Mental Health #MOT

I was reading something the other day that said ‘if your knee kept hurting, you wouldn’t wait until it broke in half or until you couldn’t walk’ so why is mental health any different?

Basically the dialogue entailed having a ‘mental health MOT’ before anything severe could happen.

I see this with my youngest daughter. She was struggling for several months. I tried to speak to the school about my concerns, but they just didn’t think they were ‘bad enough’ to get support. The school basically told me she didn’t meet the threshold to get support within her school.

So, her anxiety kept getting worse and worse until she could no longer take it and had to be pulled out of school. It wasn’t until then that the school and local authorities such as the CAMHS NHS took her symptoms seriously. Now, as a psychologist I think the system shockingly failed my daughter. It has also failed many children and families who need support. I guess that is why seeking private psychologists are helpful. However, what if that private psychologist is your mother? I really took a step back and reflected. I took a breath. I trusted my intuition. And, I knew deep down that I had to change her environment. After all, I am not only her mother, but I am an expert too. I had more experience than that of her previous school and they were not validating any of my concerns.

My youngest then found a new supportive school. A school that supports her learning needs. A school that validates my concerns and understands that often females can mask certain symptoms such as ADHD, dyslexia and other neurodiverse conditions. It has been a great relief to me having the support of such a switched on school. We are lucky and blessed that this school is up to date with mental health and learning abilities of students. With this experience I have learned so much, we all have and continue to grow and learn. We take one day at a time. And, because of this experience I can share with other families and support them through their difficult times when they have not felt validated or supported by people they trusted.

This is where the mental health MOT comes to play.

Shouldn’t we all from time to time ‘check in’ to see how we are feeling? Maybe we feel fine all of the time (I remember those days), but as we get older life gets more difficult- especially if you have kids.

Shouldn’t we be teaching children how to recognise their feelings? healthy ways to manage feelings such as anxiety or feeling low? Why do we ignore these things in school? personally? in life?

I do understand that not everyone will have emotional intelligence or even be able to recognise different feelings within themself; however, what if you made an appointment with a therapist, psychologist or counsellor to have a mental health MOT?

Your mental health MOT would include: making sure you are happy with all aspects of your life, making sure you have a good work, life, family balance. Basically, a mental health MOT would be very similar to having your car MOT’d. It would make sure that you don’t end up getting a flat tire, or breaking down in the middle of a busy road (or life in this analogy) and so that you would continue to safely run.

I believe we need to apply this concept towards our mental health. Firstly, it is nice to talk. It is good to talk. It is healthy to talk. When we keep unwanted thoughts inside our mind, or ruminate, it can manifest into depression or anger. If people spoke more about anxiety and things that troubled them then perhaps more people would not suffer from severe mental health issues.

We are faced with so much pressure in life, school, work, social media, technology… and pressure we put on ourselves to keep up with the world… why don’t we start looking at things that can reduce these pressures? Things such as self-care, self-love and relaxing and meditating. And, most importantly scheduling a mental health MOT.
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Mental Illness Stigma: Living with Others’ Judgements

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At Brighton Wellness Centre, we are well aware of the mental health stigma that pervades our society. Even today, with the many pioneering organisations and charities helping those with mental illnesses, the rise of medications such as anti depressants and mood stabilisers and an awareness of psychotherapy, there is still stigma. People can react negatively, be harsh or not understanding because they do not understand the complexity that is mental ill health and the effects it has on the brain and behaviour.

Common stigmatised reactions may include language such as ‘You aren’t crazy, why do you need to take those pills?‘, ‘You should be locked up’,’You are behaving so bipolar‘, ‘People with depression are weak’ and so on. Mental illness is still sadly associated by some (who have no experience of it) with doctors’ white coats, straight jackets, life long hospital stays and never making a full, complete recovery. It may take generations to change these attitudes, although we are beginning to turn the tide!

