male infertility

Men are in general pretty bad at talking about their feelings. They are taught from their earliest years – both explicitly and implicitly – to hold emotions in.

Never cry, get on with it and barely whisper about what is upsetting you. When it comes to male infertility, the whisper typically fades to complete silence.

male infertility

For many men with diagnoses ranging from low sperm counts to poor sperm mobility, infertility can become a hidden source of mental health problems.

Male infertility and the impact on mental health


Fertility problems can leave men with intense feelings of anger, shame, resentment and confusion. But their default setting is to stay silent about how infertility makes them feel.

This unwillingness to talk about problems is not however only down to childhood conditioning. Men struggle to open up about the gut wrenching emotions of infertility for many reasons.

unhappy men

A system set up for female infertility


From a practical perspective it is difficult for men because society is geared towards dealing with female infertility.  Consequently the support structures for men are very limited.

It is not uncommon to hear of a man being given a blunt diagnosis, handed a pamphlet about sperm donation and sent back in to the world to ‘get on with it’.

Apart from being a completely unsympathetic way to deal with earth-shaking news, it is probably the worst way to deal with a group so disinclined to deal with their emotions in the first place.

Don’t question his virility


Another significant barrier is the importance and symbolism of male virility.

The ability to procreate can be considered the essence of what it means to be male. Like childbirth for women it is something that remains no matter how gender roles and societal norms shift over time.

To have that questioned or even rendered void is a fundamental challenge to his sense of self. Only sufferers can truly understand the impact.

Here’s some more bad news…


The problem of male infertility is not going away and in fact, it is getting worse.

Couples in western society are delaying procreation until well in to their 30s and early 40s, bringing with it a host of age-related challenges.

male infertility

Worse still, recent studies have shown that male fertility rates have dropped by over 50% since the 1970s.

With little support and advice out there it can feel almost impossible for wives and partners to know how to help. Thankfully there are some straightforward steps you can take to support your loved one.

Encourage him to talk about infertility. And then keep encouraging him.


And then encourage him some more.

There are hundreds of chat boards, forums and support groups aimed at women. On them they are sharing experiences, encouraging and helping each other deal with fertility challenges.

By contrast there is very little for men. Therefore wives, partners, friends and family need to research, prompt, cajole and support men as they begin to access help to share their own emotions.

Search online for male infertility support groups and online forums. Speak to your fertility clinic or consultant about support groups for men in your area and search for them online as well.

Speak to a counsellor


Opening up about infertility to a partner, friends or family can be daunting for many men. In the first instance, talking to a partner can bring up intense feelings of failure for not ‘coming up with the goods’ or ‘not being a man’.

With mates it can be impossible to even admit there is a problem in testosterone-fueled environments like the pub or Saturday morning five-a-side football. Family can simply feel too close and brings with it similar anxieties about expectations and opinions.

An objective, independent counsellor – particularly with experience in the area of male infertility – can provide the gentle guidance needed to help men come to terms with their diagnoses.

Counselling provides ‘head space’ and an environment free from the heavy burden of expectations and opinion.

Do not place blame


The medical profession treats infertility as two separate issues: female fertility and male fertility.

As a result either the man or women comes under the magnifying glass as ‘the problem’. Cue the apportioning of blame.

Many couples that have successfully navigated infertility often talk about ‘our problem’. Irrespective of whether a physical issue resides with the male or female, getting pregnant is ultimately a team effort.

It is vital that partners are as supportive as possible and do not place ‘blame’. No matter whether it is – in medical terms at least – a male or female problem.

Avoid pressure


A poor fertility report can often create a frenzied sense of urgency to do anything to improve chances of conception. But be mindful of the magnitude of the diagnosis. Time and space is needed for anyone – male or female – to process such devastating news.

Pressure to start trying herbal remedies, consuming supplements and changing habits could negatively impact your chances of conceiving.

Stress is a significant contributor to male fertility problems across the board. So you could end up undoing all the benefits of having a supplement consuming, veg-eating, non-pants-wearing partner.


Are you dealing with male infertility issues?

 

Our counsellors have extensive experience helping couples and individuals deal with infertility and the strain it places on relationships.

From our local centres around Scotland we provide support to couples and families coming to terms with infertility or fertility issues.

To find out more freephone 0808 802 0050 or complete an enquiry form.

You can also search for your nearest counselling centre.

One of the common problems presented by school pupils to our counsellors is the tricky issue of social media.

Children and young people are the section of our society that first embraced social media platforms.

The highs and lows of social media

They have been the first to experience the highs and lows of social media.

