Friday, 28 November 2014

What are your reasons for spending?

Before you head out to the shops today to see what the 'Black Friday' sales have to offer, have a think about your motives for shopping.

Why do people spend?
It's true that the holiday season is just around the corner and many of us will be looking to get gifts for loved ones, but necessity is not the only reason people spend. 

Money is often associated with power and success. A study in the Journal of Consumer Research actually saw participants salivating at the concept of money when they were first primed to feel they lacked power. 

People often believe money will make them more attractive, popular and successful to others. Conversely being in debt and not being able to spend makes people feel powerless and vulnerable. Indeed debt and mental health problems often go hand in hand.

Spending is used by many as a form of therapy - it makes us feel better about ourselves. However this type of spending can become habitual as it feeds our deep psychological needs.

The spending cycle and 'debtpression'
Those who have got into a cycle of spending and debt may struggle to cope with feelings of stress, anxiety and depression. People may feel they have failed and are ashamed to admit the situation to themselves and others. They may ignore letters and bills or even leave them unopened and may continue to spend. Over time this behaviour can lead to strong feelings of guilt and depression, which have been dubbed 'debtpression'.

If you are suffering from debtpression, it is important to seek help to address the underlying reasons for your spending and to break the vicious cycle of spending that you have got into. 

Lack of funds breeds creativity
While this is a very gloomy situation to be in, lack of funds can actually have some surprising benefits. Many businesses have started up during the recession as people have become more creative in finding ways to make money. Debt can make us think about new ways of doing things - it forces our hand. 

Taking action 
Whatever your approach when you are short of funds,  it is important to take action. Doing something about the situation will give you a sense of power over it and help to avoid debtpression. 

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Don't suffer in silence

There have been a number of high profile cases of domestic abuse against women in the press recently and as today is International Day of Elimination of Violence Against Women, we thought we'd talk a bit about domestic violence.

It can be easy to think that victims of domestic abuse can simply leave the situation, however often domestic abuse starts some time into a relationship when an emotional attachment has been established. For women, it may begin at a time of vulnerability, such as during pregnancy, and the woman may feel she has no choice but to stay with her partner, hoping it is a one-off.

Often there is a period following the abusive behaviour when the perpetrator apologises for their behaviour and promises never to do it again and the victim may want to give things another try, hoping it will get better. However, this pattern of behaviour can continue for years and the victim may slowly lose confidence and begin to believe she is somehow to blame. 

Women often feel trapped in the situation and become too scared to leave. They may worry about uprooting their children's lives or leaving them behind; may not be financially independent; have no where else to go and may fear what would happen if their partner found them.

While domestic abuse is often thought of as physical violence against women, in reality it is just as likely to be of a sexual or mental/emotional nature and can happen to anyone, children and men included. 

Indeed the number of reported cases of domestic abuse where men are the victims has doubled in the last decade and it is likely there are many more unreported cases as victims of domestic abuse may feel helpless and ashamed and not know where to turn.

If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, there is help at hand. Speaking to a trained counsellor or therapist may be useful as it may help you rebuild your confidence and self-esteem following an abusive relationship and may enable you to think clearly about what you wish to do about the situation if you feel unable to leave. 

Police Scotland also offer lots of helpful advice and contact details of support organisations on their website. 

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Tackling bullying at work

Our posts this week, for Anti-Bullying Week, have focused so far on bullying between children or adolescents. However, unfortunately bullying does not stop when we 'grow up' or leave school. Bullying happens among adults of all ages and in organisations of all sizes too.

A report by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) states that between 83-90% of UK organisations have anti-bullying policies, yet bullying is still happening. So what constitutes bullying at work?

Common bullying behaviours

  • Being insulting: personally criticising someone or making them feel small by ridiculing, humiliating or making demeaning comments.
  • Harassment: with-holding information; overloading someone with work; taking the credit for someone else's work; or removing responsibility from someone without discussing it with them first.
  • Exclusion: scapegoating, isolation or victimisation.
  • Intimidation: threats of physical violence or psychological intimidation.

Bullying may continue over a long period before it is recognised as such and it may be that the bully is not aware of how their actions are perceived.

The impact of bullying at work

It has been estimated that bullying may cost the UK over £2 billion a year. For the employee, it can lead to social and psychological problems in the present and longer term too.

"People who are bullied, particularly for longer periods, often struggle with feelings of low self-esteem, stress, anxiety and depression, says "Professor Ewan Gillon, Clinical Director of First Psychology Scotland, who has worked with many clients who have experienced bullying at work. "They may end up feeling completely exhausted and suffer physically as well as feeling traumatised by the experience."

