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The healing benefits of being surrounded by nature are well documented and for most of us, being able to access it by walking the dog in the park or opening our back door to a green space can instantly reduce stress and anxiety.



Even the thought of it is enough.  There has been a study which showed a group of people looking at pictures of the great outdoors before carrying out a task under time pressure, performed much better than those who had been shown an image of an urban scene.



The beneficial effect of being in nature on the emotional state of the average stressed or anxious person is powerful and this can also be harnessed for those in more severe mental distress but the key is creating a holistic physical environment to bring about recovery.



For those with poor mental health connecting with nature is not as simple as merely thinking about it especially if even the thought of going outside is a barrier in itself.  In many cases, it is far better to bring nature to the sufferer by incorporating the elements of the outdoors within the therapeutic setting.



For example, by building a treatment centre in a rural location. A facility in a calm and quiet area with access to open spaces, water and trees is an extension of a more instinctive range of therapies which together serve as tools to aid healing.  In Japan they recommend ‘forest bathing’ where you spend time immersed in nature.  The total sensory experience provided by the surroundings is proven to decrease stress hormones and activate the immune system to fight off illness.



Experts believe that getting back to nature has never been more pressing because as the modern world takes us further away from it, a significant connection has been broken which serves as a buffer for health. 



The ability to turn off the negative physiological processes and stimulate the positive is extremely important in the treatment of mental illness and ultimately the true value of being in nature is the ability to recall the experience through mindfulness as a top up for the soul in the post recovery period.



We listened with great interest and empathy to a report on BBC Radio 4 about the problems in the care system when it comes to meeting the needs of  people with learning disabilities; in particular autism where they exhibit  challenging behaviour and  end up in secure hospital units rather than being offered supported care in the community.

It was sobering to hear parents recounting what it is like to feel at crisis point with their children as their behaviour becomes a police matter and the care environment treats them as criminals while their condition is not improved but made even worse.

There was even the example of one person who has to live off the grid in Africa rather than risk being taken away and locked up in a psychiatric unit in this country, medicated and restrained against her will. 
We understand only too well the need to take a personal approach to the individual where there are complex and profound needs to find a pathway of care which enhances their lives rather than reduces them to almost inhumane levels of existence.

There was one happy experience though, of a patient being housed close to her family in a facility where she felt safe and cared for but with enough freedom to be herself and mindful of her neighbours.  With a tendency to burst into song at times of anxiety, the walls were thick enough and set far apart enough for her to perform as often as she needed to.

To listen to the broadcast in full, follow this link:
Aspire will be opening a new purpose-built facility for vulnerable people in need of specialist support in Long Eaton at the beginning of next year. Aspire already operates two successful centres for mental health care in Ilkeston and Sandiacre, with another facility in Heanor due to open its doors in the autumn. We have now secured planning permission for a dedicated residential treatment centre for people with personality disorder, challenging behaviour and learning difficulties.

The project has had positive support from Derbyshire MP Maggie Throup, who visited Riverside Gardens and Chilwell House recently and admired our person-centred approach and continued journey through treatment, rehabilitation and eventual discharge back into the community.

Founder of Aspire, Dr Ivan Bakaltchev, comments, “I’m delighted that this innovative project has had the green light. The facility, Boden House, will offer the latest treatment in an environment designed to be supportive and safe; in addition to services such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, we will provide specialised Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) and Schema Therapy, a relatively new integrative therapeutic approach aimed at treating personality disorders.

Aspire Health and Care is all about providing better care, better service and better outcomes for our service users, which ultimately means better value for money for the NHS.”

The new development will include 20 single bedroom apartments and 4 two bedroom apartments in three self-contained units, as well as communal and therapeutic areas. An onsite Activity Centre will offer structured and supervised group activities such as drama and art therapy, supporting vulnerable people in building confidence in social situations and providing opportunity for building new skills.

Work is already underway on the new facility and Boden House is scheduled to open in January 2017.
“Our goal is sustained recovery, providing practical coping strategies to manage mental health and disruptive behaviours going forward, and ultimately creating the confidence for people to resume an independent life back in the local community,” Dr Bakaltchev says. “Boden House is a new departure for us and will offer an entirely different approach to people suffering with personality disorder or learning difficulties.”
When Mary Berry was picking the topics on Women’s Hour during her guest editorship recently, she chose the therapeutic benefits of gardening. 