Sadly they are also, in many respects, the least well-equipped to deal with the emotional and mental challenges presented by various social media platforms like Twitter and Snapchat.

We recently caught up with Lucy Gordon, one of our senior Children and Young People counsellors to pick her brain on social media.

Lucy Gordon talks social media platforms

The advent of social media has made us more connected than ever but at what cost to young people?

Lucy: “Social media has become an amazing way for people of all ages to broaden their horizons.

It can open up new possibilities, create new relationships and provide a forum for self-expression. These are all positives that are valuable to children and young people as they grow and develop.

There are however some downsides. In particular from the way children and young people are now bombarded by perfect selfies, images of friends laughing and joking together.

They are constantly scrutinising other people’s lives and lifestyles and making comparisons to their own.

The reality is that a lot of these images are not a true reflection of people’s lives. It is hard for anyone not to be deceived by these photos.

For young people it is especially so and that is one of the ways social media platforms can be bad for their mental and emotional health.”

What is your experience of the negative effects on children and young people of using social media platforms?

Lucy: “What is presented through social media is curated by each individual. Images on Instagram or Snapchat are often taken multiple times. Just to try and get the right angle, the right lighting.

Young people – as many adults do – crop, tweak, add filters and manipulate the images to present an impression of how they want to be perceived. The difficulty comes when young people consume those images of friends and celebrities.

Separating the reality from the artificial reality created on social media is tough.

Too often young people believe the doctored reality and look very unfavourably upon themselves as a result.

Typically this is in terms of their appearance, popularity or perceived success or failure in life.”

Is the challenge of social media just related to the carefully managed images young people consume?

Lucy: “It is a big part of it but not the only one. Social media has become a source of validation for young people. Naturally we all seek the approval of friends and peers and social media has become an extension of that.

We post images and wait in anticipation to see how many ‘likes’ we get to validate our being. When they do not come it can create all sorts of additional anxieties, fears and concerns for young people.”

Instagram like icon

So are we giving social media platforms a big thumbs down?

Lucy: “Absolutely not! Like I mentioned before, social media has the potential to do great, positive things for children and young people.

As a society we need to educate and support children and young people so they fully understand the risks and potential implications of how they behave online and on social media platforms.

The doctored reality often presented on social media has the potential to exacerbate feelings of isolation, loneliness and anxiety. This can feed into a cycle of unrealistic social, physical and lifestyle expectations.

It can create a real negative impact upon their sense of self-worth, confidence and wellbeing.

That’s the risk we need to guard against through education and support, like our work providing counselling and education programmes in Scottish schools.”

Are the challenges of social media specific to certain platforms?

Lucy: “A recent survey of almost 1,500 14-24 year olds looked at the impact of the four most popular social media platforms: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat.

The research for the Royal Society for Public Health found that all four contribute negatively to young people’s sense of self, body image, levels of anxiety, sleep and fear of missing out.

Each platform does have its own challenges but across the board these main issues are present on all of the main platforms commonly used by children and young people.”

How can the work of The Spark in schools help with the challenges of social media?

Lucy: “Our education programmes can help to teach children and young people about the risks and potential implications of using social media, and online media in general.

It’s important to help them fully understand the risks but also make them confident enough to make sense of social media.

Where our counsellors are based in schools they provide a safe and supportive environment for children and young people.

If they feel overwhelmed or anxious about social media, they can find support there.”

Benjamin Clementine

Songs for Sound Minds #18 – ‘Phantom of Aleppoville’ by Benjamin Clementine


On the surface ‘Phantom of Aleppoville’ by Benjamin Clementine is a song about bullying. Dig a little deeper and it becomes a celebration of surviving and learning to be at peace with the experience.

Many of us have experienced bullying and the often profound, negative effects on our self-esteem and confidence. In the song Benjamin Clementine – winner of the 2015 Mercury Prize for his haunting debut album ‘At least for now’ – explores the impact bullying had on him.

We won’t leave you alone

Like so many his bullying occurred in school following the transition from primary to secondary. Combined with the eventual divorce of his parents, Clementine struggled to handle the relentless bullying and feelings of helplessness familiar to almost all victims.

‘We won’t leave you alone
We want you to die
We won’t leave you alone.’

The composition of the song was influenced by Clementine’s study of the work of British psychiatrist, Donald Winnicott. Winnicott determined that bullying – albeit on a lesser scale – could produce similar patterns of trauma in patients as those of war.

Where is Aleppoville?

This theme features most obviously in the setting for Clementine’s recollections. Aleppoville – the ‘little city of Aleppo’- is where children experience bullying according to Clementine.

