Mental health first
Before talking about achieving a self-satisfactory level of confidence in life and how to face life situations with self-assurance let’s explore how mental health affects who we are, how we do things and why we do what we do. This article will focus on the importance of developing mental health first aid tools for self-help. We will also explore what mental health is without the need of complicating the subject.
Mental health is an expression used to refer to our cognitive, behavioural and emotional wellbeing: the way we think, feel and behave. Sometimes we generally use the term ‘mental health’ to indicate the absence of a mental disorder.
Inevitably mental health affects how we all function on a daily basis, our relationships, and even our physical health. Mental health can govern our ability to enjoy life and to find balance between daily activities and how much effort is employed to achieve psychological resilience.
It doesn’t matter what age, gender, class, race or social conditioning we belong to, we all (in some way or other) have experienced or are experiencing mental health problems. Anxiety, phobias, anger, depression, schizophrenia and personality disorders are types of mental illness.
There isn’t a reliable way to determine whether someone is developing a mental health problem, however there are signs that can occur over a short period of time.
Some of the common sings are:
- Feeling as if nothing matters
- Sleeping or eating too much or too little
- Withdrawing from people or activities that matter to us
- A feeling of consistently low energy
- Using drugs more than normal (including alcohol and nicotine)
- Displaying unusual emotions
- Feelings of confusion
- Not being able to complete daily tasks, such as getting to work or doing house chores
- Experiencing persistent thoughts or memories regularly
- Thinking of harming one’s self or others
- Hearing voices
Anxiety is a feeling that we experience when we are worried about things that are about to happen or what could happen in the future. Anxiety is fear that lies in anticipation.
However, anxiety is a natural human response that helps us react when we are under threat. This feeling can be experienced through our thoughts, feelings and body sensations.
Phobias include simple phobias (fear of objects), social phobias (fear of being exposed to the judgment of others), and agoraphobia (fear of open spaces or situations that may cause panic attacks). It is not known at present how many phobias there are. The high concentration of phobic disorders in society has made it possible to actualise numerous interventions by a number of disciplines.
Psychiatry has developed a number of drugs that have an anxiolytic action. Psychoanalysis has proposed long term therapies to dig into one’s past in search of unconscious issues to resolve the problem based on the exploration of past problems.
Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapy has devised desensitisation techniques and exposure to phobic stimulus. The strategic therapy has proposed hypnotic techniques without the use of trance and through the use of therapeutic tactics.
Scientific psychology uses psycho educational, rational and pragmatic tools to rehabilitate without drugs and the use of psychotherapy. Of all the described disciplines, the least successful have been psychoanalysis and pharmacologic therapy.
Drugs often tend to add to the problem, generating a catch 22 pattern where the actions are aimed to resolve the problem, but instead cause new ones and perpetrate negative feelings.
The real problem is that people generally do not know whom to turn to when they experience mental health issues. This is because there is lack of clarity around services and there are far too many of them around.
If I suffered from mental health to the point of actively seeking help, the last thing I would be interested in is finding what services offer the best care at the best affordable prices. Mental health is not something that can be measured by how much of a service we can afford or by the assumption that we should know what treatment works for us.
Why do we, as a society, can’t think about self-help techniques that we can use every time we feel our mental health is suffering?
Wouldn’t this be a more dignified and less time/money consuming way of dealing with personal issues? Why can’t schools teach children effective techniques to help them deal with mental health problems? One of the major issues that people are faced with is that they are expected to reach out to a professional rather than have tools of self-help at their disposal.
I want to draw your attention to one of the disciplines that I have learned to help my clients support themselves and achieve a position of empowerment in their lives – they were taught what self-help tools they could use and took responsibility for acting upon their own issues. The discipline in question is called NLP, the science of personal excellence. NLP stands for Neuro-Linguistic-Programming.
Neuro refers to the mental filtering process and how we perceive the world according to our senses. Linguistic refers to how we assign unique meaning to the information we receive from the outside world, which is filtered in through our senses. We convey language to these perceptions and language is what we use to express them. Programming denotes the process of mental filtering which results in behaviours, habits and attitudes.
The body and mind are strictly connected and your emotions will show through body language and feelings. The body language is the window of the unconscious mind.
People experience problems/crisis when they feel inadequate to resolve a problem themselves. We need to challenge our personal beliefs in comparison to new information that the world constantly presents us with. This is how personal growth is determined on an inner level and it is important to acknowledge that life empowerment comes with personal responsibility. We all have the capacity to learn and develop without becoming reliant on other people.
How we arrive to certain conclusions in life depends on how we interpret events and how those events are interpreted determines how we let ourselves experience emotions. We all have a tendency to respond to perceptions rather than reality, hence our mental health and how this is affected by the way we feel.
Distorting reality comes as a result of our own perceptions because we look for meaning and we make assumptions without having enough information.
We all need a reference point in life which is something we can choose to place our focus on in times of uncertainty or doubt. This will provide us with a sense of stability and direction.
Anchors are a naturally occurring phenomenon as we all tend to hold onto old things. Anchors are all about associative learning, they are about how we relate to one person or one thing to another person or another thing. In other words, an anchor is made every time that we associate a feeling to an event that we experience in life, and each time a similar event is experienced again in the future we go through the same feeling. Fears and phobias are an example of this. Our fears are learned habitual responses – but what the mind can do, it can also undo. We can unlearn what we learn that is detrimental to us.
Unfortunately anchoring causes us to react without thinking. As a child, I thought I could never recover from an incident where I was run over by a red car when I was eleven. In the following years I would feel anxious every time I saw a red car moving nearby.
In terms of self-help, it becomes important to explore how to assign a positive state to an external item that can teach us a different lesson every time a negative anchor brings us back to the past. Remember that anchors are generally a representation of a distorted reality.
In the process let’s begin by accepting openly that it is okay to be imperfect and it is fine to have issues. We can also talk about anchors on a relatable level – the anchors that affect our relationships with other people. Unbeknownst to our conscious minds, many disagreements with others occur due to our reluctance to appreciate differences. How do we respond to others in line with our internal representations? We all have our own version of ‘normal’ and everyone is normal in their own eyes. The only time we have a tendency not to appreciate ‘normal’ is when we experience someone else’s version of normal.
Therefore, to identify negative anchors we need to become aware of how we respond to people’s differences in various contexts/situations.
As an exercise let’s now explore some past history, say, over the last 12 months. A little soul searching will be required. Let’s base the following exercise on fears and anxieties that you might experience:
- Write down as many times as you can about things that made you feel happy in the last twelve months.
- On a separate piece of paper write down about things that made you felt sad over the past twelve months.
The aim of the above exercise is to explore the presence of trends in your described states because this is where our anchors come from i.e. trends and associated learning. Trends then become interconnected and form behaviours/habits. For example, the trend that generates sadness could be just one connection that unifies all of the events. The final goal is to teach you how to better appreciate and understand yourself. Have you been able to identify any trends?
To be continued..