- I think about money a lot these days. The value of a coin can be so confusing. On one hand, our 5K walk raised over £140 so far and the fundraising is still open. So, one event in Clifton raised £5K for OTRBristol last weekend! Just today, in her first week, on the first day of her fundraising activity, the owner of the local cupcake shop raised £100 in a single Facebook donation. So was our 5K walk even worth it, I wondered? This weekend 21 people supporting OTRBristol will be skydiving so I am sure they will raise so much more than me as well…So I am thinking about money a lot… In the UK people don’t like to talk about money especially in the context of charitable work. Yet, that’s what fundraising is all about: asking for money. Hm…I think a lot about unconditional listening too. How can one explain the value of an hour of unconditional yet caring support of a counsellor? Someone who is completely uninvolved in our lives, yet so caring, so holding and so present? I started my own therapy last week. I have to do it for my therapeutic practice but did not expect to start so early. The recent news from home triggered so much anger, sadness and grief. I have committed to the process and allowed myself to work on healing now. And so after over two years of studying therapy, I went back to a counsellor’s room myself. I valued those 50 minutes of listening, curiosity, support and unconditional respect. In today’s world, assumptions get in the way of listening. So we are hardly ever actually listened and understood. “Don’t assume, because it would make you an ass” – I learned in a training session this morning. I related to it so well (on both sides of listening). When we meet friends we focus on them or on conveying our problems in the least painful way. When we love, we often take, not give. When we care, we limit other people’s horizons. And so all that remains is a bit of a bubble of our own thoughts. It’s really difficult to be one own’s sounding board, especially if we have no one to talk to. I do, I have a few good friends and a soul mate too, but I myself have benefited from an hour of unconditional support. So I can only imagine how this experience must feel like for someone vulnerable, abused or lonely. It’s life-changing for all.So how can I quantify the money raised by me and by others? I do not think I can. I look a £10 note on my desk. I think about my usual ways of spending it. I think of all those young people out there who go to bed scared, hopeless, lonely, in pain. And I wonder… isn’t it amazing that folk like OTR Bristol counsellors can give so much for that one piece of paper? How much is that money worth to someone who has no one to talk to in such an unconditional manner? Maybe I will never know. Maybe all I have left is counting money and hours offered to those young people. That in itself fills me up with hope.
(Our fundraising page is live for another 2 weeks, so if you have a spare tenner or so, please donate here. Thank you!)
I think about the Three Wise Monkeys sometimes, recently a lot actually. The symbolism of those rather famous statues is the maxim “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil”, but in the modern Western society, I think it is often interpreted in terms of individualism and involvement warning us not to peak into other people’s lives, not to listen to other people’s business, not to speak up and spread lies about others. I often think that we have lost the original, other interpretation of those three Japanese characters – one which relates to lack of involvement, turning a blind eye, ear and mouth to hide evil deeds… So I had a look at the origin of this story again:
The concept of the three monkeys originated from a simple play on words. The saying in Japanese is mizaru, kikazaru, iwazaru (見ざる, 聞かざる, 言わざる) “see not, hear not, speak not”, where the -zaru is a negative conjugation on the three verbs, matching zaru, the modified form of saru (猿) “monkey” used in compounds. Thus the saying (which does not include any specific reference to “evil”) can also be interpreted as referring to three monkeys.
“The Three Mystic Apes” (Sambiki Saru) were described as “the attendants of Saruta Hito no Mikoto or Kōshin, the God of the Roads”. The Kōshin festival was held on the 60th day of the calendar. It has been suggested that during the Kōshin festival, according to old beliefs, one’s bad deeds might be reported to heaven “unless avoidance actions were taken…”. It has been theorized that the three Mystic Apes, Not Seeing, Hearing, or Speaking, may have been the “things that one has done wrong in the last 59 days”.
According to other accounts, the monkeys caused the Sanshi and Ten-Tei not to see, say or hear the bad deeds of a person. The Sanshi (三尸) are the Three Corpses living in everyone’s body. The Sanshi keep track of the good deeds and particularly the bad deeds of the person they inhabit. Every 60 days, on the night called Kōshin-Machi (庚申待), if the person sleeps, the Sanshi will leave the body and go to Ten-Tei (天帝), the Heavenly God, to report about the deeds of that person. Ten-Tei will then decide to punish bad people, making them ill, shortening their time alive, and in extreme cases putting an end to their lives. Those believers of Kōshin who have reason to fear will try to stay awake during Kōshin nights. This is the only way to prevent the Sanshi from leaving their body and reporting to Ten-Tei.
