Mental Illness Stigma: Living with Others’ Judgements


At Brighton Wellness Centre, we are well aware of the mental health stigma that pervades our society. Even today, with the many pioneering organisations and charities helping those with mental illnesses, the rise of medications such as anti depressants and mood stabilisers and an awareness of psychotherapy, there is still stigma. People can react negatively, be harsh or not understanding because they do not understand the complexity that is mental ill health and the effects it has on the brain and behaviour.

Common stigmatised reactions may include language such as ‘You aren’t crazy, why do you need to take those pills?‘, ‘You should be locked up’,’You are behaving so bipolar‘, ‘People with depression are weak’ and so on. Mental illness is still sadly associated by some (who have no experience of it) with doctors’ white coats, straight jackets, life long hospital stays and never making a full, complete recovery. It may take generations to change these attitudes, although we are beginning to turn the tide!

While these perceptions of mental illness may have been the case 60 or more years ago, today the mental health world in the UK and other Western countries has moved on. Since the 1950s, the rise of medications that worked to help illnesses such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, psychosis, depressive/anxiety disorders and eating disorders have improved drastically. With the rise of SSRI medications that work on the brain as anti depressants as well as newly developed anti psychotic medications, mental illness sufferers are able, in most cases, to return to their normal lives. This coupled with psychotherapy can truly change lives. The policy of recovery is also a great shift from the past. Psychiatrists, psychologists and psychotherapists don’t just aim to manage symptoms, they aim to set you on the path to recovery.

The feeling of judgement and of someone thinking you are ‘crazy’ is awful, sad and terrifying. For every person that understands and supports, you may get those who can’t and won’t understand you. You can lose friends or loved ones due to this, which is appalling. Support networks are badly needed for those with an illness in particular. So, don’t be stigmatised to those with an illness. Help and love your friend and loved one, give to them, provide a listening ear and a hug.

As someone with experience of mental health, I would say there is still a long way to go in terms of stigma. I talk and blog about my experiences, raise money for mental health charities and have just started reaching a wider audience. However, I still feel I cannot fully disclose my illness under my real name. This is due to the fact that it is still not hugely understood in society, so to be associated with it could be upsetting. Yet, I hope that within a decade or two, this will change. I blog to change attitudes and highlight awareness which is badly needed.

This is why I support Jessica Valentine at Brighton Wellness Centre. She focuses particularly on womens wellness and provides a therapeutic setting and a listening ear to all her clients. Psychotherapy of any kind is truly beneficial in helping you manage symptoms and difficult emotions. By taking the step to going to psychotherapy, you are battling stigma as well as helping yourself move forward.  Remember, there is nothing wrong or weak in talking to a therapist. In fact, you are being incredibly strong for seeking help and reaching out. Hopefully, any therapy you undergo will also help you to change your life for the better.  Reach out today.

Jessica Valentine is a Chartered Counselling Psychologist who supports people within the local community and worldwide online. She offers online Skype therapy and face-to-face counselling in East Sussex, Brighton-Hove.

skype: JessValentine
follow her on Twitter, FB and IG: @getwellbrighton

Why Do I Have Social Anxiety? Can Social Anxiety be Treated?

by Holly Woodley

Social anxiety is an intense fear or worry over social situations and is surprisingly common in the general population, although rarely reported unless severe.

One of the most influential explanations of the onset of social anxiety disorder is the cognitive model:

