Pilot Workshop – Dental & Mental Health in Young People

This afternoon I took part in a pilot workshop for a research project at Queen Mary University of London’s Institute of Dentistry. It seeks to explore needs and set research priorities for dental health services, focusing on young adults with depression.

I discovered the opportunity through TRIUMPH, which is a transdisciplinary network aiming to improve youth mental public health, based at the University of Glasgow.

The National Survivor User Network (NSUN) email newsletter is also a great place to find opportunities like this. I would recommend signing up with these networks if you want to find out about current research and lived experience opportunities related to trauma and mental health.

Whilst I was outside the criteria of young people aged 18-25 – I have just turned 31 – I emailed the lead researcher anyway. Accessing dental healthcare can be impacted by complex trauma, and I can see how my own lived experiences have made it hard for me to look after my dental health.

I’ve wanted to talk about this subject for a while, so this seems like a great way to have my voice heard and see if there is further potential to be involved as a lived experience expert.

In the end I was welcome to contribute, and took part in an hour-long workshop with the lead researcher, Dr Easter Joury. We were joined by another service user whose lived experience was also valued.

I focused primarily on talking about what a trauma-informed approach is, and how this is relevant to dental healthcare.

I explained how a trauma-informed model of mental health explains depression as a symptom of misdiagnosed and unprocessed complex trauma. Therefore, many people would benefit from a trauma-informed approach to healthcare like this, including young people with depression.

I talked about how people with lived experience of complex trauma need specific trauma-informed care, especially in settings like dental healthcare.

I also shared my insights into the wording and language used in research questions, and suggested further questions which need researching from this trauma-informed lens.

“This was one of the most productive workshops ever – it really shows the value of lived experience. You are the expert, not us. Thank you!”

Dr Joury’s comments at the end of the session

It feels great to be valued like this, and to have the potential to really shape the kind of research which will impact people’s lives for the better. I hope there will be the chance to be involved as a lived experience expert as this research project develops, because trauma-informed dental care is definitely something I’m keen to raise awareness of.

I also think it’s important that research participants are valued for their time spent in workshops like these. I will earn a £20 voucher for my time, and was given a range of choices for this, which I appreciate.

If the researchers want to embed lived experience into the next stages of their project, the INVOLVE lived experience/co-production guidelines are a great framework. In recognition of the great value we can bring to projects, this also includes payment for our work – the only way we can sustainably and fairly continue to progress towards the change we need.

Thanks for the opportunity Dr Joury, and I hope I can continue to be involved as your much-needed research project evolves.

P.S. And a bonus outcome for me – I was empowered to book a dentist appointment for the first time in many years!

Book Review: Knots – R. D. Laing

Not what you’re expecting… well worth reading. Perhaps my favourite book ever.

Title:Knots
Author:R. D. Laing
Year:1971
Importance:4/5
Accessibility:5/5
Recommended:5/5

OK, disclaimer. I think this might be my favourite book ever.

The love affair started off a bit rocky, though. I’m a keen sailor, and I thought this was going to be a book about, you know, knots. I thought I couldn’t believe my luck – a book written by an interesting psychiatrist, and about boats.

Alas, it was knot to be. The knots Laing writes about here are instead the emotional ones we tie ourselves up in, when we communicate with our loved ones. OK… equally as interesting!

This is a strange book, written entirely in long poems and dialogue. It’s really easy to read. And it’s really weird. I love it. Laing takes us round these poetic emotional circles, showing us the core fears and wounds often at the root of our struggles.

I found it particularly relatable when I read it during a tough time when my own complex childhood trauma was unravelling all around me.

It also inspired me to be creative with my own healing process, inspired me to work on Eyes On Trauma, and to write these very words you are reading now.

R. D. Laing’s work with ‘Knots’ is an incredibly creative way to explore the subject, and was surely pushing the boundaries back in 1971 when it was published. Maybe a psychedelic trip inspired it?

Either way, I have taken a leaf out of this book and will continue on my journey raising awareness of complex trauma in my own creative way. And I recommend getting your hands on an original copy of this gem – I hope you treasure it as much as I do.

In fact, I love this book so much, I have two copies. I managed to find the paperback in a charity book shop in Brighton, and the hardback in a second hand book shop in the Netherlands! I guess it really is my favourite book ever.

Have you read this book too? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Book Review: The Brain That Changes Itself – Norman Doidge

Title:The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science
Author:Norman Doidge
Year:2007
Importance:5/5
Accessibility:5/5
Recommended:5/5

This is another of my very favourite books I read when I began learning about the brain and trauma.

Doidge uses inspiring evidence and examples of people overcoming debililtating conditions such as dyslexia, dementia and physical injury – all through the power of neuroscience, and creating new neural pathways.

An easily accessible introduction to neuroplasticity – the way our brains can continuously change and adapt – it gives lots of inspiring examples of how people have already used this knowledge to improve their lives.

It’s immediately obvious this is also empowering for those of us on our trauma healing journeys, as it compassionately shows us how we can heal. Combine it with epigenetics, and you suddenly have scientifically proven answers, and evidence to move forward. Reading this book really helped me see an evidence-based light at the end of the tunnel!