When the situation starts to take its toll, people often resort to taking sick leave. In the end they may  feel the situation is intolerable and leave the organisation, without another job to go to.

How can organisations help?

Work to promote and uphold positive values and behaviour in the workplace: this is important as it ensures everyone knows what is acceptable behaviour and what is not.

Support employees: the provision of accessible and professional support for employees in the form of counselling, CBT and coaching can aid the resilience of employees who feel bullied. In addition, employees who are aware of their inappropriate behaviour may be assisted by working with a professional to change how they interact with others.

Group training: training in a group or team can be an effective way of building mutual respect between colleagues and can help foster an environment of group responsibility. Training in issues such as stress awareness can help employees recognise the signs of stress in themselves and others and can help them build strategies for dealing with stress effectively.

First Psychology Scotland offers a wide range of services for organisations through its First Psychology Assistance brand. For further details visit

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

More on beating the bullies

Bullying - and its modern relation cyber-bullying - are on the rise, with 45,000 children affected by it contacting ChildLine in the last year alone. Psychologist Professor Ewan Gillon, clinical director of First Psychology Scotland, explains the origins of bullying and how to deal with the effects on you or your family.
(The following piece featured in the Dundee Courier on 17 November 2014)

I have worked with many children and adults who have suffered at the hands of bullies. The word bullying describes any behaviour that is malicious, intimidating or offensive. It is intended to humiliate or even injure the person it’s aimed at, and sustained bullying over a period of time wears down mental resilience.

The effects of bullying People being bullied will often feel helpless and frustrated while gradually losing confidence in their abilities. They may experience physical symptoms such as sickness, sleeplessness and loss of appetite. Bullied children may feel anxious about going to school, and adults dread going into the workplace due to uncontrollable feelings of panic associated with going to the location of the bullying. These effects can spill over into family life causing added relationship problems. Bullied individuals can also find it difficult to motivate themselves which affects their productivity so it’s not surprising their studies or careers may suffer too.

Why people bully A difficult home life can exacerbate the likelihood of a bullied child becoming a bully – indeed in most cases bullies were bullied themselves and are passing on that behaviour. And the bully’s social environment can influence their behaviour - we often receive more attention for negative behaviour than we do for positive. In children, the usual power struggles of the playground transform into something much more destructive if a child bully decides to abuse their power in some way, e.g. they may be much larger in size than other children and purposely pick on the smallest child, thereby giving themselves a fleeting feeling of control.

Cyber-bullying The social media revolution means that bullying no longer stops in the playground. I have seen an increase in the effects of cyber-bullying, with youngsters struggling with the psychological pressures arising from overuse of social media. In a recent survey questioning 10,000 young people, 7 out of 10 had been a victim of cyber-bullying – a worrying statistic. Living their lives online (via Facebook, Instagram and other social media channels) is leading to a dramatic reduction in self-esteem, particularly in young girls who can be more affected by the opinions of their peers. Parents can help by being more vigilant about how long their children are online for and which sites they’re visiting.

Worried your child is being bullied? Is your child anxious about going to school? Are they behaving differently, for example in a shy manner when they are usually outgoing? Bullied children often ‘act out’ after school, the result of a day of pent-up feelings, so take note if your child shows anger or aggression for no apparent reason. Do they lose their temper easily, or need constant reassurance? Are they pushing you away physically, or biting their nails, or pulling at their hair? As well as a lack of self-confidence and restlessness and/or sleeplessness, these are all signs of increased anxiety which could be symptoms of bullying.

Top tips for dealing with bullies
  • The most important thing is to stay healthy as this will mean you’re firing on all cylinders physically, emotionally and psychologically when facing the bully.
  • Bullies crave an emotional response so do your best to remain calm and rational, no matter how upset you may be feeling inside. Tell them in your most assertive voice to stop the behaviour that is upsetting you. Some people are unaware of the effect their actions have on others so this may be all it takes to put an end to the bullying.
  • Tell someone close to you (a family member, friend, teacher or colleague) about what is happening to you and build a strong support network. Speak to others and find out whether they are experiencing similar problems. Being seen surrounded by friends/colleagues will often deter a bully and makes you a less attractive target.
  • Understandably you may wish to forget what has happened but it’s important to keep a record of the bullying incidents so that, if you need to take the matter further, you will have the facts of when, where and how you were bullied to hand.
  • Finally, consider professional counselling as a way of dealing with any unresolved feelings towards bullying. 
First Psychology Scotland has 10 centres throughout Scotland. For further information visit

Monday, 17 November 2014

Beat the bullies

Today is the start of anti-bullying week, so we thought it a good time to talk about the subject of bulling and the impact it can have.

