Challenging Perceptions: High Functioning Depression

Challenging Perceptions: High Functioning Depression is the first part of a new series where we will be looking at research and personal accounts which challenge popular misconceptions about mental health.

“It’s easy to put depression into a box of symptoms, and though we as a society are constantly told mental illness comes in all shapes and sizes, we are stuck with a mental health stock image in our heads that many people don’t match.”

Amanda Leventhal was a busy teenager with good grades and involvement in many extracurricular activities. She also experienced high anxiety and depression. After consulting a psychiatrist at age 16, she wrestled with the common perception of depression and her own experiences.

Depression is often seen as an obvious sadness, lethargy and inaction. This perception means that many people go under the radar as they struggle with their mental health whilst continuing successfully with studies, jobs, socialising, and general day-to-day life.

“No matter how many times we are reminded that mental illness doesn’t discriminate, we revert back to a narrow idea of how it should manifest, and that is dangerous.”

Amanda’s testimony shows that the “inner” experience of depression is something which people endure differently, with a wider variety of “outer” symptoms than is commonly perceived. Her article is an important call to normalise being able to talk abut mental health, and to break down the narrow margin which defines it.

We Cannot Continue to Overlook ‘High-Functioning’ Depression [via The Mighty]

Further Reading: Comics About Mental Health

Graphic novels, strips and comics about mental health are an accessible and unique way of understanding the conditions they present. We’ve found some of the best to read online.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Tyler Page‘s “medicated memoir” is a personal account of a lifetime of medication for what many still perceive as a childhood disorder. An extensive look into ADHD and also the medication industry, a Kickstarter for a physical release has recently been successfully funded.

Raised on Ritalin

Anorexia / Body Dysmorphia

Australian artist Khale McHurst‘s 206-part therapeutic exercise and chronicle of her realisation that, despite telling herself otherwise, she did indeed have an eating disorder is a journey which encompasses denial, depression, and acceptance in vivid, honest detail. Each strip is annotated with notes made after publication which gives further detail and insight of her continuing recovery.

I Do Not Have an Eating Disorder


“But trying to use willpower to overcome the apathetic sort of sadness that accompanies depression is like a person with no arms trying to punch themselves until their hands grow back”

US-based Allie Brosh’s Hyperbole and a Half blog entries about her sudden depression is rightly lauded for being a highly accomplished portrait of the condition in all its illogical and miserable non-glory.

Adventures in Depression

Depression Part Two


British Artist Darryl Cunningham took his experiences of his time working in a mental health institute and has compiled them into his 2011 graphic novel Psychiatric Tales: Eleven Graphic Stories About Mental Illness. You can read a selection of the chapters on his website, including this excellent chapter on the often-misunderstood Schizophrenia.

Psychiatric Tales: Schizophrenia


Gemma Correll’s blog is a continuing story of silliness, pugs and social anxiety. Her recent work involves taking suggestions from readers for illustrations for Mental Health America and their #MentalIllnessFeelsLike campaign.

Gemma Correll

Honourable Mention: Better, Drawn

The blog Better, Drawn hasn’t been updated in a while, but it’s still a valuable resource. Hosting short comic panels about a variety of mental health conditions, these bite-size presentations make a big impression.

Better, Drawn

Why Some People Find a Busy City Relaxing

Despite the image of hustle and bustle, some people find a busy city relaxing and even invigorating. The common perception of escaping the city to recharge and escape to the peace and quiet of nature may not resonate with people who show more neurotic tendencies.

A new report published in The Society for Consumer Psychology looked at how people in various personality groups reacted to testing after being shown an image of either a country or city landscape. Further testing involved playing the sound of waves and honking horns. People with higher levels of neurosis showed less irritation and even a degree of satisfaction with the city imagery and honking horns. The report theorises that the constant activity of city life can actually be a calming influence on an active brain

Providence College Assistant Professor of Marketing Kevin P. Newman went into detail about his findings: “A highly neurotic person can still enjoy nature, but maybe their ideal version of a hike includes more boulders, a trail run, some animals.”

Taking personality into account is an interesting way to plan a getaway, and certainly adds to the evidence that there’s never a one-size-fits-all solution.

Why Some People Find Crowded Cities Relaxing—And Others Don’t [via CityLab]

Actress Kristen Bell Talks Depression

American actress Kristen Bell talks depression and anxiety in an article for Time’s Motto blog.

“When you try to keep things hidden, they fester and ultimately end up revealing themselves in a far more destructive way than if you approach them with honesty. I didn’t speak publicly about my struggles with mental health for the first 15 years of my career. But now I’m at a point where I don’t believe anything should be taboo. So here I am, talking to you about what I’ve experienced.”