  • Faulty cognitions in the individual manifest during social situations that possess them to believe that they are in danger of being seen as inept, boring or stupid, which could lead to people disliking them or ignoring them.
  • The model begins with the social situation, which activates the assumptions of perceived social danger, and in turn, the processing of the self as a social object.
  • These cognitive processes can lead to behavioural symptoms, for example the patients’ avoidance behaviour, or somatic and cognitive symptoms, such as the intrusive thoughts of what others may think.
  • The theory proposes that people don’t initially possess the symptoms of social anxiety disorder, they simply have to believe that they do, and their actions of avoidance help to reinforce these biases, which in effect helps them to manifest.
  • Early maladaptive schemas affect the way the individual thinks and processes situations, and have been shown to be more commonly present in those with social phobia particularly, in the sense of disconnection or rejection, but also including self-focused attention, anticipatory processing and post-event processing.
  • Post-event rumination is suggested to be one of the main cognitive biases in those suffering from social phobia. It is suggested that socially anxious individuals negatively perceive themselves and the way they have previously behaved in a social situation, which takes over their attentional resources causing them to negatively over-evaluate . This in turn will influence avoidance of similar situations in the future.
  • In addition, the idea of pre-event rumination has been offered, which involves the individual negatively anticipating an event with obsessive faulty thinking, which may influence them to avoid it before anything negative has actually happened.
  • Those with social anxiety disorder also appear to have attentional biases to threatening stimuli, which may account for why they find social situations particularly intimidating. If all the focus is on the negative aspects of a situation, the individual will feel a heightened sense of fear. This has been shown in studies where attention is monitored, and individuals with social anxiety disorder pay more attention to relevant negative stimuli, for example threatening faces compared to neutral ones influencing a state of panic.

There is also an overall feeling of low self-efficacy that is suggested to result from childhood relationships, for example peer rejection or overprotective parenting styles. This could potentially arise through acts of conditioning, for example observing others being embarrassed or humiliated in social situations. It has been suggested that because shyness has a negative stigma, this promotes social avoidance.

Genetics and biological processes are also proposed theories of the manifestation of social anxiety. Evidence has been suggested to support a biological explanation of social anxiety in terms of neuropeptides. Oxytocin is believed to be a peptide linked to social behaviour as it facilitates approach behaviours, and impacts on social bonding and trust, by linking the amygdala to socio-emotional areas of the cortex. It has been observed that those with social anxiety possess lower levels of oxytocin than controls, due to a variation in the CD38 gene that regulates its secretion. A-allele carriers on the SNP rs3796863 appear to have higher levels of trait anxiety with particular vulnerabilities to developing social anxiety than the C-C allele.

The function of this neuropeptide is to reduce excessive amygdala activation to threatening stimuli, therefore with a reduced amount, this repression is dampened, increasing the fear that those with social anxiety feel. In addition, there is also reduced functional communication between these areas of the brain during stress inducing situations, reducing the positive emotional effects that the peptide has on social behaviour.

An additional biological perspective is associated with genetics and heritability. Data has shown that direct relatives of those with social phobia manifest higher rates of the same disorder than control patients do. For example, it has been found that the phobia is more likely to manifest in children when one or both of their parents suffer from the disorder also.

Risk factors for social anxiety have been found to be highly hereditable (66%), which appear to have higher impact in young people, suggesting that genetic risk factors have higher influence in those who develop social anxiety in their youth.

It is suggested that the overall process is that genetic vulnerabilities make those more susceptible to environmental influences concerning the onset of social anxiety disorder, which integrates both explanations of the manifestation of the disorder. There have been significant gene environment interactions found in terms of stress or attachment types for example, suggesting that this interplay between nature and nurture is a solid explanation for the onset of social anxiety disorder.

One of the most common form of treatment of social phobia is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Patients can attend between 8 to 12 sessions with a therapist in a one on one setting. The therapy involves forms of exposing patients to their feared situations with support, and should aim to help the individual understand the irrationality of their fears. This individual therapy may also involve teaching different types of social skills, either verbal or non verbal. These may involve anything from keeping eye contact and retaining posture, to specific word use, voice, volume and tone, or easy conversation topics. Methods of relaxation are also taught, to help diminish feelings of apprehension or the general physical arousal induces from social situations. What is described as ‘cognitive restructuring’ is another tactic used which aims to correct faulty cognitions within the patient. This works by getting the individual to analyse their own statements or social expectations to understand why they may be irrational, which may in turn aid in reshaping the maladaptive schemas.

Once someone appears to be making some form of improvement, cognitive behavioural group treatment may be suggested, to help ease them into a welcoming social situation with others who have the same feelings as themselves. This gentle ease may drastically help the treatment process. Sessions may include discussing various social skills techniques with others, and learning interaction techniques with each other. Group members may also find themselves being exposed to anxiety provoking situations in a structured and graded way, starting with minimal exposure which gradually increases once the phobic becomes at ease. The efficacy of group therapy for anxiety has been shown by Mychailyszyn, Brodman Read and Kendall (2012) who found that 64% of children who participated in the FRIENDS (a specialized form of CBGT for adolescents) programme no longer met clinical criteria for social phobia after treatment.