She shared her personal experience of being able to get away from it all in her own garden and how she had helped a friend with memory problems reconnect with the pleasures of the outdoors.

This linked to a report about how GP surgeries in the deprived area of Tower Hamlets were turning to social prescribing to give relief to those in mental distress.  A pioneering Dr Sam Everington had found one in three of his patients had a mental health issue on top of the ailment they were consulting him about. 

This had led to the creation of a scheme whereby patients could be referred to spend time on allotments and in other green spaces to escape the pressures of life and improve their mental state.

One success story was a parent of six children who had found the process of growing and tending plants had helped her to forget her worries and live in the moment; in turn aiding her mental recovery while boosting her physical wellbeing.

We at Aspire can only applaud social prescribing which seeks to treat the patient’s health issues as a whole and along with its creators, we hope it becomes more of the norm over time.
Just prior to Mental Health Awareness Week it was very sad to hear of well-known journalist Sally Brampton taking her own life after a long struggle with severe depression.
Sally had done a great deal to open up the conversation about her own illness as well as helping others towards speaking out about their own experiences and this is the important legacy that her friends and colleagues reflect upon since her passing.
It remains important that the dialogue continues as for many people the condition, while it may never fully go away, can be managed with the right help whenever it is required.  Therefore it is vital that mental health services are more widely accessible, correctly staffed and properly funded.
Above all, the powers that be need to commit to the belief that keeping people mentally healthy is just as important as keeping them physically healthy, without making any judgment or distinction between the two.
Like many people who responded to BBC One’s Panorama ’I’m Broken Inside - Sara’s Story’, we were struck by the distances families are forced to travel to be with their loved ones while they undergo treatment for mental health.
Having close contact with your family during this time is absolutely essential and one of the key strands of the person-centred approach to mental health rehabilitation advocated by Dr Ivan Bakaltchev.
Aspire Mental Health strongly believes more emphasis should be placed on the planning and location of care units so that there is enough provision locally.
Young people in particular, need their families to be there throughout treatment as well as when they finally come home. As we could see in the film, it is extremely distressing for families to be separated at this time and feel distanced from the long and delicate process of recovery.  The journey back to positive mental health is full of small gains and set-backs along way and each stage requires enormous support from all parties.
At Aspire we understand this need for closeness and a gradual staged readjustment back to everyday life so that there is every chance of an enduring recovery and playing a part in their local communities once more.
The new Aspire facility, Bromley House in Heanor, will be providing much needed supported living accommodation for the elderly and those with learning disabilities in the area and the project is scheduled for completion this summer.
This follows the success of Aspire facilities Chilwell House in Ilkeston and Riverside Gardens in Sandiacre, a purpose-built facility for people suffering from mental illness, which was fully occupied within weeks of opening in October last year.
Our next project is already in view – we plan to open a fourth facility in Long Eaton in December this year, which will include 12 assisted living apartments and 12 bed residential care facility for clients with challenging behaviour.
Aspire Mental Healthcare is to open a third facility in Derbyshire, providing much needed supported living accommodation for the elderly and those with learning disabilities in the area.

Bromley House, the former Grade II listed HSBC building, has been acquired by Aspire and will be converted to ten single-bed apartments with an onsite day centre. The project is scheduled for completion this summer.

The move follows the success of Aspire facilities Chilwell House in Ilkeston and Riverside Gardens in Sandiacre, an £800,000 purpose-built facility for people suffering from mental illness, which was fully occupied within weeks of opening in October last year.

According to Dr. Bakaltchev, there is already keen interest in the available apartments, which will also create new jobs for care staff.

Commenting on the success of the Aspire Mental Health Care project, Dr Bakaltchev said:

“There is strong demand for supportive living environments for vulnerable people across Derbyshire and beyond. The NHS is struggling to cope with the long-term support some of their patients require, too often resulting in relapse and readmission to hospital, creating further costs on the public purse. Our success has been based on providing the ongoing support necessary to treat and rehabilitate people, enabling them to recover and lead satisfying, productive lives while saving costs for the NHS.”

The next project is already in view for Aspire, with plans to open a fourth facility in Long Eaton in December this year, which will include 12 assisted living apartments and 12 bed residential care facility for clients with challenging behaviour.

