Taking your first steps

To Do List

So this is my first post as a PhD student. Scary stuff! Granted, I only JUST started, and technically am an APG at this point, but it’s a start. And definitely a step in the right direction.

I’m suddenly overwhelmed by what I have taken on, and I have a thousand doubts running through my mind. Will I be able to cope with the workload? Is my research good enough? I have to admit, I still feel like a fraud sometimes. I don’t feel like a PhD student, and I certainly doubt my capabilities. I feel like I stand out within the department, stuck between the realms of being a student and being a member of the faculty. It’s a scary step to take, and I can only hope that I prove myself worthy.

My to do list seems to be constantly growing. There are always things that I want to read about, and need to make sure I keep my focus. It’s difficult not having the stricter guidance of a taught degree. My planning and organisational skills are certainly being put to the test! So for now, I am concentrating on just that; planning how best to spend my time. Planning months ahead of advanced classes that I want to attend, and setting deadlines for activities that I want to have completed. First on that list is getting my Master’s dissertation to a standard where I am able to publish it, and then maybe think about presenting.

So much to think about!

Finding the woods amongst the trees

I have known that I wanted to apply for a PhD for some time and, for some time now, I have had people endlessly asking me how my application is going. I would smile, and tell them I was progressing well, but in truth, I had no idea what I was doing. The furthest I had managed to get with it was to sit in front of a piece of paper, with ‘PhD’ written in the middle of what was looking like a very lonely mind-map. I’ve always struggled coming up with research ideas; a serious lack of imagination not helping this process. Many a time, I thought about giving up. How could I do one piece of research, for three years, when I couldn’t even come up with a research topic? I asked other academics where they had managed to come up with their research ideas, and got one response; they picked a topic which interested them, and then identified a gap in the literature, before magically having a brilliant idea of what was needed in the field. Jealousy did not even begin to cover how I felt, that some people could come up with such innovative ideas.

And so, for some time, I let go of the idea of pursuing a PhD. I focussed on my MSc research, preparing for the write-up. I spent mass amounts of time going through my data, interested in the findings. And some of the findings intrigued me. I had not expected to find them, and could not think of any literature which would explain them. And suddenly, I could see. This was what I would do. A topic which I felt had been hugely neglected, yet would be of vast benefit to the field. I never thought I would get to that point.

I understand, now, when I hear people say “it just came to me”. It truly did. I’m interested, and eager to get started. I’m not saying that it was completely by chance; if I hadn’t been doing my MSc project, I never would have come up with it. But when you stop looking, it’s amazing what you might find.

Supersize Vs Superskinny

supersize_vs_superskinny1

Supersize VS Superskinny is a programme which has been running for some time on Channel 4. For those who haven’t seen it, it works on the premise of having two individuals, one overweight and one underweight, bringing them together for a week of meal swaps, in the hope that seeing their usual meals from a different perspective will shock them into wanting to change. And for the most part, it appears to work; the supersize will, usually, lose a substantial amount of weight. The superskinny usually gain a minimal amount.

Whilst I think the shock factor is good, I feel that the supersize always appear to be given more support than the superskinny. The supersizers, meanwhile, are sent to America to meet someone who is extremely overweight, with the aim of showing them someone who represents a possible future, should you continue with current eating habits. This appears to be quite hard hitting, and the majority of people I watch crying by the end of it. They then enter this food swap with strong motives; of course helped by Dr Christian with the motivation factor, reminding them the importance of what they are doing. The damage that they are causing to themselves and their family are also discussed.

So what support are the superskinny individuals receiving? Well, they get to take part in the food swap. Occasionally, they will be told some of the issues they may face by not eating enough. And that’s pretty much the extent of it. No trip to visit someone who is living with the effects of severe under-eating. No hard-hitting home truths about the damage you are truly causing to yourself. Whilst I understand that obesity is a massive issue here in the UK, with rates currently quoted as 1 in three individuals being obese (apparently soon to increase to 1 in 2), this doesn’t take away the dangers of under-eating. I appreciate the insight into eating disorders each episode, but I can’t help remembering that the superskinny isn’t involved in that part, and that it is just for the benefit of those at home. They do not see first-hand the difficulties of being so underweight. Here are just a few.

