Reclaiming Good Mental Health

What is good mental health? We are all more or less mentally healthy, and this usually varies through our lives especially as we deal with difficult life events, change and so on. Whether we call this psychological wellbeing, happiness, contentment, positive mindset, all these terms relate to good mental health.

With our physical health, it’s part of our everyday discourse to be aspirational. We want to feel physically fit, energetic, strong, balanced in our weight, eating a healthy diet, supple, resilient and not prone to minor ailments. Sure we complain about our problems, and talk about how we can’t do all the things we know we ought to do. We know it’s not easy to stay physically healthy without working at it, especially if we’ve experienced health problems. We know that even if we reach the peak of physical fitness, we can’t maintain this for the rest of our lives without paying attention to it.

Research tells us that good mental health is even more beneficial than good physical health. A positive mental outlook increases the rate and speed of recovery from serious, even life threatening, illness. Psychological resilience and wellbeing gives people the strength to turn problems into challenges into triumphs.

Yet whenever I ask a group of people to tell me what words come into mind in relation to ‘mental health’, their responses are about mental ill-health! It’s as if the term has been hi-jacked to become totally problem-focused.

In the meantime, we’re experiencing an epidemic of mental ill-health. About 1 in 4 people are experiencing some form of common mental health problem such as depression, anxiety and various stress related symptoms. GP surgeries are overwhelmed with such problems, mental health services are only able to provide support for the 1% of the population with much more severe mental health difficulties, and there’s a plethora of largely unregulated services, treatments and remedies out on the private market. A recent research study showed that the majority of long term sickness absence from work resulted from stress related conditions.

The trouble with focusing on the problems and the pain, is that that’s what we become experts in. We’re looking for cures and treatments to fix the problem, instead of focusing on what makes for good mental health. We know that physical health is multi-dimensional – no-one imagines that pumping iron to build your muscles is a recipe for overall physical health, although it will certainly make you stronger for certain activities.

So what are the essentials of good mental health?

Connection is certainly one of the best known. Having positive close relationships is good for our mental health, as is having a wider network of friends, colleagues and acquaintances which will vary over time. Giving to others is another really important aspect of connection, improving our sense of self worth and wellbeing.

Challenge is about learning and development, it’s how we grow. For children, everyday brings new challenges, yet as adults we often become increasingly fearful of change, unwilling to learn new skills or put ourselves in unfamiliar situations. So expanding our comfort zone, sometimes in small ways if we’re feeling particularly vulnerable, will help develop our self-confidence and sense of personal achievement.

Composure means a sense of balance, and ability to distance ourselves from our thoughts and emotions. It means our ability to respond rather than react. This could be described as our sense of spiritual connection, which may come through a particular belief or faith, or may be found through connection with nature. A mentally healthy person will feel an inner strength of spirit, and find ways to support that.

Character relates to the way in which we interpret our experiences and our responses to them. We all have our own personal story, or stories, which we may or may not tell others. We may cast ourselves as the hero, the victim or the villain, and however we do this will impact generally on our mental health. Someone who has experienced severe life trauma may have great difficulty piecing together their story at all, leaving them feeling literally fragmented. Good mental health means having a strong sense of personal values, awareness of our own strengths, skills and resources, and personal stories of learning from mistakes, survival, success and appreciation.

Creativity represents the fun, childlike aspects of our mental health. As children we are naturally creative and we play. As we grow into adulthood, our creativity and playfulness is often discouraged or devalued, and this can cause great frustration, literally diminishing the capacity of our brain to function as well as it could. Exploring creative activities has often been found to have a powerful therapeutic effect, and good mental health certainly depends in part on opportunities to bring fun, playfulness and creativity into our lives.

These 5 C’s of good mental health offer a framework within which we can think about our mental health in the same way as we might our physical health. It’s pretty damned hard to be a perfect specimen of physical health,but then who needs to be perfect? Just like our physical health, our mental health is a work in progress and always will be.

In years gone by, many people with physical illnesses were treated cruelly because of ignorance and shame. I recall when cancer was spoken in hushed whispers as the Big C. Nowadays mental ill-health is the ‘elephant in the room’ which we need to be looking at long and hard, exposing to practical common sense and intelligent discussion.