Not seeing. Not hearing. Not speaking up. Not doing (the fourth monkey included in some traditions). Not acting in the context of evil, nasty plans, the ability to stop yourself is crucial, of course. I think a lot of people underestimate the damaging power of not acting in a different context though: in the context of not helping, not speaking up, pretending not to hear, simply not getting involved. I volunteer a lot for mental health charities so I see the pain in my daily work. I see a lot of it in my daily life as well, but only small part of it comes from evil acts. The rest comes from the inconsiderate acts of silence. Sometimes I wish people could understand that not acting, not doing something kind might not be as drastic as acting against our will or invading our privacy, but it remains equally damaging. I think we have seen what liberal tolerance and not speaking up, not staying vigilant and purposefully kind, did to the world recently. So why can we not learn and apply this in our daily lives? Why can we not lean in and reach out beyond ourselves to each other? Why do we leave our society so cold and almost alien sometimes and think it is them, not us, that’s the root of the problem? Every day we wake up, go to work, rest, spend time together, count our blessings, possibly plan. But do we actually look out from our comfortable, safe place, just to check if others are safe and comfortable too? Are we actually responsible for each other? Are we willing to make effort for them?
I could leave this post at this, but I do not want to leave you with that drowning negative sense of hopelessness. I am simply asking those questions. I do not have the answers. But I do know that people can be and oftentimes are different – they do get involved, they do speak up and do stand up for others. They offer help even if you don’t ask for it. I see this every week at the OTR when every little problem is addressed. Where saying “if you ever need a coffee and chat, I am here” really does not cost much. Where stopping and asking “how are you?” is actually a question that requires a mindful response and results in a short moment of active listening. That also does not cost much at all. And the stakes are really high here for all of us. We need to get our act together fast to help our young people who are only entering this world and will come across a lot of ignorance and a lot of wise or not too wise monkeys.
I am glad that I can be where the change and action are happening. But you can be too: right here, right now, in your life. Give someone a smile or thanks in the street. Complement them at work. Check-in when you get back home. Make time for them after dinner. Listen to them hearing what they have to say – without judgement. Look at them with attention, look into their eyes (did you know that if people smile and we look into their eyes our mirror neurons fire and we automatically smile as well?). Speak up and say something nice, anything really. Every little moment of connection counts and leads to a long-lasting resilience and togetherness which is not intrusive but actually quite comforting and safe. Do it now!
(This post is prompted by my preparations for a 5K walk for OTR Bristol. If you want to help young people’s mental health and act this way, please donate here. As I am writing this I am £5 short of our goal so you might just be able to help us reach it. Thank you!)
- I find it difficult to talk about social isolation but I think my current fundraising challenge and new work at OTR Bristol is a good opportunity to start this topic on my blog. It’s also prompted by a comment I have posted two days ago in response to the new Facebook “WhatWeDoTogether” video served to some of us about the value of Facebook community. (Which is positioned to support your sense of community but really links to setting up new groups – Facebook’s attempt to take over the market of LinkedIn groups).I am a tech enthusiast and I believe in the power of positive psychology even though many therapists still cringe and dismiss this fairly new field. I agree that our positive outlook on life defines just how easy it is to cope with challenges. I just worry about the automated algorithmic solutions that most of the time get us but now and again simply hurt.I personally found the Facebook’s community video really painful to watch. Instead of featuring my friends it featured my selfies surrounded by stock photography. It reminded me of my long period of social isolation which I really don’t like to go back too. It triggered the memories of a small conservative town I lived in for ten years with hardly any friends there, and mostly very shallow, artificial friendships. Also a controlling friendship too, which did not help. (I also must add a bit of context: when I saw the comment about the Facebook video I was thinking about grief that day, which made matters worse, I might have overreacted a bit). But the responses and follow up discussion was very meaningful and bonding. Showed just how meaningful and supportive Facebook friend can be. They reminded me that beyond my town I really had a lot of valuable relationships that took me through that dark time, saved my sanity.But I still worry about social isolation. One can be ever so lonely in a large group of people, in the crowds even. We talk so much about the need to disconnect when what we really need is re-connecting: to ourselves, to each other and to our communities. I moved away from talking about politics but that does not mean that I have no political views anymore. I come from a childhood under Communism and lived a few changes of systems so I see and feel the times when the leading, privileged group of people aim to manipulate and control the “poor folk” (i.e. us) simply by turning us against each other, by making us feel less and weak and lonely. Because in a thriving community we feel empowered to ask, question and demand. Communities increase civic engagement and that’s not exactly what a leading party or any individual country leader would like to see. I just don’t think Facebook is here to solve that, we need to do it offline.But here’s the thing: social isolation only hurts if you are truly on your own. A fellow blogger posted a response to my comment which was kind, supportive but also firmly reminding me of other aspects of online social networks: by doing that she actually proved me wrong and reminded me about the power of validation. When we hurt and others listen, respond and act – it makes all the difference. We had an interesting training at OTR Bristol this week on why we do what we do and why we are a social movement not just a charity. I think new times are coming because people are getting fed up with being expected to solve all their problems on their own. I think social media contributed to isolation but also the realisation that individualism has its benefits but also pitfalls. We need to have time for ourselves, but we also need strong, supportive groups and communities. We need to thrive and remember about self-care, but we also need to allow others to take a good care of us when we are in need. We cannot and should not live in complete isolation.This is something that is most painful when you are young, so if you agree with the sentiment please support my 5K walk in support of @OTRBristol who tackle it already. Thank you!