Immune depletion

Your immune system doesn’t work as well as it should if you are underweight. On the one hand, this could just mean you get colds etc more often. However, it also means that you are more at risk of developing infections, such as bronchitis or pneumonia.  

Osteoporosis

This is also known as brittle bones, where there is a loss of bone density. This makes your bones more prone to breaking, and being underweight can increase your risk of this.

Fertility issues

In men, both sperm quality and count can be seriously damaged through low weight. In women, it increases your risk of pregnancy issues, and can even prevent you getting pregnant in the first place, by disrupting your hormone levels and menstruation.

 

Whilst there is significantly more issues than mentioned here, very rarely are they discussed frankly and openly with the superskinny. Shock factor can work both ways. I’m sure telling girls that they are risking their fertility would encourage them to try and gain weight. Yet there is little of this used to help the superskinny in the programme.

Finally, I’m a big believer that the results reflect the intervention. The fact that the supersize always manage to lose drastic amounts of weight (which I am not always sure are healthy amounts given the time frame) and the superskinny lose minimal amounts of weight, are a clear indicator of the different intensities of intervention that they receive. If the programme is wanting to help both individuals achieve a healthier lifestyle, then they should both receive similar amounts of support. Results speak for themselves; the most recent supersize lost a whopping 1 stone 7 pounds. The superskinny? Well, he managed to gain two pounds. A new menu is not enough. They need the support to help build the willpower to implement it fully.

Changes to the DSM-V – help or hindrance?

The DSM-V is due for release in May this year. Whilst it is good to keep everything up to date, I can’t help but feel that certain aspects of this update are not going to be helpful.

Firstly, as I tweeted recently, the price is probably going to put a lot of people off. $200 is a lot of money, I think by anyone’s standard. The argument is that many people are not referring directly to the DSM anymore, due to the growth of the internet, and the ability to simply Google the information you need. Personally, if I have access to the DSM, the physical book is always my first choice, but I understand their point.

A lot of changes are being made, and I definitely won’t be able to talk about them all here, so i’ve chosen to just briefly discuss two of them.

 

The inclusion of binge eating disorder.

This one is fairly tricky, and I hope that in order to obtain this diagnosis, a significant amount of investigation is done. There are some cases where binge-eating is just that – binge-eating. However, I think that, in most cases, it is a symptom of an underlying cause. It’s commonly called ‘comfort eating’, and I think it’s important to recognise what this suggests. To me, it suggests that the individual is trying to find comfort with something which is causing them psychological distress. If you only treat the binge-eating behaviour, the psychological distress will still remain, and the individual could be more likely to relapse. Equally, I think that a loss of weight, or loss of appetite is a sign of an underlying issue. I think binge-eating will probably be diagnosed in addition to something else, which hopefully will give people the ability to access better support.

 

The removal of the bereavement clause for diagnosis of depression

This is perhaps the one that I feel is most detrimental. Currently, major depression cannot be diagnosed if one has suffered the loss of a loved one recently (within two months). The DSM-V is removing this clause, meaning that major depression can now be diagnosed, regardless of whether the individual has experienced a recent loss. To me, this seems almost to pathologise bereavement; a normal response which, should you seek help for it, will soon land you with a diagnosis. Everyone needs time to adjust to such an event; whilst I agree that, in the long term, one may need help with coming to terms with their loss, I also believe that, if bereavement is recognised, the services that they should have access to would be massively different in comparison to those aimed at treating depression.

 

There are many other changes, which I am sure will elicit a discussion of whether it is the right thing to do. What other changes do you think will have the most impact?

Skinny girls have feelings too..

