Engage Aotearoa

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The Engage Blog is my space for sharing updates, news, useful or interesting ideas, research updates and resources for people who experience mental-health challenges and their supporters. Browse from the top to find the latest posts. Use the search bar on your right to find something specific or explore the categories in the drop-down menu below. If you have something useful you’d like to see added, feel free to get in touch.

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Better Blokes support groups

Better Blokes is a peer support service for men who have survived sexual abuse. They run support groups across Auckland. Visit their website for more information. While their groups don’t run during level 3, you can still use their online chat service and call their phoneline for support.

  • West Auckland Group
    Mondays 7:30 – 9:30 pm
  • Pacifica Group
    Wednesday 7:00pm – 9:00pm
  • Mt Roskill Group
    Mondays 7:30 – 9:30 pm
  • Northshore Group
    Thursdays 7:30pm – 9:30pm
  • South Auckland Group
    Mondays 4:00pm – 6:00pm
  • Epsom Group
    Wednesdays 10am – 12:00am

Visit the Better Blokes website to find out more about their services and how to contact them: https://betterblokes.org.nz/

Creative connections in the Community Resources Directory

The Creative Connections section of The Community Resources Directory has now been updated and moved online. This section lists national and local Auckland groups that provide support for creatives and opportunities to engage with the arts, explore your creative side, and get involved in the creative community.  While we are in level 3 lockdown in Auckland at the moment and we can’t physically go out to participate in these groups, many offer online resources and networks that might help to fill the gap.

That’s 13 sections you can easily browse online now and only 4 left to go.

Screenshot of Community Resources Directory contents page showing sections on Funding Mental Health Treatment in New Zealand, Acute / Crisis / Urgent Teams, Community Mental Health Centres (DHB), Community Support Services, Counsellors and Therapists in Private Practice, Creative Connections, Cultural, Refugee and Migrant Services, Disability Services, Help Lines, Psychiatrists in Private Practice, Rainbow Community Resources, Respite Services, and Service User Initiatives

The return to zoom: resources for lockdown

We woke up on Sunday morning to the start of another 7-day level 3 rahui in Auckland. I will be working through this time but have now returned to seeing people on Zoom. I’ll resume seeing people in person when we move back down to level 1.

The team at Changing Minds continues to deliver the Whakatau Mai Wellbeing Sessions. If you are 18+ and need a bit of extra support or me-time over the next week you can check them out here: www.wellbeingsessions.nz. If you are under 18, TheLowdown.co.nz and ThrivingAdolescent.com have a bunch of useful online resources you might like to explore. There are several websites and apps full of helpful ways of coping with stressful times such as these in the Engage Online Resources Pack too.

You can find the latest government announcements about alert levels here: https://covid19.govt.nz/ They’ve put together a host of wellbeing resources that are worth a browse.

New study highlights stories of successful withdrawal

My latest paper has just been published in the open access journal, Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology, as part of their special collection on discontinuing psychotropic medication.

You can read the full text free here: Service-user efforts to maintain their wellbeing during and after successful withdrawal from antipsychotic medication (Larsen-Barr and Seymour, 2021).

Abstract

Background: It is well-known that attempting antipsychotic withdrawal can be a fraught process, with a high risk of relapse that often leads people to resume the medication. Nonetheless, there is a group of people who appear to be able to discontinue successfully. Relatively little is known about how people do this.

Methods: A convenience sample of adults who had stopped taking antipsychotic medication for more than a year were recruited to participate in semi-structured interviews through an anonymous online survey that investigated antipsychotic medication experiences in New Zealand. Thematic analysis explored participant descriptions of their efforts to maintain their wellbeing during and after the withdrawal process.

Results: Of the seven women who volunteered to participate, six reported bipolar disorder diagnoses and one reported diagnoses of obsessive compulsive disorder and depression. The women reported successfully discontinuing antipsychotics for 1.25–25 years; six followed a gradual withdrawal method and had support to prepare for and manage this. Participants defined wellbeing in terms of their ability to manage the impact of any difficulties faced rather than their ability to prevent them entirely, and saw this as something that evolved over time. They described managing the process and maintaining their wellbeing afterwards by ‘understanding myself and my needs’, ‘finding what works for me’ and ‘connecting with support’. Sub-themes expand on the way in which they did this. For example, ‘finding what works for me’ included using a tool-box of strategies to flexibly meet their needs, practicing acceptance, drawing on persistence and curiosity and creating positive life experiences.

Conclusion: This is a small, qualitative study and results should be interpreted with caution. This sample shows it is possible for people who experience mania and psychosis to successfully discontinue antipsychotics and safely manage the impact of any symptoms that emerge as a result of the withdrawal process or other life stressors that arise afterwards. Findings suggest internal resources and systemic factors play a role in the outcomes observed among people who attempt to stop taking antipsychotics and a preoccupation with avoiding relapse may be counterproductive to these efforts. Professionals can play a valuable role in facilitating change.