It’s been over a month now that I have joined the OTR Bristol. Time flies! I still feel very overwhelmed with the kindness of people in the office and I still catch myself thinking: I wish I had this support when I was young.
I set up my own fundraiser page about a week ago and I was aiming to promote it, push it, ask for money and talk about OTR work a lot on my blog too. But life got in the way in a most ridiculous way and made this fundraiser truly relevant to me: I have received bad family news. I started grieving. Not really grieving for the people who are slowly slipping away, but for myself – for the childhood, I had or did not have. And so I have stopped my bereavement volunteering for now (I am obligated and quite frankly too close to the topic at the moment) but I know I can go back anytime. Things got a bit emotional in my private life and I started to think a lot about the reality of my childhood. I stopped posting and took time to rest and think. I spent a lot of time with my friends and family reminding myself who I am today and how I got here, but also where exactly I have started from.
We all have stories, you see, stories we do not want to talk about. I am always open about my controlling mother, ex, past friends and I am not worried about the current contacts assuming the role of an abuser – because a long time ago I have learned that I was never really a victim. E. Rosevelt said once: “One cannot humiliate you without your consent” and I think she was right, but there is more to power in a family set up. People who are close to us tend to assume they know us and can or would take advantage of our weaknesses. However it is their version of our relationship and we can still have our take on it, and that take can be very different. We can stop the power game simply by not getting involved. We can define our own boundaries and lines of safety with or without the involvement of the abuser. We just need to be clear on our self-worth and our own goals. This way, instead of hardening, we become even kinder and more empathic. It works. But we also have to keep our darker stories in mind and must never forget – because there are other people, young people, out there who need help today.
I did not have OTR, but I had teachers, priests, literary role models, friends and positive outlook on my future. There was always a part of me that knew my worth. I have experienced a kind, bonding fatherly love and I have received a great compass of values (not always applied, I’m not perfect, but at least known!). So after a week of contemplating my own, complicated childhood and a week of grieving the one I did not get to have, I have also realised just how far I have come thanks to all those good people in my past life. I wish I had a space and people like the OTR folk back when I was a young person – my own battles would have been much faster, stronger, more – but I had others who were there for me in smaller, slower experiences. I had hope and I knew kindness.
So today I have just one message to my readers: let’s stop for a moment and think of all those young people who need help, but also those who do not even understand the idea of hope, love and kindness. Let’s just for a second imagine how their reality must feel like.
And let’s have a very good look at our life, count our blessings and convert our experiences into hopefulness. I took my new Canon camera out and treated myself to time for photography. I took a few photo walks in this amazing sunshine and streets of Bristol, admiring street art and warm, friendly people. I planned another two walks with friends this week. I made time for art which always makes me feel a bit better. But here is the thing: I can do it because I spent 40 years of my life coming to this point, fighting and constructively converting my hate and pain into work and action. Which is why I love OTR so much.
So this is my first ask – I kindly ask you, if you are able to do so today, to donate to our 5K walk to help OTR teams help those who might just be young and hopeless now. Thank you!
Here is the full link: https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/5kpokemonday – I will be walking, catching Pokemon and supporting an amazing organization! 🙂
You might have seen on social media channels that I am currently working on a podcast investigating the impact of digital technologies on our wellbeing.
Here is a little bit more background I have written for the podcast blog – the full article is here.