It may not be intentional, but to choose Aleppo as the location of his song is surely more than coincidence. The real Aleppo has of course been at the centre of the ongoing Syrian civil war that has devastated the lives of countless children and families.

Choosing forgiveness

Benjamin ClementineDespite the trauma of his experiences, Clementine draws the song to a conclusion based on his chosen path of acceptance and forgiveness. Realising that he will never know why he was bullied, he has forgiven them – characterised as a single individual, ‘Billy the bully’.

‘Billy the bully, it’s alright
You’ve been forgiven
Come on now Zacchaeus
Come down from your sycamore tree
We’re dancing, roses are found dancing’

Clementine visualises himself inviting Billy to come down from his perch and join him as Jesus of Nazareth did with Zacchaeus the hated tax collector. The traditional roles have been reversed: the bully is the one now fearfully hiding in the tree whilst the victim is free to dance on the ground below.

What makes a bully a bully?

By swapping the roles of the bully and victim Clementine highlights an important truth: that bullies tend to bully as a reaction to anxieties, pain and unhappiness in their own lives. Interestingly it was Winnicott who first hypothesised the link between anti-social behaviour and an inadequate or ruptured home environment.

According to the NSPCC, nearly half of all children and young people are bullied at some point in their school lives.  Childline reported 24,000 counselling sessions with children about bullying in 2016/17.  The effects on the young person’s mental health can be startling and the NHS website states that bullying can lead to self-harm, depression and suicidal thoughts.

Reaching a state of forgiveness is a big challenge for the victims of bullying. Supporting them to reach the kind of contentment found by Clementine is something that we at The Spark embrace as a central purpose of our counselling and support services.

Equally we have a duty to consider the wider issue of how bullies are created. By supporting children who struggle with issues like family breakdown and anger we can prevent them becoming another ‘Billy the bully’.


The Spark’s Children & Young People’s counsellors work in primary and secondary schools supporting individuals to address these inter-connected issues. By working with children dealing with difficult life experiences, we can help to reduce the incidence of bullying in schools.

If you know of someone who is being bullied or whose mental health has been affected by bullying call us on our freephone number 0808 802 0050 or complete and enquiry form.

Find out more about our counselling services and our work providing school-based counsellors.


Songs For Sound Minds – music tracks written as an anthem to overcoming the storms of life. The songs that give hope in those times when we are struggling.

Find more Songs for Sound Minds or suggest a track on Twitter or Facebook using the hashtag #SongsForSoundMinds

school pupils

The Spark is at the forefront of efforts to improve the mental and emotional wellbeing of school pupils in Scotland. It is widely recognised that a child’s ability and readiness to learn can be compromised by difficult life experiences.

Through counselling, education programmes and training for teachers we are helping schools manage the emotional and mental wellbeing of pupils. Thus allowing teachers and pupils to focus purely on learning and raising attainment.

School pupils come first thanks to counselling services from The Spark


Deputy First Minister John Swinney MSP recently visit Abercromby Primary to see the impact that school-based counselling has had on raising attainment. The school has partnered with The Spark since the start of 2017 to provide counselling for pupils.

During his visit the Deputy First Minister met with pupils, teachers and parents to hear about the benefits of placing youth counsellors in schools. At the conclusion of his visit, the Minister hailed the positive impact of school-based counselling:

school pupils school-based counselling John Swinney The Spark“I was delighted to visit Abercromby Primary School in Clackmannanshire and see first-hand the positive impact and effect that the Spark counselling service is having on young people at the school.

This service is providing a safe space to identified children, giving them an opportunity to explore their feelings and emotions.

Our children’s health and emotional wellbeing is one of the most important considerations that we must take as parents, carers and teachers. Counselling can play a key role in improving pupil health and wellbeing and can have a direct positive impact on attainment.”

Launched at the end of 2016, the Pupil Equity Fund was established to help close the attainment gap. Schools across Scotland have turned to The Spark to support those efforts through school-based counselling.

Supporting pupils dealing with anger issues, parental conflict & family breakdown


Counselling can support pupils as they process significant life challenges. Negative influences upon their lives – parental conflict, poverty, bullying and family breakdown – can severely compromise a child’s readiness to learn.

Mental and emotional support through counselling can reduce the impact of such issues and provide pupils with enhanced opportunities to realise their potential.

Counselling makes a positive impact on young lives


Through counselling and other support services, Abercromby Primary plus 10 other schools in Clackmannanshire have benefitted from The Spark’s therapeutic services for children.