I recommend this book for anyone with an interest in mental or physical health, especially when in the context of overcoming debilitating challenges – both emotional and physical.

Have you read this book too? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Book Review: Sextant – David Barrie

Title:Sextant: A Voyage Guided by the Stars and the Men Who Mapped the World’s Oceans
Author:David Barrie
Year:2014
Importance:5/5
Accessibility:4/5
Recommended:5/5

Now, I bet you weren’t expecting to find this book here amongst the rest. I read it during a tough point in my life, right when my complex childhood trauma was unravelling and I was reading a lot of trauma books. This was a much appreciated change in subject from the heavy trauma books I was reading at the time.

And it meant just as much to me as the other books I read on my healing journey.

‘Sextant’ talks all about the ocean explorers and adventurers of days gone by, and really opened my eyes to what we take for granted these days. I’m a keen sailor who has worked on traditional ships in the past, but I learned a lot of things I had no idea about in this book.

Did you realise that most ocean explorers didn’t even have an accurate clock or watch onboard their ship until relatively recently? And without knowing the time, it’s impossible to determine your accurate location. It’s nice to be reminded of how far we’ve come in society – and how far we still have to go.

Reading about the massive risks people took back then to advance human knowledge was incredibly inspiring. The risks might be different now, but they can feel just as scary. It gives me hope that we can do the same with changing our mental health system towards the trauma-informed approach we so desperately need.

This book also made me realise we are still living in bodies with nervous systems designed for these dangerous, survival-based kinds of situations, rather than the current ones many of us now face.

Our bodies weren’t built for Zoom calls and spending our lives alone inside central-heated houses. Technology has revolutionised developments in society over even just the last decade, but our brains developed over thousands of years to a completely different environment which was based around community, connection to the earth, survival mode, and living in the present moment.

Realising this can be empowering, allowing you to be more compassionate with your struggles. It’s not us that’s ‘broken’ – it’s the world around us, so out of tune with our innate connections to each other and nature around us, which we used to have in the times of the Sextant. Now it’s up to us to rediscover that and break the cycle of trauma so many of us face, and whose families have faced for generations.

Have you read this book too? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

“What happened to you?”

Instead of “What’s wrong with you?”, we should be asking, “What happened to you?”

whats-wrong-with-you-what-happened-to-you

It’s time for a paradigm shift away from individualised concepts of mental illness. The problem is never solely within the individual. It is within the family, interpersonal relationships, communities and society.

Friends, family & professionals always asked what was wrong with me. If one person had instead asked what happened, I could have found the help I needed and been saved from a lot of unnecessary pain. 

I’ve struggled my whole life with “severe ill mental health” & chronic suicidal feelings. I’ve sought help from medical & mental health professionals over my lifetime. Sadly, as these services aren’t trauma-informed, this caused me more harm. I’ve since found many others with lived experience of complex trauma who have also felt this.

Still desperate for answers, I took my healing journey into my own hands. I finally discovered that my experiences can be explained by the complex trauma that began in my very early childhood.

I realise that my “mental health symptoms”, “personality disorder”, and “unacceptable behaviour” are in fact reasonable expressions of the trauma still painfully held within my body. 

In hindsight, many of these obvious warning signs have been missed since my early childhood. Instead, the people supposed to help made it worse. A trauma-informed approach is what’s missing, and something we are finally beginning to work towards.

Asking “what’s wrong with you?” implies the problem is with you, adding to the overwhelming sense of shame and guilt many people with lived experience of complex trauma already feel. Instead, “what happened to you?”, can begin to validate our experiences compassionately and help us heal. 

The next time you see someone in distress, instead of asking “what’s wrong with you?”, try “what happened to you?”. It might be the first time they’ve ever heard that question.


Originally posted by Eleanor on the @EyesOnTrauma Instagram page on 04/05/2021.

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Book Review: Sanity, Madness and the Family – R. D. Laing & A. Esterson

Title:Sanity, Madness and the Family
Author:R. D. Laing and A. Esterson
Year:1964
Importance:5/5
Accessibility:4/5
Recommended:5/5

This book is one of the most eyeopening things I have ever read. It was written in 1976 and is just as relevant today. In fact, I can’t believed it’s been so overlooked.

It is based around 11 vivid case studies and transcripts from interviews with people who have been diagnosed with severe schizophrenia, and their families.

When viewed objectively like this, and through a trauma-informed lens, the power dynamics in these families is obviously unhealthy. It soon becomes clear that much of the behaviour labelled as symptoms of clinical schizophrenia can otherwise be explained in light of the family dynamics, and complex trauma, at play.

This book made me question the validity of all mental health labels, and even the construct of mental health itself. It’s clear to me that many behaviours which are otherwise labelled as mentally ill by our society can otherwise be explained by the emotional and familial systems individuals have grown up in, and the complex trauma they have experienced within these.

As more and more evidence begins to emerge about the effects of trauma on brain development, attachment, etc. especially within our formative early childhood years, we cannot keep ignoring the fact that maybe there is an answer to “mental health”, but it doesn’t lie within problem individuals. Labelling people with disorders whilst their trauma goes invalidated and unprocessed is not the way forward.