What is bullying?
Bullying is the act of belittling someone repeatedly through harassment, physical harm, demeaning speech or efforts to ostracise them. Bullying can takes many forms. The three main types being physical bullying, verbal bullying and cyber bullying.

Anyone can potentially fall prey to a bully. It can happen in pre-school, primary school, secondary school and in the workplace. However it is most prevalent in the mid-teen years when children move from primary to secondary school.

Long-term bullying can lead to low self-esteem, lack of confidence, trust issues, anxiety and depression and these effects may be continue to be experienced in the future as well as the present. Knowing how to spot the signs in others - particularly young people, who may feel they have no voice - is an important step to making things better.

Common signs that a child or young person is being bullied
  • Becoming withdrawn and lacking confidence
  • Coming home with unexplainable injuries
  • Being reluctant to go to school, or playing truant
  • Becoming anxious or distressed 
  • 'Acting out' at home due to a build up in frustration at school
  • Changes in weight or eating habits
  • Decrease in school performance
  • Find it hard to sleep
  • Beginning to bully other children or siblings
  • Changes in behaviour, such as starting to wet the bed when dry previously
  • Possessions going missing more than usual

If you think your child is being bullied, try to talk to them to find out if there are any grounds for your suspicions. Give your child space if they don't want to talk, but let them know you are there for them if there is anything troubling them.

If you are the parent of a teenager, spotting the signs of bullying can be particularly difficult due to the quite usual distant and secretive behaviour of this age group. Unchecked bullying can lead to depression in teenagers. Read our article about teenage depression for more information.

The Scottish Government has produced an informative guide for parents and carers of teenagers being bullied. Click here to download a pdf copy. 

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Remember remember men's health

Thanks to the 'Movember' Foundation, we don't just remember, remember the 5th of November, but men's health issues throughout November too.

Men are often reluctant to seek help for a number of reasons, so when a man is feeling physically or mentally unwell, it is often a partner or a friend who persuades him to seek help - in many cases as a last resort.

"Many of our male clients in particular have struggled for years before seeking help," said Professor Ewan Gillon, Clinical Director of First Psychology Scotland. A practising psychologist, Professor Gillon works with male and female clients in his personal clinics and takes a keen interest in how men seek help.

"Us men are brought up to hide our feelings and be strong and it can be hard to admit needing support," he said.

While not cultivating his own 'movember' moustache, Professor Gillon believes the Movember Foundation's aim to get men talking about their health and taking action is vital to the health of men.

"There used to be a common belief that men were less susceptible to certain conditions, such as depression and eating disorders, but more recent thinking is that the symptoms are often different in men and have therefore gone undetected. Raising awareness of men's health is a vital step towards men getting the help they need," he said.

The Movember Foundation aims to change the way men think by introducing an element of fun into this otherwise serious issue. The moustache creates a talking point for men to engage and talk about their health and do something about it.

If you would like to support the Movember Foundation by growing a moustache for November, or if you would like some general information on men’s health, visit the Movember Health Tips page,

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Bullying and young people

According to recent studies,  bullying is becoming more widespread.

The use of social media in every day life is one factor. Bullies are able to hide behind opaque identities online and can use these to target individuals. And whereas in the past malicious information may have taken a while to spread, with social media, information can spread fast leading to increased humiliation of the victim in a very public environment.

The effects of bullying
"The long-term consequences of bullying are considerable," says Professor Ewan Gillon, Clinical Director of First Psychology Scotland. "When young people are bullied, it can result in a life-time of anxiety in social situations. Adults who were bullied as children can find it hard to trust others."

"Those who experience bullying often isolate themselves from others and this can add to feelings of depression and lack of control over the situation. Cyber bullying can be particularly bad because the victim may not know who is behind the bullying and may start to become paranoid around others. Self-harming and suicidal thoughts are common among those who are bullied. People find the situation hard to tolerate and try to find ways to deal with the pain they experience."

Beating the bullies
With such far reaching consequences on the minds of young people in particular, it is important to think about what you can do to help beat bullying in young people.

Respect Me, Scotland's anti-bullying service, has produced a useful checklist for parents and carers that provides some valuable suggestions about how to help a child deal with bullying.

The website stresses the importance of empowering the child or young person by ensuring they are involved in the decision making process. "Ask the child or young person what they would like to happen next" says www.respect "Sometimes they won't want you to do anything - just having told someone can often help."

"It is vital that the young person trusts you and feels they can talk to you," says Professor Gillon. "You can really make a difference by helping to rebuild the confidence of a young person.

Further support
If you think your child is suffering from depression or other psychological issues as a result of the bullying, your GP should be able to provide some advice to help manage this or provide further assistance where necessary.

For information and advice about depression, the symptoms, self help and other resources,  read our fact sheet.