Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Our Top 10 Blog Posts of All Time

In honour of our readers and all the fabulous writers who have guested for us, we felt it would be great to showcase the ten most viewed posts of all time here at

Interestingly, there is a 50:50 mix of our posts and guest contributions.

Whether you are discovering them for the first time or revisiting a favourite, our top ten offers some brilliant and challenging reading. Which is your favourite?

Fancy writing for us yourself? Check our Guest Post Guidelines and get in touch. We’d love to hear from you!

Our Top 10 Blog Posts of All Time

1. Get It Right When Asking for Help with Bipolar Disorder, by Julie A. Fast

In our most popular post ever Julie A. Fast, author of Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder: Understanding and Helping Your Partner, Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder and Get it Done When You’re Depressed, discusses how to ask for help, a topic close to our hearts. (More)

2. michigan, by Mickey Solis

Actor and screenwriter Mickey Solis discusses the personal journey which led to him working on the film michigan, concerning such topics as suicide, depression and addiction. Note: several of the links in this article are no longer valid. Mickey's story most certainly is. (More)

3. Time to Talk, Time to Listen, Time to Care

Marty discusses awareness campaigns such as #TimeToTalk Day, asks what having a conversation about mental health looks like, and concludes that all of us—you, me, everyone—can make a difference. (More)

4. An Open Letter to My Bipolar Best Friend

“I am proud of us, Fran. Proud of what we do and are. Most of all, I am proud to stand at your side. I am proud to be your friend.”. (More)

5. How to Write the Best Acknowledgement Page for Your Book

Whether you have recently started writing your book or are close to publishing it, there is no wrong time to start thinking about your acknowledgement page. (More)

6. Mental Health in Social Media, by Rebecca Lombardo

Author of It’s Not Your Journey, mental health advocate, podcaster and blogger Rebecca Lombardo discusses how social media can be both a “blessing and a curse.” (More)

7. Your Thoughts Create Your Future, by Soph Hopkins

“They say ‘Your thoughts create your future’ and only you as a person can change that. I did and so can you.” Originally from Gateshead, Soph Hopkins now lives in Wales. Her first (and hopefully not last) guest post for us went straight into the top 10 within its first week of publication. If you haven’t read it yet, why not? (More)

8. It's Not Just for Kids: Reading Together for Fun and Friendship

“The most important sounds we can ever share with another person are our own voices.” Fran and I love reading together and think it would be great if more people did too! (More)

9. Mental Health First Aid (MHFA)

Marty shares what it’s like to go on a Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) course. (More)

10. Forever at the Heart, by Rachel Kelly

We are proud and delighted to host this great piece by mental health writer, speaker and campaigner Rachel Kelly, author of Black Rainbow: How Words Healed Me, My Journey Through Depression and Walking on Sunshine: 52 Small Steps to Happiness. (More)


Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Talking Freely in Ely: An Invitation to Cake

I am delighted to announce I will be a guest speaker at the Talking FreELY Pop Up Cafe event, to be held at Ely Cathedral Conference Centre, Ely, Cambridgeshire, on Saturday November 4, 2017.

Talking FreELY is a community in Ely which promotes mental wellness, and empowers those suffering the effects of mental illness to seek the help they need. For full details of the event check the Talking FreELY website or Facebook event page.

Although it’s still almost two months away, I’m already excited! I’ve spent much of the past week planning my trip, including booking a room at the four star Nyton Guesthouse which is only a short walk from the Cathedral.

My invitation came through one of those delicious social media happenstances that keep me coming back for more! The first connection came earlier this year on Twitter when I saw something retweeted by a friend of ours, mental health author and speaker Rachel Kelly, about the Happy Café Ely. I’m a fairly happy chap myself (I have been called “pathologically positive” on occasion!) and love a good café. I was intrigued!

When I saw they planned a library of relevant books for customers to read, I contacted Carly at the Happy Café to offer a copy of High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder. Carly was happy to accept and our book can be found there alongside other great titles.

I look forward to visiting the café (at Julia’s Tea Rooms) when I am in Ely in November. You can read more about the Happy Café Network on the Action for Happiness website.

Carly told me about Talking FreELY and invited me to their launch event in July. That was a bit short notice for me, but she extended an invitation to attend their November event as a guest speaker. I was more than happy to accept! In addition to the guest speakers, the free event will feature an Information Zone, hot drinks and cake. Volunteers with lived experience of mental health will be on hand to talk informally.

I will be reading from our book and talking about the challenges and rewards of long-distance care-giving. If you are in the Cambridgeshire area on November 4, do come along. It would be great to meet you! Did I mention there will be cake?



Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Your Thoughts Create Your Future, by Soph Hopkins

“Key to my future”—the quote that lead me to take control of my life, accept the help I need, and move on.

I have been battling severe depression, anxiety and BPD since I was fourteen years old. In that time I have been in and out of hospital due to overdosing and cutting. No one would help me. I was labelled an attention seeker. I suffered seven and a half years with sporadic help and only crisis intervention. A recent move to Wales changed all this.

Soon after the move my GP was concerned at my many attempts at taking my own life. Unfortunately, this continued. Two months ago I was assessed and put under continual assessment until I took an overdose that could have killed me.

I remember crying for help in A&E and was then taken to a hospital for assessment. I didn’t know what to think but I knew deep down I needed the help. I was kept in overnight and transferred to an acute ward the following day. Talking to the nurses upon arrival I was shocked that it took a move to Wales to get the help I needed. The move which I know is permanent was a big step for other reasons.

I didn’t know what to think when I was offered leave until I was seen by the psychiatrist. I was shocked at the fact I was not even assessed by a consultant and I was given five days leave. I later found out this was to see how I would manage. I managed four hours before I was back in. I was displaying dangerous behaviour by running into traffic. The police were brilliant with me. They listened to me and understood I desperately needed help. They spoke to the ward and it was decided I would be back as an informal inpatient.

I was discharged the following Monday but the dangerous behaviour continued and within two days I was back again. I spent a couple of weeks as an inpatient before being given leave. I managed two hours of what was supposed to be weekend leave and then was taken back in. I spent another ten days there before being discharged into 24 hours supported accommodation.

Whilst on the ward I gained an experience which I want to share. A lot of the blogs I read about being inside a psychiatric unit are based on patients who have been sectioned. A small proportion go in as “informal.” However, being informal is not as easy as it sounds. Theoretically, it is meant to be your choice to come and go as you like. However, this is not the case. I was told it was for my own safety and the safety of others. If I didn’t agree to go in as an inpatient I would go under assessment of the Mental Health Act.

I went in voluntarily but I couldn’t come and go as I pleased. However, I liked it. I felt as an inpatient I was there for a reason and to assess it fully I should be on the ward attending occupational therapy sessions and DBT. I was on daily clothing and fifteen minute observations. Whilst on the ward I learned to write if I couldn’t voice my opinions. I learned skills to cope with my cutting and dangerous road behaviour. I was also able to use art as a form of expressing myself.

Six weeks as an informal inpatient helped me so much. I was able to find myself, my future, and ME. The psychiatric ward introduced me to friends who helped me but also who I helped during recovery. These friends have played a big part in creating the new me.

After coming out of hospital I was given a Home Treatment Team who will be discharging me within a week, because the hospital rehoused me into 24 hour supported accommodation. I will have Community Mental Health Team support for six months. This and the medication and new strategies have helped me grow to love myself and have the confidence to do things.

After moving to Wales for personal reasons, I now have the help I needed for so long after spending time as an inpatient. I am on medication. I have a library of tools and skills, and a team of people to help me. I also have short term 24 hour accommodation until I can manage to live independently.

I was also able to open my eyes to how mental illness can affect others, and sometimes just because you’re not sectioned it doesn’t mean you’re not ill—you just made the choice to follow the suggested plan of treatment.

My recovery has begun and writing and art is my way forward.

They say “Your thoughts create your future” and only you as a person can change that. I did and so can you.


About the Author

Soph Hopkins is 22 years old. Originally from Gateshead, she now resides in Wales. Soph has been volunteering and campaigning since she was 14 years old. In 2014 she was Vinspired regional Volunteer of the Year for the northeast of England for bringing communities together. Vinspired is the UK's leading volunteering charity for 14–25 year olds.

2013 and 2014 marked the start of Soph’s mental health campaigning, with her spending the summers at events to raise awareness of mental health stigma. Soph also spent time in London at events with YoungMinds and Youth Focus North East on a project called Change Ur Mind, raising awareness and delivering workshops on the stigma around mental health.

Soph spent most of 2015 campaigning and raising awareness of mental health and the stigma attached. She worked with the YoungMinds media team, and was involved in many radio interviews. These were mainly for BBC Newcastle but she was also on Women’s Hour, Heart Radio and Capital FM.

Soph featured in two articles in The Times newspaper. The first article, I Wasnt Taking Seriously Until Overdose, was all about Soph. The second article, Depressed Children Seek Help On Web, covered a campaign YoungMinds worked on with The Times regarding using the internet when feeling depressed. Soph was used as a case study.

Soph has volunteered for Time to Change at many events including Time to Talk Day Newcastle, The Sunderland Airshow, and Northern Pride.