Cyber wellness is a combination of two concepts: digital literacy and wellbeing. The concept is currently widely used in Singapore by the Ministry of Education for digital literacy projects for young people at schools to ensure that they are all using the web safely but also proactively make the most of it.
There is a lot of discussions now, in 2018, about the increasing importance of mental health and the negative impact of the web on our health, but we feel that conversations are not balanced. On one hand, we have technology developers and providers, practitioners and fans promoting and enjoying the digital landscapes. On the other hand, we have regulators, educators, health professional and parents who worry about the impact of technology on children,m young people and on adults.
In January 2018 WTO introduced gaming addiction as an official disorder. America’s Association of Psychotherapists included the Internet Gaming Disorder in its DSM-5 pointing out the need for further study. Health practitioners warn us about the impact of screen time, FOMO, isolation and gaming addictions. New game addict retreats appear on the market all around the world.
Technology is used to improve our health and mental health. We see smart tech and health monitoring devices entering our everyday lives. We see health data collected via the main mobile platforms and used to improve research. We see medical field benefiting from various areas of tech innovation. We use apps to improve our every day health and wellbeing: fitness, diet, mindfulness, gratitude and creativity.
The common discourse is focussed mainly on the negative impact of digital on health, but it is based more often on myths than actual findings. Scientific research on the impact of digital technologies on various aspects of our wellbeing is still very rarely considered in the public discourse.
Cyberpsychology is a relatively young science studying important themes like comparison and low self-esteem, depression, social isolation, negative relationships, FOMO (fear of missing out), sleep deprivation, addictive behaviour, eating disorders, social media and ADHD, positive correlates of social media, social media and memes, psychotherapy in cyberspace. Since 1995 we can read about it in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. Since 2007 we can enjoy their findings in the Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychological Research on Cyberspace. There is also the Journal of CyberTherapy & Rehabilitation, as well as Cyberpsychology, Behaviour and Social Networking journal.
The impact of the Internet on our wellbeing is also included in our very own UWE Psycho-social research here in Bristol and specific areas of UWE work – for example, work done by Dr Amy Slater and her team around body image.
In Oxford, Dr Andrew Przybylski researched the impact of online games on children. His research showed that a moderate amount of online gaming resulted in better-adjusted children that those who did not play any games at all – which can be linked to the new media but also lifestyle our children grow up in. Sonia Livingstone described the changes in family life and the new media landscape in her 2002 book: “Young People and New Media: Childhood and the Changing Media Environment” describing area of family life we sometimes discard but that have a significant impact on our media consumption: for example the fact that our children grow up in isolation from their peers in the offline world (driven to school, taken to groups, not allowed to socialise freely offline) so the online channels provide them with new, alternative ways of connecting with peers, playing and learning. Susan Greenfield (also based in Oxford) wrote a good summary of the relevant research in 2014 in her book “Mind Change: How Technologies are Leaving Their Mark on Our Brains” only to conclude that way more research is needed to understand this topic. She herself continues her work in this area.
Sonia Livingstone based in London is since a few years now involved in the EU wide study on the impact of tech on children and families. The research results are published in the regular EU Kids Online reports and impact the way the International Safer Internet Day is celebrated. In the recent few years, we have noticed the purely negative sentiment shifting towards the need to build strong digital skills amongst both children, as well as their parents. In February 2018 Livingstone and team published finding showing the positive impact of technology on the quality of life in families but also increased the need for parents to know that their children are actually safe online.
Dana Boyd, an MIT researcher focussing on teenagers and their use of social media, points out that we need a good definition of what we mean by “safe Internet”. She published her findings in her book in 2014 “It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens” describing her extensive research in important areas: privacy, online identity, addiction, dangers and bullying, inequality and literacy – and generally asking young people how they manage their lives in those new channels. Her findings are certainly not as negative as the discourse in the mainstream media.
Jane McGonigal, American game designer advocates the use of digital technologies to channel positive attitudes and explains a lot of positive effects of games in her 2001 book “Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How they Change the World” tapping into findings from also a fairly new field of positive psychology.
At the same time, the public discourse around mental health and wellbeing increasingly mentions the negative impact of digital technologies: information overload, need to rest from screens, fear of missing out, online bullying, addiction to online games and the overwhelming sense of increased social isolation. We do also see increased levels of addictions related to the Internet and studies showing that the social web tends to exaggerate the tendencies we already have (if they are positive, the impact of the web is positive too; if our habits and tendencies are harmful, the social web might make them more impactful too).
