Sunday, 9 May 2010

Kangaroos, Wise Men and Chocolate

It came as no surprise this week when having missed lunch one of my colleagues offered me some Kangaroo flavoured crisps to keep me going. One of the things that makes us distinctive as a School is we care for each other and can be very passionate about defending what we believe to be right and fair. My colleague hastily assured me that no Kangaroos had been harmed in the production of the crisps. Of course this is a good thing. Kangaroos feature in my memories of a mental health conference held in Alice Springs, where I also took a trip to Ayers Rock, or as the local Pitjantjatjara people call it, Uluru

It was William Gosse who on finding Uluru named it Ayers Rock in honour of  Sir Henry Ayers, who was then Australia’s Prime Minster. Uluru is one of Australia's most recognisable natural icons. The sandstone formation stands 1,142 ft high and is just under six miles in circumference. Apart from the sheer heat encountered in walking around the rock, my most vivid memory of the trip was the bus we travelled in to get there. It was ancient and fitted with largest bull bars I had ever seen. I was informed that this was because of the many camels, cows and kangaroos who wandered 24 hours a day along the road between Alice Springs and Ayers Rock. Whilst a collision with a vehicle is capable of killing a kangaroo, it is also possible for collision to result in severe damage to vehicles and their occupants. At night when these animals could not be seen, the bus would just sweep them aside!

Anyway, I digress; Kangaroo Crisps are just one of several new varieties developed as part of Walkers Crisps contribution to the World Cup. Other flavours include:

Japanese chicken teriyaki
Scottish haggis
Argentinean flame-grilled steak
English roast beef and Yorkshire pudding
German bratwurst sausage
Dutch Edam/Welsh rarebit (and thank you Hilda for the birthday wishes – now my Mother will be confused)
South African sweet chutney
Italian spaghetti Bolognese/ Brazilian salsa
Spanish chicken paella
Irish stew
French garlic baguette
American cheeseburger

I came by this information via Charlie Brooker’s column in the Guardian newspaper (not my normal read). Whilst I am sure this particular Charlie Brooker has his merits, he is not of the same ilk as the real Charlie Brooker, mental health nurse and academic par excellence!

Charlie trained as a mental health nurse at the Maudsley/Bethlem hospitals in the 1970s before going on to advanced clinical training in adult behavioural psychotherapy. He started his academic life at Sheffield Hallam University. He has continued to work at various Universities and has made a huge contribution to our understanding of Community Mental Health Nursing. His contemporaries were an influential group, Ted White, Tony Butterworth, Ian Baguley, Phil Barker, Kevin Gournay and David Skidmore. And it was David Skidmore who offered me my first job at MMU, and mentored me through my early years as an academic working in mental health care.

It was also David that got me started with research, although we never got to do the type of research like the study published last week in the Archives of Internal Medicine. This study showed that people with depression tend to eat more chocolate than those who aren’t. Individuals with the highest levels of depression typically ate almost 12 helpings of chocolate per month while those who were happiest only had five servings. A serving equals one small bar of chocolate.

This study will be of interest to many, but unfortunately it has not resolved the debate about whether depression causes people to eat chocolate or if people take chocolate to relieve low mood. To find this out would require a long-term study that objectively assessed chocolate consumption at the start of the study and follow people to observe how depressive symptoms develop over time. If anyone is interested in developing an RfPB application, just let me know!