Towards the end of 2013 she was invited to work with Durham University on a research project which looked at getting young people involved in mental health research. Soph was an original member of the group and played a big part in setting it up. She was actively involved for two years, attending regional events to share the work they were doing and help gather funding.

Also in 2013 Soph participated in the Changemakers leadership program, leading to a six month placement working with local GP practices and sexual health clinics in Gateshead to make them more young person friendly. This included looking at mental health and how to improve the services offered to young people. Soph represented Changemakers (now merged with The Foyer Federation) at many local and national events, using her story of battling severe depression and suicide feelings but still putting others first.

Soph is diagnosed with depression, anxiety, borderline personality disorder (BPD) and complex post-traumatic stress disorder (complex PTSD). Having spent six weeks in and out of psychiatric hospital, Soph is keen to use her experience of mental illness to help others.

Please contact Soph by email (hopkinssophie3 [at] for copies of her articles, or for more information. She is keen to hear of any mental health opportunities in Wales.


Wednesday, 30 August 2017

When Readers Write: How to Love Feedback from Your Readers

As authors, Fran and I hope our words will touch those who encounter them. This week we have been blessed to have three readers share with us how they have been affected by our book. Excerpts are quoted here with permission.

Judy Fryer sent me a photo as she was settling down to continue reading.

Judy: My afternoon reading! Really enjoying the book and finding it helpful, interestingly written and touching.

Martin: Thank you so much! It’s beyond amazing when someone shares how they are finding the book. What works for them. What resonates. It’s a cliché to say it makes it all worth it, but it’s true!

Judy: Indeed it is so worth all the blood sweat and tears. Having ‘cared’ for my son the best I knew how 20 odd years ago, when I knew nothing about depression let alone Bipolar, I find myself thinking back and wishing I had had a resource like HTLT to support me and give me hope. It is written with such care, understanding, compassion and honestly, one cannot help but connect and feel there is a way through.

Martin: We wrote it for friends, because of course that is my relationship with Fran, that is what I/we know, and there isn’t really anything else specifically for friends. Julie A. Fast recommends it to some of her family coaching clients, especially to siblings. And you mention its relevance to you as a parent. That’s very humbling to hear.

Judy: Oh yes, it’s really helpful because if a person is new to all this depression/ bipolar etc it is mighty hard to get one’s head around it all. It’s so reassuring to have guidance from a book like yours. Thank you. I already have two people who want to read it. I want them to buy their own!

The second feedback was a review posted on Amazon by someone for whom I have the utmost respect: Stigma Fighters founder and CEO Sarah Fader. Her review includes these lines, which mean a great deal.

This is an inspirational tale for anybody living with mental illness and their loved ones. As the founder of a mental health nonprofit I highly recommend it.

I’ve known Judy and Sarah a few years now. They have followed me and Fran in our journey as friends and co-authors. The third feedback we’ve received this week comes from someone I’ve known for no more than a couple of weeks.

I met Marie Abanga through a mutual friend, Amy Gamble, when Marie posted a review of Amy’s new book, Bipolar Disorder: My Biggest Competitor. I contacted Marie to ask if she might be interested in reviewing High Tide, Low Tide. She said yes. I won’t say she is regretting it, but it is clear our book has affected Marie more deeply than she might have imagined.

She has been exploring her responses on her blog, as well as in chat conversation with me. I invite you to read the following two posts, and the comments her readers have left for her. It is clear she has some good friends who seem to know her and responded beautifully to what she shared online.

Post #1: Has anyone ever felt a stab in their soul while reading?

Now, I have read so so so many books but I never felt a stab in my soul while reading. Two days ago, I accepted to review a book and the Arc [Advance Review Copy] was sent to me. I was excited to read this book because I was looking forward to learning a lot from what promised to be an insightful book. The thing is, it is so insightful it stabs my soul. For all the reading I love and can do, I haven’t been able to go past chapter two.

Post #2: Five Reasons why I’ll finish reading High Tide Low Tide

I have come to realize the fifth and most important reason am reading this book is for me; It’s healing and making peace with and for me; and learning to be and do better for others....

In chat, I shared how welcome and valuable such honesty is:

Marie, your blog post is... Wow! Honest and raw with your feelings and emotions! So much more valuable than a simple “Yes, I liked this book.” We have had a range of responses to our book, and a good number of Amazon reviews as you have seen, but we’ve never had someone blog about their response to our book. I am so very grateful for you doing this.

I look forward to learning more about my new friend Marie as she works her way through the book. An author herself (also coach, speaker, consultant and mental health advocate), Marie has an Amazon author page, as well as her website.

