Tag Archives: Psychology

From leaving education at 15, to graduating with a Psychology degree

Anna Green is graduating this week with BSc in Psychology. Here she tells her story of her struggles with mental health growing up, her unconventional education path, and how Birkbeck’s Disability Service was instrumental in her ADHD diagnosis and her achieving a First-Class Honours. This is her #BBKstory.

Anna Green

I grew up in a working-class family, as an only child to a single mother. We moved around a lot, and I went to four primary schools in different parts of the country so I had a very disrupted education which lacked routine and consistency. I think this had quite a big knock-on impact as I found secondary school hard and I struggled to fit in. As a teenager, I could barely concentrate, got into fights with other children and by the age of fourteen was struggling severely with my mental health. Everything became overwhelming, which led to me spending four months in a mental health unit, and later that year, I lost my father to cancer. By the age of fifteen I had left mainstream education for good.

Aged 19, the opportunity to study GCSE’s and A-Levels at college arose and I studied for six GCSEs and two AS Levels. However, I lacked in direction and motivation, and abandoned education once again, working in hospitality until the age of 23 when I decided to give it another shot. I took a free, online Open University access course in People, Work and Society and once I completed that was delighted when Birkbeck accepted my application to study BSc Psychology. I knew psychology was the course I wanted to study because my teenage years were defined by my battles with mental health and I’ve always wanted to use my experiences to help other people going through similar challenges.

University was a turning point for me, as it was when I established my identity and got to know myself a bit more. It was a relief to be settled somewhere and be independent. I made friends quickly through group projects and I really enjoyed being around a range of people from interesting backgrounds. Being in the centre of London, with the British Library and nice pubs in Bloomsbury, meant I could socialise easily with people on my course. My days were busy but rewarding: I spent a few days a week working as a support worker for people who had acquired brain injuries, which was relevant to my degree and an opportunity that I stumbled across at Birkbeck’s annual Careers Fair. I also volunteered for Childline as a counsellor and tutored primary school children maths online through the pandemic. The great thing about Birkbeck is that it really allows you to balance work, volunteering and studying.

Unfortunately, in my second year, I began to struggle in familiar ways. The lack of focus was something I knew went beyond just a disrupted education and at times, an unstable childhood and I was finally diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). I found my diagnosis helped me understand myself, but I did find it hard to accept for about a year. I applied for Disabled Student’s Allowance and was granted weekly study skills support and a mentor. Mark Pimm, Birkbeck’s Disability Service Manager, was so supportive and oversaw this process and advocated for me to receive all the help possible, such as deadline extensions; extra time in exams; useful computer software and equipment; study skills support; and a mentor. With the help of Birkbeck’s Disability Service, I was able to graduate with a First-Class Honours in Psychology.

I am grateful to Birkbeck for normalising mature study, providing opportunities for those who may not have perfect grades and factoring in a person’s life experience when accepting applicants. I have met some wonderful people who I’m still in touch with now, and I’ve learned that there is no time limit on education, and sometimes it’s best to wait until you feel ready to give it a go. In future, I would like to do a Master’s in Forensic Psychology and get a place on the Doctorate in Clinical Psychology. I couldn’t recommend Birkbeck enough to any mature student and my confidence has transformed over the last three years.

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Work, worklessness and wellbeing – COVID19 and beyond

Dr Gail Kinman, Visiting Professor of Occupational Health Psychology introduces a series of webinars to support organisations and their employees through the COVID19 pandemic and beyond.

The Covid19 pandemic is having a major impact on the way that we live, and how and where we work. For many people, it has been a time of setbacks and loss as businesses close, redundancy looms, and the effects of inequalities become ever more apparent. The post-pandemic future is uncertain, and little is yet known about its long-term implications for individuals and organisations. It is therefore crucial to help organisations and individuals maintain health and wellbeing during the pandemic and beyond and to encourage policy makers to consider how to meet the key challenges they are facing.

Public Health England have commissioned a series of seven webinars and associated resources to support organisations and employees by providing practical guidance on key issues of concern during these challenging times. With the Society of Occupational Health, I have been commissioned to organise these webinars and prepare follow-up briefings. The project is guided by a steering group that includes leading experts and employers’ organisations.

The webinars are free of charge and designed to support employers and employees from businesses large and small; professionals working in health and social care, public health, occupational health, and human resources; the community and voluntary sector; and policy makers.  The webinars are, however, open to everyone who has an interest in work and wellbeing. We have attracted a wide range of high-profile speakers from organisations such as MIND, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, Business in the Community, the British Psychological Society, the Health and Safety Executive, the Centre for Better Ageing and the Carnegie Trust and there will also be presentations from leading academics working in the field of work and wellbeing.