An emerging form of group therapy that may also be an option is mindfulness and acceptance based group therapy. In these therapy session mindfulness strategies are used to increase the feelings of acceptance of unwanted physical symptoms, for example trembling, or anxious thoughts, such as feelings of embarrassment. This in turn reduces the feeling of panic that a phobic will experience when they sense their face blushing or their hands shaking. There has been an effect size of 43% observed for the success of this treatment in those with social anxiety.

Trials have shown group therapies to have a positive effect on the reduction of symptoms in social anxiety, for example decreases in subtle avoidance behaviours, cognitive distortions and attention focusing and rumination. However, there do appear to be more issues with group therapy as opposed to individual therapy, for example, a group first needs to be formed before therapy can begin therefore potentially taking longer to initiate. It has been suggested that overall individual therapy is more successful for those with social anxiety disorder, as a majority of patients find the group setting too intimidating to handle whilst still going through treatment, which could potentially worsen their feelings of fear. More feelings of self-consciousness may be induced with feelings of scrutiny. In addition, individual therapy allows the therapist to form a more careful and personal assessment of the patient, in turn catering for a more effective treatment system.

Both therapies have their advantages and disadvantages, however the right programme should be based on the patient’s individual progress and preference.

To see references, turn to the next page.

Jessica Valentine is a Chartered Counselling Psychologist who supports people within the local community and worldwide online. She offers online Skype therapy and face-to-face counselling in East Sussex, Brighton-Hove.

skype: JessValentine
follow her on Twitter, FB and IG: @getwellbrighton

Changing Habitual Behaviours for a Happier Life – Anxiety Disorders.


Do you have behavioural habits that you know you are repeating over and over, and want to learn how to stop them continuing?

Our behaviour is such a challenging thing to change because the mind and our thought patterns and chemistry are so complex- and so individually unique. Once we begin certain behaviours and repeat them over and over, they become automatic and our brain continues to act in the same way unless we take control and change it. This is to do with the way the brain processes hormones such as adrenaline and the memory of previous behavioural patterns.

So, how can we change negative or destructive behaviour patterns that can perpetuate illnesses such as anxiety disorders? (Please note this is similar in other disorders e.g. addictions but this article will focus on anxiety disorders).

The most important thing if you have an anxiety disorder (e.g. generalised anxiety disorder, OCD, PTSD, social anxiety) is that you can change your habits but it will take work, perseverance and support.

I have suffered from social anxiety in the past, coupled with depression. This made it extremely difficult for me to go out to occasions where there were lots of people, for fear of negative judgement, such as at weddings and on public transport. The psychotherapists I worked with taught me that these thoughts were ‘irrational’ and I had various courses of Cognitive Behavioural therapy (CBT) to unpack my negative thoughts and limiting beliefs on paper.

However, what really helped me to change my habits surrounding going out and socialising was something I call exposure therapy. By going out with a few friends and then on the tube, around more people I slowly desensitised myself to new surroundings. I then found that I actually wanted to go out more, and it didn’t feel quite as frightening as when I stayed indoors and cancelled my plans. I didn’t want to hide away.

For those of us with anxiety disorders, we can be triggered by anything in the subconscious and our body chemicals (cortisol and adrenaline). I still have bad days and I know you will too. Yet, you can get better and feel stronger, if you take charge.

If exposure therapy sounds too big an idea, break it down. As mentioned, I had CBT and psychotherapy but there are so many therapies out there that can help too and everyone will have unique symptoms and triggers. Talk with a qualified therapist or your GP to see what therapy plan is best for you.

You may find that Mindfulness CDs work for you to help you stay present and do deep breathing or meditation, art therapy, hypnotherapy or in depth talking therapies. CBT can also be beneficial in changing behaviour patterns but this will depend on the individual.

If you need help changing your negative behavioural patterns, get in touch with Jessica Valentine, therapist at Brighton Wellness Centre.

