Highs and lows on the (you) tube – and the challenge of empathy.

Over the last few years some of you will have seen a viral video of a man singing along to Rhianna on the tube.  If you’ve not seen it, all the better, have a watch (below) and as you do just have a little think about what’s going on.  What are your first impressions of the singer and his audience?

The video was first recorded surreptitiously and posted on youtube in 2012, becoming a viral hit with over 2 million views.  What was his audience thinking?  For his fellow tube travellers we’ll have to entertain ourselves by interpreting their expressions.  Youtube however, gives us a little more to go on…. some people found the video amusing:

Trying so hard not to bust out in uncontrollable laughter

…others admired his confidence.

Lol. Kudos to him, as funny as it is, I do love how ppl have such cofidence in themselves to do such things. As its nit in the norm to sing aloud on the subway/rail, whether you have a good voice or not.

….some gave their support:

Awesome!  Keep on singing Alika.  Let the stiff upper-lipped boring people jeer all they like.  You are London.

….and sadly many others were just nasty or racist.  Youtube’s comments section can be a dark place.

Yet, few if any of the comments really indicate any attempt to question what was going on in the man’s head (beyond those who accused him of showing off).

So what was going on?  Well we don’t know exactly, but that man on the tube, Alika, has got together with Rethink (in a video) and the Independent (in an article) to tell us a little bit about what he was experiencing (Have a read and a watch, and perhaps compare your reaction to when you saw the first video).  As he tells us in the Independent.

That year [2012] a number of events in my personal life had taken their toll on my mental health. In just twelve months, my auntie died, my five year relationship crumbled, my savings were stolen, and two friends of mine were killed in violent attacks. It all started to overwhelm me, and I began to feel and behave differently.

I was going through depression, anxiety, manic episodes, self-harm, and voices and illusions in my head. But I kept it all to myself, and over time I became more withdrawn and erratic. Singing on the tube was a way to drown out my problems and escape. When you’re in the middle of a manic episode, you don’t think about what you look like or how you come across.

….A story very familiar to clinical psychologists working with bipolar disorder and psychosis.  While some of my clients become ill without any clear stressors, they are in the minority.  Most of the people I’ve seen have worked with have entered a manic phase following difficult life experiences.  Alika’s story may seem extreme, yet it’s not at all uncommon among clients with mania and psychosis.  We all have different breaking points, and these may depend on a mixture of our past experiences and our genetics.  Cities like London do not help, feelings of alienation, racism, insecurity and violence are not uncommon, and are a particular problem for those from less privileged backgrounds (black Londoners are at particular risk of experiencing psychosis, for possible reasons that need another article).

But back to the comments….  the comments for Alika’s Rethink video are in stark contrast to those in the original video.  There are not so many yet, but to give a flavour, here’s just one:

Brother am soo sorry when world star posted it people thought it was funny me being one of them if knew what you were going through i would have not even dare to laugh at that video.respect you for what you have done i too have anxiety when i am in public but its only getting better and better i will let my friends know about this soo they can apologize as well.:)

For me, this is a reminder that empathy is rarely automatic.  We are generally quick to judge by what we see on the surface, but rarely take the time to imagine what lies under the surface, to ask ourselves what might be going on for that person opposite us on the bus or tube, or even over the breakfast table.  We often jump to one conclusion and stick with it, that singing man is what?   Selfish?  Annoying?  Super laid back and open?  Cool?  Attention seeking?

As Alika puts it (kindly).

I don’t want to make people feel bad if they laughed at the video of me singing on the Tube. I can see the funny side too, but I’d like to move on now. Viral videos have a life of their own and capturing someone’s behaviour for a few seconds in a day doesn’t ever show you the full picture.

Jumping to Conclusions (JTC) is something that is supposed to be particularly common in people with psychosis, yet in reality, we all do it, all the time.  And just as it can be helpful for my clients to think of other explanations for their experiences, it can be useful for the rest of us too.  On a bad day, we may tend to jump to negative conclusions, which just make that day worse.  A classic example used in therapy is to imagine someone we know ignoring us when they walk past us on the street.  What’s going on?  On a bad day, well that person is clearly a total ass; on a good day, clearly they were preoccupied and did not see us.

Alika’s second video and article give us context, they give us a way of connecting to Alika.  Suddenly, Alika is no longer a cartoon but a deeper, three-dimensional character.  It’s no longer so easy to apply just one adjective.  Now we are forced to consider Alika as a person with a past, present and future.  It’s harder to be unkind, and easier to be kind.  We have understanding , we have empathy.

Alika was kind and brave enough to give us that connection.  The challenge is to make that connection more often and with less help.

Even more cartoons… this time about anxiety.

Thanks Maria for sending me this link to a buzzfeed page, with loads of great cartoons about anxiety.  I’ll not copy them here, as the buzzfeed page has already done the hard work.

One of them led me to a blog:

sad girl scribbles

by a girl called Gaby at virtualgirlfriend.tumblr.com, which contains a plethora of drawings touching different issues including anxiety and depression.

One of many that I particularly liked was this one, which deals nicely with the tension between wanting to abolish difficult feelings and needing emotions to be human:sadgirlscribbles-plantsPlants may not have feelings… but I think I’ve made a few plants look pretty sad.  They definitely look happier when they’ve had a little love and affection – or at the very least least sun, clean water and good food; all of which I can relate to.