Upcoming webinars:

  • 28 January 2021 (2 – 3.30 pm) Refreshing your approach to workplace diversity and inclusion post 2020
  • 4 February 2021 (2 – 4pm) Managing job insecurity and creating better quality work
  • 11 February 2021 (2 – 4pm) Managing stress, burnout and fatigue in health and social care
  • 24 February 2021 (2 – 4pm) Promoting workplace health and wellbeing during the pandemic and beyond
  • 3 March 2021 (2 – 4pm) Developing a COVID-secure health and wellbeing strategy
  • 10 March 2021 (2 – 4pm) Managing change – from restricting and redundancy to implementing home working.

Our first webinar, ‘Support for business to build back better: the benefits of age diversity’ was held on 21 January, attracting around 120 people from a range of sectors and with very positive feedback from attendees. Watch a video recording of the event on YouTube.

We look forward to seeing you at the forthcoming webinars. More information on each webinar and booking can be found on the Society of Occupational Medicine website.

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Struggle and Strife pave the way for Success

Demelza Honeyborne was born in Wales, taken to Liberia, West Africa aged 2 years old and survived a 10-year civil war, physical assault and years out of education to go on to recently graduate with a degree in Psychology. This is her #BBKgrad story.

The early years in Liberia, ongoing conflict and the battle to stay in education:

My mother was from Liberia. She and my Dad had separated, so she took me to her home country when I was just two years old. Liberia’s 10-year civil war started in 1990 when I was 13 years old and my mother died that same year. My father had left when I was about four, and I had no contact with him so I effectively became like an orphan during the war. Schools were closed due to the war for a few years- I can’t remember the length of closure…probably till 1996, but they reopened at points where there were cease fires so I missed a massive portion of my junior and senior schooling.

At 18 years old, I got pregnant with my twins and attempted school again. I would study during the day and work at a nightclub from the evening until 4am and then start all over again with classes at 8am. I did this for a year or so. I later got a day job which meant I had to go to night classes. My children were taken away from me by their dad’s parents when they were one as they deemed me unqualified to be a mother due to my circumstances (having no parents, being unmarried). However, I got them back when they turned five.  This meant I could work, study and stay off the streets.

A chance reunion with her father and return to the UK:

I had sent a letter to my old neighbourhood in Wales (I could only remember the first line of the address) to see if anyone knew where my dad might be. I didn’t think I’d have any luck but in 1999, the British Red Cross found my father and reconnected us, which is a totally miraculous happening on its own, hence I returned to the UK in 2000.

I worked for a year upon arriving to the UK- two jobs, seven days a week- until I saved enough money to bring my children over. A friend of mine, Brenda, had encouraged me to get back to study but I still had the mentality that I couldn’t dream and achieve. But I had a strong faith…I always remember my Mum would drop me off at Church when she was alive then would come back and get me.

Study goals in sight and enrolment at Birkbeck:

Transport for London, which is my employer, offers free courses; and working full-time with kids meant it was difficult to study outside of work, so I enrolled onto one of the courses. I did my GCSE English and passed with a B grade. The following year I did my Math GCSE and passed with a C. That was around 2014 -2016. During this time, I became a Station Supervisor which meant a change to my shift pattern. I then enrolled at West Kensington and Chelsea college in 2016 and studied Access to Psychology while working at night.

This then led me to join Birkbeck where I studied BSc Psychology and achieved a 2:1 degree whilst still working full-time, including night shifts. My professors were all super-amazing especially Gillian Forester who is super-awesome. It was very difficult but rewarding to know that at my age (43 years old), I could still achieve my dreams. Birkbeck is amazing!

I am currently doing my master’s in Health and Clinical Psychology with Birkbeck. My aim is to go into counselling and volunteer in helping people who have experienced traumatic situations as myself. During the war I was subjected to the trauma of sexual assault which became a norm. There was a war and being alive was most important, with the belief that once I had another day it was okay. I was a survivor.

Counselling and a mission to help others:

I have had different forms of counselling and I have spoken at length to trusted friends and my pastors, so I believe I can better manage my trauma and live a productive life. However, not many of my friends or those who experience similar situations can. Additionally, before coming to the UK, counselling wouldn’t have been something I would use.  As most Liberians even today still believe, to admit any mental illness is a sign of weakness and you can’t tell the world you are hurting, or you will appear weak and a failure. Additionally, people in deprived counties like Liberia do not have access to counselling facilities, so once I qualify, I want to look into offering virtual counselling or volunteering overseas, perhaps attached to a charity.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Study Psychology at Birkbeck.
Learn more about the Health and Clinical Psychological Sciences Master’s degree.

