The end of an era and new beginnings for BRIC

At the beginning of 2019 the Brain Research Imaging Centre (BRIC: also known as Edinburgh Imaging Facility WGH) celebrated its 21st year of  neuroimaging research in brain health and common brain diseases. In summer 2019, with the Department of Clinical Neurosciences relocating from the Western General Hospital to Edinburgh BioQuarter, so too will the staff of BRIC.

In a big year for BRIC we invited Ian Marshall to share with us his memories of working in imaging at the Western General Hospital.

Ian is Professor of Magnetic Resonance Physics and first started working with Clinical Neurosciences in 1992 before moving across to a University senior lectureship in 1996.

Buckets, hosepipes and electric pumps

When the first NHS MRI scanner was installed in Clinical Neurosciences at the Western General Hospital in 1992, my head of department at the time (Prof Norman McDicken) suggested that I should “go down there, see what it’s all about, and assist them”. And so began a long association.

In those early days, I acted as the MR expert, advising on the scanning and data analysis, and teaching the basics to trainee radiologists. I also laid down some of the research themes that have continued ever since.

The new scanner soon became busy with clinical imaging, and physics development work had to be done out of hours. I remember coming in early on numerous occasions to carry out flow studies involving buckets of water, hosepipes and electric pumps, working alone in the scanner room before the radiographers came to work. It wouldn’t be allowed nowadays!

Major funding meets fun runs and mountain climbing

When Joanna Wardlaw returned from a consultant neuroradiology post in Glasgow in 1994, she initiated a bid for a dedicated research MRI scanner to be housed adjacent to the NHS facility. Eventually, major funding was awarded by SHEFC (now the Scottish Funding Council, SFC), the Medical Research Council and scanner manufacturer Elscint.

Additional funding was raised from charities, individuals, and through events including several balls, the Edinburgh Science Festival and a sponsored fun run in Holyrood Park. A personal highlight for me was a 3 Peaks Challenge, in which a determined group of us climbed Snowdon, Scafell Pike and Ben Nevis within 24 hours.

Construction woes

Work began on constructing the facility in autumn 1997. It didn’t help that the main steam pipe for the WGH runs directly under the building and there was concern that the scanner’s magnetic field would be affected.

Compensating iron plates were included in the building and, thankfully, everything turned out well with the scanner beginning operation in March 1998.



Evening News fame

Journalists visited in November, and my mugshot featured in an article in the Edinburgh Evening News. An early highlight was our first ever functional imaging (fMRI) study in December 1998, in which a volunteer moved the fingers of one hand or the other during continuous brain imaging. Activation of the contralateral motor cortex regions could be seen in the processed images. This was the first of a series of pilot fMRI projects involving informatics and psychology.

The scanner itself was to be short-lived. Following Elscint’s takeover by General Electric (GE), it was replaced by a mainstream GE Signa model in December 1999. The completed facility was officially opened as the Scottish Brain Imaging Research Centre (SBIRC) in May 2000.

SBIRC becomes BRIC
With two subsequent upgrades, the scanner has continued to give good service up to the present day, having completed almost 30,000 scans. Along the way, SBIRC became the more pronounceable BRIC. High-impact research output has led to Edinburgh becoming world-leading in understanding the causes of cerebrovascular disease, stroke and dementia, and underpins international guidelines on imaging in stroke.

A bright imaging future
The facility is now part of Edinburgh Imaging, a consortium that hosts multiple scanners for research imaging studies and has more than 100 affiliated staff. This represents a fantastic resource for the future, and it all began with BRIC.

Simulated neurosurgery – a student story

By first year medical student, Nandaja Narayanan 

As part of Brain Awareness Week 2019, Edinburgh Medical School held an interactive performance of simulated brain surgery, featuring state-of-the-art surgical technology.

The event required organisation from many parties to make the event a success — from liaising with local schools and widening participation in S4 to S6 pupils, to communicating with groups in order to set up several stalls.

A journey through the brain

The event featured an unbelievable variety of stalls, taking the attendees on a journey through the brain’s anatomy, recent research in the area, as well as the possible ways of integrating art and music with medicine.