In the marketing and business world, it is widely recognised that addiction to mobile and other tech devices is fuelling stress and burnout and has been linked to anxiety and depression. Increasingly, a number of research and partnership initiatives are being put in place to address the positive and negative effects of cyber-overload and how to achieve a state of cyber-wellbeing.
April 2018, saw the Pew Research Center launch their extensive report: ‘The Future of Well-being in a Tech-Saturated World’ which explored at length the positive and negative aspects of digital life on people’s health, mental fitness and happiness. While in May 2018, Thrive Global, set up by cyber wellbeing pioneer, Arianna Huffington whose mission is to end stress and burnout, announced an important partnership with MindShare Partners, whose mission is to ensure that those suffering from mental health and burnout conditions in the workplace get heard and helped to thrive. Just these two key areas of activity in the cyber-wellbeing arena from Pew Research and Thrive Global in Spring 2018 – let alone myriad other similar initiatives – are a clear indicator that the complex topic of cyber-wellbeing is driving an ongoing debate around the world. As podcast authors of Bristol’s Cyber-Wellness Podcast, we hope that our own podcast findings can serve to make a small contribution, from Bristol to the global debate around cyber-wellbeing.
The mental health provision in the UK is based on the 2008 New Economics Foundation report “5 Ways to Wellbeing”. The report outlines core recommendations for improving our overall well being and serves as a basis for the overall provision of talking therapies around the UK until today. Connect, keep active, take notice, keep learning and give are recommendations resembling core findings of positive psychology. The report also mentions the value of nature, healthy diet and meaningful work. Many of those recommendations are aligned with findings published by Johann Hari in his book “Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions” about underlying causes of depression. Harri suggests looking at the roots of our mental health problems and instead of disconnecting, even more, finding ways to reconnect with our communities, meaningful work, values and with nature. We do not really know if digital technologies would play a positive or negative role in this process.
“The Examined Life, How We Lose and Find Ourselves” by Stephen Grosz is therapy at its essence and I thoroughly enjoyed it! Grosz is a smart therapist who also knows how to write well. I read a lot of books on therapy with specific patient stories this winter but his work is the best: it flows, it makes sense and each case study contains well structured universal truths about us, humans. Most similar books tell us what to do, this one prompts us to re-think how we do things, deeply!
While reading some chapters I have discovered faults in my approach to life and re-considered the sources of my particular behaviors. I am still working through some issues and I know it will take some time to put all those new learnings into practice. I am however really grateful for the book – a good book like this one changes us. For better. So if you pick it up do trust the title – it does what it states on the cover;)
I strongly recommend it as a self-study or self-development book for anyone, not only therapists.
Some notes from the book:
“He seemed never to have acquired a skill that we all need: the ability to make another person worry about us.”
“Closure is just as delusive-it is the false hope that we can deaden our living grief.”
“There cannot be change without loss”
“A lot of people, especially psychoanalysts, assume that happiness can only be found in a couple – but not all of us are made for a relationship.”
“Psychoanalysts are fond of pointing out that the past is alive in the present. But the future is alive in the present too. The future is not some place we’re going to, but an idea in our mind now. It is something we’re creating, that in turn creates us. The future is a fantasy that shapes our present.”
“At one time or another, most of us have felt trapped by things we find ourselves thinking or doing, caught by our own impulses or foolish choices; ensnared in some unhappiness or fear; imprisoned by our own history. We feel unable to go forward and yet we believe that there must be a way.”
“All sorrows can be borne if you put them into a story or tell a story about them. But if we cannot find a way of telling our story, our story tells us- we dream these stories, we develop symptoms, or we find ourselves acting in ways we don’t understand.”
In my series of Christmas reads on death and bereavement I have also picked up a few books with real stories of bereavement. I think for the interested in the topic they are all really valuable, especially that despite all the bereavement counselling models, one often ends up feeling isolated and alone with grief. The only way to connect with others and feel that this experience is not ours alone – move beyond despair and permanence of death – is, possibly, to read about similar experiences of other people.
“Me after YOU” by Lucie Brownlee – I was really surprised by the honesty of Lucie’s journey after the loss of her husband. Initially, I found the language and her self-destructive behaviors a bit shocking, but only from my point of view. It was really helpful to reflect on that because Lucie could be my friend and I could easily understand her process of bereavement. I simply had to learn to look at it from her, not my point of view. It’s a brilliant story of the few months of bereavement – really feminine, honest, and helpful.
