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Let's Talk Mental Health ... it's not such a dirty word!

Do you know, it thrills me when I see the various campaigns out there and especially when they are about raising awareness around mental health. It’s not before time that we are really engaging with the subject, especially as, believe it or not, it applies to our universal human condition.

I was shocked, if not a little confused, to hear someone say: “I don’t have mental health” when I was talking to them about this very subject. What the individual actually meant was that she didn’t have mental ill-health. Of course, as I was speaking to her in my professional capacity, it was my duty to correct her and reassure her that she did indeed have mental health; whether that had been compromised in some way was a matter for the assessment we were engaging in.

It’s interesting, I think, that as soon as the word “mental” is used, some people automatically think that this is a slur on their character, even today, when we are so much better at communicating the importance of health generally. What I’m trying to communicate is that we all have a mental health, which is intrinsically linked to our physical and spiritual health. What we know is that if one area of our wellbeing has been compromised, then it is likely that another area will be compromised as a result. For example, break a leg and I may feel pretty fed up mentally as I’m prevented from going about my well organised and busy life.

So, what is mental health? Well, it is a state of being that affects how we think, feel and act. It is a state of well-being that enables us to live and work fruitfully within our various relationships and communities, enables us to maximise our full potential and helps us to cope with the normal stresses of everyday life. As human beings, our mental health fluctuates throughout our lives, just as our physical health does. Complex beings that we are means that we are often exposed to difficulties along the way that have the potential to challenge our coping mechanisms and leave us pretty isolated if we do not draw the support that we need. But, our capacity to draw that support will depend on a number of factors.

As a counsellor, I’m fascinated by human behaviour and human development. I’m mindful that the way in which we function as adults is borne out of our formative experience. If our childhood experiences had not been supportive or affirming, then we may be less likely to reach out to others for support as adults. Fear of being ridiculed or labelled is often a stumbling block too, especially among the men I see in my counselling room. I’m also mindful that cultural issues may inform our capacity to draw support. Common features might include a “stiff upper lip” mentality that does not allow for the expression of vulnerability.

The shocking truth is that in 2017, 5,821 suicides were recorded in Great Britain. Of these, 75% were male and 25% were female. Suicide is the most common cause of death for men aged 20-49 years in England and Wales. Less extreme, it is estimated that 1 in 6 adults experiences a common mental health problem, such as anxiety or depression and 1 in 5 adults has considered taking their own life at some point. (Statistics taken from the Mental Health Foundation)

So, I wonder, where are you in all of this? What was your early experience? How easy is it for you to open up about difficulties you are struggling to address? As you ponder this, you might also bear in mind the following:

• Admitting you have a problem is not a weakness and, if anything, it takes great strength to acknowledge it and to share it.

• Asking others for help is acceptable, not everyone is going to be unsympathetic.

• If you struggle to trust those in your personal life then it is essential to seek professional help: speak to your GP or other authorised mental health practitioner.

• Remember, relationships and engaging with others is key to our mental health; take that first step, it may be the hardest, but it may well save your life.

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