The message here is that there is no “correct” response to a book. Your response to any book—especially one like ours which deals with the sometimes harsh realities of relationships, illness and support—will be personal, perhaps intensely so depending on your history, experience, and willingness to engage with what might be difficult emotions.

Fran and I obviously hope people will find our book of interest and relevance, but we have no right to expect everyone will like it, or find it easy going. We value honesty and openness in our readers every bit as much as we value it in each other and in our personal relationships.

So, if you’ve read our book please take a moment or two to let us know what you thought. How did it affect you? What did you feel? What did you like about it? Dislike? Find most challenging? Contact us directly if you would like to. Post a review on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Goodreads. It’s clear from Marie’s blog that people really do read them!

I am consoled and motivated by some lines from one of the reviews I found helpful on Amazon, written by AngryGnome “…This book is not light hearted reading… But in spite of the serious nature of the illness, it is not depressing, as it is filled with hope, humour and more than a touch of beauty.”

Thank you Marie, Sarah, Judy, and all our dear readers—for writing.


Wednesday, 23 August 2017

She Is So Not OK: Being There When Your Friend Is Suicidal

Excerpt from chapter 7, “The ‘S’ Word: Being There When Your Friend Is Suicidal,” of our book High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder. The chapter deals with how we manage our relationship and keep Fran safe when she is in the grip of suicidal thinking. This passage describes how Fran and I originally met online, and my first direct exposure to suicidality.

She Is So Not OK

Suicidal thinking has been part of our friendship since we met. Indeed, it is how we met. One evening in May 2011, I found myself on the social media page of someone who was clearly going through a rough time. She didn’t seem to be online, but in the previous hour she had publically shared suicidal thoughts and feelings. There were hundreds of well-meaning comments. People were offering concern and advice, posting with increasing urgency as time passed and she did not respond. I could have clicked away to another page and put her out of my mind, but I chose to stay. We were not friends, but I knew something of her situation. I felt involved, but what could I possibly contribute that would be meaningful to her, if indeed she was there to read it?

Finally I posted something: “Flooding light and love into your world.”

The words sounded trite and inadequate, but they were the best I could manage. Someone by the name of Fran Houston responded almost immediately: “Sometimes even too much love can be overwhelming.” The comment intrigued and unsettled me. I thanked her for her reply. I think we exchanged a few more lines. Shortly afterwards, Fran sent me an online friendship invitation which I accepted without hesitation. We continued our conversation the next day.

Martin: Thanks for posting what you did last night. It brought me up sharp. I am sure you are right.

Fran: i have so been there.. and people mean well.. and it is such bullshit.. someone told her to go down the street to the health food store and get vitamins.. wtf.. she’ll be fine.. the bottom line is.. she has to save herself..

Martin: There was a lot of concern being shown, but what I sensed most was fear. I know there was fear in what I was feeling. Fear of being involved in what this woman was going through. Fear of facing someone else’s need. There was a panicky selfish worrying, too, in how people continued posting after she had clearly gone offline. The calls for her to come back and reassure them she was OK, that she was still alive. I am happy to see today that she is.

Fran: yeah.. it ends up being a lot of blah blah blah.. nothing about her and what she needs.. all about what others want to give her.. i believe in her.. i do not worry.. that is a negative energy.. it hurts people.. i know i sound harsh.. everyone so wanted to hear that she is ok.. for themselves.. to make them feel ok.. she is so not ok.. i know.. she has a long way to go..

The woman had given Fran her phone number and they were in touch over the following days. Our exchange taught me two things: there is no need to fear talking about suicide and suicidal thinking, and worrying is unhelpful. This is a powerful lesson because we all have the capacity to be supportive—or not. Fran distinguishes suicide interrupters, “those who are able to defuse the suicide bomb,” and suicide aggravators. The latter are people who, consciously or unconsciously, impact her so adversely that suicide seems a viable choice.


High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder is available at: | | | | | | | | Barnes & Noble


Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Bipolar Disorder and Psychosis: There Is Help and There Is Hope, by Amy Gamble

In my wildest dreams, I never imagined I would have had psychotic episodes. I was the “All-American” small town girl from Sherrard, West Virginia, who made it all the way to the Olympic Games in Seoul, Korea. People like me don’t get a mental illness. Right? Wrong.

As much as I liked the athletic genes I inherited, I despise the bipolar disorder gene that tossed my life into a shambles.

A lot of people have been willing to talk about the manic and depressive episodes of bipolar disorder, but few have eagerly stepped up to talk about psychotic episodes. I believe it has a great deal to do with stigma.