“All at Sea” by Decca Aitkenhead – Decca is a public figure and so her loss was heavily covered by the mainstream media which in a weird way makes it more “real” to me as a reader. I can Google her name, find the photos of her and her partner. I can imagine the man she lost and see him play with his children too. That is not to say that Decca’s loss is any more important than Lucie’s – actually reading this book as my second real was also a great exercise: everyone’s loss is different and it cannot even remotely be compared to ours or anybody else’s. That is why it is so painful – it’s extremely isolating. In this book too, the readers can follow Decca through the initial loss and all the year following it. I also found out online that even though she was left with two little boys, she has also battled cancer – what an extraordinary and challenging life! I think we can learn a lot about resilience from her and other authors in this post.
“My Mourning Year: A Memoir of Bereavement, Discovery and Hope” by Andrew Marshall – Andrew lost his partner, Thom, quite early on in their relationship and again my feeling was one of surprise – he is so very honest about his thoughts, actions and feelings. It really helps to understand the bereavement so much more if one reads memoirs written in such an open manner. I am ever so grateful for having the opportunity to share Andrew’s loss and learn from it too. Andrew is a relationship therapist so his insights are valuable to me on a different level too – it’s really useful to see how counselling can heal or might not be so helpful.
“On living” by Kerry Egan – Kerry’s book is a little bit different because it’s not her story, but a collection of stories from the hospice she was working at. It is written to encourage our love for life so each story contains a learning, a discovery made by people facing their death. Quite frankly most of those discoveries are things we battle every day but to hear it from those people means a lot and has more value – it’s not theoretical, nor is it something we know but avoid confronting. It’s the learnings and regrets from the point in life where we have nothing else to lose. So it is very real.
I loved all four books and I strongly recommend them to therapists but also to people who wish to understand the bereavement better. They are sad stories but they all contain a grain of truth and love for life, so they are very meaningful
What a start to the year. The World Health Organisation added gaming addiction to their list of disorders due to addictive behaviours defining it as follows:
Gaming disorder is characterized by a pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behaviour (‘digital gaming’ or ‘video-gaming’), which may be online (i.e., over the internet) or offline, manifested by: 1) impaired control over gaming (e.g., onset, frequency, intensity, duration, termination, context); 2) increasing priority given to gaming to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other life interests and daily activities; and 3) continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences. The behaviour pattern is of sufficient severity to result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning. The pattern of gaming behaviour may be continuous or episodic and recurrent. The gaming behaviour and other features are normally evident over a period of at least 12 months in order for a diagnosis to be assigned, although the required duration may be shortened if all diagnostic requirements are met and symptoms are severe.
Hazardous gaming can be also found in the section on factors influencing health status or contact with health services:
Hazardous gaming refers to a pattern of gaming, either online or offline that appreciably increases the risk of harmful physical or mental health consequences to the individual or to others around this individual. The increased risk may be from the frequency of gaming, from the amount of time spent on these activities, from the neglect of other activities and priorities, from risky behaviours associated with gaming or its context, from the adverse consequences of gaming, or from the combination of these. The pattern of gaming is often persists in spite of awareness of increased risk of harm to the individual or to others.
Both definitions are quite sensible as they contain the limitations and definitions of healthy and unhealthy gaming habits, related to both online and offline gaming too. The initial reactions are obviously varied, but it’s a very brave step – one which is really difficult to judge at this stage because we simply don’t seem to have enough of research on the impact of online gaming and because online gaming is a very complex topic – one which is often demonised, but rarely taken seriously.
When the Americal Psychiatric Association contemplated adding Internet Addiction Disorder to their fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders(DSM–5) it became apparent that we are dealing with a complex set of potential mental disorders altogether. I strongly recommend this short but insightful summary by Mark D. Griffiths. In the end, after a consultation with the industry and look at available research (for example some here) they decided not to include the Internet Addiction Disorder in the DSM-V, but made a strong recommendation that the further research is needed. They also changed the definition of the gambling as a behavioral addiction rather than as a disorder of impulse control which also allowed them to include the internet gaming in this area. Internet Addiction Disorder does have a wiki page and is not a new term but it is still handled carefully by health professionals and the relevant bodies.
So today WHO announcing a new definition of gaming addiction and adding it to the list of mental disorders send a strong message to the world.
