Posts Tagged ‘mental health’

Adventures in winter

In August 2015 on August 10, 2015 at 2:47 pm

adventure web

Sarah: It can be tough to get through winter with your body and mind in good shape.

Dark mornings, wind and rain, layers of clothing and too much calorie-laden food usually conspire to dampen my mood over Australia’s June, July and August.

But this year I’m finding it easier.

I’ve become adventurous, and joined a trail running group.

Every Wednesday I’m taken on a guided tour of sorts through Adelaide’s hills and dales. There’s a bit of jogging, but not always. We climb up rocks, we scale slippery slopes, we balance over logs and streams. We see kangaroos and small marsupials, we hear birds and we enjoy spectacular views over our city.

Now I’m getting more confident, I’m starting to hit the trails on my own when I have spare time. I feel like a kid, brave and strong.

I snap photos, I look around, I take my time. If I want company, I rely on my favourite podcasters to natter away in my ear (RadioLab, So You Want To Be a Writer, and Science Vs most of the time ).

Winter’s not so bad with adventures.

adventure path 2

adventure path

adventure city


Mental health: it’s messier than snot

In April 2015 on April 10, 2015 at 11:17 am


Sarah: Snot, hacking cough and vomiting. To most parents, these are very familiar occurrences and sure signs that an unwanted viral or bacterial passenger has hopped on board and created a physical health problem for our child.

But how do we know if our offspring are struggling with mental health? Sure, behavioural signals can be a clue. Tears, anxiety, anger and moodiness may crop up — and yet we all know these are all part of a normal childhood as well. How can we tell when children cross the line into the danger zone for mental health? And then what can we do to access appropriate help?

Recently — along with other parents and staff representatives — I was invited by managers at my children’s school to help bring a program of mental health awareness into play. It’s called Kids Matter, and is designed:

to provide schools with an over-arching but flexible approach to improving the mental health and wellbeing of students

Kids Matters has four partners: Principals Australia, The Australia Psychological Society, beyond blue: the national depression initiative and the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing.

We’re still early on in the process, and working out how best to involve and educate our school community about the program. However, I think it’s worth sharing some of the resources that are available through Kids Matter. Fact sheets and case studies cover stuff like:

Other information covers bullying, depression, body image, cultural diversity….and more.

You don’t need your school to get on board to access these sheets – I know I’ll be reading through a few which seem relevant to my particular household at the moment.

[image thanks to]

The shrunken woman

In July 2014 on July 16, 2014 at 6:36 pm


Sarah: There’s a woman at my gym who shocks and horrifies and fascinates me all at once.

I used to admire her. Back then, her body was lean and muscular, in great shape.

I used to challenge myself to match her strength and speed in cycling classes. I’d see her move from one session directly to the next, whilst I’d stagger out to recover with a latte, before facing the kids at home.

Then I had a break from the gym. When I came back, she had shrunken.

Now, her limbs look twig-like, fragile.

Now, I can see all the individual muscle groups in her thighs and upper arms. Having studied anatomy, I’m reminded of the cadavar dissections we used to do.

Her bike shorts are falling off her. Even with the padded seat, there’s barely any bulk at all in her rear end.

Whilst I’m in a singlet right from the get-go, she retains 3 layers – including a puffer jacket – until 3/4 of the way through the class.

I’ve been through phases in my life when I was firmly committed to slimming down a bit, and getting fitter. I understand that feeling of taking control and striving for better health and appearance. Hell, after three babies there’s a lot of firming up which can be done.

But this is different.

Having said that, it’s not even my business. She doesn’t know me. And I don’t know if she eats or not. I don’t know if she is miserable or not. I don’t know if she wants help or not.

But I do know that when she enters the room, every pair of eyes is watching. Watching to see if she’s ok.

Are you ok?

[image thanks to Unnie Dolls on flickr]

Friendships in Science: Part 2

In February 2014 on February 12, 2014 at 1:21 pm

Sarah Kirsti 2

Kirsti: It’s hard to know exactly how friendships have shaped my career in and around science. I can’t quantify it, and the multiple ways in which individuals contribute to my skill base, confidence, decision making and direction is too complicated and long a history to dissect.

But through science I have met some of the most brilliant minds, passionate people and wonderfully creative souls. People as a child I never imagine existed.  And it makes me want to stay in science almost because people like that are there. These types of people are everywhere you might say, but for me, and my type of personality, with my own interests and love of learning, my people in my spaces inspire me. They challenge me, support me, teach and motivate me.

Reflecting on people that have influenced me in science, there are two stand outs that gave me very different views and values about science. They appeared at the right time and I remain friends with them both.

Honours supervisor – brilliant and rebellious, almost obnoxious and unforgivingly right. All the time. And it hit a chord with me during that ‘I can do anything’ phase of my life. His enthusiasm for bugs, for science, research and for working hard toward personal goals have stayed with me.

PhD supervisor – measured, thorough, deliberate and accurate. A natural historian and dedicated researcher in the most traditional and treasured sense of the words. Can be grumpy, but always genuine.

But my true-on-the-ground-everyday-down-n-dirty-I-am-doing-it-all-right-next-to-you friends give me support, strength, wisdom, conviction, ideas, laughs……and coffee.

Every. Day.