These stalls ranged from ArtBeat (who teach anatomy using art) displaying and making clay hearts, to the SurgicalSoc stall where one could get the feel of what level of manual skills are required in laparoscopy.

One attendee found the NeuroSoc stall especially engaging, where a couple of model skulls with craniotomies made it easier to visualise how a surgeon can gain an access to the brain without injuring its delicate structure.

Simulating brain surgery

The simulated brain surgery crowned the evening. With its captivating plot and professionals from the field explaining each movement, it kept participants focused throughout the whole performance. The audience interaction via Kahoot was especially successful, one participant remarked:

By challenging myself to answer the questions I did not only have fun, but I could also really feel that I’m a part of the event.

Survivor stories

It was inspiring to listen to the story of a survivor of brain injury and his heroic efforts to return to normal functioning, thereby emphasising both the importance of human willpower and the difference a good neurosurgeon can make to a person’s life.

After the event, I spoke to one of the attendees who described Simulated Neurotheatre Live as surpassing her boldest expectations and said she would definitely come again.

>>Find out more about Edinburgh Neuroscience

>>Follow Artbeat on Instagram 

>>Find out more about Edinburgh University Neurological Society

Lessons from Medsimscape: Fun is the best way to learn

Lessons from Medsimscape, a medical simulation escape room game, developed with funding from the Festival of Creative Learning.

By Lorraine Close, Clinical Skills Facilitator

Whether you’re a child of the 80s who reckoned you could escape from Richard O’Brian and the Crystal Maze (applications are now open for the 2019 version- just ask Vicki in the skills team) or you are a millennial frequent attender of one of the city’s many escape rooms games, the challenge of finding your way out of a locked space is a guaranteed way to get people engaged in problem solving skills and team working dynamics that involve decision making, clear communication skills and leadership.

The skills required for health care professionals to work effectively as a team are similar. There has been much focus on the teaching of non-technical skills in undergraduate and postgraduate nursing and medical education, often in high fidelity simulation facilities.

One of the challenges of this type of education is the need for prerequisite medical knowledge in order to participate in a meaningful way.

As part of our programme of inter-professional education in the medical and nursing school, we wanted to introduce a non-threatening session for medical and nursing students in junior clinical years that would introduce them to the simulation environment, and basic non-technical skills.

Based on previous work by Anthony Seto from Calgary Medical School, and with his permission granted, we successfully applied for funding from the Festival of Creative Learning to run ‘Medsimscape’; a day of inter-professional education for nurses, doctors and undergraduate health care professionals.

On the day, 20 undergraduate medical and nursing students, qualified nurses and doctors and colleagues from the skills team and nursing school gathered in the Clinical Skills Centre.

We ran the group through our own escape room game as an ice-breaker activity and then split into two teams tasked to design a new escape room game based in our simulation ward. The medical focus was intentionally kept basic but offered some opportunity for learning. Each group played the others’ game while the game designers watched live on camera. The stakes were high and competition was fierce!

Consensus was that the day was a huge success, and there is real potential in this type of activity as a fun and engaging introduction to medical simulation. Key take home messages were:

1. Escape room games are a safe and fun way to learn without nurses feeling intimidated by doctors and vice versa.
2. Fun is the best way to learn (verbatim from a medical student)
3. Students felt they learnt a lot about medical conditions and team working by designing the games, as well as taking part in them.

We hope to run a follow-up workshop to discuss the next steps in developing this session which could be an exciting addition to our current inter-professional simulation programme that runs throughout the undergraduate curriculum of both nursing and medical students.

With thanks to the Festival of Creative Learning for their generous funding of this event, and all students and clinical staff who took time out to attend the day.

>>Visit the Medical Education web pages

>>Learn more about the Festival of Creative Learning

International Women’s Day 2019

We’re celebrating women at the University of Edinburgh who are doing incredible things on top of their work and studies here. From ultra running and yoga outreach to global surgery and championing mental health and wellbeing, read on to meet our inspiring colleagues.

First up is our colleague, Jasmin Paris. 

