On this episode of Lively Minds, the Mental Health Podcast, Ellie and Will reflect on their most memorable moments from the conversations so far and discuss why they resonate.
If you haven’t heard some of the episodes we discuss, don’t worry, we’ll provide enough context for it to make sense. We’ll also mention the episode numbers so you can go back and listen if you’d like to!
E: Hello, my name is Ellie.
W: And my name is Will.
E: You are listening to Lively Minds, a podcast about mental health challenges that go beyond
the ebb and flow of the everyday.
W: A podcast that is less about how we deal with our mental health and more about how we understand it in the first place.
E: So we’ve had some really fascinating conversations on the show, beginning with a conversation with therapist Stuart Ralph about obsessive compulsive disorder and why it’s so misunderstood, folowed by a conversation with artist and activist Dolly Sen about whether mental illness as a concept even exists.
W: Jake Dunn spoke to us about men’s mental health groups and why voluntary and peer support is so important. Psychologist Karen Lowinger talked to us about high functioning mental health problems and why acting okay doesn’t necessarily mean that everything is okay.
E: Professor William Tov talked to us about the definition of happiness while rabbi Robyn Ashworth-Steen spoke about the intersection between faith, feminism and mental health.
W: In today’s show, Ellie and I will be reflecting on the conversations we have had on the podcast so far, highlighting some memorable moments and talking about why they resonate.
E: If you haven’t heard the conversations we talk about, don’t worry, we’ll give enough context for it to make sense, as well as the episode number so you can go back and listen to the episode if you’d like to.
W: And if anything comes up on this show that you need support with right away, you can find signposting to services on our website, anyamedia.net/livelyminds.
W: Okay so this was going to be our final episode of season one but … Ellie and I have a little bit of news, exciting news, which is that we are planning to just try continuing season one for a little bit longer and we’ve decided that we’re going to try releasing episodes once every two weeks from now on. So please do stay tuned for episodes arriving every fortnight. Thank you so much to everybody who has been donating via our Buy Me A Coffee page which is buymeacoffee.com/livelyminds. That money will be going into keeping, err the podcast going for the foreseeable.
So, Ellie, Hi!
E: Hi, Will.
E: How are you?
E: I am good. It feels very strange that we’re recording this already, because in one sense we’ve spent a really long time working on this just because we’ve been doing it around our other commitments and health and things. But yeah, it still seems bonkers that we’re here now, but in a good way. And I’m very happy that we’re continuing it.
W: Yeah, no, it’s been some, there’ve been some really fascinating conversations. We’ve been
getting some fantastic feedback as well.
So in terms of memorable moments to talk about, we’re going to begin with our interview with William Tov, which I think for both of us was quite a memorable interview. Urm, William was episode six, if people want to go back to listen to that. William spoke to us about the definition of happiness.
E: Yeah, it was just amazing. And, you know, in a way, it seems strange that it felt almost like a novelty that someone was studying happiness academically. But actually, what could be more important than that, than studying and figuring out how to increase happiness? Basically, it’s just really stuck with me because I find myself thinking, if I’m struggling, particularly if I’m struggling a bit like existentially, rather than just with my mood. I’ve found it a really helpful way to kind of zoom out and deconstruct how I’m feeling. So he was talking about how your level of happiness or whether you are or are not in the state of happiness is highly interlinked to like your expectations of where you thought you either would or should be and your priorities within that. So we talked a lot about all these different identities that we have. And I think to be honest, I think it’s the expectations one that really hit home and has kind of really helped me to frame a lot of what’s going on at the moment because, you know, I experienced so many sudden health problems that in my kind of, I guess, late teenage and early adulthood, kind of planned trajectory of where my life was going to go. You know, I’ve not been able to do lots of those things and I won’t ever be able to do some of those things. And so it was really kind of, I don’t know, it’s kind of therapeutic to realise that actually it’s okay for me to feel this, it’s anger really, it’s like frustration and because my expectations were so different.
And the priority thing as well I found really helpful because you know people have so many different priorities depending on your kind of family structure, if you’re a parent, how you regard your career, things like that and kind of been working out like how it’s kind have taught me to zoom out again and look at what it is that I prioritise and what seems to affect my happiness most. So I’ve just found it really, really helpful and that’s something that I’ve definitely going to take away with me for quite, forever, really. I found it really fascinating.