Measured against the Scottish Government’s SHANARRI* indicators, the following outcomes were achieved by the end of the 2016/17 academic year:

  • School pupils that experienced an improvement in their distress levels had an average 9-point shift. A significant improvement by clinical standards
  • Feedback from teachers confirmed that counselling is positively impacting upon behaviour, concentration levels, pupil motivation and pupil resilience
  • 89% of parent responses stated there had been some positive change/lots of positive change in their children.

Youth counsellors have worked on a wide-range of issues with school pupils during the academic year. Presenting problems illustrate the significant challenges facing children and young people growing up in Scotland. These included:

  • Anger and aggression
  • Trauma
  • Anxiety
  • Parental mental health issues
  • Kinship/foster care
  • Loss and bereavement.

Supporting parents and families


Parental feedback from our work in Clackmannanshire confirmed that parents considered counselling a valuable service for their children. Furthermore they believe counselling is having a positive impact upon children in terms of:

  • How happy they are to attend school
  • Attendance and timekeeping
  • Their behaviour at home
  • Their willingness to talk to parents about personal difficulties.

school pupilsUtilising the Pupil Equity Fund to provide counselling is an effective way to close the attainment gap. We have been engaged by schools across Scotland to support in excess of 5,000 pupils during the 2017/18 academic year.

Visit The Spark website to find out how our Children and Young People counselling and programmes could benefit your school. Read about our counselling services for Primary schools and counselling in Secondary schools.

You can also download a copy of the Clackmannanshire Council evaluation referred to in this article.

Relationship First Aid for Teachers

Find out more about the Relationship First Aid for Teachers courses which are delivered throughout the academic year in locations across Scotland.

Counselling in schools

To find out more about how The Spark’s school-based counselling and support services could benefit your school, complete an enquiry form or contact the CYP Team on 0141 222 3910.

* SHANARRI – safe, healthy, active, nurtured, achieving, respected, responsible and included.

school counselling deputy first minister John Swinney

Scotland’s Deputy First Minister John Swinney visited Abercromby Primary to see how the Pupil Equity Fund is being used to support the mental and emotional wellbeing of children. The Clackmannanshire school is utilising the fund to provide counselling to pupils via The Spark’s Children and Young People Team.

school counselling deputy first minister John Swinney

In Clackmannanshire alone The Spark’s youth counsellors have worked with 55 pupils and their families since the start of 2017, primarily addressing issues of mental and emotional wellbeing.

After meeting with pupils, parents, teachers and The Spark’s school counsellors, the Deputy First Minister said:

“Our children’s health and emotional wellbeing is one of the most important considerations that we must take as parents, carers and teachers. Counselling can play a key role in improving pupil health and wellbeing and can have a direct positive impact on attainment.

We know that if a child’s emotional and mental wellbeing are negatively impacted by difficult experiences, then learning is fundamentally and significantly impaired. 

I was delighted to visit Abercromby Primary School in Clackmannanshire and see first-hand the positive impact and effect that The Spark counselling service is having on young people at the school. This service is providing a safe space to identified children, giving them an opportunity to explore their feelings and emotions.” 

Helping over 5,000 children in 2017/18


During the 2017/18 academic year The Spark will support over 5,000 pupils through counselling and wellbeing services. Investment in those services will come through the Scottish Government’s Pupil Equity Fund.

The fund provides £120m that head teachers are able to access in order to close the poverty related attainment gap.

Several Clackmannanshire Council schools are investing in pupil counselling as well as other support services provided by The Spark. Support services include the unique Relationship First Aid for Teachers training.

Positive feedback from parents


Evaluation of counselling completed during the January – May 2017 semester for Clackmannanshire Council demonstrated positive outcomes for pupils, teachers and parents:

  • 61% of pupils initially referred for counselling were experiencing emotional distress. After completing counselling sessions this had reduced to 7%
  • Parents noted substantial positive change in their child following counselling. 89% of parents confirming ‘some positive change’ or ‘lots of positive change’ in their child
  • Teacher feedback confirmed counselling is contributing to SHANARRI wellbeing indicators* and a positive impact on pupil concentration levels, behaviour, coping skills and motivation.

Deputy First Minister hails “positive impact” of school-based counselling


school counselling John Swinney The Spark

Concluding his visit to Abercromby Primary the Deputy First Minister hailed the positive impact of school-based counselling and the collborative approach taken by The Spark:

“With the financial support of the Scottish Government’s Pupil Equity Funding – spent at the discretion of Headteachers – this service is carried out effectively through collaborative working between the school and the local authority. 

It is done with the firm understanding that a child’s ability to learn in the classroom does not exist in isolation of the wider circumstances that they may be coping with at home and in their community. It is essential that all children are given appropriate support to achieve their potential.”

