It's UK Mental Health Week How Do You Do?
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It\'s UK Mental Health Week How Do You Do?

We hear these days a lot about our physical health…reminders to eat and drink the right things are everywhere, and we are encouraged to take regular exercise to keep our bodies in shape.

But how does your mental health shape up? And why is it important in any case?

May 21st – 25th 2012 is UK Mental Health Week, and I would like to share with you the importance of addressing some issues with you which may have been brushed under the carpet to be dealt with on a different day…it’s time for a proper clean out!

When things are going great and there are no worries in life, it seems impossible to believe that stress, depression, and related problems could ever affect you in a negative way. But in these days of recession, job and mortgage worries, as well as parenting and work-life balance problems, it is easy to find your world changing for the worst without even realising it.

It is estimated that 20% of the UK is experiencing some kind of stress, and 9% have symptoms of depression. The symptoms are often inter-related and always pernicious, but despite a growing knowledge of what the symptoms are and how they can affect you, people often don’t seek help and appropriate treatment in a timely way. Somehow we always think that others must come first so don’t find the time…and it’s the nature of the job, everyone gets stressed….and in any case only ‘nutters’ need therapy, right?

Well, I am here to say that nothing could be further from the truth. Your health, be it physical or mental…in fact they go hand in hand and affect each other…is the most important thing in your life. After all, if you are not healthy inside and out, then it is less likely that you can help others in the long run. Your mental health can affect others around you much more than you physical health, simply because your mood and temper can affect them, resulting in them becoming anxious and/or depressed because you are not the person they originally knew, and they have to begin to play a guessing game about what kind of mood you will be in when next they see you. You may be no wiser about the affect you are having on them, or they may even pluck up the courage to mention it. Either way, if you do not want those relationships to be damaged permanently, you owe it to yourself and to them to face up to and deal with the symptoms you are experiencing.

Whilst there is an level at which being in stressful situations can help you thrive, and we all feel sad sometimes, ‘being stressed’ or feeling at your wit’s end is not good for you, especially when it continues day in, day out, with no light at the end of the tunnel. Many high-flying and successful people seek out help to combat the stress they experience in their personal and professional lives…as do parents who are not managing… as well as those who are finding it difficult to accept major life changes such as grief …or an accident that was traumatic. All of these can be causes of stress and depression, as well as PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).

But the symptoms of these mental health issues are often missed, or denied, or brushed over…in order for the sufferer to avoid thinking of themselves as weak or needing help…or simply from lack of knowledge on their own part or those who are meant to be helping. Whilst some symptoms of depression can disappear after a short time, it is not written in stone that they will. If left untreated, the symptoms of stress and PTSD will continue to get worse.

If you are experiencing lack of sleep…or nightmares when you do sleep…getting angry or short-fused around others…inability to concentrate on tasks at home or work …inability to motivate yourself…crying for no reason or because you cannot stop bad thoughts going through your mind…feeling sad or on your own…feeling you are trapped with no way out…drinking alcohol –in small or large amounts –regularly because you need it to wind down, or because you deserve it after the day you’ve had…unexplained weight gain or! unexplained weight loss…smoking more than ever…or using other substances to take you mind off things…inability to enjoy sexual relationships…having stomach problems…feeling short of breath…feeling panicky…headaches and other aches and pains that have never bothered you before….these symptoms or a combination of them could mean that you are experiencing depression, anxiety, PTSD or some other stress-related problem. Children are not immune, and you may be noticing some of the above in your children as well, especially if they are being bullied at school, for example.

Whether these symptoms relate to you, or you have noticed them in a loved one, they are there for a reason…they are your wake-up-call. They bring to your attention that there is an underlying issue that needs resolving. And they are persistent! Even so they can be missed and ‘played down’. If you have no idea what the symptoms mean, it is easy to miss their significance or explain them away with other things.

For example, I experienced nightmares for several months after a car accident, but did not know the significance of them to PTSD, and instead put them down to being in constant physical pain, which I felt was being reflected in my dreams (the nightmares always contained an element of physical damage/pain for whomever was in them – quite often but not always me!). They included uncontrolled flashbacks of the accident, although I thought that these were an inevitable part of my situation; it wasn’t until a long time afterwards I learned that this is not the case.