W: And on the expectations thing, unpack that for me a little bit more. So are you saying that by being aware of what expectations you had in order to attain happiness at some point in your past life, that you can be more philosophical about whether or not you have attained them in your present life? Or have I got that completely wrong?
E: I think it’s more the, like the kind of maybe anger and frustration that I might feel at myself now. I have to remember that it’s not that I’m not achieving or doing things well for where I’m at at the moment. The anger and frustration is, it’s part of the, you know grieving a possible life and grieving a past life, which is something that is talked about in chronic illness academic circles as well. And it’s such a real thing. And maybe we do an episode about that in the future.
E: But it’s, you know, like, reminding myself that the, I don’t know, if I’m feeling sort of like emptiness and dissatisfaction or whatever, it’s like, actually, it’s all part of that grieving from what I’d expected, what I had hoped to be able to do and the things that I’ve not and now won’t be able to do through no fault of my own or anyone else’s.
W: Yeah. And so it’s, in simply understanding better why you’re feeling a particular way helps with countering
W: or dealing with those feelings,
W: which actually, going to the nub of what this show is about is really interesting because whilst we say, you know, this show is less about how we deal with our mental health and more about how we understand it in the first place. It kind of follows if you can understand it in the first place.
E: How you deal with it might help
W: helps with how you deal with it. I think that’s really interesting.
E: Yeah, definitely. What about you? What was so memorable about William’s conversation for you?
W: For me, the thing about the conversation really that struck home was towards the end where
William was talking about two, broadly, two approaches within academia to measure happiness
specifically in relation to mental health and people who may be experiencing mental health challenges.
Er, one of those ways was um, this idea that people should be asked about their wellbeing
through a series of questions and that they will report back on how they’re feeling and that will be used to measure their happiness, right? So quite a straightforward approach. Um, and that would be asked within this framework, this idea that everybody has, er, different feelings, and everybody has a range of different feelings, and that people who are experiencing mental health problems may just be experiencing feelings that are at the extremes of these parameters, maybe outside normal range, er, you might, you might call it.
The second approach that he talked about was this idea that actually in some cases somebody with a mental illness er, might be the worst positioned to judge their own state of well-being and their own state of happiness. And he gave the example of somebody with a drug addiction er, who may feel on top of the world at times, but that, in actual fact, that might not be er, a true reflection of their well-being and their happiness. And I thought it was really interesting, because I’ve never really thought of it in those ways. I should point out that Professor Tov did say that he felt quite uncomfortable with the second of those methods,
W: i.e. this idea that you…
E: deciding for someone else,
W: deciding for somebody else. So I should just clarify that, but I thought that him laying out those two approaches was really fascinating. It kind of taps into that idea again around agency and around to what extent people with mental health challenges are in control of the way that they interpret how well they’re doing or not, I guess.
E: Yeah. And it’s really interesting on that self-reporting thing, which is like always an interesting you know bit of research basically because, um I think scientists are always like how much could you trust people, but um my opinion I think would be you can trust people to tell you how they’re feeling but um I remember like asking and trying to unpick it a bit with him about um like what’s the difference is happiness mood or like what’s the where does the line get drawn between then, because I you know will think well, well, am I overall unhappy? ‘Cause to me it’s a longer term thing that I think I think of as like an overall state of being.
Am I unhappy? Or am I feeling really low today?
And the two things might be different. So I think that’s what I was asking him about ‘cause he said that one of the ways that they took those self reports was like people doing daily, like diary entries. But then that by definition, I think you’d be reporting on your kind of mood, wouldn’t you?
W: Yeah. So if anybody wants to listen to that episode with Professor William Tov from Singapore Management University, er, he was interviewed in episode six. So do go out back and check that out. We’re going to go to a very short break now.
W: We are a brand new podcast, so it would really help us out if you could rate our show. If you’re listening to this podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Podchaser, Stitcher, Castbox, Podcast Addict, GoodPods, Acast, Amazon or Audible, you can rate our show. Please take a few seconds to do so. And why not tell a couple of friends or share your favourite episode on social media. It really helps others to find the podcast and build momentum behind the show.
