Mental Wellness Toolkit, Part II: Talk About it!

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talking_shutterstock_370082543Until we talk more openly about mental illness, it will remain a taboo subject and a source of prejudice and discrimination. Indeed, the much needed increase in provision and funding will be easier to ignore by those in a position of power.

It may surprise you to learn that one in four of us will experience mental illness in any year1. Just as our bodies can range from being in top physical condition to being severely impaired, the same can be said of our minds. People with a diagnosis of mental illness are often stigmatised and classified as a group set apart from ‘normal’ people. But the reality is that we will all go through peaks and troughs of mental health throughout our lives. While mental illness can be genetically caused, it can also be brought on through the experience of extreme grief such as bereavement as well as dramatic changes in our life such as redundancy, becoming a parent or even stress related to studying and exams.

Mental illness is still often talked about in hushed tones. If someone is off sick with appendicitis, it’s seen as normal, matter-of-fact and hardly dwelt upon. If someone is away with, say, depression and anxiety then the reaction can range from discrimination and ridicule to embarrassment and pity. What drives these reactions is usually fear. Mental illness seems permanent and associated with strange behaviour and we are often most afraid of what others will think of us. But just as with physical illness, mental illness is highly treatable. And while drugs do play their part, today we have other ‘tools’ that can be even more effective. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), rational emotive therapy (RET) and other tools can actually transform our feelings by enabling us to change our thinking. So while our brains can become ‘wired’ to respond in certain ways through years of repeated behaviour, these new tools can help us to literally change our minds and become more resilient to mental illness.

Specific and life-threatening mental illnesses, such as addictions (these include anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder as well as addiction to drink and drugs) can be treated with a combination of abstinence (or a trigger free food plan for EDs) coupled with a 12-step programme, CBT and RET.

Speaking out isn’t easy though; it takes courage. But if we can take that first brave step we start to discover that others have similar experiences but were themselves too afraid to open up. We find that actually, most people will be sympathetic. If we do get a negative reaction, we can be fairly confident that the person is suffering from a transient form of mental ill health themselves.

We have a long way to go, but it’s important to see that we have come a long way too from the days when those with mental illness would have been labelled as at best ‘feeble minded’ and at worst a ‘lunatic’ and incarcerated in an asylum. As someone who is in recovery from mental illness myself, I’m certainly grateful I wasn’t around then.

Refs:
1. www.time-to-change.org.uk

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