between every single syllable. But those moments will pass. Someone who will help you will let the words come out.

Jump through those hoops

Sometimes it feels like there’s no help. That dread of the phone call to the GP receptionist, who tells you there’s no appointments until next month if it isn’t “urgent”, might lead you to put it off. But don’t put it off. And you might not even have to deal with the usual gatekeepers.

Now, this doesn’t apply everywhere, and it’s very much a postcode lottery, but in some enlightened parts of the country you can access mental health help by self-referring – you can even do it by email or via a website, if you find the telephone a problem. I was amazed to find out I could do it where I live. It’s not as well known as perhaps it should be, but you can do it. Find out if your area offers a system where you can self-refer, and if it does, take advantage of that. You’ll be dealing with people who understand the process of accessing mental health services.

You will probably have to go through a consultation lasting 45-50 minutes, but that will give you the chance to explain how you feel and put across the issues you’re facing. You might find you have to jump through more hoops – for example, go through a six-week course of cognitive behavioural therapy before you’re considered for anything else – but the good news is, you’re on the path. Once you’re on it, stay on it. And even if one course of therapy ends, you can self refer again as soon as you want. It’s really in your control, which might be a huge relief.

Remember: you’re entitled to help

Perhaps the most important thing to remember if you can, no matter what your feelings are about yourself, is this: you are entitled to get help if you need it. You’re not getting in the way. You’re not taking someone else’s place. You’re not so insignificant that no one can help. You’re not a problem that can’t be solved. You’re not so insignificant, or small, or easily forgotten. There is a way for you to be heard, and be listened to, and helped. However much it might seem that the system is set up to reject you, you are entitled to help. So if you need it, get it. And if you aren’t happy with the first attempt, try again: you’re entitled to a second opinion too.

Written by Steve

The joy of fidgeting: how fidget spinners took over the world

Do Fidget Spinners help Children Learn?

You see them everywhere, a colourful blur right across the country, wherever there are children. Where once it was marbles or loom bands or bottle flips, the fidget spinner has become the craze of 2017. But how did this toy, designed to help children who have issues with concentrating, become the go-to gadget of our times? And have we lost sight of what they’re really meant to be used for?

The classroom can be a daunting experience for some of us. A number of conditions, including Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), attachment behaviour disorder (ABD), and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), mean that it’s harder to be “ready to learn” than your peers.

While most children (and adults) find it possible, if not always desirable, to sit in silence and focus on one other person talking, for others it’s more of a challenge. The sensory deprivation can leave some of us feeling agitated, on edge, with nervous energy that’s hard to keep in check. In a classroom environment this can manifest itself in all kinds of (for the educator) unwanted behaviour which are (for the learner) an aid to concentration. From calling out and interrupting to flipping rulers on desks or folding paper, educators find that learners’ self-therapy can be distracting and take away from the flow of a lesson. So is there another way of coping?

The theory of fidget toys is simple: if you have difficulty concentrating, it gives you something to occupy your senses. The pleasant whirr of the spinner as its outer spokes whirl around the central hub creates a light vibration. Watching the spokes slowly come to a halt – they run on ceramic or steel bearings – is a strangely satisfying experience, as it takes just that little bit longer than your brain expects.

In a classroom environment it can be easy for an educator to mistake this behaviour for disruption, whereas it is in fact an expression of unfocused energy or repetitive behaviour that the child finds useful in order to concentrate and be ready to learn, particular when around others. While some children with special educational needs find it more stressful to be in a noisy classroom, others find the silent “teacher talk, you listen” sections of a lesson to be the most challenging.

Fidget toys provide an outlet for the energy these learners – adults as well as children – need to dissipate, in such a way as to be a minimal distraction for those around them, and teachers too. It allows a child to express their needs and be as stress-free as possible, without hindering the learning of others.

Educators, learning mentors, learning support assistants and play therapists will be familiar with “busy boxes” and sensory equipment for children who have special educational needs. Traditionally, sensory toys have been cobbled together from other toys and ordinary household items, for example – but the fidget spinner, and its cousin the fidget cube, were specifically designed to help learning.