W: So Ellie, do you want to take us through your next memorable moment?
E: Yeah, I mean, you know, without trying, without sounding too sycophantic, every moment I spend with my wonderful rabbi Robyn, is a memorable moment, which is why we invited her on the show. So yeah, I loved that episode because she managed to talk about and cover, like, quite a lot of ground in what was essentially quite a short interview. There was a lot about the intersect of feminism and responsibility and community or responsibility in community, the impact of community therefore on mental health. And then obviously spirituality is kind of the overall context for that conversation because Robyn was talking about her experiences as kind of a rabbi and a female, female leader in kind of, in a leadership position for a community and everything that rabbi Robyn said about how her Judaism helps, like, is integral, is just an integral part of who she is and her identity as well as an integral part of her mental health being, you know, good or well, completely chimes with me. And I have had some conversations with her before and on her podcast, ‘Rabbiting On’ with the two other female rabbis, there was an interesting episode where we talked about the kind of different expectations of a female theological leader or a female leader in a community group and expectations of male ones and there’s a lot of, you know, gendered stereotypes that the female leader’s role is to mother and that they should be more emotionally engaged and more emotionally responsible for people in the community. But obviously that’s not a sustainable thing and I just thought that she spoke about it really beautifully of how actually this idea of being responsible to a community rather than responsible for a community.
And within a community, even with leaders and different roles and things, whether or not there is some kind of hierarchical structure in place, everyone can be responsible to the community without anyone having to be responsible for it on their own. And actually that builds the, thatallows the community to look after one another better and be more resilient.
W: And for the benefit of listeners who might not have heard that episode yet, just summarise
what you interpret the key difference being between being responsible for something or
someone and being responsible to something or someone.
E: The example Robyn gave was actually really good, which was, which was her son. She also gave an example which we both share. We both have slightly strange black cats. So the difference is I am responsible for my cat because without me her basic needs are not met and she needs me to take her to the vet and buy food and do all those things. And in the same way that if you’re a parent you are responsible for your child in that sense. You are not responsible for the behaviours, words and actions of everyone around you. And that’s not to promote some kind of rugged individualist idea where it’s like you look after yourself and you have nothing to do with anyone else’s life. That’s obviously not true. We’re completely inter, interrelated social beings. So that’s why you’re responsible to instead. So your thought would be I have an ongoing responsibility to those around me to, you know, be kind, be caring, what I can, try my best, always try my best. But if they are still struggling and they are still really sad, it’s not my fault. I’m not the person who is responsible for all of the things that go wrong around you.
W: And I think you’ve kind of illustrated there, kind of how that would influence one’s own mental wellbeing because I guess it’s about um, reducing feelings of guilt and responsibility, especially for people in leadership, but I guess that it could apply to anybody couldnt it, anybody who feels responsible for anyone or towards anybody in any situation.
E: Yeah, like I used to. It’s been different since I got poorly, actually it’s a good thing that’s come out of it. It’s like, don’t do this as much anymore. But I remember before many of my millions of hours of therapy, I very much like prioritised everyone else’s you know, emotions and wellbeing before me and it only ever leads to burn out, exhaustion and you not being well and you’re then not able to continue looking after people. So it doesn’t help anyone.
W. Mmmmm. And I think that we’ve said after the episode recording with Robyn that to do a podcast or a series of podcasts, even on the interplay between religion or faith and mental health would be a really interesting one to do. I mean,
E: sure would.
W: People know, I considered myself an atheist, although I did have a religious upbringing, and of course you, Ellie, are Jewish. And when you first started talking about what Robyn said on the podcast, you were referring to Robyn talking about how her Judaism is an important way of framing and being able to work towards a good mental health. Is that the same for you?