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‘Me, Human’ at the Science Museum: Your 500 million year old brain

Scientists from Birkbeck and collaborating institutions are in the ‘Who Am I?’ gallery all summer to present the ‘Me, Human’ project. Dr Gillian Forrester reflects on what led her to research this topic. 

Me, Human is a live scientific experiment which will investigate how traits from our 500 million year-old vertebrate brain still underpin some of our most important and human unique behaviours – like recognising faces and generating speech. At Live Science this summer you’ll use your eyes, ears and hands to find out more about how your ancient brain actually works. We are a multidisciplinary team of scientists at all levels of our careers from undergraduate students in psychology and biological anthropology to senior academics at leading London universities. We all have a passion to communicate science and demonstrate how we, as humans, share a common evolutionary history with other animals – and to reveal our extraordinary connection to the natural world.

We are all individuals, but we acknowledge that we might have inherited grandma’s nose or dad’s extrovert personality. Have you ever thought about what physical and psychological traits we humans – as a species – have inherited from our ancestors?

As a child, I was fascinated by our closest living relatives – the great apes. I wondered – what do gorillas and chimps think? How similar is their experience of life to mine? I scratched this itch by watching documentaries, reading books and eventually taking degrees in San Diego and Oxford. It was during my studies that I started to learn about brains and how they control behaviour. What struck me as truly incredible was that there are parts of the human brain that come from when humans and fish shared a common ancestor – over 500 million years ago!

As humans, we are able to think and act in ways unlike any other animal on the planet. Because of these unique capabilities, it is easy to forget that modern human abilities have their origins in a shared evolutionary history.

Although we are bipedal and comparatively hairless, we are indeed great apes. In fact, we are not even on the fringes of the great ape family tree – we are genetically closer to chimpanzees than chimpanzees are to gorillas. As such, we share many brain and behaviour traits with our great ape cousins. But our similarities to other animals date back much farther than our split with an ancestor common to both humans and great apes (approximately six million years ago). Some brain and behaviour traits date back over 500 million years –present in early vertebrates and remain preserved in modern humans.

It is our similarities and differences to other species that allow us to better understand how we came to be modern humans.

One of our oldest inherited traits is the ‘divided brain’. While our left and right halves of the brain (hemispheres) appear physically similar, they are in charge of different behaviours. Because the left and right hemispheres control physical behaviour on the opposite side of the body, we can see these dominances revealed in the everyday actions of animals (including humans).

Animal studies have highlighted that fishes, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals also possess left and right hemispheres that differentially control certain behaviours. The divided behaviours of these animals provide a window into our ancestral past, telling the story of our shared evolutionary history with early vertebrates.

Studies suggest that the right hemisphere emerged with a specialisation for recognising the threat in the environment and controlling escape behaviours and the left hemisphere emerged as dominant for producing motor action sequences for feeding (as pictured above). The divided brain allows for any organism to obtain nourishment while keeping alert for predators. We can think of the brain as acting like an ‘eat and not be eaten’ parallel processor.

Considering the consistency in brain side across different animal species, it seems likely that there has been a preservation of these characteristics through evolutionary time. Effectively, we have lugged our useful brain and behavioural traits with us throughout our evolutionary journey.

But why should we care?

Little is known about how these old brain traits support modern human behaviours, like the way we navigate social environments, kiss, embrace, nurture babies and take a selfie! – inhibiting a better understanding of how, when and why our human unique capabilities emerged and also how they still develop during human infancy and childhood.

By taking part in Me, Human at Live Science you will learn about cutting-edge research and engage with fun psychology experiments.  This project challenges you to use your eyes, ears and hands to find out more about how ancient brain traits still control some of your most human unique behaviours. Work with scientists to explore how you use a divided brain to experience the world around you. We invite Science Museum visitors to solve puzzle boards, test your grip strength, hold and manipulate objects, recognise faces and react to different sounds. Watch your brain in action, using portable brain-imaging, as you take part in activities that will help us to better understand human brains and behaviours.

The Me, Human team at the Science Museum.

Come and join me and the Me, Human project team on this journey of exploration to find out what it is to be human and how we are connected to all animals in the natural world. Open until Monday 30 September 2019.

Dr Gillian Forrester

  • Director of the Me, Human Project
  • Reader in Psychology
  • Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy
  • Deputy Head of Department, Psychological Sciences, Birkbeck, University of London

Visit the exhibition at the Science Museum, London. Follow the Me, Human team on Twitter. #mehuman #livescience. 

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