Psychosis equals “crazy” in the minds of “normal” people. Losing touch with reality makes for great horror movies, where the insane go on a killing rampage. The voices of those who have experienced psychotic episodes are much quieter in the world of mental health advocacy. No one wants to be thought of as a deranged psycho.

But this hurts the many people who have experienced psychosis. I know I felt tremendous shame and embarrassment, when I picked up the pieces after experiencing psychotic episodes. I never realized that more than 70% of the people who have bipolar disorder experience psychotic episodes, right along with the mania and depression.

What is psychosis? Psychosis is defined by experiencing delusions or hallucinations or some combination of both. Most often my delusions were grandiose religious delusions where I was an angel sent down to earth to save the world from evil. At one point I was found walking in the middle of downtown Phoenix, Arizona in rush hour traffic. I thought I was an angel who could walk through cars.

When I was experiencing delusions every thought seemed so incredibly real. It was like having a dream and not realizing you’re dreaming. When I had those psychotic episodes, for the most part I didn’t know I was sick. There were a couple of times when I remember coming in and out of reality. I might be able to drive a car and put gas in it, but I didn’t know my grandiose delusions were not real.

I believe psychosis is terribly cruel. It inhabited my mind causing outrageous behaviors, even though I was never a danger to others.

What has been most difficult for me has been when I remembered almost everything I did and said while I was sick. It wasn’t just remembering dreams, it was more like re-living my worst nightmare.

I know there are people out there who believe there is no such thing as mental illness. I laugh at those people. It’s so absurd to me to believe the brain never breaks down.

Psychosis is not a state of mind I enjoy. Nor has it ever been a state of mind where anything good happened to me, except the one time when I adopted a kitten. His name is Mr. Kitty and is a beautiful black and white, now nine years old cat. I don’t understand everything about psychosis, but I do know losing touch with reality makes me a vulnerable person.

The time I had walked down the streets of Phoenix caused the police to come. I can tell you this—the outcome wasn’t positive.

For the people who don’t want to take medication for bipolar disorder, I can understand your reasons why. For one, the side effects of some medications can be very wicked. And let’s face it—no one wants to believe she has a chronic health condition, which very often has to be managed with medications.

But … I know from my own personal journey and reading tons of books, if bipolar disorder is left untreated it will get worse over time. There’s no way to wish away an illness. There are many ways to effectively manage bipolar disorder, but often times it includes medication.

I just think that sometimes people search for the school of thought they want to believe. That’s what I did. The moment a friend told me, “You don’t have bipolar disorder. There’s no way. You’re too normal.” It was what I wanted to hear, even though I was “normal” because I was managing my illness with medication, exercise and living a healthy life. But when she said that to me it was exactly what I wanted to hear. I stopped the medications immediately. And I paid a significant price for that decision.

My mission is to explain how I’ve experienced bipolar disorder, especially my psychotic episodes. With experience comes wisdom. I want to share that wisdom with others, so their journey might not be as difficult as mine.

I’ve been free of episodes for almost five years. The only thing I’m really challenged with are triggers for depression. I can only imagine how much more severe my depression would be without managing and fighting it.

My psychiatrist once told me, “We have many medications to treat the mania and psychosis, but fewer that are effective for the depression. The depression is the hardest part of the illness to treat.” When I heard this I was relieved and disappointed all at one time. As far as I was concerned I never wanted to experience another psychotic episode in this lifetime. But the depression is really tough to live with at times. I suppose I was hoping for better news on that note.

If you’ve had a psychotic episode, don’t be ashamed. There are millions of people out there just like you. Whatever you’ve been through or have had to overcome, with the proper treatment you can regain and rebuild your life.

I’ve written a book about my journey with bipolar disorder. It’s called Bipolar Disorder, My Biggest Competitor: An Olympian's Journey with Mental Illness. I think I finally learned how to beat bipolar disorder. And I’m going to help other people beat it too.

My final message is—you are not alone. There is help and there is hope.

Find me on Facebook: @Amygamble1217
Check out my website and blog:


About the Author

Amy Gamble is a small town girl who has always had big time dreams. She followed those dreams all the way to the Olympic Games. She is now the Executive Director of NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) of Greater Wheeling. She is a Certified Mental Health First Aid instructor and a mental health speaker. Amy has over 18 years’ experience in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry. She has worked on Disease State Management Programs and worked as a consultant to the pharmaceutical industry authoring a Depression Training Manual for clients. Amy has a M.A. in Organizational Management and a B.A. in Communication.

Amy’s mission in life is to help those who live mental illness and their family members find help and hope. She strives to eliminate stigma by sharing openly her struggles and triumphs of living with bipolar disorder.