Auckland Pride Festival on now

Auckland’s annual Pride Festival kicked off this week with a dawn ceremony at Maungawhau on the 3rd of February and runs right through to February 28th. You can check out the full 2021 calendar of events on the Pride Festival website at https://aucklandpride.org.nz/category/events/.

There are hundreds of events and heaps of them are free. You’ll find things like a Spoken Word Showcase on Feb 17th and 25th, the ICON exhibition from Same Same but Black from Feb 3rd – 28th, a workshop on Accessing Trans Healthcare on Feb 10th, lunchtime yoga at Ellen Mellville Centre on Wednesdays, and the Pride March from Mt Albert Park on Feb 27th.

Lindah Lepou’s powerful story of survival

Lindah Lepou is a Samoan transwoman, fashion designer, artist, and performer who recently shared her story in the form of a long prose poem called Blah Blah Blah, as part of the Pacific Arts Legacy Project from Pantograph Punch and Creative NZ.

This is an intense but powerful story that takes you on Lindah’s journey through growing up trans in NZ and Samoa, navigating stigma and discrimination, surviving physical and sexual violence, dealing with suicidal urges, and discovering her identity and personal power.

Lindah opens her story with an acknowledgement to ‘Le Va’. I love this concept. It’s like an ancient, indigenous predecessor to social constructionism and family systems thinking.

Jemaima Tiatia-Seath defines Le Va as “the relational space that connects people, things and elements. The sacred space between, the space that binds independent entities together, the space that is context, the space that gives meaning to things. A space not solely observed by the individual but also executed at wider institutional and societal levels. Pacific peoples inhabit multiple social spaces, hold various roles, responsibilities and standing within their families, villages, churches and communities, occupy a range of experiences, by age, socioeconomic position, gender identity, sexual preference, birthplace, ethnicity, disability, and religious/spiritual affiliation. Genuine Pacific cultural competency embraces and values all diversity. (See: Tiatia-Seath, 2018, The importance of Pacific cultural competency in healthcare, Pacific Health Dialog; 21/1: 8-9.) That can start to sound a bit academic sometimes, but when you read a story like Lindah’s, or any recovery story really, the many intersections come to life.

Lindah writes, “Ona muamua Le VA. Blah blah blah blah blah… Soso‘o mai loa AITU. Blah blah blah blah blah… GAFA Sāmoa and Pālagi lineage. A family of multidimensional artists. Blah blah blah blah blah… Solo Sāmoan mother and absent Pālagi father. Blah blah blah blah blah… I was born in Wellington, New Zealand (1973). Blah blah blah blah blah… Transgender. I was an effeminate child named ‘Aaron Lepou’. Blah blah blah blah blah…”

Later, she continues, “Blah blah blah blah blah… I create ‘Lindah Lepou’ with all the courage and qualities I urgently need. I wanted to kill myself. Blah blah blah blah blah… Performing Artist. I started dancing to express myself and build self-confidence. Janet Jackson and En Vogue were my obsession. Blah blah blah blah blah…”

Read the rest of Lindah Lepou’s story on Pantograph Punch here.

Referrals open for Mondays in Henderson

I am all set to move into full-time private practice and will be available to see people for private therapy at WEST Community Hub in Henderson on Mondays from March, with a view to shift to Tuesdays when office space becomes available.

I will continue to see people online and from Changing Minds in Mount Eden, but will move to Wednesdays and Thursdays so Fridays can become a day for groups. I have found a most excellent peer support worker with a background in poetry and performance like me, and we are getting ready to co-design and run some groups together later this year. More info soon.

I am now accepting referrals for my first four time-slots at my new Henderson office on Monday March 1st and March 8th. Find out more about my availability and making a referral here.

I have truly loved my first six months of part-time private practice at Changing Minds. There is something different about working from a service-user led space with such a long history of systemic advocacy in New Zealand. As someone who once participated in Changing Minds’ monthly Consumer Forums, and later served as a trustee on the board, for me it feels rather a lot like coming home each time I walk through the door. I like the way we have a lounge room instead of a waiting room, and the way the walls are covered in framed stories of recovery from real people who have been there before.

Back in my days as a full-time activist, when I was working with Taimi Allan on the Like Minds Like Mine team at Mind and Body Consultants, we often used to weave fantasies about a fictional ‘service-user led clinical service’ and when I left that job for my clinical training, we promised ourselves ‘one day…’ Our little partnership at Changing Minds feels rather a lot like the first step in our own tiny little revolution in that way.