Jessica Valentine is a Chartered Counselling Psychologist who supports people within the local community and worldwide online. She offers online Skype therapy and face-to-face counselling in East Sussex, Brighton-Hove.

skype: JessValentine
follow her on Twitter, FB and IG: @getwellbrighton

Mental Health: New Years’ Resolutions

It’s that time of year again. Tinsel and fairy lights adorn houses and trees, Christmas songs blare from the radio, mulled wine is served and not to mention advent calendars and nativity plays. This time of year is a time to be with family and friends, whatever faith you are.

This can mean that the Christmas period can be a challenging time for those suffering from mental ill health, due to isolation and loneliness or the overtly social time frame.

If you are feeling like this, the best thing to do is to either talk to someone you trust, phone a helpline or charity if you need, speak to a psychotherapist or use other coping mechanisms. These include journalling, mindfulness, deep breathing or relaxation CD’s.  Whichever works for you, make sure you don’t bottle things up.

Being that it is coming to the end of the year and looking ahead to 2018, I thought I would share some new years resolutions for positive mental health that you can implement in your life.

1) I will invest in self-care this year.

Self-care means I will actually take time out of my day to check in with myself and decide what I need. This isn’t selfish, it is vital to survival of the bleak winter period in particular.

Each day, I will invest in self care, whether its running a warm bubble bath and soaking for half an hour, journaling out my negative feelings and replacing them with positive ones, colouring for relaxation or just getting some much needed down time in front of the TV in my PJs. I will make sure I invest every day in self-care activities.

2) I will make sure I go outside more.

In the winter, I am definitely more prone to curling up like a doormouse and hibernating inside, in the comfort of my warm home, chatting to friends on the phone and computer. I am also a sucker for my blanket and a warm mug of hot chocolate.

While this is good some of the time, I know that I need to push myself out more into the cold and bright mornings.  So, my resolution is to make sure I go out and get enough light and Vitamin D to boost my mood and health and enough exercise to keep my mind and heart healthy.

3) I will make sure to be present.

A friend of mine gave me this tip when she said –‘Stay in the Now and Enjoy the Moment’

I definitely need to do this more and not worry myself too much.  Staying present means that the only moment is now – try and focus on something positive in the present and not worry too far ahead.

4) I will try not to worry what others think and not beat myself up.

Easier said than done, this resolution had come about due to having people-pleasing tendencies.  I hate upsetting people.  This means that I will often overthink or worry about others and what they think.  This year I want to spend less time fretting and not beat myself up over small things that make a mountain from a molehill!

5) I will have a more positive mind-set.

I will not be ashamed of how I am feeling and feel bad because of it.  I will be more accepting of my feelings and needs.  I will know that even if I am at rock bottom, ‘This too shall pass’ and I will find a way to get through adversity and be positive.  I will actively think positive thoughts and push myself to achieve my goals.

If you are suffering from depression, anxiety or any other mental illness please reach out for help.  Contact The Brighton Wellness Centre.  Phone sessions, online (Skype) sessions and face-to-face sessions are available.

Looking forward to a happier, healthier 2018 and wishing you a Merry Christmas and Happy Chanukah!


Jessica Valentine is a Chartered Counselling Psychologist who supports people within the local community and worldwide online. She offers online Skype therapy and face-to-face counselling in East Sussex, Brighton-Hove.

skype: JessValentine
follow her on Twitter, FB and IG: @getwellbrighton

Let’s talk about sex: Sex in the 20th Century and why Brits won’t talk about it.

Think about the first time you ever had sex. Was it a good experience? Was it an awkward experience? Was it a very ‘brief” experience?

I have heard many stories recently about people’s ‘first’ time whether they are stories about the first time they masturbated, the first time they had an orgasm, the first time they had sex with someone and so on.

So many thoughts were flying around in my mind about sex, orgasms and connecting with people. We are an open generation when it comes to sex, how we label ourselves as well as not being ashamed to what we currently get up to.  People call themselves gender fluid, gay, straight, bi, trans…  Whatever terminology people use to explain how they like sex- it’s been defined and out there. And, that is so good for people. We live in a generation where we don’t have to feel judged for the things we get up to under the sheets.

But with all of this non-judgement why do we find ourselves feeling unsatisfied in our relationships? We are allowed to communicate openly to our partners, but yet we fall short of being satisfied between the sheets. We find it difficult to open up and be vulnerable when we love and make love.