At the time, however, I therefore did not mention them to my GP during any of the visits I made to him because of the physical pain I have. I missed my wake up call, and consequently the nightmares continued to get worse, along with other symptoms that I’d also had but didn’t mention. At their worst the nightmares I had were extremely vivid and violent, which was all the more disturbing because in normal life I don’t like to even watch violent films in the cinema or on TV…if something violent comes on by mistake I will turn it off rather than watch it. With nightmares, there is not way to do this and they continue until such a time that you wake up, terrified and covered in sweat.

I have mentioned one cause of PTSD (a car accident) above because that is relevant to me, but that is only one cause. The truth is that there are as many causes to stress, depression and PTSD as there are people. Sometimes symptoms can begin for no reason at all; sometimes triggered by one incident. There are often multiple causes, with one issue being the final straw that ‘breaks the camels back’. It is often a build up of issues that creates the ultimate feeling of not knowing where to start to make things right, not being able to see the wood for the trees. Sexual abuse in childhood or unresolved grief are just two examples of issues that can seemingly lay dormant for years, only to be triggered by an incident or series of incidents that suddenly make life so much more unbearable. So where do you start to get help, and what are the options?

Well, you can make a call to your GP or get help privately via a confidential counselling service. Some employers use private counselling services to offer ‘employee assistance’ counselling schemes. These days if you are contact your GP you will most likely be offered 6 sessions of CBT counselling. CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) is seen as tried and tested, and as a CBT Counsellor myself I know that it can be effective in the short-term.

However, if you are unlucky enough to be referred to someone who does not see the techniques properly, or if you require more than the standard 6 sessions you will be allowed on the NHS, you may come away feeling that you have not been helped, and therefore that CBT doesn’t work either at all, or at least not for you. This was the experience I had, and unfortunately I have heard the same response from too many people over the years since my first encounter with a CBT therapist via my GP, which is actually what led me to want to train in the psychology and counselling field myself.

The alternative is to access counselling privately yourself. Not only does this ensure that you counselling will remain completely confidential, but you will also receive the number of sessions that are necessary for you, and not which have been pre-determined regardless of the longevity and depth of help you need. Quite often these days counsellors like me will offer sessions by phone, email or skype, so the sessions are easily accessible for you. You can also access other therapies that are available in this way: Psychotherapy, Person Centred Counselling, CBT, NLP and Clinical Hypnotherapy are all options that I offer, which gives you an idea of the range of help that is out there for you, other than CBT. Each therapy has its own method and pros and cons, but simply by contacting someone to seek help so will be making a difference to the rest of your life and to the relationships you currently have and want to keep.

Some people worry that if they access help outside of their GP service, they will be frowned upon for doing so. This is something that you should have no concerns about; often the counsellor or therapist will work in conjunction with your GP, but in any case they will only ever work with you in support of your GP. They take into account your background and current situation, and they will work at a pace that is manageable for you, so that you can get the best out of the sessions…and go away feeling that you have been helped and that help has been worthwhile. Once I had accessed the correct treatment for me (it turned out that CBT was the correct treatment for me, once I found someone privately who knew what they were doing, and not in the 6 sessions (12 max) that were offered by my GP surgery).

So if you are experiencing any of the symptoms I mention above, and especially if they have been persisting for more than a month, it is time to get yourself some help in order that things do not get any worse. Just as you have a physical medical examination from time to time, an assessment of your depression, stress, PTSD or other issues that you may be experiencing (these are just three in a whole range of possible problems). Quite often therapists and counsellors like me offer a free assessment service, so that you can not only discuss your issues without any pressure, but you will also get an idea of how you might get along.

Quite often people feel very stressed and panicky just at the thought of going to the counselling session, but once that first hurdle is over and you get a feel for how helpful and effective the sessions can be, the benefits of seeking help soon outweigh any stress or anxiety at the thought of going. In any case, often that is a sign in itself that you know there are issues to be dealt with, and which are going to be addressed. You may not know it at the beginning, but your mental health will be in safe hands. Good luck.

Street Talk

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