E: Yeah, definitely. I think, I mean, one of the things is that, also I was brought up Protestant and then was an atheist for most of my life and then converted to Judaism like three or four years ago. So, which again, actually, if you’d asked me 10 years ago, if I thought that would happen in the future, I’d have been like, what? No! But um yeah, part of it’s the community. But it’s, you’re part of a community that is broader and, you know, if I had to move to a different country suddenly at the last minute and I knew no one there, I hope I would find a home immediately in a reform synagogue, you know, there’s like a sort of global interconnected thing there. But I think mentally for me it is a lot about the philosophy of not so much how I feel, but how people are, like how and why people behave in certain ways and with one another, I feel like that kind of space that I have, and it’s a very like, very wonderful reform community. And I think I felt for the first time that all of my thoughts are safe there, or welcome there, or… because, you know, we just discuss, we question everything all the time, but in a way that’s not exhausting or contrite, it’s safe to say, “I’m struggling to understand this” and um, you know, it just, it’s, yeah, maybe I just like talking about these things.
W: It’s really good to hear. It’s really good to hear because I think as well there’s some interesting conversations about some of the more er, negative impacts that faith and religion can have on people and their mental health, often at no fault, as it were, of, um the people around that individual. And I’ve certainly had some fascinating conversations with other people about that.
W: And it’s a fascinating area to talk about. And so yeah, definitely I think, as I say, perhaps not a single episode, but perhaps maybe two or three episodes dedicated to that would be really interesting in the future.
E: Yeah. What about yours then Will?
W: So my second memorable moment was with Dolly Sen, who we interviewed for episode, episode three of the podcast. Yeah, I thought Dolly was great. I mean, I think the thing that really struck me about something that she said to us was that, you know, on the one hand, it’s great that people are being much more open about mental health stuff. And it’s changed quite quickly, I think. I mean, just, I mean, from my own experience, anecdotally, I just feel that in the past decade, it’s been transformational, really, how much more people talk about mental health now than people did 10 years ago even. At the same time, she talks about how there’s a divide opening up between what one might call acceptable mental health conversations and unacceptable mental health conversations. Or at least what society might perceive as such. She’s not saying that’s how she perceives it, but how society might perceive it. And the example that she gave was, on the one hand, there is this encouragement to talk about, for example, anxiety, er which obviously is very common, and er for many people a very serious, mental health challenge. And that’s kind of seen as acceptable to talk about. But then if she if she was to enter a conversation with somebody and say that she thought that she was Jesus, then that would be not such a… I mean, she was like,
“Well, what were people saying in response to that? If I’m convinced that I’m Jesus, then, I mean how do you even begin a conversation about that?” I thought it was interesting because
it chimes back in with what William Tov was saying about to what extent are we able to be the judge of a particular scenario, a particular situation in terms of how we perceive it ourselves or how other people out there might perceive it. One, you know, one could argue that in that scenario, it is very difficult to have a conversation with somebody who thinks that they’re Jesus. On the other hand, you could say, “Well, that’s their frame of mind at that moment in time, and you’ve got to go with it. You’ve got to have the conversation, still have the conversation and go with it.”
E: Yeah: it’s like one of the next things we need to change in how we view mental health, we’re in the sort of like Western public sphere because it’s like post enlightenment society that we’re still living in, prioritises like rationality and logic and things like, binary everything. So experiences that are on a spectrum between two identifiable things like feeling happy and feeling really depressed, um, and feeling excited and feeling anxious, people can potentially hold those conversations more easily and are more open to talking, not just talking about it, but open to listening to it. And that’s what the issue is with like what Dolly was saying, isn’t it? Um, whereas experiences that are described as like psychosis, they’re outside of that framework and people just, are just terrified.
W: Yeah, well, it really, yeah, it really reminded me of the conversation with Stuart that we had in episode two about OCD and how misunderstood it is. And I kind of do feel that OCD straddles the so-called acceptable and unacceptable conversations that society as a whole is permitted, is, is willing to have around mental health. Because on the one hand, you have contamination OCD, which is incorrectly depicted very often of course in TV programs and is kind of portrayed as this comedic personality quirk. And I feel that society, I’m using the word society very grandly and very generalistically here, I know, but I think that there’s willingness to have those kinds of conversations around something like that. But then other aspects of OCD, which are the more misunderstood aspects of OCD around, for example, intrusive thoughts, um, I think people are much… those are conversations where people are much less likely to be willing to have those conversations and be much less likely to want to listen, as you say, to those kinds of conversations as well. So OCD, for me, it’s a fascinating one in that it does straddle those two things. And I should say that the episode with Stuart Ralph is episode two, if anybody wants to listen to that. It’s a really good one, just trying to demystify and debunk some of the myths around obsessive compulsive disorder. And Rabbi Robyn was episode seven. Shall we go to another break?
