I had the first walk-in session last week at the Arts Theatre and it was a hit - if a walk-in session can be a hit. People came in in all sizes; young, old, straight, gay, all nations represented. It's pretty clear everyone wants and needs to talk, just to feel heard and understood by compassionate people who feel the same.
Peter Fonegy was the speaker. He's the type that usually makes me feel unworthy; the CEO of the Anna Freud Centre, professor of psychoanalysis at UCL, head of department of health education and psychology, and a PHD. Also he's raised more than a billion pounds for research into mental illness in children. So - this man who is my hero in real life begins his speech by telling everyone he suffered from depression as a kid and thought of suicide and that's when he dedicated himself to helping others. He gave all the answers to the questions my audience usually ask me in the second half of my Sane New World show. I always say, "Ask an expert". Now they could. You could see the relief in people's faces as they finally got answers from someone not too academic, very human and also good looking. He's argued with me on that front but I insist I'm right.
He talked about what therapy works for whom, what medication does and the side effects, the definitions of OCD, schizophrenia, bi-polar and depression. He said the fact that the government only offers maybe six sessions of therapy (CBT or otherwise) is a disgrace. It would be like saying you can only have six sessions of chemotherapy if you had cancer. It's not only cruel, but a waste of money and time. A few people said they had been depressed for years and couldn't pull out of it and felt their lives were ruined. Peter told them to try and find chinks of light when they weren't completely depressed and build on those.
Depression isn't something solid or permanent, it fluctuates and we should take advantage when it lifts even a hair's width. He said therapies like mindfulness and cognitive therapy were especially effective because they encourage people to watch their thoughts rather than believe they're facts and therefore obey them. Any therapy that teaches you to watch what's going on in your mind, without criticism is effective. To let the thoughts come and go without getting caught in the ragged rocks of rumination is the goal for a better life. A sense of 'self' is crucial rather than feel you're not good enough or don't matter. A few teens asked about apps that could provide therapy. Peter said they can be useful but you still need that human contact to change people's minds - literally change minds.
The other speaker was Marjorie Wallace, CEO of SANE. SANE offers the only out of hours national confidential help line where you can get emotional support as well as up to date information on medications, laws and where to find personal help. She was also inspired about 'the black dog', saying you can't have a sense of 'self' when you're depressed. I agree with both Marjorie and Peter. You can't think when you're in the darkness but in those flashes of light you can start exercising your mind to get it buff enough to deal with the onslaughts of stress or depression later on.
Meanwhile, there are two more walk in sessions at the Arts Theatre on February 5th and 10th. It's free to the public and runs between 2 and 4 pm. There will be great speakers and teams of therapists and volunteers. I will be serving cookies.