More pictures, less words…

Following from my last post, a few friends have recommended some other videos and pictures and comics.

The first, sent to me by various friends, deserves a whole post to itself.  It’s the wonderful Hyperbole and a Half.  A selection of brilliant comics on a variety of topics including depression.  Both funny, sad, true and uplifting, they are a work of genius.  Some of them are short and sweet, others, like ‘Depression part Two’ are seriously long (by internet attention standards), but deserve a proper read.  The author, who describes him/herself as “heroic, caring, alert and flammable”, brings a dark humour to serious experiences:

Screen Shot 2013-12-12 at 17.14.02

Another friend, Ben, recommended this animation on depression, which uses Churchill’s ‘Black dog’ to illustrate the experience of depression, and how, perhaps using imagery, a person can learn to live with their experiences.  The animation is by the illustrator and author, Matthew Johnstone (in conjunction with the WHO) although I’m not clear if he’s talking of his own experiences.  Worth a watch..

Susanne sent me this cartoon, which speaks for itself.

hiddenanswers

 

And then Julia reminded us that depression is  actually often actually misdiagnosed IED (Inappropriate Environment Disorder), a new diagnosis that I’m hoping to get to replace almost all other diagnoses in the DSM-VI.

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Empathy and how to help a friend who’s down…. in pictures and words.

A few things popped up on my various feeds this week, all on the same kind of topic.
The first was this cartoon (thanks Catherine)…

depressionsupport

Which comes from a blog called www.robot-hugs.com.  Below the line on the facebook page where the cartoon had been posted, was the old story about empathy:

So there’s this guy walking down the street and he falls into a great big hole. A doctor walks by and the guy yells up to the doctor ‘hey, I fell in this hole, can you help me out?’ The doctor writes a prescription, throws it into the hole, and walks on. 

A priest then walks by and the guy yells up to the priest ‘father, can you help me? I fell into this hole and I can’t get out’. The priest says a prayer, throws down a Bible and walks on. 

And then a friend of the guy walks by and the guy yells up ‘hey, buddy, I’m stuck in this hole and -‘ and before he can finish the friend jumps down into the hole. 

‘What the hell are you doing?’ the guy says, ‘Now we’re both down here!’ 

‘Yup’, says the friend, ‘But I’ve been down here before and I know the way out.’

This story is exactly what happened to a client of mine this week.  Someone he cared about jumped into his hole and helped him find the way out.  These are the people we need in our lives.

And then I came across much the same thing from the brilliant RSA shorts series.  This from a lecture about sympathy vs empathy.

Oh, and I nearly forgot the first one, again from Robot Hugs!  Full of useful advice.

2013-11-21-Helpful Advice

Anyone care to recommend any other cartoons they really like about psychological health?

 

Youtube Channel Review: Time to Change

Type: YouTube Channel: Time to Change
Highly Recommended Resource.

Time to Change is a campaign which sets out to end mental health stigma.   That’s a tough, but laudable goal (especially tough given the continuing level of irresponsible reporting by media such as the Sun newspaper) .

The campaign started in 2007 and is supported by the mental health charities Mind and Rethink.  In terms of online resources, Time to Change has both a webpage and a YouTube channel.   More broadly, Time to Change seeks to engage the general public through all forms of media, whether it be TV, radio, internet, magazines or poster campaigns.  I’m going to briefly discuss the YouTube channel today.

In short, it’s a brilliant resource.  Useful to everyone from mental health service users, through to teachers, families and indeed anyone who wants to know wants to understand more about mental health difficulties, be it their own or other peoples’.

The videos cover a large range of formats/styles and topics.   To take just a few examples:

  • Animations such as the one above, beautifully illustrating a young person’s experience of depression and recovery.
  • A mock horror film trailor, ‘Schizo’, which seeks to undermine traditional associations between mental health and violence).
  • Short, poignant and powerful mini-dramas, such as ‘The Stand Up Kid’, which explores the unseen impact of stigma in schools.
  • A silent film, ‘The 5th Date… time to talk’, complete with speech bubbles, which considers the sometimes scary experience of disclosing one’s mental health diagnosis to a date.
  • Endorsements and discussions from famous people who have been open about their difficulties such as Stephen Fry and Frank Bruno (who discusses mental health with his daughter, Rachel Bruno) .

Many of the videos are sorted into particular topics, for instance there is a section with five videos, all of which feature a different person’s experience of mental health and the workplace.  In total there are over 80 videos, and so far, every one that I’ve watched is excellent.   I’m going to try and work my way through the other videos,  there’s a lot of them, but they are generally very short, and all inspirational, so not a chore.

 

Video resource: 5 young people’s experiences of mental illness.

Publisher:  Time to change.
Type:  Short Videos Collection

This very brief video (3.25) includes the experiences of 5 young people.   It’s short and concise and thus does not provide much detailed information.  However, each of the young people in this video are featured in their own longer videos, where they discuss their experiences in more detail.  This video thus provides a great opener for for any discussion about mental illness, especially with young people.   The related videos then provide additional material for further, more specific discussion.

These are just some of over 80 videos provided by ‘Time to Change’ on YouTube.   I’ve also provided a brief review of the channel here.