Mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community. (WHO)
Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. Most of us at some time in our life will experience a mental health issue. In fact one out of four of us will experience psychological distress at some stage.
Mental health or mental illness are interchangeable terms. Mental health is as varied and individual as people themselves. Some people fully recover after one episode and others can have recurring episodes or long standing mental health issues. People from any background can experience mental health issues, although those who have experienced trauma or social dislocation are more vulnerable.
If we were to look at a ‘wellbeing’ scale: with 1 being good and 10 being awful, over the course of our lives we will move up and down that scale depending on what we are experiencing. There is an ebb and flow depending on what is happening in our life.
1: ______________________________________________ 10
If we are in a season where we are struggling it is important that we get a diagnosis because it helps Doctors and Psychologists work out how to help you.
Many people feel that they don’t want to be labelled or defined by their illness. A way to help you think about diagnosis is the jam jar analogy by Tim Read .
“When you look at the nutrition facts on a jar of jam many ingredients will be listed”
“Diagnosis can be looked at as just one of the ingredients on the list. The diagnosis is important but is does not represent the whole jar of jam. It is just one part of it”.
Causes of mental health problems
A number of overlapping factors may increase your risk of developing a mental health problem. These can include:
- Early life experiences: abuse, neglect, or the loss of someone close to you
- Individual factors: level of self-esteem, coping skills and thinking styles
- Current circumstances: stress at school or work, money problems, difficult personal relationships, or problems within your family
- Biological factors: family history of mental health problems (Headspace)
The first port of call is your local doctor. Preferably you will make a relationship with a family doctor who knows you and has some understanding of who you are. A general practitioner will be able to put you onto a mental health plan. This means that your visits to a psychologist will be substantially subsidised. When you call to make an appointment please make a double appointment so that you have the time that you need to talk through your issues.
Step Two: Psychologist – Psychiatrist
Talking therapy is very valuable to your recovery. This is a term used when visiting a psychologist. A psychologist works directly with those experiencing difficulties, such as mental health disorders including anxiety and depression. They help people to overcome relationship problems, eating disorders, learning problems, substance abuse, parenting issues, or to manage the effects of a chronic illness.
A Psychiatrist is a qualified medical doctor who has obtained additional qualifications to become a specialist in the diagnosis, treatment and can prescribe medications.
First Hand Experience
I had a chat with my friend Tim Read who has experienced ongoing mental health issues and who also runs peer led support groups for mental health and wellness. Tim explains that for his journey the turning point came when he read a book called “Back from the Brink”by Graeme Cowan
Back from the Brink is a brave book that offers practical advice:
“Centred on interviews with several people from of all walks of life, …Back from the Brink offers people with depression and bipolar disorder real hope and real advice, as well as practical tools for putting what they’ve learned into practice in recovering from their symptoms”(Source).
Tim goes on to say that he needed to restructure the way that he was thinking. Instead of constantly looking for a cure or a fix, he needed to look at how to manage his mental illness. This was the first time that he felt in control and able to manage.
There are many therapies that help with mental illness and your psychologist will talk to you about these.
One of them is Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) is a treatment based on the idea that how you think and act affects how you feel.
In CBT, you work with a therapist to recognise the patterns of thinking that cause you problems (Mind Health).
- First you will work with your therapist to understand what are the most troubling problems for you
- Then you work out what your thoughts, emotions and beliefs are about these situations.
- You will identify which of these thoughts, emotions and beliefs are negative or inaccurate.
- Working with your therapist, you find ways to challenge them. You might ask yourself: is that true? Or you might ask yourself: so what?
- Then you can find ways to think and act that are less harmful to you.
Dr Russ Harris, author of the international best-selling self-help book ‘The Happiness Trap’, is an world-renowned trainer of Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT). Russ’s background is in medicine. As a GP he became increasingly interested in the psychological aspects of health and wellbeing, and increasingly disenchanted with writing prescriptions.
ACT uses Mindfulness. Mindfulness is a mental state of awareness, focus and openness – which allows you to engage fully in what you are doing at any moment. In a state of mindfulness, difficult thoughts and feelings have much less impact and influence over you – so it is hugely useful for everything from full-blown psychiatric illness to enhancing athletic or business performance (Act Mindfully).
The goal of ACT is to create a rich and meaningful life, while accepting the pain that inevitably goes with it. ‘ACT’ is a good abbreviation, because this therapy is about taking effective action guided by our deepest values and in which we are fully present and engaged. It is only through mindful action that we can create a meaningful life.
There is a lot of progress happening in the arena of mental illness. Clinicians are increasingly looking at mental health from a holistic perspective.
Dr James Courtney is a Clinical Psychologist, lecturer and Placement Coordinator at the Monash Psychological Centre. I had a chance to speak with him on this topic recently.
There is a huge push to look into the impact of genetics and DNA on a patient. They have found for instance that panic attacks are 7 times more likely to have been inherited in your DNA.
‘Following a Biopsychosocial model of treatment, we try to look at a whole lot of influences including genetics and the influences that you had on you as a child. We try to understand the whole journey”.
It is now possible to have a DNA test and have your medication personally fitted to your specific DNA. A genetic test will reveal how you will respond to a drug, what suits you and what suits your profile. This level of accuracy takes away all the pain and frustration of trying many different medications until you find the right one. Through DNA testing they can custom fit your medication.
Resources and Organisation that can HELP you.
PHAMS: PHAMS is the Personal Helpers and Mentors Service. This is a federally funded program which works in an outreach capacity. They meet with people and look at the issues that they are struggling with and help them to move through them. They work closely with clinical services. Its about sitting down with a person and mapping out a plan with them and supplying the services that they need.
PHaMs provides increased opportunities for recovery for people aged 16 years and over whose lives are severely affected by mental illness, by helping them to overcome social isolation and increase their connections to the community. People are supported through a recovery‑focused and strengths‑based approach that recognises recovery as a personal journey driven by the participant.
White Wreath is a non-denominational, non-profit charitable organisation providing 24-hour, seven days a week help, assistance for those suffering mental trauma or considering suicide.
You can Text via Mobilie 0410 526 562
You can Emailwhite.firstname.lastname@example.org
Headspace: headspace is the National Youth Mental Health Foundation providing early intervention mental health services to 12-25 year olds, along with assistance in promoting young peoples’ wellbeing. This covers four core areas: mental health, physical health, work and study support and alcohol and other drug services. You can access headspace HERE.
Beyond Blue: beyondblue provides information and support to help everyone in Australia achieve their best possible mental health, whatever their age and wherever they live. You can access beyond blue HERE
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