At this stage, Jasmin probably needs no introduction. A mother, wife, vet, researcher and record-holding ultra-runner, she recently became the first female ever to win the 268 mile Montane Spine Race and in doing so, smashed the previous record by half a day.

She did all this while taking a ‘short break’ from writing her PhD thesis investigating why white blood cells become cancerous and what scientists can do to target them.

Taking on the Spine race was a challenge unlike any I had attempted before; a non-stop race for 268 miles in the darkness in winter, whilst navigating and carrying all my kit, it seemed a crazy undertaking. But at the same time I was drawn to it for exactly those reasons, there’s something about pushing your boundaries that is exhilarating, it brings discovery and the joy of being alive.

>> You can read a full interview with Jasmin on balancing work, family and running here

Second up is fifth year medical student, Hannah Thomas. 

As well as studying medicine at Edinburgh, Hannah is Chair of InciSioNUK, a student-led national working group on global surgery. Currently, they are coordinating an inclusive review of global health education in UK medical schools.

During her early university career, Hannah established foundational experiences campaigning for women’s socioeconomic development and reproductive rights. Noticing a gap in the discussions surrounding maternal healthcare as it pertains to surgery, she became involved with Lifebox, the leading international safe surgery charity.

Most recently Hannah led a project with GlobalSurg to analyse data from over 76 countries worldwide regarding implementation of the WHO Surgical Safety Checklist. This was part of the GlobalSurg Collaborative and was recognised at the World Health Summit.

Championing global health initiatives through advocacy, education and research has been at the core of my passions during my medical training. At InciSioN UK, we strive to promote and collaborate with global surgery committees worldwide to strengthen awareness of safe surgery initiatives.

>> Visit the Students for Global Health website

Next please allow us to introduce you to Clinical Skills Facilitator, Lorraine Close.

Lorraine is a clinical skills facilitator which involves teaching and assessing clinical skills and resuscitation across all six years of the MBChB programme.

Lorraine is also co-director of Edinburgh Community Yoga, a not for profit that takes the therapeutic benefits of yoga to a wide range of people across Edinburgh, including women affected by trauma, military veterans and patients.

Her involvement in  this work came from an interest in health inequality and an interesting combination of working in a maximum security prison in Glasgow and a clinic in Bhopal, India that used yoga therapy.

Edinburgh Community Yoga’s projects focus on reducing social isolation, developing community and offering people the opportunity to reconnect with body and breath in the present moment through yoga, which is a challenge for many with mental health issues.

This year Lorraine will go on a travelling fellowship with the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust to study yoga not for profit around the world, with a view to developing sustainability within the organisation.

I believe that anyone who can breath and move can practice yoga and that we need to counter the dominant discourse that yoga is about expensive clothes and standing on your head. It is a practice that many people I work with never believed was for them because of the economic, social and health barriers, and through our work that is changing.

>> Visit the Edinburgh Community Yoga wesbite

Another inspiring medical student for you to meet, fourth year medical student, Jennifer Pewsey.

As well as studying Medicine at Edinburgh Jennifer is also a Year Representative on the Medical Students Council and Young Champion for Scottish mental health charity See Me.

Jennifer is recently back from taking a 2.5 year break from her studies after becoming unwell. Today she speaks very openly about living and working with borderline personality disorder and tries to use her own experiences to help others in similar situations.

She says “it’s so hard to recognise when you’re mentally unwell but I think the more people speak about it and normalise it, the easier it is to recognise when something is going wrong.”

Jennifer is a Young Champion for Scottish mental health charity See Me where she has helped to work on resources for young people to decrease stigma and promote mental wellbeing.

She has been heavily involved in developing the ‘What’s On Your Mind?’ campaign, which is a teaching resource for high schools, and the ‘It’s Okay’ campaign too.

Jennifer is very interested in the mental health of medical students and health care professionals and informally connects with others who struggle with their mental health to share advice.

Having a mental illness sucks, but there are ways to work with it and around it – it doesn’t mean your life is over. For the past few years I’ve tried to use my own experiences to help others in similar situations though various organisations and projects, and I’ve met so many incredible people along the way.