Current commitments for the 2017/18 academic year will see The Spark will support over 5,000 Scottish school children. Through our network of coordinators, youth counsellors and service scalability we expect to support more schools in the coming year.

Counselling and support services for schools from The Spark


The Spark’s Children and Young People Team is focused on providing children with the Best Start in Life. Working with children and young people our mission is to help individuals become:

  • confident individuals
  • successful learners
  • effective contributors to society
  • responsible citizens.

Leanr more about The Spark’s school-based counselling and support services by completing an enquiry form. Alternatively contact the CYP Team on 0141 222 3910.

Find out more about The Spark’s Children and Young People programmes and how we can support your school in raising attainment. You can also read about our counselling services for Primary schools and counselling in Secondary schools.

Relationship First Aid for Teachers


Find out more about the Relationship First Aid for Teachers programme delivered throughout the academic year in locations across Scotland.

* SHANARRI – safe, healthy, active, nurtured, achieving, respected, responsible and included.

children and young people counsellors

The mental health of children and young people has rightly become a mainstream political topic this year. Barely a week has gone by without more worrying research about the mental health of children and young people. Indeed only this week a BBC report highlighted the ‘patchy’ provision of counselling for young people across Scotland.

Society is facing a rising tide of youth mental health problems but there are causes for optimism. The Scottish Government’s Pupil Equity Fund is a fine example. Launched in 2016 by Deputy First Minister John Swinney MSP, the fund allows head teachers to invest in removing the barriers to learning such as poor mental health and emotional wellbeing.

Schools, children and mental health


youth mental healthThe fund is aimed at giving head teachers autonomy to spend cash to close the poverty related attainment gap. Head teachers now have direct access to a pot of £120m which will benefit over 2,500 schools in Scotland.

Many have chosen to focus on the emotional and mental health and wellbeing of pupils by partnering with The Spark’s Children and Young People Team.

By providing youth counsellors in each school the fund is getting specialist support to children struggling with significant life issues. Evaluations of the subsequent benefits for pupils, teachers and parents over the January-May 2017 semester has been very encouraging.

Making a positive impact on children and families


A recent review of one such programme for Clackmannanshire Council demonstrated a significant positive impact on pupils, teachers and parents:

  • At the outset of the programme 61% of pupils referred for counselling were experiencing emotional distress. By the end of counselling this had reduced to just 7%
  • 89% of parents of pupils receiving counselling indicated there had been ‘some positive change’/‘lots of positive change’ after counselling.

Crucially the benefit of placing counsellors in schools extends to teachers as well as children.

Helping teachers to teach


children and young people counsellorsTeachers noticed improvements in concentration levels, behaviour, motivation and coping skills of pupils receiving counselling. Better motivated and focused pupils foster a better environment for teaching and learning.

Feedback from schools confirmed counselling is making a direct contribution when measured against the 8 SHANARRI* wellbeing indicators .

A number of schools have also utilised The Spark’s training services, providing teachers with relationship education programmes. Relationship First Aid for Teachers equips education professionals with a better understanding of attachment and relationship issues presented by children. Along with the skills to support more effectively in school.

The benefits of youth counselling


Research confirms that allocating the Pupil Equity Fund to school-based counselling and support services makes a real difference to children in Scotland. Here at The Spark we are delighted to play an important role in helping young people realise their potential in school.

Current commitments for academic year 2017/18 will see The Spark support over 5,000 school pupils. With our network of coordinators, youth counsellors and service scalability we expect to work with more schools and local authorities during the academic year.


Counselling services for schools

We would love to talk you about how The Spark’s school-based counselling and support services could benefit your school. Get in touch by completing an enquiry form. Alternatively contact the CYP Team on 0141 222 3910 (9am-5pm, Monday-Friday).

Find out more about The Spark’s Children and Young People programmes. You can also read about our counselling services for Primary schools and counselling in Secondary schools.

Read about our Relationship First Aid for Teachers courses which are delivered throughout the academic year in locations across Scotland.

* SHANARRI – safe, healthy, active, nurtured, achieving, respected, responsible and included.

emotional first aid guy winch

When we experience aches, pains or a chesty cough where do we head? Straight to our local doctor of course. When it comes to emotional pain – guilt, loss, loneliness – what do we do? Most of the time we try to sort it ourselves.

We (try to) keep calm and carry on. Instead of seeking the help of a professional – as we do for physical health problems – we soldier on. Often with wildly varying degrees of success or failure.

The concept of emotional first aid


It is this preference for dealing with mental health challenges on our own that has inspired the concept of emotional first aid. In this thought-provoking talk, psychologist Guy Winch encourages us to stop trying to cope on our own and practice emotional first aid instead.