In this entire discussion, you will see three groups of voices. On one hand, there is the gaming industry, Silicon Valley, tech enthusiasts, and professionals, but also researchers who see a positive impact of online gaming (on kids in the UK you will find Sonia Livingstone doing a lot of work with EU too, in the US for research on youth online check out Danah Boyd, for positive impact of gaming Jane McGonigal and her twin sister Kelly, both here). On the other side of the spectrum, you will see media, governments, legal institutions and the general public using the online gaming as an easy scapegoat for issues that are complex and often unaddressed (problems with social isolation, self-esteem, anxieties, toxic relationships, aggression, poverty etc). And in the middle, you will find health professionals (GPs, therapists, youth workers even) who are expected to provide support to the community with a very little good research and stand from leading organisations, oftentimes simply not knowing what to do.
Gaming is not exactly a tabu topic but the opinions about it are divided and not always informed, which does not help the actual individuals who enjoy gaming and feel a positive impact of it, nor the gamers who struggle with addictive behaviours but simply cannot seek professional help. There are increasingly more and more reahbs, camps and other ideas to help, but an average parent or spouse might suffer and struggle because the web and the mainstream media scare us, terrify us even and simply don’t offer any practical solutions.
So when I mention that WHO’s move is brave I am really worried because an average web user or a member of the general public will most certainly now use this fact to demonise the online gaming even more and leave the suffering, addicted individuals to their own devices or simply switch the wifi off. This is not helpful as it does not address the roots of the problem. It makes it worse. On the other hand for the health professionals and researchers, the WHO’s decision opens the doors for more research and more action to offer professional support and almost forces governments to actually look into this and provide funds for that support. Initially it will be directed at the overall gaming disorder, of course, but the more we study it, we will realise its complexity and learn to separate the old problems (anxiety, social isolation, bullying etc) from the new ones (addictive feedback loops of some games, social media related complex reinforcement of self-esteem issues etc). We will learn how to talk about both Internet addictions and gaming addictions too.
I remain hopeful. I really worry that a lot of kids and adult games will suffer from a lot of negative labeling, but I hope they have networks to support them in this first phase. In the long run, I think this is a good move, a natural step in the process of unpacking something new. Something that has an impact on us but it’s so early. We simply don’t know what impact it has on us. It might be that one day we will realise that the web is just like the street – an avenue on which other mental issues, the already known ones, are born. It might be that the technologists are a bit blind and we will discover new mental disorders and learn to support people suffering from them.
What we all need to remember is that every one of us is different and we all react to new stimuli differently (well but also badly). Those of us who suffer from bad habits and see friends and children falling into the abyss of useless gaming really need to have a good look around to identify the why’s and help but also look at the positive impact of online games and accept it – which is not easy. Those of us who work in tech, gaming industry or simply are advocates of innovation, need to learn to accept the fact that every new piece of innovation can come with its curses. We cannot pretend that we don’t know people (of any age) who have suffered from too much gaming in their lives in some way.
So I do like the WHO’s definition as it defines the scope of the impact of the actual disorder – it looks at the negative impact on health and it does give a year to diagnose an individual too. But we have to remember that every new definition can very easily turn into a label and labels are not nice. They stop us from seeing the human behind it. Let’s hope we won’t go down this route. Ultimately it will boil all boil does to how open those discussions are going to be and how informed and research based the choices of decision makers are going to be.
As a student therapist, I am happy to see that the health professionals will hopefully receive more support in this new and already fast-changing area of our lives.
As I am approaching the end of my bereavement support course and facing the beginning of the Introduction to Psychology (a refresher I aim to take up this spring), I am summing up everything I have learned so far. I appreciate that my blog might be a bit depressing nowadays as I am posting a lot about death but here, in this post, I would like to mention a few books that aim to demystify this and sibling themes of our lives: solitude and time.
- “The worm at the core” by Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg and Tom Pyszczynski – sometimes I wonder why we don’t read books like this as mandatory in primary or at least secondary school. I so wish I was given this book much earlier! Three academics decided to look at the idea of death being the source of most of our daily problems in private life but also on a societal level. This book contains results of their own dedicated experiments, but also a really good write up of other research done all around the world. Five years after I was born Ernest Becker wrote a monumental book “The Denial of Death” which according to him is our defense mechanism, the ultimate form of our survival instinct. It is also the cause of many mental illnesses and the birth of our need to transcend death through heroic actions. (see for more here). “The worm at the core” is the terror of death and the authors of the book examine various consequences stretching to most areas of our lives. I particularly enjoyed the part about our need for religion and culture, but the areas dedicated to the birth of nationalism stroke particular cord with me due to the most recent events in the US and Europe. In a strange way, I found the terror of death theory comforting, maybe because sometimes it’s easier if the root of a problem becomes visible? I am not sure. I strongly recommend this book.