>> Watch Jennifer’s interview for Mental Health and Wellbeing Week 2018

>>Visit the SeeMe website

Interview with the record-holding vet, Jasmin Paris

Image courtesy or Norrie Russell

At this stage, Jasmin Paris probably needs no introduction. A mother, wife, vet, researcher and record-holding ultra-runner, she recently became the first female ever to win the 268 mile Montane Spine Race and in doing so, smashed the previous record by half a day.

She did all this while taking a ‘short break’ from writing her PhD thesis investigating why white blood cells become cancerous and what scientists can do to target them.

Juggling a career with a demanding training schedule, as well as caring for her 14 month baby, requires plenty of discipline. And Jasmin is the first to admit that it’s not always easy.

You hadn’t originally planned to do the Spine Race, why did you decide to enter?

Image courtesy of Yann Besrest-Butle

I signed up for the Spine in autumn last year because I was struggling with motivation and needed something to work towards. My daughter wasn’t sleeping through the night, so I was finding it really hard to get up at 4.30am to train before work, in the cold and dark. Whilst it seemed like a crazy thing to put oneself through, I was interested in the challenge of it, particularly the extent to whether I could run for several days, mostly without sleep.

How do you keep a work-life balance?

Image courtesy or Norrie Russell

Doing a PhD in research means that my schedule is fairly flexible. In the lead-up to the race I worked out that if I train from 5am, I could be in work by 7am. I can then get a full day’s work in before picking up my daughter at 3.30pm. I prefer to start work earlier because it’s really important for me to have that time for my family.

During my internship and residency, I often worked very long hours, but I don’t think that would be sustainable long term. Now I have a family, and a sport I am passionate about, so work life balance is really important to me. If you have something that gives you a buzz and really motivates and inspires you, I think you end up being more productive because you’re more efficient with your time.

How do you keep motivated with both work and running?

Generally, I think I’m quite a driven person. So much of it is about believing in yourself and keeping yourself going when it gets tough, because it does get tough. Being able to push through when things aren’t necessarily going that well is a good skill to have. Vets, for example, work pretty hard but get things done too, and that sort of attitude has helped me in terms of running as well.

What are you most proud of in your sporting-career?

The Spine Race is probably what I’m most proud of, partly because I did it after coming back from having my daughter. It was a completely different sort of race…lots of new challenges that I wasn’t sure how they would go. It was of course exciting to beat the men too.

Image courtesy of Yann Besrest-Butle

Two other achievements that are particularly special for me are the Ramsay Round, for which I hold the overall record, and the Isle of Jura fell race ladies record. The Ramsay Round is a 24-hour challenge over 23 Munros around Glen Nevis, near Fort William (I ran it in 16 hours 13 minutes), whilst Jura is a special place for me for several reasons, not all running related.

Work wise, what are your research goals?

Image courtesy or Norrie Russell

I’m currently working in cancer but hoping to move more into an immunology field, which will tie in better with my clinical work. Many of the dogs I see as patients have over-active immune systems, or in some cases their immune systems don’t work very well. It happens a lot in dogs, but also in cats, and in humans. I would like to work on understanding why that happens, and what we can do to treat it.

Who inspires you?

I’m actually most inspired by the people at the back of the field, not necessarily the winners. On multi-day multi-stage races it’s particularly striking, the people at the back are out for longest each day, get least rest, and are constantly chasing the cut-offs. It’s those people, who hang on through thick and thin, that are the real heroes.

How do you feel about being an inspiration for future young scientists and athletes?

Image courtesy of Yann Besrest-Butle

The thought of inspiring the next generation is hugely inspiring for me too! Of all the media coverage that my race win received, the thing I was probably most excited about was being on the cover of the Junior Week magazine. Being used as a role model to inspire the next generation surely has to be the ultimate accolade.

What would be your advice for early career female scientists?

Thankfully, and rightly, I’ve never felt disadvantaged at work as a result of having my daughter. My advice to any woman thinking about having a family and worrying about how that will impact on their scientific career would be not to fear, and to go ahead. I think you can do both.