Based on an attitude that views physical, emotional and mental pain in exactly the same way, Winch suggests we treat all these ailments with professional help.



The Spark Counselling

Are you dealing with emotional or relationship issues at the moment? The Spark’s counselling and relationship support services offer the opportunity  to speak to a professional counsellor about the difficulties and challenges you are facing right now.

We provide counselling services to individuals, couples, children and young people, and families. To find out more freephone 0808 802 0050 or complete an online enquiry.

Dementia

According to the Alzheimer’s Society over 850,000 people in the UK are living with dementia. The impact of dementia on sufferers and their carers is deeply upsetting. In particular the effect on their relationship is a very emotionally and mentally painful feature of this illness.

The symptoms of dementia and the inevitable loss of the sufferers’ personality can push relationships to breaking point.

Losing the person you love to dementia


DementiaTypical symptoms can include impaired decision-making and problem solving. Meaning previously simple tasks like cooking a meal or going to buy groceries become very difficult. A dementia sufferer’s personality can change quite rapidly. Thus individuals who were once happy and relatively care-free can become easily frustrated, angry, anxious or depressed as a consequence of the illness.

Sufferers can in some cases experience delusions which result in them falsely accusing loved ones of stealing. The belief that their nearest and dearest are taking money, clothes or family heirlooms is a common symptom associated with certain kinds of dementia.

Can relationships survive dementia?


Common to all of these is the pressure it places upon relationships. Spouses, children and grand-children often take on responsibility as a primary carer.

Cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping and the like tend to fall solely on the shoulders of the carer. Mood changes, accusations of theft and worsening memory take an emotional toll on both the sufferer and carer. The deterioration of the relationship can be as painful for the carer as watching a loved one they once knew intimately, slowly drift away.

Dementia effects relationships within the whole family


But it is not only the relationship between carer and dementia sufferer that can be compromised. Relationships between the carer and their own partner, children and wider family can also be damaged. Increasing amounts of time spent caring for an elderly relative leaves little time to maintain a marriage or family relationship. The stress of caring can also easily spill over in to those relationships.

Dementia can appear like a life sentence for carers. The illness forces us to watch a loved one disappear. Meanwhile the pressure and responsibilities upon our own shoulders increase. There are thankfully ways to help ease the burden and make the best of your associated relationships.

Hurtful comments are not deliberate


It is important to understand that your loved one cannot control this process. Changes in mood, delusions and at times nasty and hurtful comments are not of their choosing. Dementia is the result of diseases and conditions that damage brain cells. The hurtful words may come from the mouth of your loved one but they are not deliberate.

Focus on positives and not dementia


DementiaFocusing on the positives can provide a break from the negativity that often surrounds dementia. Place your attention upon the things your loved one can still do as opposed to the things they cannot do. As a child grows we celebrate what they can do and almost entirely ignore what they are yet to learn. A similar approach can be beneficial when dealing with dementia.

Similarly, pay close attention to moments of positivity during your time with them. For example a kind word, smile or a time of laughter are the moments to take away from each visit. Not the repetitive conversations or forgetfulness.

Make time to deal with your own emotions


As a carer it is important to confront rather than ignore the feelings and emotions you are experiencing. Talking about your situation and how it is impacting upon you can help deal with difficult emotions.

Share your situation with other family members or friends. Join support groups and meet with fellow carers. Try your best not to bottle up how you are feeling.

At times carers may experience feelings of anger and resentment towards their loved one. Admitting having such feelings to a family member for example can create other emotions of shame and guilt.

When talking to family is not enough


Those feelings are completely natural under the difficult circumstances of dementia. But talking about them to family members can sometimes be impossible. Counselling can provide a safe place where you can talk freely and openly about how you feel.

A counsellor has no emotional ties to the situation which allows them to be impartial and fair. Unlike a family member who is emotionally involved in the situation, a counsellor is completely removed from it.

Look after yourself as well as your loved one


Finally it is important to look after yourself. Carers can feel duty-bound to be on call 24/7. Often that creates intense feelings of guilt at taking a day off or spending time doing something purely for themselves.

In reality not taking time out can lead to carers being emotionally, physically and mentally exhausted, consequently unable to look after their loved one.

Dementia is a tragic illness but it need not be the case that carers have to suffer alone and in silence. Organisations like Alzheimer’s Society, Alzheimer Scotland, Dementia UK and Age Concern offer help, support and advice for carers. Counselling charities like The Spark can also help address the complicated relationship issues that emerge when dealing with dementia.