This week, David Cameron has put mental health at the top of the political agenda, following a ‘damning’ report by an NHS England Taskforce that found around 25% of the population will suffer mental health issues at some time in their lives and yet 75% of people with mental health problems received absolutely no support.  The report suggested this shameful shortfall of care leads to "thousands of tragic and unnecessary deaths"
The Prime Minister called for the nation to focus on mental health and committed an extra £1bm spend a year by 2020, which he says will help treat a million people a year.  
However, there is no extra money over and above the £8.4bn already promised to the health service, so is this announcement just ‘spin’ or will things really change?
One thing is for sure, the report and the storm of news around it will have raised awareness of the problem with mental health care. Namely it is, and long has been, the poor relation to physical health care, as David Cameron admitted.
Currently, even those who do receive treatment are left without sufficient support after hospital discharge. Hospitals need the beds, so patients are discharged into the community, then families can’t cope, resulting in patient relapse and readmission – and so the cycle goes on.
That’s why Aspire established first Chilwell House in Ilkeston as a treatment, recovery and rehabilitation centre, followed by Riverside Gardens in Sandiacre to provide supported living and skills enablement for mental health sufferers in Derbyshire.
These purpose designed environments provide holistic support and, where required, therapy aimed at full recovery and rehabilitation back into the community and back into work.
Some people may point at the cost to the NHS of such care, and yet, the cost implications of not providing support are much high – never mind the cost in terms of ruined human lives.
Where support is not provided post hospital discharge, patients almost invariably relapse and require further care in hospital, which incurs more cost. Or where they remain at home without support, often there are issues around neglect or abuse, at which point social services becomes involved – more cost.
Those with more serious problems can end up on the streets, worsening their condition and increasing their chances of being drawn into crime. Clearly, prison is not the right place for those with mental health issues and – guess what – it’s a high cost on the public purse.
Our aim is to break the downward spiral – and to save the government money. A commitment to spend more on treatment is very welcome, but a focus on longer term support and rehabilitation is crucial too.
The government spend on mental health is currently £9.2bn a year. The cost to the economy is estimated to be £105bn. You do the math.
For many people, Christmas is a joyous time. But for those suffering from depression, the festive season can be yet another challenge. So, here are some tips on how to stay positive and beat depression over the Christmas break.
Studies show that having a support system is one of the most powerful ways to combat depression. So, if possible, don’t be alone, surround yourself with loved ones. If you’re depressed, your instinct may be to hide, but research shows that being with family and friends means the likelihood of depression is lower.
For those away from loved ones over Christmas, volunteering is a great way to feel good about yourself while helping others. When we focus on helping people in need we are less likely to think about our own problems. Volunteering locally gets you out, meeting different people and will also make you feel more involved with the community.
Manage your expectations. Despite what we see on the TV or in the movies, the perfect Christmas simply doesn’t exist. Don’t ‘beat yourself up’ over mistakes or oversights and remember that it’s OK not to feel festive all the time! Set realistic expectations and treat yourself to a stress-free Christmas
Get active during this holiday break! Exercise is known to have a positive effect on people with depression. Being physically active can help improve your mood by releasing endorphins into your body. What’s more, exercising outdoors can increase the happy feelings while supplying your daily dose of vitamin D. A great way to motivate yourself is by signing up for an event, such as a charity run. This gives you something to train for and encourages commitment to regular exercise.
If none of this helps and you’re feeling more than the typical “Christmas stress” or are having suicidal thoughts, it is important to seek help immediately. Samaritans volunteers will be available 24/7 across the UK this Christmas. Call for free on 116 123, or visit
The announcement by the government of a campaign to reduce the stigma around mental health in children is great news, but there is still much more to be done. A recent article reports that scientists have urged for investment in mental healthcare research to triple or at least double, in the UK.            
At present, around £115 million per year is spent on improving procedures and treatments for mental health issues, but experts in a recent report say this figure should increase to around £300 million per year if these efforts are going to continue.
The Roamer project (Roadmap for Mental Health Research in Europe) focused on six research priorities that combined to create the biggest impact on mental health services in the next 5 to 10 years. Scientists who took part in the Roamer project, noted that 12% of all disabilities in the UK are caused by mental and behavioural disorders, which cost the country around £105 billion per year. An incredibly large sum, particularly in the light of the fact that mental health services receive just 5.5% of total health care research funding.
Failure to understand and address mental health issues results in a huge burden, not just for the patients, family and friends, where there are long waiting lists for treatment, but also for society as the cycle of admission and readmission rack up costs. As NHS trusts declare themselves to be billions of pounds in the red already, we must look more deeply into the causes of the problems, rather than just reacting to the results. Lack of support for patients and their families post hospital discharge, hospital beds occupied for too long because there is insufficient rehabilitation support, are just two of a long list of impacts.
At Aspire, we believe that people suffering from mental illness deserve support not just in crisis, but as long as it takes to recover, to be rehabilitated and eventually re-enter the community. Facilities such as Chilwell House in Ilkeston and Riverside Gardens in Sandiacre were designed specifically to provide such support. The levels of care we provide are often much higher than in hospitals and yet, our costs to the public purse are less. This is because we provide ongoing care in a supportive environment within a community setting, that leads to rehabilitation and, eventually, full recovery.
Measures such as the new government initiative are to be welcomed; preventing mental illness and helping others understand it is vital. However, equally vital is to provide the necessary support and care for those already suffering the consequences of mental ill-health.
World Mental Health Day was created by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to raise public awareness of mental health issues.
It's thought that around 154 million people around the world suffer from depression, so it's likely that you or someone you know will be affected by mental illness during your lifetime.
World Mental Health Day aims to get us all talking openly about mental illnesses and the treatment and preventions that are available to us all.
The day will be organised with the help of the World Federation for Mental Health which was founded in 1948 to prevent emotional and mental health disorders and help those who do suffer from them.
This year the theme is "Mental health and older adults" and you can show your support by making a donation at the World Federation for Mental Health website, or by joining in with one of the events organised for the day.
Events include community workshops with talks from professionals to give you any advice you might need.  
To find out more and to get involved, visit the World Mental Health Day official website and don't be afraid to talk about your problems this World Mental Health Day.
Despite election promises of funding for mental health trusts, worrying new research indicates that by 2018-19 we could see a cut of up to 8%.