Our students in the 2019 EUSA Student Awards

The EUSA Student Awards are brand new for 2019 and are a celebration of incredible student achievements across the University of Edinburgh.

The new look awards have been launched in recognition of the breadth and variety of student accomplishments, aiming to extend the scope of past awards into a wider, more inclusive celebration of student achievement.

We couldn’t be more delighted that six of our wonderful students have been shortlisted for an award this year and we thought you might like to learn a little bit more about them in the run up to the big night, Thursday 4 April at the Assembly Rooms.

Jennifer Pewsey, Year 4 MBChB 

Community Mental Health and Wellbeing Award

“Campaigned and signposted, highlighting Mental Health and Wellbeing Week”

This award recognises student(s) who have made an outstanding contribution to the promotion of wellbeing and positive mental health on campus and in the community more widely.

It made my day when I found out I’d been nominated because for the past few years I’ve tried to use my own experiences to help others in similar situations through various organisations and projects, and I’ve met so many incredible people along the way.

It’s strange to think of it as something award-worthy because I genuinely get so much out of it. It’s so hard to recognise when you’re mentally unwell but I think the more people speak about it and normalise it, the easier it is to recognise when something is going wrong. Having a mental illness sucks, but there are ways to work with it and around it – it doesn’t mean your life is over.

Emily Batchelor, Year 4 MBChB Creativity and Innovation Award

“Produced anatomical illustrations as part of medical studies”

This award recognises active and involved student(s) that have used their creativity and inventiveness to make a difference.

I’ve always loved art, so when the opportunity arose in a student led project I jumped at the chance to incorporate art into my studies and chose to base a project on Art and Anatomy. I am very lucky to now have the results of this project displayed in the Old Medical School and I am very grateful to the Anatomy Department for the nomination and all the support they gave me during the project.

Emma Gill, Year 6 MBChB Contribution to the Global Community Award

“Edinburgh Sustainable Projects Abroad”

This award recognises student(s) who have made a substantial contribution to developing the international community in Edinburgh or overseas.

I’m delighted to have been nominated for this award which I think recognises all of the hard work that volunteers from Edinburgh Sustainable Projects Abroad society have carried out. This has been both in country (during our visits to Honduras and Panama) and also everything that has been done to secure funding and medical care to allow the training of local community health workers in these countries.

Global Brigades is a phenomenal charity that I have had the pleasure of working with for the past four years and I am so happy that through setting up this society we have sparked enthusiasm in our students here at Edinburgh to make a difference on a global scale at such an early stage in their careers.

Hannah Thomas, Year 5 MBChB

Contribution to the Global Community Award

“Chair of InciSioN UK; Collaborator on global surgery initiatives”

Championing global health initiatives through advocacy, education and research has been the core of my passions during my medical training.

My extra-curricular work focuses primarily on research and advocacy for universal access to safe surgical care. Collaborating with local partners from around the world has been invaluable in order to prioritise comprehensive surgical systems and foster effective solutions. I feel very fortunate to be recognise alongside the incredible initiatives happening in Edinburgh and beyond.”

Alejendro Esteves, Year 2, Medical Sciences 
A Place for all Award

“Swing Dance Society”

This award recognises student(s) who have contributed to creating a vibrant, inclusive, respectful environment on campus.

I believe that a simple smile can lighten the mood of those around you, and how talking with someone might change their experience into a positive one.

This is a major part of my roles as one of the event organisers and safe-space officers for EUSDS. I always put effort into making the events unforgettable, from simply being enthusiastic about what I’m doing to just dancing and talking to those who seemed a bit shy. I couldn’t believe that I was nominated – and shortlisted – for the “Place for All” award. Even if I don’t win, I am already so very happy to know that I was able to make an impact. I simply hope that, through my action, I am able to inspire the people around me to be just a little bit nicer to each other. That in itself would the biggest reward I could have possibly asked for!”


Abhijit Bajracharya, Year 6 MBChB
Student Leadership Award

“Leader of Anatomy Workbook project”

This award recognises student(s) who have gone above and beyond in their role by being a Student Leader.