World Mental Health Day on October 10 has been a timely reminder that good mental health really is something we can aspire to for everyone. Let’s make it so!

Carolyn Barber, Bsc (Hons), CQSW, is the founder of Wayfinder Associates, a social care training and consultancy business specialising in team development, independent supervision and staff wellbeing. As a serial social entrepreneur, Carolyn has developed community based programmes to promote understanding of mental wellbeing u

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One Consumer’s Observations of the Mental Health Care System in America

The mental health system is a unique culture. Psychiatry itself is, unlike any other medical specialty. Mental health is an enclosed system. That means it is a world within a world. The doctors, therapists, patients, and support workers play roles. It’s a reciprocal environment. Each player in the system allows the other person the opportunity to act out his or her role. For example, the psychiatrist gives you a diagnosis that has no basis (Yes this does happen from time to time). You, the patient, having complete faith in the powers of the behavioral health system, accept this diagnosis as the gospel truth. In time, you begin to notice certain behaviors and thoughts that you believe may be a sign of your supposed illness. You return to your doctor and report these symptoms. Your psychiatrist agrees with your observations and writes them down in your medical record. He also inserts his authoritative comments to support his opinion. Therefore, both parties in the relationship are mutually validated in their roles.

When one has been playing the patient role for so long, a person begins to identify himself or herself as a “psych patient.” That’s who you are. This is the term that defines your very existence. You belong to the mental health system. Soon enough you find that every activity you engage yourself in is related to your disorder and the medication your doctor prescribed to suppress it. It’s a sad commentary indeed. It’s sadder still for the person who needlessly struggles against an undefinable defect in his or her character as if the diagnosis were the irrefutable truth. I acknowledge the fact that the unsettling scenario I am painting here is not true for every psychiatric patient.

At some point, the psychiatric patient discovers the benefits of being labeled mentally ill. There are mental health workers, such as case managers who assist the “consumer” in obtaining a free living allowance from the Federal government in the form of Social Security Disability Income or Supplemental Security Income in whatever minimal amount it may be. I will add for comfort that social security disability benefits are reported (by the government) to run dry in 2016. A consumer is often entitled to free housing, health care, food assistance, and much more. The mentally ill person may even have the right under certain disability laws to bring a pit-bull into a no-pet residential community. Technically speaking, you could even take it on a commercial airliner. The reason is simply because your therapist deemed it necessary that you have an emotional support animal (oops was that a secret?). Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure there are people who require a companion animal for their emotional health. I’m not trying to be disrespectful to those who are struggling. What I’m saying that there are incentives built into the system for many people to accept their diagnosis and play out their role.

There are case managers and outreach workers that will go to court with you, and advocate on your behalf before the judge when you run afoul of the law. They will help the mentally ill with all of their personal affairs. What a bargain! Run out and tell all of your friends about it. Let the government take care of you. It makes being a psychiatric patient seem so much more attractive. Why wouldn’t anyone want a psychiatrist label to them disabled? Again, I’m being sarcastic to make my point that people, who are improperly labeled with a DSM V diagnosis, run the risk of becoming dependent on the mental health system for their needs.

This kind of social welfare encourages people to give up their ambition and motivation. It instills the idea that living a marginal existence is sufficient. I, for one, believe in the greatness people can achieve for themselves and the world by applying themselves.

Remember this. Once you get into the mental health system your chances of getting out are slim. There are a number of reasons for this. Primarily because the psychiatrist or psychologist has you convinced that you have a serious medical problem, which you can’t handle yourself. We all know that’s ridiculous. Many people manage their depression and anxiety remarkably well without the use of psychiatric medications. If Ativan calms your nerves and helps you function, then that’s great. On the other hand, I have seen plenty of people become addicted to sedatives. These drugs are unsafe. I wouldn’t put your faith in the safety of the anti-depressants either. I think the pharmaceutical giants are quick to point that out as a result of the numerous class action lawsuits filed against them.