Her article covers her years of experience with depression and the various ways that it has affected her life. She voices bemusement at the stigma that is still attached to mental health issues, despite nearly 20% of Americans experiencing such problems at some point in their life.

The article compliments an interview she gave in April of this year, where she said that there is “no shame” in feeling anxiety and depression. We commend her move to show that there is no shame in discussing mental health issues, either.

Kristen Bell: I’m Over Staying Silent About Depression [via Motto]

Things to do While Walking

Whether you’ve been participating in National Walking Month 2016 or just do a lot of walking in general, we thought we’d give a few suggestions of things to do while walking.

As we listed in our Mental Health Benefits of Walking article, walking is an easy, cheap exercise which is excellent for both physical and mental health.

Listen to something

Music (whether it’s the tunes you love or something new) is the obvious choice here, but podcasts, newspaper articles, and audiobooks are excellent for longer walks. Podcasts on many subjects are easy to find from various sources, and a directory of free audiobooks can be found at the Open Culture website.

Link [via Open Culture]

Call someone

Walking time can also be a great time to catch up on family or friends. They can provide virtual company which helps to pass the time, and conversation with good friends is an excellent way to maintain good mental health. If you can talk for a long time with people on the phone, then they may also be good walking company if you want to invite someone along.

Take a photograph (or ten)

Depending on the time of day you go for a walk, you can have plenty of opportunity for taking photographs. You can challenge yourself by limiting yourself to just one photograph, or just go for it and take pictures of anything that takes your interest. These photos can act as a chronicle of your walks and the progress you’ve made.

Play a mental game

From playing a simple game of observance (“how many red cars will I see on my walk?”), to practising mindfulness, playing mental games whilst physically exercising is a great workout for body and brain.

Go on a tour

Depending on where you live, your town or city may have walking maps of local areas which can be found online, in tourist-friendly places (such as museums or art galleries), or in a local library. If such maps are not available to you, pick a landmark/spot you’ve seen from a distance or wanted to visit and go there.

Make plans

As with mental games, making plans whilst exercising can be an effective and beneficial use of time. Whether it’s a daily, weekly or general plan, thinking about which priorities to tackle once you get back home can give you a better perspective then thinking about them at home or at work.

Break it up

Whether it’s going down a street you’ve always wanted to explore, or aiming for a completely new area, anything that prolongs or varies your walk can help keep things fresh and interesting.

If you’re wanting to use technology to log your travels or get ideas for new routes, we suggest you check out our guide to walking apps:

Walking Apps – What’s Available

App Asks for GPS Art, Community Responds

Further Reading: How to Help A Depressed Friend

A friend in need can be a difficult thing to see, and knowing how to help a depressed friend can be of great benefit during more difficult times.  As part of the Mental Health Awareness Week’s theme of relationships, we’ve found some expert advice and personal stories to give inspiration and guidance.

Knowing the symptoms

Recognising the symptoms of depression can help pave the way towards a friend broaching the subject with you. Even if you’ve experienced depression yourself, the symptoms can vary from person to person. There is also a distinct contrast between self-care and helping others.

Link [via Help Guide]

Talking about it

There is a huge difference between approaching your friend to talk to them about concerns you may have about their mental health and your friend approaching you. Whilst the following guide is aimed at university students, the advice it gives regarding initial conversations and what to do afterwards is fantastic and comprehensive.

Link [via Student Minds]

Getting informed

Symptoms and diagnoses are easy to research, but personal experience can sometimes be overlooked. Talking about depression can be a difficult conversation to start for those who need help or support. Mental health organisations Mind and Rethink Mental Illness have put together a “Start your mental health conversation” guide, complimented by personal stories and videos.

Link [via Time to Change]

Knowing your role

Supporting someone going through depression can take its toll, and it’s important to understand the symptoms of burnout so you can support your friend in the best way possible. Sometimes all that means is doing the everyday “friend stuff”, without the pressure to have an in-depth conversation about your friend’s current state of mental health.

“€œThe best thing my friend did for me was that they just accepted me as I was.”

Link [via Mental Health]

If you require additional support or advice, a directory of mental health agencies can be found here.

Mental Health Awareness Week runs from 16-22 May 2016.

Mental Health Awareness Week 2016

Today marks the start of Mental Health Awareness Week 2016. The Mental Health Foundation aims to raise awareness and spark conversations regarding mental health with a different theme each year.  Running from 16-22 May, this year’s theme is relationships, and the role the connections between friends, family, colleagues and others have to mental health.

The organisation has launched a website hosting information and resources. The campaign has highlighted some interesting messages of the importance of relationships in good mental health. It emphasises that connections between people help prolong life and reduce the risk of physical and mental health problems, and that “Investing in your relationships is as important as healthy eating, exercising and not smoking.”