E: We would really like to find out from you what mental health topics interest you the most and what you think we should cover on our show. Get in touch with us on twitter at livelymindspod or email us at email@example.com. That’s firstname.lastname@example.org.
W: And so we’re now on to our third and final memorable moment each. And for me, I’m going to choose a conversation with Jake Dunn, which was episode four, if anybody wants to listen back to it. Jake talked to us about men’s mental health groups and the responsibility that people within communities have to look after each other’s mental wellbeing. And I think it resonated with me because there was a lot in there that reminded me of this notion of community spirit and this idea that a community that is, the more together a community is and the more there’s a sense of belonging between members of a community, the healthier that community is and the more well and the better well-being that community feels. And I still very much believe that. Um, I think it’s quite a fundamental aspect of, of, of, mental health. And, um, I grew up in a part of Newcastle in the West End called Arthur’s Hill, which um, at the time certainly had a reputation for being a really rough area, um, and it was a really tough area. But um, you know I always say that it was ‘happiest days of me’ life because there was that really genuine raw and real community spirit. People really did look after each other. Um, and um, I do miss that a lot and because I’m quite an introvert, you know, I hard, I kind of know my upstairs neighbours a little bit enough to say hello to, neighbours on either side of me – don’t know them at all. I mean, they are student properties, which of course means there’s a very high turnover of people going in and out of those.
W: That’s probably one reason, but I’m generally quite an introverted person and quite, you know, that’s, by the way, I should just say I’m not using introvert in a pejorative sense at all there I think introverts rule introverts rock, I should say, nothing wrong with being an introvert.
E: I’m not an introvert in case anyone hadn’t guessed.
W: But I do think that there’s an interesting point there. But I also think it’s an interesting point because um, whilst on the one hand, I completely agree with what Jake was saying about the responsibility of communities to look after each other’s mental wellbeing. I also think it kind of points towards that huge gap in mental health services
W: and the real problems around mental health provision. And whilst I completely agree on one level, I think on the other level, it’s, it’s, kind of shines a light once more on that and also on the resulting self-help culture has kind of developed on one hand, on the one hand because it’s had to, but also kind of on the other hand has developed because it’s also a bit of a cash cow for certain authors and podcasters
W: and people who like to think that they’ve got products that will, you know, and I think another episode without a doubt that we need to look at is an episode about the wellbeing industry. That’s a definite episode I want to do in the future.
W: As Ellie said in the break everybody please do email us or contact us on Twitter at livelymindspod to let us know what topics you’d like to cover. But yeah, that was, that was, a memorable moment for me from Jake’s interview.
E: And also, it was Men’s Mental Health Week when we spoke to him, wasn’t it? And I think it was good to hear that sometimes those communities that you’re in can, and their expectations on your male identity can hamper, like you looking after yourself or you looking after others or others looking after you. So I thought that was interesting to have that perspective as well.
E: Absolutely. I thought it was fascinating. And I think also it’s really important that, you know, um, whilst on the one hand, of course, within everyday discourse on social media, there are, there is ongoing never ending debates about about gender and about gender identity. And I think it’s really, I think it was really important in that episode that we kind of highlighted that really what being a ‘man’ means and how that intersects with your mental health is different for everybody. It’s different for every single individual. And I think that there are some very unhelpful gender stereotypes that are out there which fit actually very, very few men, um, male gender stereotypes out there that actually fit very, very few men, um regardless of whether you’re gay or straight or whether you are a trans male or cis male. I think that there is a really unhelpful, um, there’s some really unhelpful ideas out there and pervasive ideas out there that are perpetuated around, around manhood, which aren’t just actuallyin the episode I mentioned in the media. I kept going on about the media, but I’m not even sure if it’s just the media. I think it’s also just, it’s kind of embedded in, I think it’s a cultural thing. It’s quite a deep cultural thing as well, I think, that we find too, by which I mean families. And I mean, you know, I think that’s another interesting angle on it too.
