Mental Health Awareness Week: 6 Things to Help Free Your Mind

The barriers and stigma surrounding mental health issues are facing their toughest test yet.

More and more people – famous or not – are finally speaking out about the problems, that society still faces, when it comes to discussing a topic that is still shockingly under-funded and under-discussed.

Talking about mental health, its funding and how and where to receive help, however, is still not taken as seriously as our physical health, which is why ‘Mental Health Awareness Week’ -taking place between 8th and 14th May 2017 – is vitally important to those who suffer from mental health illnesses, those who work within the industry and for people who want to see those barricades torn down.

What can we do, individually and collectively, to help remove the stigma encompassing illnesses such as depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia though? Here’s six things that anyone can do to help themselves – or others – over the course of the week:

Get It Off Your Chest

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Only a fraction of the UK’s population (around 13%) stated that they were happy with the levels of their mental wellbeing during a recently conducted survey by the Mental Health Foundation.

Suicide rates in the UK, meanwhile, rose from 6,122 to 6,188 for the year ending 2015 – 75% of whom were male, 25% female – and over 18,000 people took their own lives between 2003 and 2013, according to the Office of National Statistics.

Those numbers provide an alarming indication of just how much more needs doing to combat the stigma surrounding mental health, and it remains vital that those suffering from – or have suffered from – a mental illness talk openly about their problems, and not be judged for doing so.

Ask your family, friends work colleagues and, hell, even strangers how they’re doing today. And genuinely mean it. It could be the biggest difference you make to them today.

Read a Self Help Book

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Seeing a psychiatrist or therapist is often a solution out of reach to people, particularly due to financial difficulties, and often the next best step, other than talking about problems with another person, is reading a self help book and working through any of the exercises within the pages of one.

Books such as Guy Winch’s ‘Emotional First Aid’, Mark Williams et. al’s ‘The Mindful Way Throught Depression’ and others can all act as aids in discovering when you’re most vulnerable to a trying period, and give tips, tasks and ways of helping you combat the dark moods known as ‘The Black Dog’.

Go Green and Enjoy the Outdoors

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Such is modern life, it is easy to get bogged down in our occupations, become dulled by the environment of motor vehicles and buildings around us and be distracted by our phones and TVs.

A change of scenery is often a positive thing, then, and what better way to gain some perspective by heading off to your local park or into the countryside? Being out in the open and fresh air can provide clarity and offer a reminder of just how beautiful this world is.

Bring yourself back to your centre by taking a stroll on a warm, sunny day and appreciate everything you see and hear.

Exercise Physically to Benefit Mentally

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It’s no surprise that people’s moods are notably buoyed after a bout of exercise. There’s a reason they call it “runner’s high”, you know!

With endorphins coursing through your body, those who regularly partake in physical activity can help to pump themselves full of chemical feel-good factors to help keep those inner demons at bay.

Forking out for a gym membership doesn’t have to be someone’s go-to solution either. A pleasant bike ride nearby, a jog around the park or even a brisk walk have been proven to elevate moods.

Meditate to Medicate

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Meditation’s popularity among all age groups has never been higher – no doubt in part to apps such as Head Space – and sometimes a brief 10-minute spell of focusing on nothing but your breathing can work wonders on your mind.

It’s often easy to get caught up in the rush of everyday life, so a few moments to reflect, find your centre and focus on the positive things in your life will provide a reprieve from the hustle and bustle that comes with feeling the stresses and burdens of the world.

Education, Education, Education

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Small steps are being taken everyday to eradicate the mental health stigma from society, but much, much more needs to be done.

As always, the best way of spreading the message is through education. Looking up statistics, finding new and innovative ways to combat these illnesses, and offering up insights are just a few methods that will help to inform other people about mental health, what it represents and how we can go about fighting the shame that is brought on those who suffer in silence.

The more people who are aware, and who are willing to make a change, of mental health will aid our push to end this stigma, and help to make our society a more open, accepting and empathic civilisation in the long run.

 

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Why Episode 2 of Telltale’s Game of Thrones Is Their Most Heartbreaking Content Yet

Ask any video gamer which company they associate with story-driven, choice-based content and, more than often, they will tell you “Telltale Games”.

The San Rafael-based video game developer and publisher has become synonymous for its deeply emotional and well structured adventure games ever since the release of its maiden title based upon The Walking Dead graphic novels.

That 2012 leap into the unknown – a critically-acllaimed venture that tugged on the heartstrings of even the hardest of individuals – catapulted Telltale into the limelight, and has led to an exponential growth unlike any other comparable video game developer in the modern era.

telltalewdSince then, Telltale has put all of its attentions on the story-focused, episodic format – save for Poker Night 2 – with a number of highly praised spin-offs of other video game franchises such as Tales From the Borderlands and Minecraft.