The organisation is also running a “Daily relationship challenge”,  where people can sign up to daily reminders and tips, and a “Relationship resolution” pledge.

Episodes of mental health difficulties can make people feel isolated and unsure of who to turn to. This campaign’s message of the importance of relationships in good mental health is a nice reminder that nobody has to suffer alone.

Mental Health Awareness Week [via the Mental Health Foundation]

The Mental Health Benefits of Walking

As May is National Walking Month 2016, we thought we’d look at the mental health benefits of walking.

The physical benefits of walking are well known. It’s an excellent form of easy exercise that burns fat, encourages bone density, lowers the risk of heart disease and diabetes, and can benefit memory functions. Walking is also excellent for mental health in the following ways:

Walking is exercise, and exercise improves mood

Any type of exercise releases endorphins, and walking is no exception. Endorphins are a hormone which calm and boost mood. A walk of 30 minutes is recommended to start releasing this hormone, but if you can’t walk for that length of time, you can supplement it on either time with gentle exercise such as stretching or even housework.

Walking gets you out and about

Some mental health issues are exacerbated by or have symptoms of isolation, either real or perceived. It’s easy to lose days without leaving the house or going out as little as possible, and walking can help break that cycle. Coupled with the mental health benefits of walking as mentioned above, getting out and about a little bit more can be the first step in improving mental health.

Walking takes time

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the depressive, stressed or anxious thoughts which can wear down mental health. Going for even a short walk can help to interrupt these though patterns, or give you a different space and perspective to tackle them. It also gives you something positive to incorporate into your routine to maintain good mental health.

Walking is cheap and easy

All you need are decent shoes and clothes for whatever weather you’re going out in. You don’t have to invest in any specialist clothing or equipment as you would with other “entry-level” physical activities such as jogging or cycling.

Walking helps you sleep

Exercise is a tiring activity, which can help provide a better night’s sleep. Good sleep is a crucial part of good mental health, as it give you, and your brain, the chance to properly rest and repair.

Walking takes you places

Going for a walk can be a way to discover a whole new side of familiar areas where you live or work. This change in routine and observance of new things can be an excellent way to divert your brain from depressive, stressed or anxious thoughts.

If you’re wanting to use technology to log your travels or get ideas for new routes, we suggest you check out our guide to walking apps:

Walking Apps – What’s Available

National Walking Month 2016

May is National Walking Month 2016. UK Organisation Living Streets is using the official event to launch its #Try20 campaign, which is tasking people with getting out and about for at least 20 minutes a day.

The campaign is highlighting the mental and physical benefits of walking. The website even has a “Walking Bingo” card to print out and use.

Living Streets has also teamed up with Westfield Health to run a #WHWalkingLunch challenge, which encourages workers to “reclaim their lunchbreak, get active and try to walk for twenty minutes in the middle of the day.”

National Walking Month 2016 [via Living Streets]

Walking Lunch Campaign [via Westfield Health]

If you’re wanting to use technology to log your travels or get ideas for new routes, we suggest you check out our guide to walking apps:

Walking Apps – What’s Available

Further Reading: Aphantasia, or “Mind Blindness”

Social media was abuzz after the publication of an article on Facebook on the subject of “mind blindness”. Software developer and entrepreneur Blake Ross wrote about his condition, which he only just discovered had an official name and diagnosis: “I have never visualized anything in my entire life. I can’t “see” my father’s face or a bouncing blue ball, my childhood bedroom or the run I went on ten minutes ago. I thought “counting sheep” was a metaphor. I’m 30 years old and I never knew a human could do any of this. And it is blowing my goddamned mind.”

Aphantasia is the inability to “see” in the mind. The condition was named in 2015 after research published in the science journal Cortex. Researchers named mind blindness by combining the prefix “a,” meaning “absence of,” and “phantasia,” a term used by Aristotle for describing the capacity of the human mind to present unseen visual imagery. Aphantasia therefore literally translates to “absence of fantasy”.

Ross doesn’t suffer from lack of imagination. In addition to being a software developer, he is also a writer. Comparing his own experiences with that of friends, he has discovered that his memory, imagination and thought processes are vastly different: “Overall, I find writing fiction torturous. All writers say this, obviously, but I’ve come to realize that they usually mean the “writing” part: They can’t stop daydreaming long enough to put it on the page. I love the writing and hate the imagining, which is why I churn out 50 dry essays for every nugget of fiction.”

The whole essay is a fascinating insight into a condition which still hasn’t been researched in major depth.

Aphantasia: How It Feels To Be Blind In Your Mind [via Facebook]

For further reading, this article regarding the discovery and classification of mind blindness is excellent:

Picture This? Some Just Can’t [via The New York Times]