Are you a carer looking after a loved one with dementia? Could you benefit from talking to a counsellor about your relationship to talk to someone?

Life can be challenging at times. And speaking to a loved one or friend sometimes is not enough to help overcome those challenges. Speaking to a counsellor can help you understand the problems you face and decide how to move forward positively.

Find out more about our counselling services for couples, individuals and families on freephone 0808 802 0050. Alternatively find your nearest counselling centre or complete an enquiry form.

Being a parent to a teenager is tricky at the best of times. High school exams are barely over when attention turns to the next stress-triggering milestone: exam results day.

Parents can end up just as distressed as the kids who sat the exams. The near constant squeeze on prospects for an increasingly disadvantaged millennial generation has ratcheted up the pressure to ‘do well’. Both parents and young adults can end up believing their results will either make or break their future.

Do exam results define your future?

exam results day stressWhich is a nice segue in to our first recommendation: to read one of our earlier articles – Do exam results define your future? The good news (spoiler alert) is that they do not but that might not pacify a distraught teen immediately after they open their envelope or read their text alert.

So the team here at The Spark have put our heads together to come up with some advice for parents waiting for exam results day. As one of the leading providers of counselling to pupils in Scottish schools, we know what makes teens tick. And the first tip, like most things in life for parents, is to plan ahead.

Tip #1 from our school counsellors – it is all about planning


Like most things in life for parents it is all in the planning.

The process starts before exam results drop through the letterbox or pop up on a smartphone screen.

Before exam results day…

First and foremost, try not to get sucked in to the role of ‘competitive dad/mum’; comparing your child to their classmates and setting unrealistic targets. Parents will often offer rewards conditional upon certain exam results. This can be a great way to motivate young people to study but it can be counterproductive if, to coin a phrase, they don’t make the grade.

Focus instead on celebrating what they do achieve. Deep down you will know whether your son/daughter gave it their best shot and if they did, recognise and reward that. They might never have been school dux material even if they gave 100%. Therefore defining them simply by the grades they receive belittles the time and effort invested in sitting the exams.

Surviving the pressure-cooker environment of exams itself is worthy of celebration and reward.

Tip #2 from our school counsellors – is your child a big ball of anxiety or cool as a cucumber?


exam results day stress anxietyThe character of each child will differ markedly on how they view exam results day. Some will be beside themselves with anxiety (again we suggest a look at ‘Do exam results define your future?’ ). Meanwhile others will be confident and assured whatever the outcome.

Talk to them about how they are feeling. Ask them to be honest about how they feel in terms of your role but be prepared to take it on the chin.

Do they feel like there is a huge, scary expectation from you and your partner? Are they mostly anxious about disappointing you or is the pressure coming from within themselves? How do they feel about their prospects compared to their friends and peer group?

Help your child unwind

Discussing this can help them to unwind. It can also help all of you understand how best to approach the final few days before results arrive. Will time spent with friends eliminate their anxieties about poor results or accentuate them? Is it time to enjoy a Netflix comedy boxset binge or tune in to a chill out playlist on Spotify? Or is it better to let them enjoy their last few days of ‘freedom’ before returning to school, starting further education or getting a job?

One thing that is essential in any scenario is to assure them of your love and support. Emphasise that your relationship with them and care for them is not contingent upon achieving certain exam results.

Tip #3 from our school counsellors – let them decide


In advance of exam results day agree with your child how they want to receive their results. As their parent you want to and have a right to know. But this is their day, their exam results and the next step in their future. Give them the space and time they need.

Some kids will want to ‘rip the Band-Aid off’ and get it over and done with at home. Others might prefer to receive their results in the company of their friends. Conversely some might prefer a quiet, private place to find out how they’ve done.

Parents can help by listening and respecting their decision. It is also important to be available to share the experience and prepare for different outcomes. Your child may feel they really struggled during exam time in which case expecting straight A’s is not going to help anyone. Managing your own emotions is important too.

For example, anger directed towards an already disappointed son/daughter will be very unhelpful to both of you. Equally a response of indifference from you can be as damaging.

The days after exam results day

exam results day - successCelebrating good exam results is of course important. But so too is celebrating the achievements we mentioned earlier: completing the exam digest; investing their best efforts in study and receiving qualifications in various subjects.

In most cases your daughter/son will be happy and relieved about their exam results. Where there is disappointment they will need your support and encouragement.

A bit of creative thinking might be required to consider alternative routes to their preferred career. Encourage them to access further support and information wherever possible and options available to them.