It is another of their back catalogue – the licensed Game of Thrones Telltale Series in late 2014 and early 2015 – that led to the company’s first mixed reviews since their breakthrough triumph, and halted the inexonerable march towards the continous praise they had received.

It is also that Game of Thrones series, however, that has arguably a more heartbreaking moment than that played out in the final episode of The Walking Dead’s Season One (beware, spoilers ahead).

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That finale, which sees main character Lee shot in the head, to stop him from turning into a zombie, by the much loved Clementine left fans of Telltale’s Walking Dead series sitting in puddles of tears as the end credits rolled, and led to raft of extremely positive views from many within the games industry.

And, whilst Telltale’s Game of Thrones series may not have the same kind of impact as that scene – particularly given gamers getting used to Telltale’s manner of storytelling – it’s hard to argue that the final sequence in season one’s second episode was just as heartwrenching as Clementine putting a bullet through Lee’s brain.

One extremely poignant scene in Game of Thrones, however, runs that moment close – and, arguably, even outperforms it.

telltalegot1The moment arrives after Rodrik Forrester, fresh from being seemingly killed off in episode one, returns home to find his house in disarray after the deaths of his father Gregor and brother Ethan, and with Roose Bolton having claimed the North after the infamous Red Wedding.

The funeral for the latter two, which takes place in the final throes of the episode, play out against a beautifully crafted song – sung by Rodrik’s younger sister and Ethan’s twin Talia – and brutally nails home how much this family has already lost just one third into the overall season:

Of course, the impact of Lee’s death in the Walking Dead will cause fans of that series to defend that scene to the hilt, and argue that it is that devastating ending which is Telltale’s biggest gut-punching scenario, given that the player has embarked on a five-episode long, 10 hour journey with the characters already in the Walking Dead‘s first season.

For Telltale to evoke such strong emotions just two episodes into its Game of Thrones series, however, showcases how much of an effect these two deaths have already had on those who played it, and leads gamers to feel dejection on the Forresters’ behalf even at this early stage of proceedings.

It will be controversial for diehard fans of Telltale’s Walking Dead series to hear, but being able to draw such powerful feelings out of players, towards the Forresters, so soon into Games of Thrones, is a success in story-telling terms, and lends significant weight to the argument that Game of Thrones‘ second episode of season one is its most heartbreaking content yet.

Review: William McCarthy at Liverpool Arts Club

October 31st 2016 will have seemed like an ordinary Halloween celebration for the vast majority of people in Liverpool. For those crammed into the city’s O2 Academy, however, it was the end of an era.

That night, on the day that Augustines played their final-ever show, the swashbuckling trio of William McCarthy, Eric Sanderson and Rob Allen brought down the curtain on their six-year career to leave the band’s loyal supporters heartbroken at their decision to split.

On Tuesday 2nd May, six months after McCarthy’s last visit to Merseyside, the only things broken on a night of pure joy were the guitar strings thanks to the New Yorker’s passionate strumming.

IMAG0763.jpgWith a set that lasted around two hours 15 minutes, McCarthy’s triumphant return to Liverpool was, to put it simply, sensational and, while he may not have sold out the city’s Arts Club, the 150-strong crowd that assembled at the Seel Street-based venue wouldn’t have dreamed of being anywhere else.

And McCarthy knew it. Boy, did he know it.

Oozing a perfect blend of wit, charm and a humbleness often lacking in the frontmen of current and/or past bands doing the circuit, McCarthy brought the ruckus – in more ways than one – as he belted out songs from a back catalogue stretching all the way to his beginnings as a musician.

IMAG0772.jpgOld classics from his Pela and Augustines days – coupled with some extraordrinarily hilarious covers that saw McCarthy marry the likes of Neil Young’s dulcet tones with George Michael hit single ‘Faith’ – went down a storm, and gave witness to the sheer prowess of McCarthy’s artistic flair.

In true scouser fashion, the mass of Liverpudlians gave as good as they got as the quips and jokes were batted back and forth between McCarthy and his devoted fans, while McCarthy’s own tales of self-reflection and humorous behind-the-scenes revelations drew laughs and applause in equal measure.

It was McCarthy’s tunes, however, that many had come to see, and the Irish-American songwriter did not disappoint. His impressive set of lungs still able to project a stunning voice into all corners of the building, coupled with his unrelenting showmanship and expert guitar playing, left all present marvelling at the man affectionally known as ‘Billeh’.

