Category: Emotions

World Mental Health Day

“Shake it off.”
“Why don’t you just relax.”
“Get over yourself.”
“Snap out if it.”

Some of the comments often said to those battling mental health issues.

“It’s all in your head.” That’s another and it’s very on the ball – as yes, indeed, it is all in your head! Depression and anxiety is exhausting as it is a battle all taking place in your own head. Your own mind. Your own psyche.

October 10th is World Mental Health Day is an annual event “with the overall objective of raising awareness of mental health issues around the world and mobilising efforts in support of mental health.” (WHO)

This World Mental Health Day we attended St Nicolas’ Hospital, an NHS psychiatric hospital located in Gosforth, Newcastle upon Tyne.

The day had  a double celebration – raising mental health awareness AND celebrating the 150th year of St Nicolas’.

The day was staged in The Grade ll listed Jubilee Theatre within St. Nicolas’ and was purposefully built for staff and patients of the Hospital in 1900.

A beautiful space, featuring a proscenium arch of Doulton tiles by W.J. Neatby, depicting two pre-Raphaelite figures. Absolutely gorgeous! The day opened with an introduction by the welcoming Ken Jarrold CBE the Chair of Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust; leading into a question and answer performance led by Races Around The World’s friend, David Faulkner, with former Lindisfarne musicians Ray Laidlaw and Billy Mitchell fresh from their sold-out second run of the play ‘Clear White Light’ at Newcastle’s Live Theatre along with the play’s director Joe Douglas.

L-R: Lindisfarne's Ray Laidlaw and Billy Mitchell, Director Joe Douglas, Host David Faulkner

L-R: Lindisfarne musicians Ray Laidlaw and Billy Mitchell, Director Joe Douglas, Host David Faulkner

Ray and Billy discussed the late Lindisfarne member Alan Hull who worked at St. Nicolas’ and wrote many of the songs featured in ‘Clear White Light’ during his time there.

Ray and Billy were wonderfully entertaining, relaxed and funny. Their acoustic performances were divine and engaging. Charming, informative and inspiring. Though talk about bad timing during the song ‘Lady Eleanor’…

We, the audience, loved it and the session was over far too quickly!

Taster sessions on mindfulness, chanting and sleep, amongst others, were staged.
As well as a talk around the history of St. Nicolas’ by former nurse Peter Nicol.

Such a thought-provoking, fascinating presentation:
How the patients were heavily worked (termed ‘slave labour’) and were referred to as “idiots”, “lunatics”, “hysterical (women)”.

Thank god we’ve moved on from those days!

So a brilliant effort by the Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust Communications Team, the voluntary participants, everyone in attendance. And remember to look after your own mental health.


Let It Snow …

“This was a lovely idea, to come for a Winter walk around the park,” Mum said.

“It’s bloody freezing,” I reply.

“I told you to put a hat and scarf on,” Mum scolded.

“I know. But I have some street cred. Not much. But some,” as I say as pull my collar up.

A Winter walk always seems like a good idea, until the temperature drops one degree too much – or you put a hat and scarf on.
I am in the latter, as Mum is snuggly in her padded jacket, boots and hat. This is why she’s the Mother…

We’re in Heaton Park, a tireless Victorian park, just a twenty minute slow walk from Newcastle city centre. It’s one of five linked parks that make up Ouseburn Parks. The other four parks are Jesmond Dene, Jesmond Vale, Paddy Freeman’s Park and Armstrong Park. The whole area was open to the people of Newcastle from 1884.

“Thought there’d be a few more people about,” Mum says as we more or less have the wide walkway that encompasses the entire park to ourselves. “Just the dog walkers, really.”

I nod, as I see a dog taking a dump up ahead.

The owner of which looks around for the dog and runs back with her poop bag to do a bit of scooping.

“It’s nice to hear how quiet it is,” I say.

“To HEAR how quiet it is…?” Mum laughs. “I know. Who would think we weren’t far from the city centre?” she agreed.

There’s no kids crying, parents shouting after them, gangs of people talking.