Whether that means they are more effective than what professionals have been using for years is up for debate. And whether it’s more helpful to have fidget toys to be used in the classroom, rather than during specially timetabled sensory breaks, is another issue. But there’s no debating how popular these toys have become among all kinds of children – and their purpose has changed, from their original mission to all-round craze and, as we see them now, a phenomenon.

Now you can find not just three-pronged spinners but two and four-pronged specimins, glittering colours, even with LEDs to sparkle underneath a desk or in a dim room. And so have come the tricks that have elevated these toys from their purpose to something entirely different: as the hula hoop of our times. With that popularity has come cheap imitation, of course, leading to German authorities seizing millions of potentially lethal spinners and planning to crush them.

The prevalence of spinners has led to some schools banning them outright, and others making them disappear from the classroom, allowed during breaktimes. This policy, while understandable, might be a little hasty, since the benefits of these toys are not yet fully understood. As an educator, I have seen them being used effectively already with children who have additional learning needs, to give them something to keep their hands busy and their minds occupied during teacher input. So while it might be irritating to see that blur out of the corner of our eyes, it might be best to consider they really might have a positive value to learning after all.


Top Four Packaging Openers and Safety Cutters

Top Packaging Openers and Safety Cutters


Using a purpose made safety cutter makes opening those eagerly awaited mail order products so much quicker and safer! We’re buying more online than ever before and with online shopping comes box after box of not always well-wrapped goodies. Getting packages open is not easy at the best of times and it can be highly problematic if you have a disability which effects your limbs, grip, fine motor skills or coordination. Here we’re looking at some gadgets designed to make ripping open boxes and getting to your goodies easier than ever before, with an eye on their suitability for disabled people.

Many of the package openers on the market are utility tools which can be used around the home in other ways. Many cutters double up as kitchen tools, can be used for cutting ties off clothes, couponing, arts and crafts and much more.

iSlice Safety Cutter

The iSlice Safety Cutter features a ceramic blade, which is quick, easy and safe to use. The device is a complete replacement for scissors and traditional safety knives. It can be used for removing film, shrink wrap or difficult moulded plastic packaging. It is also magnetised and has a built-in keyring hole making it portable and easy to use on the go.


Westcott Box Opener

Once again featuring a ceramic blade, this Westcott Utility Cutter benefits from a durable and robust design. Ceramic lasts up to 10 times longer than stainless steel so it makes for a long-lasting blade. The compact size of this box opener makes it a popular choice and the fixed blade and finger loop help when guiding and controlling the blade.


Zibra Open-It!

Sold as a product which relieves the stress of “wrap rage”, the Zibra Open-It is a strong utility cutter. It can slice through hard packaging as well as paper and plastic, easily breaking through twist ties and zip ties. It has additional functionality allowing it to pop bottle caps and unscrew bottle caps.






Nimble: The One-Finger Package Opener – Our Top Pick!

Yellow thimble shaped rubber cutting tool

Nimble Safety Cutter

Topping our list of package openers is the Nimble. This smart and unique device stands out because of its accessible design. Using just a single finger, this device makes it easy for people with a range of disabilities to easily cut and slice as required. A single finger swipe can cut open a box, food packaging or any other item, without any risk of injury. The safe blade profile offers no risk of injury and it the one-finger operation design (patent pending) means even if you have limited hand mobility, you should be able to properly use and benefit from the Nimble.

The Nimble package opener is suitable for people with joint paint, little hand strength, tremors and reduced hand-eye coordination, as well as in many other situations. The device was developed and tested by over 150 people, some with disabilities, some without and the result is this effective and well-designed cutter for many different items in the home.

Safe on the skin

A unique benefit of the Nimble is the small blade means it is very difficult to hurt yourself. It is so small that the ridges of your skin ridges actually move out of the way and it doesn’t cut you. I know it sounds incredible but it is probably the safest cutter on the market today. This makes it particularly useful for anyone with dexterity problems. The bright yellow colour is also a boon for those with a visual impairment.



You can see exactly how the Nimble works in this useful video:

Order your nimble directly from Amazon here