Counsellor's thoughts: misconceptions around Mental Health
I think that it is fair to say mental health is talked about now more than ever. The dawn of the internet, changes in attitudes and understanding around health in general and a focus on individuals rights have all made talking about your wellbeing easier in society. However, there are still many misconceptions about mental health and more specifically mental ILL health. In this blog I consider some of them.
The first is around the phrase 'mental health' itself. You may have heard people say that they suffer from mental health - this is not entirely true, but throws up a good point when considering how we ourselves, or those around us are coping. If someone is struggling, the are actually suffering with mental ill health - we all have mental health, and as with physical wellbeing, health is a good thing. The positive that this actually throws up is the opportunity to see mental health as being on a continuum or a sliding scale. When I consider my own life, there are times when my mental health is great, and others where I know I need to care for myself because symptoms show me my health is poor. It is not a black and white concept which can be different to physical health. But we can use this discussion to remind ourselves to check in regularly and consider how we are feeling (remembering that physical and mental health are closely linked), what symptoms tell us that and take action.
The second is the idea that someone suffering from poor mental health is weak, or that they are an attention seeker. This is a hard thing to hear, especially when I hear clients say similar things about themselves, often ingrained in them by others. Firstly, many people go through life without telling anyone about their mental health struggles, partly from fear of the repercussions and also not wanting to be a burden. Secondly, mental health can be as crippling as severe physical illnesses so it would be unfair to assume someone who still manages to function to some degree is weak. Conversely, it takes great strength from within to carry on with life. There may be certain cases where an individual is crying out for help through their actions but it is important that we do not dismiss this as childish behaviour, but that we are compassionate in our understanding and look to help, or find someone who can.
Another misconception is that people can just 'snap out' of mental illness, as though they have been playing a part, or trying something out for the experience. If you ask people struggling with their wellbeing, many would pay good money to be able to just snap out of their struggles.... if only it were that easy. We are complex beings, people don't always know immediately why they feel the way they do and it can take a long time to gain that understanding.
This blog has been a bit of a rant, but one that is needed. Why have I written this blog? Because I hope that if you, reading this, are struggling with your mental health, you know that there are people in the world who believe in you and want to help. We want to support you to resolve things in your life, gain understanding of yourself and move forward to a place you want to be in. Change is possible and you don't need to do it on your own. Counselling can offer you a safe space to explore how you are feeling and thinking with a professional, in order to understand why this is so, and to evaluate how you could change the patterns you are living. It isn't always an easy journey, but it is one that is well worthwhile. I wish you all the best.
Adam Rothwell is a registered Person-Centred counsellor, working in private practice, seeing clients online and by phone in the UK.