Heaton Park has a mix of promenades, hidden walkways and vast greenery. There’s a children’s playground, a Bowling Green and Victorian pavilion, which is now an Italian restaurant. Plus the remains of a mediaeval mansion.

All open and free to the public all year round.

Frost remains on the leaves of the bushes and hedges, as well as the grass. All of them glisten in the low afternoon sun.

“I love this kind of Winter weather, when everything looks peaceful,” Mum said thoughtfully.

Different types of birds sing their hearts out, which resonate around the trees, giving an ethereal feel as we continue our stroll.

“How lovely to hear the birds. They sound bright and happy.” I say.

“Don’t blame them when it’s so quiet. Bet they are loving it,” Mum said.

“Probably asking what each wants for their tea!” I joke.

Some people are sitting outside at the restaurant, eating. That’s real al fresco dedication for you! No one was in either of the kiddies playgrounds.

I see another dog take a dump, this time immediately in front of us. As we walk by, I wait for the stench to hit my nostrils… The owner is quick off the mark and plucks it up into a bag as if it were a daffodil.

A flurry of snow begins landing on the ground. It begins to lie. The weather forecasters were right. Snow, ice, freezing temperatures, travel chaos and our last leisurely stroll for a while.

“Here comes the snow,” I say as I pull my collar up.

“I told you that you put a hat and scarf on,” Mum smiled as she pulled down her hat, holier-than-thou.

Trust, Openness, Honesty and Connection: The Right Ingredients to Have a Conversation about Mental Health

As it’s Time To Change’s Time to Talk Day 2019 we asked our friendmental health author Martin Baker to guest blog for us!

I’m grateful for the invite to write for RACES AROUND THE WORLD to mark #TimeToTalkDay. This year’s theme is “bringing together the right ingredients to have a conversation about mental health.” But what are those right ingredients?

In our book, High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder, my best friend and coauthor Fran Houston and I described what we believe are the key skills and attributes for a successful caring friendship where one friend lives with mental illness.
“…. while there is no great secret to share, there are qualities which are crucial to our success as friends. We trust each other, we are open and honest, and we love to connect.” (High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder, Chapter 1, “The Caring Friendship.”)

These same qualities — trust, openness, honesty, and a willingness to connect — enable the kind of safe space for people to share what might be going on for them. What does this look like, though? How can we hold that safe space in which to meet and share? Meaningful conversations require trust on both sides. Each person needs to trust the other, and themselves. Can I trust you to hear what I need to say without judging me? Do I trust myself to hold space for you to share what is going on for you?

These are not trivial questions. It can be hard to hear what someone is saying without interrupting, without judging them or their situation, without offering fixes or our own stories, thinking our experiences must be helpful and wanted. (“Oh that happened to me a few years ago, let me tell you what I did …”) Honesty can also be intensely challenging. What you hear may trigger responses in you that you did not anticipate, or find difficult to handle. It’s okay to acknowledge this honestly and let the person know you are unable to be present for them right now.

Openness isn’t necessarily about sharing everything with everyone. In fact, it is unhealthy and unwise to do so unless you are very sure of the other person and your relationship. Likewise, don’t insist or expect the other person to open fully to you all at once. Give yourselves permission to share only as much as you both feel comfortable with. That said, pay attention to what might lie behind or between the words being spoken.

Perhaps the most important ingredient is the willingness to connect. Be the person — perhaps the only person in your friend’s life — who will hear them; who won’t judge or make excuses, ignore a call or run away. Let people know you are open to talk — and to listen — when they need someone to be there. This doesn’t mean dropping everything every time at a moment’s notice, but it does mean making a commitment never to ignore a phone call, a text or an instant message. That commitment itself can be a powerful thing.

Living with mental illness isn’t all about crises and suicidal thinking, of course. There’s no reason why mental health shouldn’t be as accepted and regular a topic of conversation as any other aspect of our lives. You will learn a lot, about the other person for sure but also about yourself. You know what they say. It’s good to talk. It’s even better to listen.

