fundamental skills

5 Tips to Understanding Mental Illness

The term mental illness is used in a general way to describe conditions that include symptoms that can affect a person’s thinking, perceptions, mood and or behaviour. 

The majority of people have some form of what we will refer to as mental dis-ease. We are referring to it in this way because by splitting it into its component parts can aid in the understanding of the original intent of the word disease, whereby the addition of the prefix ‘dis’ to the second element ‘ease’ suggests it is a lack of ease.

If a mental dis-ease is ignored and or denied the chances are the condition will deteriorate and begin to express in a variety of differing ways, which can lead to increased feelings of sadness and or depression. It can also lead to growing feelings of tension and or anxiety. There can also be physical manifestations such as aches and pains, eating in excess or insufficiently and other actions such as the consumption of more alcohol than is healthy, which inevitably leads to the decline of overall physical health. 

Possibly one of the best things to have come from the last couple of years, is that so many more people have become aware that they have some form of mental dis-ease and that they would like to manage it better and hopefully even resolve it.

Below are some insights and first steps into the understanding of mental dis-ease and the beginning of the journey to dealing with and even ultimately resolving it.

  1. Understanding you are not alone can be a great source of relief for many. It can also help tremendously to see, read about and talk to others that successfully manage or have even resolved personal traumas and psychological issues. Because learning that others can feel similarly and that no longer do, can promote a desire strong enough to seek resolution for yourself as well.
  2. Asking yourself why you feel the way you do can be a great help in discovering the roots of your feelings. This can be assisted greatly with practises such as mindfulness, meditation and talking therapies. Because if you understand the why, you are better able to do something about it.
  3. We, more often than not, are able to show compassion for someone that is dealing with a challenging situation, yet often neglect to do the same for ourselves. Learning to be understanding and compassionate with yourself is one of the fundamental keys of resolving mental dis-ease.
  4. Understanding why you tend to stay in your “comfort zones” is really interesting. The primary driver for this is generally your fear centre, because its primary job is to protect you and keep you safe. Sometimes it can be a little too effective at this and it could be keeping you from changes that may very well be good for you. This is because one of the fear centres’ key markers for safety is familiarity, but just because something is familiar, does not mean it is good for your wellbeing
  5. Breathing. We all do it, all day every day, yet we seldom pay much attention to it, if any. It can however be a significant indicator of how you are feeling. For instance short shallow breaths can be an indication of fear, it can also simply be an unconscious way you might generally breathe. Interestingly your body and mind naturally observes this fundamental function and reacts accordingly, even if you do not realise consciously that this is what is happening. This is really easy to test. Simply take a lovely big deep breath in, holding it in for a second or two and then let it out. You can often enhance the feeling of relaxation by adding a big sigh of relief to the letting out part of the breath. Do this three times in a row and then notice if you feel more at ease and relaxed as a result.

If Mental Health was as easy as a one day course, no one would have any issues

It is great to see so many people now taking mental health seriously, but we are alarmed at the explosion of those advertising themselves or being handed a role in a workplace as a mental health support person after only a couple of hours in a group workshop or even just by completing an online course. To then say they are able to deal with another’s mental health, is in itself insane, because if it was that easy, everyone would go on a course for an afternoon and then no one would require any support with their mental health.

With figures of depression skyrocketing, the growth of alcoholism and food disorders together with the increase in suicide and attempted suicide rates, it clearly shows the sadly stark state that our country’s mental health is currently in and that it does require additional support, to the already overwhelmed and underfunded NHS system. With this recognition we are witnessing a massive growth within the mental health industry, with a growing variety of courses available to choose from. Such as a child psychology course available online for £12 and lasting only 7.5 hours, a nutritional coaching course, available free online and only taking 15 hours. There are now even mental health first aid courses available for people in the workplace and these range from online courses, through to a two day course costing around £300. Unfortunately it doesn’t end there, we have even seen online courses for £49 which allegedly qualifies the participant to be an addiction specialist.  

These are examples of the thousands of courses that many people are taking in order to promote themselves as mental health professionals. Worryingly none of these courses require any previous knowledge, understanding, experience or qualifications. Many of these courses are accessible completely online with no human interaction and if there is a tutor, many are only teaching the course and have no experience, qualifications or understanding themselves of the subject matter. Now ask yourself, do you think or feel that someone who has completed one of these courses, would be adequately equipped to assist you or one of your loved ones, through what may be one of the most challenging times of life?

Unfortunately this ever increasing ‘give it a go’ approach, can and often is incredibly detrimental to the mental health of the person offering their services; In many cases they themselves have not learned to deal with or even to begin to recognise their own issues, let alone differentiate between those of the client and their own. This lack of one of the most fundamental skills can and does inevitably lead to a further deterioration of issues for both provider and the receiver.

In contrast, a typically qualified counsellor progresses through many stages and years of developmental training, including personal elements whereby the trainee goes through their own counselling before they are approved to work with clients and to safeguard this further, these counselling sessions are initially undertaken with supervision for as long as 450 hours. This is to ascertain whether they are able to safely work on their own with clients. To work safely with a client is to be comprehensively trained to recognise the vulnerability of the client, even when the client does not necessarily recognise this within themselves and It would only require a poorly or inadequately trained person to miss very small details, for a situation to spiral downwards into something far, far worse. 

Not only are these easily accessed, inadequate courses insulting to those that have invested many years of training in the fields of mental health, it is equally insulting and quite often dangerous for those on the receiving end of this approach because, no matter how well intentioned it may be, it will often lead to the deepening of issues rather than there resolution. 

Working with a good coach, counsellor or psychologist can have amazingly positive and enlightening results and can lead to the cessation and even the resolution of many issues leading towards a happier and more fulfilled life. On the flip side, the wrong counselling can potentially cause damage that could lead to a worsening of the overall situation and a further decline in the mental health of the very people it was intended to support.

If you are considering any form of mental and emotional support services we would suggest you talk to any provider beforehand, much like you would interview someone for an important role. Ask them about how they work and what experience they have. It is important that they are able to explain themselves clearly and that you are able to understand what they mean easily and clearly.

All this said, do not be put off from seeking help when you require it. There are lots of fantastic professionals out there. Just ensure they have more than a day course behind them before you place the wellness of your mental health in their hands.