Monthly Archives: July 2013

A Little More Honest and Open About Mental Health

I’ve been thinking about why it is that people are so often frightened or embarrassed about mental illness: it’s almost as if just the mention of it sends a shiver down everyone’s spine. I believe the fear is fueled by a combination of terror at being similarly affected and of the potential shame/embarrassment at not performing to the high standards set by society.

People can be quick to offer solutions. ‘You’re depressed? You just need a holiday, a change of scene.’ Or a new job, or partner, or to appreciate all you’ve already got.  In general we find it easier to talk, and think, about our physical health. Sometimes a ‘breakdown’  can be a ‘breakthrough’: the body’s way of telling us that something isn’t right, that something needs to change. If we all felt more able to be honest about mental health, it wouldn’t be so isolating.

 

Take a Risk in Pursuit of Happiness

Research has demonstrated that although we may be pulled towards the safe and known, taking risks and trying something new can help us to appreciate life, and ourselves, in a deeper and more lasting way. It seems that sometimes, it’s worth seeking out an experience that is novel, complicated, uncertain, or even upsetting and the happiest people opt for both the new and the tried and tested; benefitting, at various times, from each.

It also appears that if we are feeling depressed or anxious we pay more attention to minute changes in facial expressions. Meanwhile, happy people tend to overlook such second-to-second alterations: a roll of the eyes, a look of annoyance, a sarcastic grin. It seems that the happiest people have a natural emotional protection against the intense gravitational pull of little details. So why not take the risk of allowing yourself to see things differently? Instead of looking for evidence to confirm your worst imaginings, look at the big picture – the pleasure in relationships rather than the pain. Try something new, and let yourself feel good about taking a risk, being brave.

Just please don’t judge me…

‘Just please don’t judge me…’ Those the words of someone who has suffered, on and off, for all her adult life with depression. It makes me sad to think there’s still such a stigma attached to mental health issues; that we all so often feel we need to hide our distress, our anger, our fear. As meaning-making human beings, judging others is unavoidable, but what we make of those judgements is very much within our control. I believe we all long to not be judged harshly; to be accepted, understood and valued. So perhaps we can use that longing within us to respond with compassion and open-mindedness to others, even when we don’t really understand what they are going through.

Can TV Programmes Really Be Therapeutic?

I read an interesting article recently about reality tv and its potential to be therapeutic (you can see it in Therapy Today, June issue, 2013). It got me thinking about how TV programmes might be therapeutic: the way in which they can normalise mental health issues (such as depression, OCD, eating disorders etc); increase public understanding and, hopefully, compassion; and suggest that help is available and effective. However, my reservations lie in the formulaic nature of the programmes; particularly the way in which all the individuals appear to get ‘better’ in the alloted time span. In my experience life, and counselling/therapy, isn’t always as predictable and dependable as that! Nevertheless, I support any medium that presents mental health issues in a way that de-stigmatises them and allows for wider discussion and debate, and television is certainly the quickest and most effective way of reaching the largest audience.

Changing Your World

Most of us want to change our worlds right now, but, of course, doing it is so much harder than saying it. One way we can start is by acknowledging that most of us worry about things that don’t matter so much; such as losing that extra weight or having a bigger house or a better job. And what we were worrying about last month or last week didn’t happen or didn’t turn out to be the diaster we imagined it would. When truly terrible things happen – getting some really bad news like a death or illness – it pulls you out of the situation and makes you realise that it is the worrying and stressing that is making us sick. You can see the physical state of how it affects you. A good way to instantly de-stress is to slow your breathing down and breathe into the belly. Focus on the outbreath – just by lengthening it makes a difference. Becoming aware of what’s around you at the time – the sounds, the smells, the colours and shapes – takes you away from repetitive, worried thoughts and the feelings that go with them. However, if, no matter how hard you try, you find you are swamped and overwhelmed by anxiety and stress, you need to think about getting some help. Talking it through with someone outside of your situation, such as a counsellor or therapist, can allow you to understand what’s holding you back from making the changes you want to make.