If there’s one thing I’ve learned, as a counsellor with over 12 years experience of working in mental health and social care, it is that mental health is a very difficult subject. The stigma in society is still very noticeable and people who suffer with mental health conditions don’t always receive the same understanding and recognition as people who suffer from physical ailments. Old values and misconceptions still underpin individual’s as well as the media’s understanding, which casts an even greater shadow on those who are struggling with their mental health every day.
The truth is that mental health is a spectrum. We all have mental health and like our physical health, it ranges from great to not so great. It can also be fluctuating and confusing. While there definitely are some hereditary and circumstantial factors involved, mental health conditions can affect anyone. 1 in 4 people in Britain experience some kind of mental health condition in any one year.
Many people are reluctant to seek help, as they are afraid of ending up in “the system”, being diagnosed and given an unhelpful label or end up on medication, which can be addictive and difficult to come off.
However, there are other ways to manage mental health. There is no one size fits all and usually people find a combination of things can help support them in their recovery:
- Talk about your feelings. Most people have unprocessed feelings and experiences from the past. These feelings can be incredibly painful and our instinct is to try to avoid them. However, these painful feelings are unlikely to go away until they have been expressed and processed. Talking about them with a professional or a friend can help you come to terms with your past, recognise how you have been shaped by it and find the best ways to support yourself now.
- Look after yourself. We all know by now that our bodies and minds are a connected, complicated system. In order to experience optimal health we need to look after ourselves on every level. This includes obvious things like diet, exercise, sleep and managing stress levels as well as more intangible things like hobbies, daily habits and connections with others. I have worked with people who have created their own unique treatments plans, which included things like getting a cat, joining a hill-walking group, taking particular supplements, wearing bright coloured clothes, swimming in the sea, travelling to other countries, taking a nap every day, volunteering, avoiding loud places and doing stand up comedy. Only you can work out what is best for you.
- Change your inner dialogue. Your inner dialogue is how you talk to yourself. Most of us have a habit of criticising and talking down to ourselves in a way we would never dream of doing to anyone else. This inner critic is a bit like a bully who is constantly putting us down and undermining our efforts. Part of my work with individuals is about challenging this critical voice and finding a more supportive and loving one. Unsurprisingly this has a major impact on a persons self-esteem, confidence and mood.
- Distract yourself. Sometimes living with a mental health condition can feel like being a prisoner of your own thoughts. Ruminating about the past or dreading the future doesn’t help and sometimes it can paralyse you in the moment. In these moments, however difficult it seems, it is important to just do something, anything to break out of the cycle of thinking. Put your shoes on and get out for a walk, pick up the phone and call a friend or watch a funny program on TV. Whatever you do, give your mind a rest so that you can gain some perspective and return to your problems with a fresh view.