It has been a great pleasure working with students from various years to achieve the workbook which has led to this nomination.

I would like to thank everyone who has participated and also thank the University of Edinburgh for the opportunity to let students turn their ideas into reality.

View the full shortlist for the 2019 EUSA Teaching Awards

A delicate balance

Lara De Nicolo Savvides, a neurophysiologist, was enrolled in the Edinburgh Imaging Academy Neuroimaging for Research MSc and graduated in 2016.

Here she explains how she managed to balance work responsibilities, pregnancy and raising a child, while studying online.

How my MSc brought my career to a whole new level

What I learnt on the Neuroimaging for Research MSc has definitely brought my career to a whole new level.

I am a neurophysiologist and although neuroimaging is not directly required to perform neurophysiology, I have found that knowledge of spinal MRIs helps me analyse nerve conduction study results better, such as when clinical symptoms for radiculopathy aren’t always clear.

Being able to combine information gleaned from my MSc, with my clinical findings, helps me clarify the clinical problem, enabling me to communicate findings better to the physicians, and also to guide them better into making a correct diagnosis and to choose the best treatment options.


Pregnancy, childcare, lab-work and deadlines

Given my professional commitments, I enrolled on the intermittent route so I completed my degree in five years.

During this time I had to juggle a neurophysiology laboratory, a marriage, a pregnancy, giving birth and raising a child, which eventually worked out wonderfully given the flexibility of the intermittent route.

The neuroimaging staff were so compassionate and understanding of my very hectic schedule; they did not hesitate to shift my assessment dates around in order to accommodate the birth of my daughter and the new routine which I had to adjust to.

While raising my daughter, I could balance feeding and play times with studying independently. Project deadlines, group work and the overall work load, I felt, were very reasonable.

Help and support

The availability of the tutors on a daily basis on the virtual environment enabled me to ask for help at any time; it was convenient for me and the tutor feedback was always prompt.

The Skype meetings held two or three times each year with my personal tutor enabled me to discuss concerns, my progress and any modifications which would help me manage online learning around my hectic schedule.

One of my best decisions

Embarking on the online Neuroimaging for Research MSc was one of the best decisions I have ever made with regards to my career development. Not only did I get to interact with a diverse group of other students from around the world, I got taught by brilliant and enthusiastic scientists, about cutting-edge imaging research and image analysis.

This MSc degree has given me the opportunity to develop my neuroimaging research skills, so that I can embark on a neuroimaging PhD.

I definitely would encourage others to pursue such a Master’s degree, not only to develop scientific knowledge, but also to advance a medical or scientific career to superior level.

Find out more about Neuroimaging for research MSc

Walking back to happiness

Hello everyone… happy mental health and wellbeing week!

My name is Karyn and I’m currently in my fourth year of studying medicine at Edinburgh. The topic of mental health is incredibly close to my heart as I myself started having panic attacks midway through senior school, and more recently have really struggled with depression. I am, and believe that to some extent always will be, hesitant to say that I am ‘recovered’ but it does feel authentic to say that I am well along the road to recovery.

Over the past year, my mental health journey has introduced me to a number of utterly incredible and selfless people, all of whom have been brave enough to share testimonies of their experiences with mental illness. This, in turn, has inspired me to be more and more open about my own story.

As much of my experience with mental illness still remains rather raw, I place a great deal of importance on actively nurturing my mental health and wellbeing wherever and however I can. Hence, I would love to share a few strategies that I have found to be incredibly helpful in taking care of myself in this way.

These are:

  1. Surrounding yourself with cheerleaders

This may seem somewhat like stating the obvious, but really what matters is feeling supported by people who truly want you to get better… for YOU. These people are the ones who will stick with you throughout the hard times and yet won’t indulge in the negative behaviours that you’re trying to leave behind. They will meet you first with kindness but also won’t shy away from telling you the honest truths. Sometimes we can forget just how hard it can be to support someone through mental illness, and so the ones who stick by you really are to be treasured.

