Mental Health Top Tips – What’s Top and What’s Not (Part 2)

Good evening interweb!

Hope we’re all hale and hearty, and we all had good days.

I had a busy day. Oh, the life and times of a Masters student – deadlines deadlines deadlines. Ah well. I signed up for it, I shouldn’t complain.

Anyhoo…yesterday I did a rundown of half a list of Top Tips for taking care of your mental health. This particular list was taken from this page of the Mental Health Foundation website. I see these things everywhere and wanted to poke my nose into how much actually works and how much is wishful thinking.We started with 1 to 5 yesterday, here are 6 to 10.

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I’d like to put in a short apology to people who tried to follow some of my links the other day – it only occurred to me later that linking to scientific papers while on my university-access computer was fine, but not all of you would have that luxury so; if you can’t access all of them, apologies.

Anyway. Part 2. Part one to be found here .

6. Ask for help

This is the one that gets to me the most. Don’t get me wrong; asking for help is always a good idea. But I often wonder if people truly understand just how scared one gets when you have a mental condition and need to ask for help. It comes back down to stigma. No matter how much we might understand in today society of technology and science, there is the pervasive idea in the community that people with mental health problems are different or ‘broken’ in some way. Internalised and treatment stigma is among the leading causes of people not seeking help, and stigma itself fourth overall . In a more accessible format, the campaign ‘Time to Change’ pledges to tackle stigma and help mitigate it’s impact on people, and for more information on this campaign, follow the link  here.

As a society we are taught to be independent, particularly in the Western world. For myself, I was terrified of coming forward about the fact that I was suffering; I was scared of being judged by my family, my friends, my future employers; of being told there was nothing wrong with me and that there was nothing anyone could, or would, do to help me; that I wasn’t ‘doing mental health right’ because in relative terms I didn’t consider myself especially serious. In spite of NHS guidelines and targets, the waiting list for psychological therapies is frighteningly long, in both adolescent and adult mental health services – clearly, this is very dangerous, but bear in mind not everyone can afford private treatment.

I could go on all day about the damaging effects of mental health stigma and the under-funding of the public mental health system, but I’ll cut it short there or we’ll be here all night. In summery – asking for help is fine; feeling like you can ask for help is a bit more complicated. But sometimes, you have to be brave.

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      7. Take a Break

Fun fact: according to the Mental Health Foundation, mental health issues account for over one-fifth days of work-related illness a year. Stress accounts for 40% of all work-related illnesses and is the second biggest cause of workplace illness after back pain (according to my lecturer, but it sorta makes sense). On the one hand, we need to work to live, unless you have a medical reason not to (“I’m a lazy bastard” is not one of those reasons). On the other, the fact of having a mental illness can make getting, and indeed keeping a job, that much harder. It’s the biggest Catch-22 I can think of – we all need to take a break, but actually can’t take a break because, as the old song goes, “money makes the world go around.”

In day-to-day life, however, it’s a much simpler proposition. There will come a point you are so stressed you can’t concentrate, that everything gets too much – that’s when you stop for a sec. Or an hour, or a day. You can’t stop permanantly – living with a mental health condition means exactly that – you have to live as well. I personally go for a walk (or on Youtube if it’s raining). Me-time is a good thing, especially when you’re an adult and you have much less of it.

Last thing; The list classes this as ‘take five minutes from your day-to-day activities or a lunch break at work.’ An aside here – 100% of the working population is entitled to a lunchbreak if they work over a certain number of hours per day anyway. It’s law.

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      8. Do Something you Love

I could lump this under at least three other headings; Keep Active, Take a Break and Keep in Touch. Again, we return to endorphins and the pleasure system of the brain; I draw your attention back to the links I included in Part 1. It’s true; doing something you love makes us happy and I don’t need science to tell you this.

From personal experience, and the testimony of others, one of the hardest things about having poor mental health is lack of interest in doing the things you love. It’s another Catch-22, especially with depression as you no longer feel like you have the energy to do what you love. Not to mention the slightest screw-up while doing this activity you love, can feel like your best friend coming in with a baseball bat and just whacking you in the head with it. We have to try that much harder to get enjoyment out of life. Which doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try in the first place, but for the people out there who say ‘Oh, you love doing that, why don’t you do it more if it makes you happy?’ – try and understand, some days it’s just not going to happen.

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      9. Accept Who You Are

I’m grouping this under Ask for Help. Yep, self acceptance is a wonderful thing. As Tyrion Lannister put it, “Know your failings. Wear them like armour and they can never be used to hurt you.” I swear, every single song or book or magazine article these days is about ‘be who you are and say what you think,’ and all that jazz.

There’s a wealth of literature on self-actualisation; the same for self-esteem and self acceptance. It’s empowering, it’s awesome, as part of a therapy program, I believe it’s very useful as a tool for life. It’s not like flipping a switch, though, which the article seems to be implying; that’s delusional. It takes work. I’ve spent four years cultivating confidence in myself, and I’m still not totally there yet. My standards for myself are so ridiculously high, I doubt I ever will be. And some days that’s fine and some days that isn’t fine, but I can’t imagine dropping my own standards as I’d have nothing left to aim for.

And all I can really say here is; try telling yourself you have to accept who you are when every thought in your head is telling you (in a very rational tone of voice) that who you are is a useless oxygen thief. Self esteem comes with time, and with help.

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      10. Care for Others

Again, one that could go under Keep in Touch.

This to me brings in some themes along the line of altruism, or the act of giving or acting on someone’s behalf without expectation of any reward. Whether you believe this truly exists or not is up to you, but some thoughts about “Altruism born of Suffering” and “Gift-Love” (if you say so mate) published online in Psychology Today Show there is some truth to this. There’s also an idea that one becomes happier spending on other people that spending on ones-self. So, as odd as it may initially sound, there is some merit to this.

Therapy is a two way street, as is friendship. I find talking to my friends very soothing and I like to think they feel the same way about me. This is one of those things which is quite idiosyncratic. In my experience, my friends which suffer from mental health problems are some of the sweetest, kindest people I know; but there does come a point you have to stop caring for others and start caring for yourself. Where that point is is up to you.

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So there. We have some tips which are useful and work, and others that need a little more thought before you just jump straight in. The take-home message I want to drive home here is; It is never as simple as the posters make out. Mental illness is a deeply scary and deeply complex issue – much like the brain itself.

I will be back at some stage with more in the crazy world of mental stuff. I want to try and stick with the mental health theme; it’s good for my course, it’s good for my brain and the more dialogue we have on these issues, the better.

Remember to care for yourself and your nearest and dearest. We all gotta live on the planet.

Stay awesome!

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Picture source – head

Picture source – heart and brain

Picture source – Yin and Yang

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