I have a friend who will no doubt be an inspirational leader in science education. I have a friend who has travelled to beyond the horizons to search for chemicals in plants. I have a friend who, when she tells stories, the whole room stops and listens. I have a friend who loves concrete and yoga and organic food and art all at the same time. I have a friend who devotes every cell of her being to being the best she can at bloody well everything, and succeeds!

And then there are new and unexpected friends. New perspectives and discussions that have steered me sideways from research and into a science communication and education arena. I am grateful, for here I have found more amazing people.

But after some deliberation, I keep coming back to the fact that it’s science that I have chosen, but my friends that keep me here.

[disclaimer: this post in no way diminished the role of my family in doing all these things too!]

Friendships in Science: Part 1

In February 2014 on February 12, 2014 at 1:20 pm

Sarah Kirsti 1

Sarah: How important are friendships in science?

Last week I caught up with friends old and new at a conference of the Australian Science Communicators. Meeting Kirsti was a total highlight – I’m laughing out loud remembering the scene we must have made as she spotted me, yelled out my name in a busy lecture theatre, and I pushed past other seated attendees to have a big hug.

It’s made me think about how important friendships can be in helping you survive a career in science, whether you’re a student, researcher, leader, communicator or teacher. The importance of friends who ‘get it’ and support you through thick and thin would appear to be particularly relevant in the current political and social climate, with grant budgets shrinking and a low value placed on science by some in public office. This is perhaps one reason why many scientists seem to find some solace in connecting through social media. (We touched on this in the November 2013 #onsci chat ‘Looking after each other: professional wellbeing in science’).

I’ve been lucky enough to have experienced some strong and lasting friendships in my science career. Way back in *gulp* 1995, one fabulous research assistant who – with her husband – saw my desperation at the 11th hour, and helped me stick images (yes, paste them onto paper with glue!) into the multiple copies of my honours thesis. She’s since visited me in hospital when babies arrived, drank champagne at my 40th and comes to my place for coffee and cake about once a year.

The most wonderful epidemiologist anyone could hope to meet was my friend in need and a friend indeed when working in infectious diseases research for the US Navy in Jakarta, Indonesia. She was a military chick, and yet somehow was everything the stereotypical recruit wasn’t – open, warm, caring and a fantastic sense of humour. She’d come up to my desk in the lab, and we’d chew the fat over missed families and life in a foreign land. I’d teach her strange Aussie uses of words, like ‘feral’ (to describe a person who needed a good shower and haircut) and ‘bulldog clip’ (for those black and silver document-securing items). With her equally wonderful husband, she had a baby; I would smuggle him away on weekends, and kiss his fat cheeks. We named our daughter after this friend.

My more recent science friendships have formed away from the laboratory. These friends – with whom I connect in real life and via social media – ‘get’ that I become obsessed with issues, that I love to read and share diverse media, that I stay up too late blogging and reading and thinking. In addition to sciencey and communications stuff, we chat about raising kids, and exercise. We laugh and cry and swear and post sub-tweets and laugh some more.

And now with Kirsti here, I have a mate to ScienceforLife.365 with. That rocks, just quietly.

Day 137. Selfish kindness

In December 2012 on December 27, 2012 at 4:54 pm


Abundant displays of kindness and goodwill on Christmas Day have raised the sense of happiness and acceptance in my household, particularly amongst the children (aged 9, 7 and 3).

A US study released today offers scientific support for this phenomenon: the data shows that ‘tweens’ aged 9-11 who performed kind acts experienced greater happiness and enhanced peer acceptance than other kids.  Examples of kind acts included “gave my mom a hug when she was stressed by her job,” “gave someone some of my lunch,” and “vacuumed the floor”; kids in the control group kept a record of places they visited instead of the acts they performed.

The study suggests that if we offer children more opportunities to be kind, the impact will be felt not only amongst the broader community but also result in better mental health in the protagonists.

Let’s all be kinder.

[image thanks to PEEJOE on flickr]

Day 18. Trees for Life

In August 2012 on August 30, 2012 at 10:50 am

I’m trying to convince a retired member of my family to grow seedlings for Trees for Life.

Without putting too fine a point on it, benefits such as regular social contact, a daily committment and positive feedback with success would follow.

With grower workshops running in October and November, it’s the perfect time to commit.

Do you fit the criteria?

TIME: Daily attention is required from November to May. Allow:

• 15 mins per day – watering & monitoring; and

• 1 hour per week – maintenance; plus

• The initial set up – this is time consuming. Tube filling takes one hour per box with one person (we recommend you get some friends to help out here).

AN APPROPRIATE SITE: You must be able to provide a space in direct sunlight for a minimum of 8 hours a day. Six boxes take up one square metre.

A RAISED GROWING BENCH: It is critical to keep your boxes off the ground away from slugs, soil-borne diseases, weeds and animals so you will need to set up a growing bench at waist height. Your bench must be sturdy, free draining and allow good airflow.

SHADECLOTH: You will need to cover your seedlings with a 50% density shadecloth during the early stages of growing.

WATER: Some bore water and saline water may not be suitable. If you can grow vegetable seedlings you should be able to grow native seedlings. We estimate that growing ten boxes may add up to $8 to your mains water bill.

See here for more details. I’ll let you know how I go with the subtle pressure….