Cheerleaders come in all forms and can reach beyond immediate friends and family. Last year, fellow students and junior doctor colleagues within the BMA (above) were a huge source of support and encouragement for me in opening up the conversation about mental health. The BMA currently has a survey available online for medical students regarding mental health and wellbeing which can be accessed here
Likewise, being part of the wonderful cast of ‘The Mould that Changed the World’ during the Edinburgh Fringe really helped me to reconnect with the things that I love outside of medicine, like music and drama.

2. Your loved ones might not understand, and that’s okay.

When I reached out to some of my nearest and dearest about suffering with depression, their first responses were ‘I don’t know what to say – I wish I knew how to help you’.

For me, this was enough. It took explaining that what I needed from my loved ones wasn’t an ‘answer’ or solution, it was just for them to be there.

Being open to my friends and family about the prospect of having suicidal thoughts was extremely uncomfortable, as my natural first instinct was always to try to ensure that they didn’t worry – that they weren’t burdened. But I knew myself that what would help both of us most in the long run was to be as open and honest as possible, and sometimes that meant entirely submitting and asking for help when I was at my lowest and most vulnerable.

Sometimes when I didn’t know what to say, or how to say it, I found great solace in writing down everything I was feeling in that present moment. These words were just for me, and represented a safe place that I could retreat to whenever things felt too much. This led to the experience of performing my poetry at a RealTalk mental health event last year and enabled me to connect with an amazing group of fellow students, all of whom had experienced personal struggles with mental health.

A photo taken on the evening that I spoke at a RealTalk event and performed poetry that I’d written about mental health.

RealTalk is an amazing example of how reaching out to others and sharing your story can be incredibly empowering, and also help others to gain a greater understanding. Details of how to become an audience member or speaker can be found on their website:

3. Your body is your own compass towards wellness.

The most amazing thing about the human body is that it tells you what it needs.

Hungry? — your stomach grumbles.
Tired? — your eyelids close.
Emotional and spiritual burn out? — It is no different.

It has taken me this year to realise that the feelings I was experiencing were no accident. They were a message. And the thing about this message was – the longer I ignored it, the stronger it grew (concrete examples).

No two people’s experiences of mental health or illness will ever be the same, and so the biggest way you can support yourself is to become the expert of your own experience. Learn to read your body’s signals and warning signs – it just takes for you to listen.

One resource that I find invaluable is Philome’s interactive self-help guide, rather comically named – ‘You Feel Like Sh*t’, which is specifically designed to help you to tune in to what your mind and body may be needing at that present moment.

4. Help you to look after you.

For me, one of the hardest aspects of depression was that when I was/am low, I often couldn’t/can’t actually remember how it feels to feel happy. It genuinely would feel as if my entire life had, and forever would be, spent under a cloud of hopelessness.

And so I found that it massively helped to try and make the most of the time when I was better, to help prepare for the times when I might feel unwell. This translated to writing out a page of ‘strategies’ for the bad days, mental health conversation starters (above), and reminders of my strengths.

There was something about reading these words written out in my own handwriting that made it seem a hundred times more possible that I might get back to that place of ‘lightness’ once again – like I was leaving myself a trail of breadcrumbs, leading me back to where I wanted to be.

5. Prepare for bumps in the road.

Without wanting to end on a despondent note, it is a necessary part of this journey to acknowledge that the path to recovery will never be straightforward.

I now haven’t experienced a severe panic attack for several years. However, at the time when I had just started to deal with my anxiety, any time that I felt I was slipping into that same sense of panic, I would scold myself for setting myself back again – even when I was able to achieve my goal, in spite of the fear. In time I came to view this much like a ‘wobble’ after getting back on a bike. The crucial point is – I got back on.

Throughout our medical careers we all will face the unique challenges and experience the unique pressures that come hand in hand with the immeasurable privilege that is a medical vocation. What is important is re-training yourself to actively recognise and nurture your body’s needs and develop healthy attitudes and behaviours from as early-on as possible, to ensure that – when things get tough – you have a system in place.

Core to this, I believe, is just remembering to be kind to yourself.