Mental health is getting a lot of attention. On balance that is probably a good thing. It is much better than mental health being a subject that is banished to attics, asylums and hospitals.
It is better that mental health is a subject in the mainstream than it is some kind of shameful secret.
But what does mental health mean to us?
- Mental health has a context
- When it comes to mental health – don’t compare yourself to other people
- Talk about your mental health concerns with someone you feel you can trust
When it comes to mental health, we often mistake the symptom for the problem, when usually our symptoms are signs of other underlying problems that need our attention.
It is easy to become caught up in the symptoms of mental health, such as:
- sleep disorder
- stomach problem
- Physical problems for which there is no apparent cause
- Anti-social behaviour etc.,
An alternative is that we could develop a greater capacity to consider our lives more broadly than just as a collection of symptoms.
1. Our mental health has a context
Could we learn to think about the history of how our mental health symptoms have developed, taking into account our early family relationships and crucial life events?
Generally it is when we overlook the underlying context of our symptoms that our problems tend to get worse. Unfortunately we live in an age in which the context tends to be overlooked.
When we feel anxious etc., it is usually because of things that have happened to us. For reasons that are sometimes obscure it can be difficult to keep track of those underlying issues.
- Often, when we ignore the contexts our problems escalate and our mental health goes into a more serious decline.
Mental health has always been a complicated subject
- Throughout history the idea that there might be something wrong with someone’s state of mind has tended to lead to people being marginalised. It is good that this has changed.
The change that has occurred in the last five or ten years is that people have dragged the subject of mental health back from the margins of society and tried to put it in the centre stage. From royal family to footballers, minor celebrity and ordinary school children, mental health has become a subject that everyone wants to offer an opinion on.
On balance this is a positive thing, but it might be better if these discussions could include acknowledgement of the underlying causes and the context of the problems that are being reported.
Mental health – too many conditions are diagnosed as disorders
All too frequently mental health leads to some kind of diagnosis of a disorder which tends to lose sight of how a change in mood and mental health may have developed, or how it has been acquired through our early family attachments.
We live in an age in which context is overlooked. Instead of our mental health being seen as an indicator of an underlying problem that might need further attention. The typical response is to medicate the presenting symptom as though that is all there is to it.
When we feel our mental health to be impaired it means that something has happened that requires attention.
Mental health and guilt
Louis Theroux’s documentary ‘Mothers on the Edge’ explored the complex phenomena of new motherhood. One mother (Catherine), was suffering from suicidal feelings and a threat was identified to both her and her baby. Medication and talking therapy, in the form of group therapy was offered.
The thing that seemed to be neglected, or at least downplayed, was that Catherine had given birth almost on the anniversary of a termination that she’d had the year previously. The guilt Catherine felt about the termination, seemed to be having a serious impact on her ability to develop a healthy and well attached relationship with her new baby.
The question of her feeling of guilt did come up later in the film, but it wasn’t the starting point. Instead of the impact of the termination being taken into account, her mental health was assessed in the main part in terms of her relationship with her new baby. This might be understandable but ignores a major and significant underlying part of the story of Catherine’s mental health, her relationship with her terminated baby.
If you are going to evaluate mental health, you have to look at the bigger picture, at the context of the presentation.
2. When it comes to mental health – don’t compare yourself to others
Recently, Madonna said that she would not give her youngest child a mobile phone. Madonna was addressing the point that what most of us spend our time doing with mobile phones and through social media is comparing our lives with other people’s.
- Establishing a sense of your mental health based upon how well your life compares with other people’s is a sure route to increasing your sense of inferiority and anxiety.
Comparing lives is bad for our mental health
Frans de Waal’s TED Talk on YouTube about the impact of unequal rewards shows two capuchin monkeys being paid unequally for performing the same task. One monkey is given grapes as a reward for performing an experiment, the other is given cucumber. When one of the monkeys sees that the other monkey is getting grapes, possibly a better reward, she goes on strike. She refuses to perform the experiment and becomes upset and angry with her handlers.
The talk very neatly illustrates what happens to the capuchin monkey’s mood when it starts comparing itself to other monkeys and detects inequality.
3. Talk about your mental health concerns with someone you feel you can trust
The tragic story about the death of a former guest of the Jeremy Kyle show raises serious question about what is the right place to be talking about your mental health.
Mental health is a serious subject and as such should be approached in a safe and confidential setting.
I have twenty years experience of working with people and helping them to talk about their mental health concerns. I have learnt how to approach sensitive mental health issues with care.
Contact me, if you are interested to discuss how my psychotherapy practice could help you.
Psychotherapy is a good place to talk about mental health
Giving yourself the chance to speak in a confidential setting may help you develop a clearer understanding of your mental health, of the context in which it has developed, and of how and what you may need to change.
Psychotherapy may be the starting point to developing greater insight into yourself and your mental health.
Contact me to arrange a free telephone consultation to discuss how my approach might help you.