- “A philosophy of Loneliness” by Lars Svendsen was useful to me as I have experienced many forms of loneliness and I do find solitude extremely rewarding. I picked up this book from the library shelf on bereavement but I had selfish motives: I really wanted to learn more about the way we define and relate to our loneliness because I myself know for a fact there are happy and unhappy types of it. I found it interesting to learn about types of loneliness. There is the distinction between the chronic, situational and transient loneliness, for example. Chronic loneliness is something we suffer from for a long time. Situational loneliness is usually triggered by an event in life or loss of a person. Transient loneliness is more sublime and happens occasionally – we feel lonely for just a bit. There is also the distinction between social and emotional loneliness (Robert S. Weiss) where socially lonely personal lacks integration and seeks to be part of a community and emotional one is a lack of a close relationship with someone specific. All of those types of loneliness can occur separately and actually many people who are socially active still report feeling lonely. I also like the idea of defining various words related to loneliness. First of all, loneliness implies that we long for something we want and we don’t seem to be getting it – it’s a feeling of longing and waiting. But there is also being alone, solitude – the feeling of not being connected to others, but with no negative sentiment. And there is also abandonment – the state where we lose someone and sometimes also due to their own choice so the hurt can be stronger. Svendsen also talks about the underlying idea of trust in human relationships – something I think about a lot these days – and its role in loneliness. I found this book really helpful for myself but also for my future work with bereavement.
- “Ten thoughts about time” by Bodil Jonsson – I almost do not want to disclose what this book is all about as it’s so precious! I don’t think we talk or think about time enough and in the right way and Jonsson managed to convey it in a very academic, logical way. It’s a very small, light, fun read with great ideas, simple to implement too. But it’s worth stopping at every chapter and really getting it right. For example, time is your best asset – well, it took me almost 40 years to understand that it’s not money but time that’s my most precious but also most rewarding currency. I can stretch it, run through it, forget it and create more of it if I wish too – it’s possible because time is as subjective as anything else. So if there is anything I took out of this book (apart from a lot of good small tips, of course) is the author’s story of her older friend pointing out that if she feels she’s losing the grip on events now she should wait and see at older age – “just wait till your older!” To this author observed: “If my older friend’s observation was generally true, then the acceleration of time passing, which I had just begun to notice, would never decrease. This it followed that life would end much sooner than I wanted it to, because I enjoyed living very much” I will leave you with that and encourage to read the rest.
All three books really helped me gain perspective on death and bereavement counselling, but I think they are generally really useful reads.
Today I would like to recommend three books with practical tips on how to approach bereavement – our own or someone else’s.
- “The essential guide to life after bereavement” by Judy Carole Kauffmann and Mary Jordan – possibly the most practical book I read so far with the actual tips on how to talk about the news of death, how to talk to kids, how to manage guilt, about the impact of death on the complex family systems but also about memorials, managing anniversaries and moving forward. It’s a very short and compact book – I think more suitable for people who need to do it now and want to find out the “how to” more than underlying processes of grief.
- “Working with bereavement” by Janet Wilson – Wilson is a nurse and academic with practical counselling experience so her focus is also very practical, but it does contain a little bit more dept. This book contains the best write up of all leading bereavement theories that I have seen so far (a real treasure for a student), then moves on to explain the process of death and what happens next. Wilson collects the practical tips of how to support the bereaved but she is also looking at specific important areas: context (culture, faith, spirituality), traumatic death and other specific circumstances and difficult, tabu types of dying (suicide, miscarriage, termination, neonatal and other child death). I think I appreciate the last two chapters the most: the unrecognised grief (for example dementia) and self-care for people who work with the bereaved – an area increasingly more and more important for counselling professionals. I think this book should be in the library of any therapist, really.
- “We need to talk about grief” by Annie Broadbe is what it states in the title: it’s a call to encourage us all to open up and speak up about our grief. The main problem with death is the fact we really don’t want to, nor know how to talk about it without upsetting ourselves and others. So when it comes to those moments when we need support after losing someone close, the society is everything but prepared to hold us. Broadbe collected stories of people’s bereavement and closed each chapter with a few practical tips and notes so when you read her stories think of them as specific experiences but also overall themes.
All fo the above books are now on my shelf and if you are looking for first aid help in bereavement for yourself or a someone else, do start with those.