Do our egos get in the way when it comes to sex and relationships? Do our insecurities damper the love connection? What is it about men and women that just don’t connect? Or do we connect… but we put too much pressure on things that we don’t have or things that are not that important. What is it about sex, that when you ‘do it’ with someone it changes everything? Does social media get in the way of communication? Does porn ruin everything for us ‘regular’ girls? Does porn ruin everything for the ‘average’ kind of man? These are just a few of the questions that crossed my mind when reflecting about sex in the 20th Century.

I think having sex with someone breaks down a barrier or wall. You become vulnerable. I mean please… you are having sex with someone and you make ‘that face’ you know… that face that is totally embarrassing! I mean having sex is quite a private, intimate and special thing for many. Not many people talk about sex and the do’s and don’ts.

I could remember the first time I moved to England and brought up the topic sex after having one too many white wines. I could remember my friend turning to me and saying ‘us Brits do not talk about sex, Jessica!’ It just was not the ‘in’ thing to do.

I didn’t understand why everyone thought talking about sex was so embarrassing and a faux pas. I mean I actually was very perplexed about this notion. And, secondly I thought… I am not going to make it in this country especially if people are so uptight and keep their thoughts to themselves. But was it like anything else that caused embarrassment such as uneasy feelings, negative feeling and often the truth that the Brits like to sweep under the rug. After all, that is where that saying ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ comes from.. a post World War II coping mechanism that created a generation of passive aggressive culture that after a few pints start snogging each other excessively.

What is it about certain cultures and sex? Why do they make it so dirty? Why can’t people talk about it? How are we going to make it better if we can’t discuss it? I mean NOT ALL WOMEN ARE THE SAME! Just as NOT ALL MEN ARE THE SAME!  When doing the do!

I have read several articles on ‘how to’s’ and I am thinking to myself… actually.. that’s not true, you need to do it like this. So, there is a lot of information out there on sex and intimacy but everyone is different and there is no secret recipe. This is why talking about sex and communicating is so important.

What are your thoughts on the topic? Do you think people do talk about it sex in England? Are Brits too embarrassed to talk about sex? Would love to hear from you!


If you would like to talk about sex, marriage, divorce, orgasms or lack of please get in touch!

Jessica Valentine is a Chartered Counselling Psychologist who supports people within the local community and worldwide online. She offers online Skype therapy and face-to-face counselling in East Sussex, Brighton-Hove.

skype: JessValentine
follow her on Twitter, FB and IG: @getwellbrighton

Beating Seasonal Affective Disorder: Setting Small Goals to Relieve Winter Blues


It’s January. You may be feeling bloated or sluggish after the Christmas holiday period, the days are still getting dark early, it’s cold and frosty and so you feel completely demotivated. The glow of the holidays has gone leaving us still with several months until Spring. It is natural to feel low, unmotivated and a bit flat at this time of year.

So what can you do?

It’s always good at this time of year – a new year, a new start to put those resolutions into action, in a small way. It is best to break down goals into smaller ones, especially if you are feeling low.

At the start of each new week, it is good to think about what you would like to achieve, however insignificant it may seem to you. This could range from a small goal such as ‘Get out of bed an hour earlier each day’, ‘Do my laundry instead of letting it build up’ to wider health, career and relationship goals. Instead of making a goal vague such as ‘Exercise more’, it is best to set specific, achievable goals such as ‘Exercise for 1 hour this morning’. Specific goals tend to get better results.

I find that it is best to write down my goals in a notebook and to make them achievable for myself. Tick lists can be useful too, but the aim is not to overload yourself with how much you want to do, but to take each goal carefully and in its own time. Give yourself a day or time scale to do it in and don’t beat yourself up if you can’t achieve it, just make the goal more realistic and achievable next time.

Procrastination is my particular nemesis, as I know it is for so many people. However, if it becomes a problem you must ask yourself what is it about that particular goal that you don’t want to do. For example, if you fear something or struggle with motivation, try to reflect on its benefits and why you set that goal in the first place or what you can do to reach your goal.


As always, the goal must be achievable. Achieving goals brings a great sense of satisfaction and boosts self-esteem. You can either make the goals on your own or with a therapist, life coach or family member.