E: I think my other memorable moment was our first episode that was me and you
E: Discoursing away, arguing, what do we call it? Just because that’s where the whole, you know, idea of us wanting to do it came from was basically just us having those conversations either on Zoom or in person. And so, you know, those conversations will never not be interesting or enjoyable for me. And because like, our opinions aren’t even particularly, very different, actually, it’s just, and that’s why I think I enjoy the conversation because I see it from your side about, you know, how the diagnostic experience can be so positive for you, um, and how it is for some people. And like one of mine even was as well so it’s, you know, I do, I do get it and I think it’s just really good to keep having those conversations because by far the most interesting conversations about or talks about mental health that I ever experience are with, huh! people talking about their own experience and just kind of through their own lens. Yeah, I think I just find it really interesting that we do actually have a pretty similar lens, but like the light shines off certain things a bit differently. Almost. That was a bit too poetic.
W: Wow. That’s a very poetic way of putting it.
W: That’s great. No, I like it. I like it.
Yes. I mean, just again, for people who may not have heard that episode yet, it is episode one of our show. And it’s really just Ellie and I introducing ourselves and introducing our general philosophical takes on how we frame our own mental health challenges or our own mental health. And I think what comes out of that is that it could be argued, although I think it’s very arguable. And as Ellie says, I think there’s probably a head breadth of a difference really in the way that we kind of politically certainly, kind of view the world of mental health. It could be argued that I maybe have a slightly more medicalised approach to my own mental health than Ellie has towards Ellie’s mental health, but that is, there are huge caveats thrown in with that.
And er, I thought, and those caveats, of course, are really fascinating to discuss in themselves, as is that it may only be a hair breadth difference, but it’s still a really fascinating difference to discuss, err, because I think it kind of, in a sense, what’s really useful about that is it, it kind of represents the broadly the debate within mental health more broadly, doesn’t it, in terms of, you know, on the one side, you’ve got what I would call the sort of politicisation of mental health, which I think is absolutely necessary, err, where we talk about our, people’s mental health problems being as much, if not, well more probably, rooted in things like social injustice,
W: and err trauma and things that are going on in their, in that person’s lives and often with a political dimension to it. And on the complete opposite end of the scale, of course, we’ve got, there is something wrong with your brain. There is something chemically wrong with your brain and you need medication to sort it out, please, or whatever. It may not even be medication, it might be you need therapy to sort it out, but fundamentally the problem is within you, within the brain. And I think that, you know, that’s a, in some ways it’s kind of quite a good point to finish off this episode on in a way, because I guess what we’re doing is coming full circle
W: back to the sort of founding principles of what prism people look at mental health through. And of course, what’s interesting really for me, isn’t so much, well, I guess it is, we’ve been interesting to explore one extreme or the other of those, but it’s the places, It’s a space in between, isn’t it? Where I think there is some really interesting conversations. And also where certainly you and I find a lot of common ground.
E: Yeah, Yeah
W: Because,I certainly, whilst I personally find that the medical and medicalised approaches is a useful approach for me to understand my own mental health challenges, I completely and utterly get and subscribe to the, how vital it is to politicise mental health and mental health care as well. I think it’s vital.
W: And so that’s another podcast. We’re coming up with so many ideas. Have you come up with
some new podcasts?
E: Oh my God, so I made up a spreadsheet and it’s like, it’s getting ridiculous.
But yeah, we definitely are not running out of things to talk about. And as we say, like, if there’s anything you would like to hear more about, um any topics you’d like us to discuss or think about, please do just let us know on Twitter at livelymindspod or by emailing us at email@example.com
W: So thanks so much everybody for listening and please do tune in again in two weeks time
for another episode of Livelyminds, the Mental Health Podcast.
E: Please note that this show does not constitute medical or therapeutic advice and is not a replacement for seeking professional help. You can find signposting to support on our website at www.anyamedia.net/livelyminds
W: Take care and bye for now.
E: Bye bye!