I have searched long and hard for a similar service-user led space to partner with in West Auckland, but it turns out there is nowhere else quite like Changing Minds. I was very excited to discover the peer-led space Te Ata in Henderson (if you haven’t been yet, do go check it out, it’s pretty awesome). Unfortunately, they didn’t yet have a room that was suitable for therapy and it was a bit far from public transport options. So I have opted to use the therapy rooms at WEST Community Hub for the time-being. It’s not a service-user led space or quite as homey, even though it’s also in a repurposed house. But it is a community-led space, so it’s similar enough to my kaupapa to fit. Plus it is super close to bus-stops, the train station and lots of parking – and just down the road from Te Ata.

Here’s to the next chapter.

Take care out there everyone,

Miriam

Learning To Cope And Thrive Through Psychiatric Medication Withdrawal

Will Hall is offering a free online workshop called Learning to Cope and Thrive through Psychiatric Medication Withdrawal on Friday the 5th of February at 8-9:30 am NZ time. Register on EventBrite at the link below.

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/learning-to-cope-and-thrive-through-psychiatric-medication-withdrawal-tickets-135165097445

Will Hall is a counselor and advocate whose work and learning arose from his experiences of recovery from madness. He holds a Diploma and Masters Degree in Process Work from the Process Work Institute, and studies over the years have included training with Jaakko Seikkula and colleagues in Open Dialogue at the Institute for Dialogic Practice, and the WRAP facilitators’ training. He was a co-author of the Harm Reduction Guide to Coming of Psychiatric Drugs with the Icarus Project and is currently a PhD candidate at Maastricht University Medical Center – School for Mental Health and Neuroscience, supervised by Dr. Jim van Os doing research into alternatives to psychiatric medications.

Alyssa’s Autism Acceptance Project

I recently discovered Alyssa’s Autism Acceptance Project online in a blog post by the project creator herself, Alyssa Bolger and her brother Lachlan, two teenagers on the autism spectrum on a mission to change their little corner of the world for the better. They are based in Australia but I found their story really inspiring and think you will too. I love solutions created by the people they are designed to serve. Insider knowledge is a special thing and it always seems a bit like finding treasure when I come across something like this. As a clinician, research is one thing, but it’s never quite as powerful as knowing real life examples of people doing well and what it’s been like for them. There’s a term for this, ‘the power of positive contact’ and it’s a key ingredient for creating accepting communities. This project has that in spades. You can find Alyssa’s Autism Acceptance Project and follow her family’s journey on Facebook at www.facebook.com/TheAAAProject/

Alyssa and Lachlan’s article on Reframing Autism gives us a real life example that totally busts the common myth that people on the autism spectrum aren’t interested in friendship and shines the light on the barriers that get in the way. All humans need friendship including people on the autism spectrum.

Alyssa and Lachlan write, “My name is Alyssa, and my younger brother is called Lachlan. We are both proud autistic teenagers and we are writing this post together (with a little help from our autistic parents), because we want everyone to know how important friendship is to us, as we know there are Neurotypicals out there who think autistic people don’t care about having friends.”

They go on to explain, “Lachlan and I have learned that making friends is all about having something in common. That’s why we started our Lego club called BrickTime a few years ago. It’s a safe place that’s seen lots of friendships, because of a common love of Lego. Some of the Lego builds have been amazing! We were even going to organise an exhibition to show off these builds, but COVID-19 put a stop to that. Hopefully, we’ll get to do it one day.

Along with BrickTime, the other thing we do as the AAA Project is travel to schools to talk to kids about autism. We started doing this because of a message that I received while I was the Telethon kid back in 2015. A young autistic girl (who was so happy to discover that she wasn’t the only autistic girl through seeing me on TV) sent a message to ask if I would be her friend. She said she didn’t have any friends in her small country town, because nobody ‘got her’. I would have loved to have been her friend but, unfortunately, I had no contact details for her (and I didn’t even know her name). So, we set off travelling around WA, in the hope that we might find her. We talked to kids from schools as far south as Albany and as far north as Kununurra. Lachlan and Dad did all the behind-the-scenes tech stuff, and Mum and I did the presentation.”

Read the full story here: Building Friendships Brick by Brick, by Alyssa and Lachlan Bolger on the Reframing Autism website.

Town Hall Series on Psychiatric Drug Withdrawal

Mad in America has teamed up with the International Institute for Psychiatric Drug Withdrawal and the Council for Evidence-Based Psychiatry to share a series of live ‘Town Hall’ discussions exploring what we do and don’t know about safe withdrawal from antidepressants, antipsychotics, benzodiazepines and stimulants.

The first event in the series was aired on the 15th of January (GMT) and if you didn’t get a chance to tune into the live stream you can find the video on Youtube at the link below.


Psychiatric Drug Withdrawal Town Hall 1 – Introducing the Series
https://youtu.be/Pj-mLG7tYi4