It is important if you are suffering from depression not to beat yourself up if you aren’t doing as much as you would normally. Depression brings a whole host of symptoms including demotivation and despondency, however there are many things that can help you feel better.

If you are really struggling please see your doctor (GP), therapist or psychiatrist.

At Brighton Wellness Centre, Jessica Valentine helps people struggling with many health issues to feel better. Jessica runs therapy sessions to boost wellness, recovery and self-esteem. Contact Jessica here

Jessica Valentine is a Chartered Counselling Psychologist who supports people within the local community and worldwide online. She offers online Skype therapy and face-to-face counselling in East Sussex, Brighton-Hove.

skype: JessValentine
follow her on Twitter, FB and IG: @getwellbrighton

Do I have an Unhealthy Relationship with My Child? Unhealthy Attachments and How Anxiety and Worry Won’t Help You

If you are someone who is prone to worrying and anxiety, you will understand how stressful it can be to have children. Do I worry about my children? Sometimes. Do I have anxiety when it comes to my children? Sometimes. But when does it become unhealthy? When does having worry and anxiety mess with healthy boundaries between yourself and your child?

Having anxiety is normal. You see, there is good anxiety and then there is bad anxiety. The good anxiety is – how I like to explain it – as a survival skill. If you are a sensitive person and in touch with yourself and other people you will get what I am saying. We as human beings are animals. However, we don’t have the specific form of instinct. We have what is called intuition. And, part of this ‘intuition’ that we as human beings have there lays anxiety. Anxiety can help us stay out of a situation or warn us if there is trouble. Anxiety is part of our make up; everyone has it! However, like anything else there is a spectrum of disorders and a spectrum of personalities that we all endure.

What does anxiety feel like? 

It’s that funny feeling of butterflies in our stomach. It’s that uneasy feeling that something isn’t right. That is how you would describe the good anxiety.

Sometimes when I work with children, I ask them to put a colour on the anxiety that they are feeling. “Where do you feel this funny feeling? What colour is it?” I would ask. This can help children understand what they are actually feeling. And, sometimes…the colour surprises me! I can always relate a colour to a safe feeling or safe object which relieves many children and parents as well.

What is bad anxiety? And, why do I feel bad anxiety?  

The bad anxiety that leads to catastrophic thinking (catastrophising) and unhealthy attachments with our children and our partners, well that is something entirely different. Bad anxiety is an anxiety that gets our knickers in a twist. Bad anxiety stresses us out, makes us shout, increases worry, causes unhealthy attachments with our children and partners, can make us depressed, in some cases make us use drugs and alcohol, can take away concentration in school work and office work and much more.

Bad anxiety or unwanted anxiety (we don’t usually us the word good and bad in a counselling session- it’s usually unhealthy and healthy or desired and undesired behaviour- I am just trying to make a point)- can leave us feeling pretty crappy sometimes. It can leave us feeling isolated and alone. It can also keep you stuck in the house if the anxiety is too overwhelming.

How does anxiety effect unhealthy attachments? 

For those that have anxiety and over-worry it can be quite stressful for the child. Having a parent that over-worries can make the child over think and over-worry, thus not being a risk taker. The child might always question him or herself in everything that they do. They also may manipulate the parent and ‘need’ the parent psychologically when it may not be an age appropriate benchmark. These can then effect future relationships with other people as the child grows and gets older.

You see, attachment starts at the age of 0-2. These years are the most important when it comes to attachment, healthy boundaries and relationships. It’s all connected and quite complex. Loads of psychologists have written and studies about attachment.

The more anxious a parent it the greater risk of having an unhealthy attachment. Do you want to learn more about this fascinating concept? Check out Bowlby’s Attachment Theory!

If you or anyone suffers from anxiety and over-worry and it is effecting your child- The Brighton Wellness Centre in Hove, East Sussex can help. 

This week’s book pick! How to Stop Worrying and Start Living by Dale Carnegie.

Jessica Valentine is a Chartered Counselling Psychologist who supports people within the local community and worldwide online. She offers online Skype therapy and face-to-face counselling in East Sussex, Brighton-Hove.

skype: JessValentine
follow her on Twitter, FB and IG: @getwellbrighton