About the Author
Martin Baker graduated in pharmacy from the University of Bradford in 1983 and completed three years’ postgraduate research at the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London. Despite this background he had little awareness of mental illness until a chance online encounter in 2011 with American writer and photographer Fran Houston.
Fran lives with bipolar disorder and other conditions. Despite living 3,000 miles apart Martin became – and remains – Fran’s primary caregiver. Their book High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder inspires and informs others who support a friend or loved one living with a mental health condition.

Certified in Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) and ASIST, Martin is a member of NAMI, Mind, and Bipolar UK. He is a Champion of the Time to Change anti-stigma campaign led by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness.

You can contact Martin on his website/blog (, Twitter (@GumOnMyShoeBook) or Facebook (

If you are struggling with your mental health, remember you are not alone and can reach out to the following:

Samaritans (UK and Ireland)
08457 90 90 90 (UK)
1850 60 90 90 (Republic of Ireland)

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (USA)
1-800-273-TALK (8255)

There are also online support services for those who cannot, or prefer not to, use the phone:
Crisis Text Line offers a free, 24/7 (USA) text line for people in crisis. Text 741741 to connect with a live, trained crisis counselor. (

Dial House (Leeds, UK) offers support in person, by phone, British Sign Language (BSL), text, and Skype. (

Safeline (UK) offers support to people in their journey through sexual abuse and rape, by email, phone, live chat, and social media. (

Silhouettes In The Sand

“I haven’t been up and out this early on a Sunday morning since I can remember,” said Mum as she looked out of the car window at the landscape flashing by.

We were driving to attend Pages Of The Sea at Roker Beach in Sunderland from our native Newcastle. Now normally there is rivalry between us Geordies and them Mackems, thanks to our opposing football teams. But not today. Today we would all be as one to mark the centenary of the end of WW1.

‘On selected beaches around the UK, over the course of several hours, a portrait of an individual from the First World War will emerge from the sand. And then, as the tide rises, be washed away as we take a moment to say a collective goodbye.’ –

We’d set off extra early to ensure we arrived for the 11am two minutes silence, as well as make sure we got parked.

We parked up at Roker Harbour View and were out of the car as a lady shouted at me: “Look out! Dog poo!!!”

Too late – I stepped right in it!

A massive s**t sat on the pavement, in front of a dog waste bin too. Like it was mocking me.

The lady who’d shouted at me had come closer: “You’re best off walking on the sand to get it off,” she suggested.

I thanked her and told Mum to walk toward Roker Beach and I’d cut across the sand to meet her there. This was a great idea, bar the sand having mini dunes protruding up making it feel like I was crossing the Sahara. I checked the time, nearly 11am, and then tripped, falling arse over tit.

I met back up with Mum just as the two minute silence began, covered head to toe in wet sand but dog poo free!

Pages Of The Sea began with huge sand portrait of Second Lieutenant Hugh Carr (born in Sunderland Street, Houghton-Le-Spring, County Durham) bring carved while members of the public created, from templates, silhouettes of loved ones on the shoreline sands.

Looking at these, I turned to Mum: “What made you want to come today?”

“It’s once in a lifetime event. Brings it home how brave the soldiers were.”
She paused. “It’s quite emotional, looking at the different notices people have placed around and on the silhouettes – watching people writing sand inscriptions, putting photos of their lost loved ones on the silhouettes they’ve drawn.

Mum stands amongst the sand silhouettes

I feel attending has made me think of connections between the WW1 and today as we wouldn’t have the life and freedom we have had they not fought for us.”

“It’s been excellent,” I said. “Really good that lots of people have attended.”

“Everyone seems to have enjoyed the event. People have shown respect; been thoughtful. It’s been a wonderful experience,” Mum continued.

“What have you liked best?” I asked.

“I’ve liked all of it,” Mum replied. “The choir singing was excellent, the atmosphere. I will remember the whole day. What a lovely thing it is for everyone to come together…I will always remember the silhouettes in the sand.”

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