Although definitive spending limits are yet to be announced, the potential for a reduction in support for those living with mental illness is extremely troubling.

For anyone with experience in mental health work, there is no need to explain the disastrous consequences of putting extra strain on already stretched services.

It is important to us all, whether our lives have been touched by mental health concerns or not, that we rally around the mental health services. The consequences of underfunding have a knock on effect to so many other sectors – social services, education, and state benefits, for example.

If there isn’t support for parents battling mental illness, or for children who are coming to terms with challenges of their own, we see extra pressure on schools. If there isn’t support for adults who, for example, struggle with anxiety, we see an increased need for disability benefits. It is impossible to ignore the impact of a rise in untreated mental illness on society.

We can only hope that the budget is built around long term thinking that takes these factors into account, and if not, then it will be our responsibility as a sector to step up, come what may.
As we reach the end of this year’s MHAW, it’s fair to say that we should all be proud of how far attitudes towards mental health have changed. From supporting marginalised groups, to challenging stereotypes, to telling stories that may otherwise never have been heard – the way we regard mental health has shifted dramatically in the last decade.

However, that isn’t to say that there isn’t still a long way to go. One of the central campaigns of MHAW 15 was ‘Switch on the Light’, which aims to get men to open up about their challenges and emotions.  That so many men still feel unable to express that they are struggling is a worrying indictment of a society that still isn’t quite accepting that mental health issues are not weakness.

One of the most inspiring stories to circulate this week is the conclusion of the #FindMike campaign which was months in the making. Not only does the story itself – a stranger saving the life of a suicidal man – promote the heroism of everyday people, but the stranger, Neil Laybourne, is now working with Rethink on his own awareness campaign, Healthy Body, Healthy Mind.

What we at Aspire take from this week is that the world is changing for the better. It is inspiring to watch the support and acceptance demonstrated online and in public for a sector of society who have so often been kept in the shade. The younger generation have a passion for tolerance, and it’s fantastic to see, especially when you remember a time when that wasn’t so.