This book was written in 1964, based on research in the late 1950s. Over 60 years later it’s now 2022, we’ve created the fastest vaccine ever to cure a global pandemic, but we’re still treating people who experienced trauma like there is something wrong with them. Come on science, sort it out. The evidence already exists, and this book proves it.

Have you read this book too? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Website update

Hi folks

Just a short note to say that I’ve been working on the website today, and have updated some of the content.

The About page has been given a complete overhaul; I re-wrote the entire page and have added some new links to the bottom, helping readers to understand how Eyes On Trauma is useful to them. I have also shared some extra information about my own lived experiences – and taken some away. It always feels hard for me to know how much or how little to share, and from what sort of perspective or voice to write it from.

In fact, that’s why I decided to start a blog on this website too. I have always been a keen writer, but one thing I have struggled with is knowing how much or how little emotion to include. I now see this is just another result of my childhood trauma, leaving me feeling unsure about the validity and appropriateness of my emotions. I also struggle a lot with the inner critic’s constant strive for perfectionism and feeling like I’ve said the wrong thing (I wonder where that comes from!) or have made a mistake.

So I decided to create a blog. The website is for the static resources, and this is for… well, writing things for fun, like I used to do and haven’t done for years. Here I can be imperfect. Here I talk about emotions. Here I don’t have to write a masterpiece every time.

Hear hear to that!

Eleanor

Book Review: Field Guide to Lies and Statistics – Daniel Levitin

Title:A Field Guide to Lies and Statistics
Author:Daniel Levitin
Year:2014
Importance:4/5
Accessibility:4/5
Recommended:4/5

This book is a ‘popular science’ type read that you find in the non-fiction bestseller charts at airpots. That means it’s a pretty easy, entertaining read, and you’ll might learn a few things which make an impact.

Reading this helped me begin to be more critical of the things I am conditioned to believe as facts by science. It helped me see the mental health system in a different light, when I began to read academic papers and uncover the truth for myself about the different labels I’d been given.

One part of the book stood out for me amongst all others. Levitin uses an example of when we bump into somebody we know, seemingly out of pure coincidence, somewhere totally out of context. It feels like the chances of that happening were so small, we are both absolutely amazed to see each other there – “Wow! What are you doing here? What are the chances?!” Yet, it’s happened to all of us.

From a statistical point of view, yes, the chances of meeting that person in that spot at that exact time, are very small. But when you look at the bigger picture, the chances of meeting anybody that you’ve ever met before, in any location and at some point in time, are very high.

Reframing this was a big lightbulb moment for me.

I have since used it as a way to remind myself there might be another side to the statistic, a bigger picture we’re not seeing. And that big-picture thinking allowed me to see beyond the current mental health system which is failing and harming so many of us, and instead recognise complex trauma for what it is, something so big that it emcompasses every aspect of our lives, and needs a trauma-informed approach across the whole of society.

The chances of that positive change happening? 100% if it has anything to do with me!

Have you read this book too? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Book Review: The Body Keeps The Score, B. van der Kolk

Title:The Body Keeps the Score: Mind, Brain and Body in the Transformation of Trauma
Author:Bessel van der Kolk
Year:2015
Importance:5/5
Accessibility:4/5
Recommended:5/5

Van der Kolk is a prominent voice in the scene of trauma and academia. His latest book ‘The Body Keeps The Score: Mind, Brain and Body in the Transformation of Trauma’ represents one of a handful of seminal must-read works on this subject.

An accessible but fairly lengthy read, full of scientifically valid references and research, van der Kolk gives an invaluable insight into how complex trauma affects not just the brain, but the body too.

This is truly fascinating and lifechanging, showing us how the key to healing and recovery is to process stuck trauma within our body. It explains a lot about emotional flashbacks and psychosomatic complaints complex trauma survivors are often ailed with.

This is a must-read for all those with a personal, clinical, academic or other interest in psychological trauma and its effects on the mind, brain and body.

Have you read this book too? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Book Review: The Hidden Life of Trees – P. Wohlleben

Title:The Hidden Life of Trees:
What They Feel, How They Communicate
Author:Peter Wohlleben
Year:2018
Importance:5/5
Accessibility:5/5
Recommended:5/5

Trees? A book about trees, on a website about trauma? Yep. I think that one of the systemic reasons behind trauma includes the loss of community and connection with nature that humans have evolved to rely upon.

This book gives us wonderful insights into the hidden life of trees – you’ll never be able to look at one in the same way again.

Alongside sheer entertainment and education factor, this book is particularly great to read if you’re on a bit of a recovery journey right now. It remind us how powerful nature is, how much compassion is present within nature, and how all of the reasons for everything to do with life are there all along.

There are so many parallels you can draw to your own journeys with complex trauma. This book really empowers you to embrace the awe-inspiring force no greater than nature.

And, it goes some way to putting our lives into perspective and bringing out a greater mindful consciousness – some trees are hundreds and hundreds of years old.

So, there’s no better cliche: we all need to get back to our roots, and this book is a great way to take a break from the trauma books but still be inspired.

Have you read this book too? Share your thoughts in the comments below.