Blog Series: Everyday Mental Health- You mean EVERY day?
Dr. Amanda Beaman, C.Psych
Over the past 15 years I’ve counselled people from all walks of life, in hospitals, research and private practice settings, and in group or individual therapy. I’ve often thought to myself: “I wish this person had gotten the right information or help sooner- they wouldn’t have as hard a road ahead of them to get well!” Many of my clients express regrets about not making changes sooner, had they only known the importance of taking care of their mental health, what steps to take, or where to get the right information. Unfortunately, there is still a general lack of literacy regarding the importance, and basic ways of caring for our mental health. This problem is not always improved by unlimited access to information on the internet, as misinformation about mental health “cures” abound. In fact, as people turn to social media for their health information more and more, clinicians have witnessed certain unrealistic views take hold. For example, a belief that it is somehow possible (or necessary) to achieve a perfect state of wellness, or that stress should or can be eliminated. Not to mention being exposed to products or strategies that have no basis in science. Our clients often describe being led down a virtual path that was not helpful, further delaying them getting the appropriate help. Too often, by the time I see clients in my office they have significant impairment in their functioning, have had a “breakdown”, are experiencing “burnout”, or have started to have disabling symptoms such as recurrent panic attacks. They may have tried many different things that have not helped, and become quite discouraged. At this stage, people experience daily functioning that is quite poor, and may require a leave from work or medication. While there are effective treatments for any stage of difficulty, caring for our mental health everyday (and when we’re well!) can often prevent the tough, long road to regaining well-being that many of my patients endure.
Imagine you have a pebble in your shoe that is uncomfortable but because it seems small and you are busy you leave it there and keep walking on it. Over time you may unknowingly adapt the way you walk to accommodate for the pebble and avoid the discomfort it causes. However, adapting your gait has consequences for the alignment of the rest of your body. You may gradually start to feel more and more pain in different parts of the body. Over time, the original source of the problem may be forgotten, or the pebble may have even fallen out of your shoe! When the pain begins to interfere with your daily functioning you may try things to treat the symptoms such as avoiding certain activities or using painkillers. You may finally seek help for the pain, however the behavioural and neuro-muscular adaptations have become so entrenched over time that intensive therapy is required to rewire the brain-body connection, and teach the muscles to function properly. Mental health problems can grow and become entrenched in a similar fashion. They may start as one issue, but with lack of awareness and care, become worse or turn into another problem altogether. If we take the time to understand and care for our mental health every day we can possibly discover the pebbles sooner and remove them to prevent entrenched patterns that are harmful. And when I say every day, I mean every day! But we’ll discuss more about that later!
If you’re reading this blog series you are probably already curious about yours or others mental health, and you may be looking for ways to maintain it, improve it, or prevent vulnerability to a serious problem. My colleagues and I hope to provide some helpful information and tools to get you on the right track to optimizing your mental health today! Stay tuned for a series of articles that cover the “universal truths” that support mental health. The first topic we cover, one of the basics that we review with all of our clients, is the role of planning in maintaining mental health. You can begin that article here.
A Brief Note on Seeking Professional Help
This blog has broken down some of the clinical wisdom we’ve amassed as a group over the years, and the evidence-based practices commonly used to treat existing mental health problems, to prevent problems, or maintain mental health. This blog is written for individuals who are feeling fairly well, but who may have started to notice changes in their daily functioning, or sense they could be doing more to work on their mental health or manage stress. This blog is also helpful for individuals who have completed therapy, are feeling better, and want to stay well. Finally, this blog offers ideas for people who don’t currently have mental health concerns but would like more information on the types of habits that can prevent problems.
If you have noticed significant changes in your functioning such as low mood every day all day, frequent panic attacks, suicidal thoughts, or other symptoms that have significantly impaired you or seem serious to you, it is recommended that you seek professional help from a mental health clinician. This blog is not meant to provide stand-alone solutions to complex difficulties such as past trauma, self-harm, moderate to severe depression, suicidality, addiction, or severe anxiety.