Skills Development Scotland run an exam results helpline on the day exam results are received. The service aims to assist young adults in their post exam results decisions. If your child had intended to go to college or university contacting the institution is worthwhile. Their preferred college/university may still be able to offer them a place even if they did not get the result they were hoping for.


If the stress of exams is causing relationship issues for you as a parent – perhaps between you and your child or you and your partner – The Spark can provide counselling and support for couples, individuals  and families.

Freephone 0808 802 0050 to find out more about counselling and support or complete a counselling enquiry form.

male postnatal depression

The idea that male postnatal depression exists has long been considered in the same terms as man flu. Reactions can vary from a raised eyebrow to thinly veiled contempt when the subject is broached. Familiar gender stereotypes entrench the belief that a dad ‘can’t get’ postnatal depression. A viewpoint justified on the basis of a perceived limited role in pregnancy, childbirth and the early months of life.

The reality is that male postnatal depression is real. Why? Because new dads go through a similar emotional, physical and mental rollercoaster as new mums. The upheaval, trauma and radical change that comes with parenthood affects both men and women. In the case of new fathers this might be the combination of new/expanded responsibilities at home plus the pressure of potentially becoming the sole bread-winner for the family.

What have the dads got to be depressed about?


male postnatal depression Monty Python
What have the Dad’s got to be depressed about?

The situation could be likened to the classic scene from the infamous Monty Python film ‘The Life of Brian’. The Peoples Front of Judea (or was it the Judean People’s Front?) lament ‘what have the Roman’s ever done for us?’

They could easily be swapped for a council of mums debating ‘what have the dad’s got to be depressed about?’ The punchline – spoiler alert – is of course that the group begin to rhyme off a list of very robust rebuttals.

A ground-breaking study in New Zealand revealed that while men are less likely to seek help, they are just as likely as women to experience postnatal depression.

Other data suggests this can mean as many as 1 in 10 new dads experience postnatal depression and research by NCT suggests more than 1 in 3 new fathers are worried about their mental health.

Misunderstanding postnatal depression


Postnatal depression is not completely understood. Previous theories believed it an entirely hormonal issue. This has been widely discounted. In turn that has undermined one of the primary arguments against male postnatal depression. If men do not experience the same hormonal changes as women, there is no trigger for postnatal depression.

Current thinking considers any form of postnatal depression to be a combination of birth trauma, changes in the relationship between mum and dad, isolation and financial pressures. Whilst the experiences of new mothers and fathers differ, they share almost all of these challenges.

Trauma, isolation and anxiety


Infant mental healthA traumatic birth is an horrific episode for any mum. The experience for dad is distressing for different but no less significant reasons. Many men who suffer from postnatal depression can trace its origins back, in part, to a traumatic birth. The associated feelings of fear and helplessness during a difficult labour can remain long after the child is born.

After birth, women with postnatal depression often experience exhaustion, feelings of isolation and a sense of being overwhelmed by the demands of their new-born. Once again the experience of a father is not too dissimilar.

Whilst a mother is exhausted from feeding and sleepless nights, a father can be exhausted by managing an increased workload around the house and caring for his partner. A new mother may feel isolated as she stays home with her baby but a father can experience similar feelings of abandonment and rejection as his partner focuses her attention on their child.

Slow acceptance of male postnatal depression


We are reaching a critical point where it is understood that male postnatal depression exists. However the glacial speed at which it is being accepted is significant for two interconnected reasons.

Firstly the traditional structure of support services in the postnatal period is geared towards mother and baby. Slow acceptance of postnatal depression in men will translate to slow change in how we support fathers. Our society needs to take a more family-focused approach to perinatal and postnatal care. Only then will male postnatal depression be treated on equal terms.

The impact of male postnatal depression on children


Secondly we need to actively consider the impact of paternal postnatal depression on the development of babies. Research in the field is increasingly demonstrating a direct link between a child’s psychosocial and cognitive development and the influence of their father. Consequently we cannot continue to write off male postnatal depression as simply a sign of ‘weakness’ or a myth.

The alternative is to continue leaving men with postnatal depression to fend for themselves. Not only will that harm parents but it will also create more mental health issues in the future. Sons and daughters will suffer as a result of undiagnosed and unsupported paternal depression.


Counselling and support for new parents

Are you or your partner struggling to cope with parenthood? Is it causing tension in your relationship and leaving you feeling isolated and anxious? The Spark’s counselling services are available to help you and your partner cope with the challenges of becoming parents.

Our couples counselling provides an opportunity to talk about your experiences and perspective with a trained counsellor. To find out more freephone our team on 0808 802 0050 or complete a counselling enquiry form.

You can also review our free resources for parents with tips on bonding with baby and maintaining your relationship with your partner.