I was recently part of a conversation at university with some other girls about weight. They were mainly talking about the issues they had with losing weight, or trying to diet. Two of the girls were putting forward the argument from the other side, about difficulties being slim, at which point someone turned to me and commented on my (low) weight, particularly my ‘thigh gap’. Whilst at no point did I think this was meant in a nasty way, it did hurt a little! To be told that I am skinny, and have the parts that I am most conscious about pointed out brutally, hurts.

Let’s consider this from the other side. What would the reaction have been if I had made a similar comment to one of the girls trying to lose weight? I have no doubt that it would have been completely inappropriate, but comments in the other direction seem to be acceptable.

I’ve recently seen a lot of posts on Facebook, about how “real women have curves” – someone also pointed out to me that this is the same as Dove’s campaign, which says they are supporting ‘real’ women. This suggests that those who don’t have curves somehow aren’t real. I certainly don’t have any curves, and I know a lot of other girls who would agree with me. Does that mean I’m not a real woman? Yes, it’s good that these women are embracing their bodies, and loving themselves, but I think it is important to recognise when curves become unhealthy. It’s not about whether you are curvy or skinny – you need to be healthy. You need to eat right, and exercise right, and have a healthy body weight for you. Yes, underweight is unhealthy. But so is being overweight.

Everyone should be able to love themselves, regardless of what size they are. And what gives women the right to bash other women for looking different? Embrace yourself, but don’t use hurtful words because others don’t look the same.

 

Kelly Brooks and Marilyn Monroe both have a waist hip ratio of about 0.7…two very different dress sizes, but both still perfectly healthy.

Can you grow out of autism?

I recently saw research suggesting it might be possible that a child would be able to grow out of autism. Personally, I’m quite sceptical about it.

More than anything, I wanted it to be true. After caring for children with autism for two years, I gained an insight into the impact that it could have on family life, and the difficulties that both the child and their families could face every day. Public misunderstanding was difficult to come to terms with, and it upset me to see that some parents were judged for having a child who was ‘out of control’.

Here is my concern with this idea. I worry that this research may fuel the misunderstanding. In my opinion, if research suggests that children are able to grow out of autism, it might cause more people to think that this is a behavioural or discipline issue. More than once (whilst I was a carer) I was told that I needed to learn to control my child. I tried in vain to explain to people, but they did not seem to understand. For a child to grow out of a behaviour, for me, suggests that it is just a bad habit that they have picked up.

There are much more plausible explanations of how a child can appear to grow out of autism. Firstly, and most obviously, it’s possible that a child was misdiagnosed; not every diagnosis can be 100% accurate. Also, when considering the varying levels of functioning with autism, it is important to recognise that the difference can be vast. The research paper in question considers high functioning autism; it is important to recognise that many children with high functioning autism can have an average IQ, and achieve fantastic things: for example, the creator of pokemon had Asperger’s syndrome.  Equally, individuals with autism can get large amounts of support, both academically and socially, making it possible that children can reduce the negative impact that the symptoms can have on everyday life. I’m sure there are plenty of other explanations that I have even thought of, as well.

How do other people feel about this research? Do you think these findings can be helpful?

Welcome!

Welcome to my blog!

I’m Natalie, and I’m currently studying Child and Adolescent Mental Health. I knew that I wanted to work within the field of psychology ever since taking it at A level; after completing a degree in it, I just couldn’t bear the thought of having to give it up! I’m hoping to start on a PhD programme when I finish, and go into academia…before maybe looking more specifically to going into clinical psychology!

I work as a tutor alongside my studies, from primary level all the way up to A level – my favourite students are the A level psychology ones! It’s so fantastic, having the opportunity to share what I’ve learned.

This blog will act as an outlet for my thoughts. I often read really thought-provoking articles, with no one to share them with…so that’s where you come in! Sometimes, it’s not even an article that has got me thinking – it can be anything to do with psychology, particularly mental health! So hopefully I can get some really interesting dicussions going, and share different perspectives.

Will post soon!