We look forward to seeing how far the world has come by MHAW 2016, and will be following the above campaigns and others closely as they reach fruition and start changing perceptions.
One of the toughest challenges for people living with mental health issues, is finding healthy forms of expression. For some, this can be painting or sculpting, for others, it might be dance – but for a group of patients in Rio de Janeiro, theatre has become the ultimate way to explore their emotions and experiences.

Members of the Nise da Silveira Psychiatric Hospital - many of whom have diagnoses of severe schizophrenia and chronic psychosis – have been working with Shakespearean texts as a way of coming to terms with the challenges they face daily.

Mental health activist Vitor Pordeus believes that theatre allows an exploration of relationships which can be restricted outside the perimeters of the stage – and that Hamlet, with its varied mental states and complicated relationships, is of particular use.

Although Vitor’s programme is somewhat extreme, and in some regards, dangerous – he doesn’t advise any medication – the general lesson remains. It is important for everyone, whether they are living with mental illness or not, to find a way to channel their inner fears and furies.

At Aspire, we try and incorporate social and leisure activities in to our residential care programme, precisely because we believe every individual should be encouraged to find their own way of exploring their life experiences. Our individualised service means that we take the time to find out the best outlets for our residents, whether that be Shakespeare or painting.

For more information on our residential care options, visit
Time to Chance logoAccording to a Time to Change campaign supported by British celebrity and mental wellness champion Stephen Fry, it looks like a stock image of a person with their head in their hands – something the charity hopes to change.

Anybody who has experience with mental health issues can tell you why these images are harmful. It is the relationship between ‘headclutcher’ images and mental illness that facilitates the silence of so many, reducing a vast, complex range of experiences to one simple ‘correct’, stereotyped, response.

Sadly, it is all too hard for many individuals living with mental health conditions to express their inner struggles in such an open way. Fear of being stigmatized, or labelled, means that the sunniest person you know, could also be the most at risk person in your life too.

In response to the ubiquitous ‘head-in-hands’ image, Time To Change is not only compiling an image bank of more representative photos (free to download here), they are also asking for personal images where the subject is smiling, but felt they were falling apart inside. The aim is to open people’s eyes to the subtleties and complications of living with mental illness, and to dispel the myth that every issue amounts to the same emotional response.

Get the Picture is about more than using more accurate imagery, it’s about educating the public in hopes that not only will people suffering feel more able to ask for help, but so their loved ones feel more able to ask if they need it – even if they haven’t got their head in their hands.
See some of the pictures alongside their accompanying stories here.

Right now, around 1 in 6 people are suffering from mental health issues, and over the course of a year, 1 in 4 of us will experience mental illness in one form or another.

Though the society we live in seems increasingly connected, in some ways we’re more alienated from each other than ever before. Our healthcare system is pushed to capacity, with long waiting lists for access to mental health care.

Due to the extremely high level of demand for their services, mental health care units are pushed to process patients as swiftly as possible, in order to see and treat the highest amount of individuals on the waiting list. The issue with this is that it can be a false economy. In many cases, intense and prolonged treatment is the only long-term solution, but with more and more people seeking help, this just isn’t realistic for national mental health services to handle alone.

This is part of the reason for the new personal allowance system. Rather than allowing pressure to mount on local public services, the government is giving those in need of treatment (physical and mental) the option to choose where they spend the money allocated to them. This means, patients or their loved ones have control over their care.

We’ve found that those who have experience with mental health issues, whether personally, through a loved one, or in a professional capacity, agree that intensive treatment over an extended period of time tends to yield the best results as the most nurturing process for the patient. For this reason our residential facility, Chilwell house, has been oversubscribed since its launch two years ago.

We expanded Chilwell this year, because community residential care is an approach we really believe in. Our residents receive a high level of care, but also enjoy the social aspect of communal space, from which we’ve seen great results. We’ve actually experienced such a high level of demand that we are expanding again in April, this time with a supported living community providing a lower level of care enabling individuals to transition back to living independently.

At Aspire we firmly believe that the national mental health crisis can only be solved by a greater emphasis on long term care, whether that is through counselling, residential care, supported living or any other extensive treatment.

We hope that opening our transitional centre in April will give not only our residents the opportunity to reintegrate, but also anyone leaving a rehabilitation centre. For more information on the Aspire philosophy and approach, contact us