Some blame can be placed on the pharmaceutical companies for this unnatural drug dependence. As I was writing this article, I surfed NAMI’s website (National Alliance for Mental Illness) and noticed “In Our Own Voice,” a public education program, is funded by a grant from Eli Lily. This is the pharmaceutical giant that manufactures psychiatric drugs like Prozac, Zyprexa, and Cymbalta. I gather (without too much mental effort) that Eli Lily’s generosity is a publicity campaign to make them look like one of the good guys in the mental field, and as a result, boost sales. As I surfaced the Internet, I found that NAMI has been receiving their fair share of criticism for their questionable association with pharmaceutical companies. I will not say NAMI is immoral or unethical. That would be too easy. If Ely Lily offered me thousands of dollars, I would have to seriously consider taking it. Sometimes the decision to cross the line depends on one’s real life needs. Other times it just has to do with making a buck. There is no denying that this kind of corporate misconduct adversely affects the mental health system and exacerbates the suffering of its consumers. Again, I know some people require the assistance of the pharmaceutical companies and the psychiatric community. The screening process for prescribing these medications is a big part of the problem. That’s because there is no adequate process in place for dispensing these potentially dangerous drugs.

Society itself contributes to this dysfunctional culture. The general attitude of the public is “As long as they are not bothering us you can do what you please with them.” This gives the mental health providers even more authority to do as they please. And so the psychiatric patient is stripped of his or her rights. As I see it, a psychiatric patient is a human being without respect or dignity. You can call my words dramatic if you like.

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Workplace Mental Health – A Series – An Overview Of The Issue (This Is Important!)

The mind and the body are inseparable. And you do want to engage the whole employee in your worksite wellness program, right?

Most worksite wellness programs today are not really wellness programs at all – they are employee health status management programs. Why do I say this? Most worksite wellness programs focus solely on employee physical health, to the exclusion of all the other dimensions of wellness.

As conceived by the modern wellness field’s founders, (Robert Allen, Donald Ardell, Halbert Dunn, Bill Hettler and John Travis), wellness is a multi-dimensional concept. The published wellness model of the National Wellness Institute includes the following dimensions: physical, social, emotional, intellectual, occupational and spiritual.

Emotional well-being is associated with numerous benefits to health, family, work, and economic status. Positive emotions and view of life are associated with decreased risk for disease, illness, and injury; better immune functioning; better coping and quicker recovery; and increased longevity. In addition, mental health and mental illness may influence physical health and biologic functioning. Positive mental health is associated with better endocrine function (i.e., lower levels of cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine) and better immune response (i.e., higher antibody production and greater resistance to illness). It has also been shown to be associated with longevity.

Researchers are continuing to learn more and more about the mind – body connection. It has been clearly shown that emotions play a huge role in our physical health. There is also a reciprocal relationship between many chronic diseases and mental health. Self-efficacy, goal-setting, and problem-solving enable self-management behaviors, and these components are dependent on emotional health. On the other hand, self-management behaviors that enhance health, such as physical activity and stress reduction, can improve mental health status and quality of life. In many ways, it makes no sense to address physical health without addressing emotional health at the same time.

The absence of mental illness does not mean the presence of mental health. Growing research supports the view that these are independent, but related dimensions. Mental wellbeing are characterized by the presence of positive affect (e.g., optimism, cheerfulness and interest), absence of negative affect, and satisfaction with life. On the other hand, mental illness is characterized by alterations in thinking, mood, or behavior associated with distress or impaired functioning.

Why Address Mental Wellbeing in the Workplace?

The health of the mind and body cannot be separated. What effects one influences the other. Therefore, a healthy mind supports and contributes to a healthy body and vice versa.

Mental illness costs employers money and mental health can impact productivity and employee performance. Just like physical health, mental health can be viewed as being a continuum. At one end there is mental health and mental illness is located at the opposite end.

Mental health generally refers to the successful performance of mental function, resulting in productive activities, fulfilling relationships, and the ability to adapt to change and adversity. These domains are commonly referred to as wellbeing.

Mental illness includes diseases with classic psychiatric diagnoses, such as depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. Mental health and mental illness can be influenced by multiple determinants, including genetics and biology and their interactions with social and environmental factors.

Employers approach employee health through a multi-strategy framework. A multi-strategy framework can be applied to an employer approach to mental health as well. A comprehensive approach includes: promotion, prevention, intervention, and follow-up. It is important to recognize that mental health promotion needs to be equal in importance to the prevention and treatment of mental illness.

Today’s worksite wellness programs need to address all dimensions of employee wellness, not just physical health.

Addressing Total Employee Wellness

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