While these perceptions of mental illness may have been the case 60 or more years ago, today the mental health world in the UK and other Western countries has moved on. Since the 1950s, the rise of medications that worked to help illnesses such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, psychosis, depressive/anxiety disorders and eating disorders have improved drastically. With the rise of SSRI medications that work on the brain as anti depressants as well as newly developed anti psychotic medications, mental illness sufferers are able, in most cases, to return to their normal lives. This coupled with psychotherapy can truly change lives. The policy of recovery is also a great shift from the past. Psychiatrists, psychologists and psychotherapists don’t just aim to manage symptoms, they aim to set you on the path to recovery.

The feeling of judgement and of someone thinking you are ‘crazy’ is awful, sad and terrifying. For every person that understands and supports, you may get those who can’t and won’t understand you. You can lose friends or loved ones due to this, which is appalling. Support networks are badly needed for those with an illness in particular. So, don’t be stigmatised to those with an illness. Help and love your friend and loved one, give to them, provide a listening ear and a hug.

As someone with experience of mental health, I would say there is still a long way to go in terms of stigma. I talk and blog about my experiences, raise money for mental health charities and have just started reaching a wider audience. However, I still feel I cannot fully disclose my illness under my real name. This is due to the fact that it is still not hugely understood in society, so to be associated with it could be upsetting. Yet, I hope that within a decade or two, this will change. I blog to change attitudes and highlight awareness which is badly needed.

This is why I support Jessica Valentine at Brighton Wellness Centre. She focuses particularly on womens wellness and provides a therapeutic setting and a listening ear to all her clients. Psychotherapy of any kind is truly beneficial in helping you manage symptoms and difficult emotions. By taking the step to going to psychotherapy, you are battling stigma as well as helping yourself move forward.  Remember, there is nothing wrong or weak in talking to a therapist. In fact, you are being incredibly strong for seeking help and reaching out. Hopefully, any therapy you undergo will also help you to change your life for the better.  Reach out today.

Changing Habitual Behaviours for a Happier Life – Anxiety Disorders.

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Do you have behavioural habits that you know you are repeating over and over, and want to learn how to stop them continuing?

Our behaviour is such a challenging thing to change because the mind and our thought patterns and chemistry are so complex- and so individually unique. Once we begin certain behaviours and repeat them over and over, they become automatic and our brain continues to act in the same way unless we take control and change it. This is to do with the way the brain processes hormones such as adrenaline and the memory of previous behavioural patterns.

So, how can we change negative or destructive behaviour patterns that can perpetuate illnesses such as anxiety disorders? (Please note this is similar in other disorders e.g. addictions but this article will focus on anxiety disorders).

The most important thing if you have an anxiety disorder (e.g. generalised anxiety disorder, OCD, PTSD, social anxiety) is that you can change your habits but it will take work, perseverance and support.

I have suffered from social anxiety in the past, coupled with depression. This made it extremely difficult for me to go out to occasions where there were lots of people, for fear of negative judgement, such as at weddings and on public transport. The psychotherapists I worked with taught me that these thoughts were ‘irrational’ and I had various courses of Cognitive Behavioural therapy (CBT) to unpack my negative thoughts and limiting beliefs on paper.

However, what really helped me to change my habits surrounding going out and socialising was something I call exposure therapy. By going out with a few friends and then on the tube, around more people I slowly desensitised myself to new surroundings. I then found that I actually wanted to go out more, and it didn’t feel quite as frightening as when I stayed indoors and cancelled my plans. I didn’t want to hide away.

For those of us with anxiety disorders, we can be triggered by anything in the subconscious and our body chemicals (cortisol and adrenaline). I still have bad days and I know you will too. Yet, you can get better and feel stronger, if you take charge.

If exposure therapy sounds too big an idea, break it down. As mentioned, I had CBT and psychotherapy but there are so many therapies out there that can help too and everyone will have unique symptoms and triggers. Talk with a qualified therapist or your GP to see what therapy plan is best for you.

You may find that Mindfulness CDs work for you to help you stay present and do deep breathing or meditation, art therapy, hypnotherapy or in depth talking therapies. CBT can also be beneficial in changing behaviour patterns but this will depend on the individual.

If you need help changing your negative behavioural patterns, get in touch with Jessica Valentine, therapist at Brighton Wellness Centre.