It may be a source of frustration for his fanbase that McCarthy doesn’t get the recognition he deserves within the wider music community, but McCarthy’s raw passion, devotion to music and modesty sets him apart from the crowd. It’s what endears him to those who have followed his work for years and years, and offers an insight into why people watch him up and down the country, and across the globe.

There may be more successful artists out there. There may be more widely known bands out there. There may be other gifted frontmen out there. McCarthy, though, knows what he has – a dedicated following of supporters, his trusted set of guitars and harmonicas, and a desire to make the world a better place through his music.

Sometimes that’s all that’s required to help mend those broken hearts from six months ago, and beyond.

Power Rating: 10/10

Guardians of the Galaxy 2 Review

The unprecedented triumph of Marvel Studios’ 2014 summer hit Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1 is perhaps the comic-book giant’s biggest cinematic success story to date.

Sitting a not-too-shabby fifth place in the all-time highest grossing Marvel flicks list, much was expected of director James Gunn’s follow-up to the merry band of misfits that saw plenty of cinema goers fawning over a humanoid tree and laughing at the numerous laughs from one of the best assembled film casts in recent times.

The 2017 sequel to Guardians  Vol. 1, then, had much to live up to. Those who fear it wouldn’t need not worry – it does so, and more.

gotg3Building upon its predecessor, the second installment in the Guardians’ franchise picks up shortly after the events of volume 1’s story arc, and finds our intrepid heroes battling an interdimensional abilisk as the backdrop to an opening credits sequence that sees baby Groot take centre stage.

It’s a humorous – and aww-inspiring – reminder of how Gunn’s vision and flair towards the franchise, and shows him to be one of the finer comedy-oriented film makers of the current era.

From there, the plot jumps and careens its way through a plethora of visually-stunning set pieces, complete with plenty of CGI planets, space-hopping and action sequences that will leave viewers in awe of the sheer scale of what they’re witnessing.

gotg2The core cast – Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vin Diesel) – bounce off each other with an ease and hilarity that lends just as much credit to Gunn’s script as it does to their comedic timing, and helps to build the evident rapport – and quarrelsome nature – of the team of outsiders.

With the foundations set in the first film, the story allows the quintet’s characters to be fleshed out and developed further, which adds further emotional depth to each of their disjointed personas and allows the audience to really feel for these individuals.

Backing the Milano crew up are returning favourites Michael Rooker and Karen Gillan as Yondu and Nebula respectively, while newcomers in the form of Pom Klementieff’s Mantis, Elizabeth Debicki’s Ayesha and Kurt Russell’s Ego naturally add to the weird and wonderful world that Gunn has created.

gotg4Speaking of things Gunn has created, the director and composer Tyler Bates have yet again crafted a superb and distinctive soundtrack to accompany Guardians Vol. 2 and, much like its predecessor, the musical numbers hit all the right notes.

From Fleetwood Mac’s ‘The Chain’ to George Harrison’s ‘My Sweet Lord’ and everything inbetween, each carefully selected track lends a certain gravitas to the scene it’s playing out with, and helps give additional impact and resonance to each point in the film’s arc.

The original score helps to evoke certain emotions within the audience too, but it’s the licensed soundtrack that gives Guardians a distinctive flavour over other Marvel properties, and seeing how well each melody and the lyrics tie into certain scenes – especially those on the heartwrenching side of things – marry well with the performances of the cast.

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Some critics will, rightly or wrongly, point towards issues surrounding a lack of originality behind the over-arcing story, or cry foul over supposedly seen-and-heard-before jokes which, given the slowly growing negativity over some people becoming tired over the amount of comic-book films being mass produced right now, is perhaps a worthy criticism to have.

In contrast to point, however, if the formula isn’t broken, why try and fix it? Marvel – and Gunn, in particular – know their audience, and to make unnecessary changes to create something authentically akin to Vol. 1 may have left some audiences wondering why they’ve just sat through a replica of Vol. 2‘s earlier cousin.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is an almost perfect blend of action-packed set-pieces, amusing scenes and heartstring-tugging moments that ensure the two hour run-time feels like no time at all.

gotg6The manner with which each scene, act and Easter Egg – including those five mid- and post-credit scenes – have been intricately developed has helped ensure that Marvel will certainly have another surefire winner on their hands.

With Gunn at the helm of the third installment in this delightful franchise – following the events of the next two star studded Avengers flicks – the future is bright for both Marvel Studios and the Guardians themselves.

Only one team will be able to save the galaxy on three seperate occasions, and it sure as hell isn’t the Avengers. It’s a family of misfits who go by the name ‘The Guardians of the Galaxy’.