Mental health vs physical health
There is a distinction between 'mind' and 'body', but when considering mental health and physical health, the two are closely connected. Mental Health Foundation highlights that poor physical health can lead to an increased risk of developing mental health problems, and poor mental health can negatively impact on physical health, leading to an increased risk of some conditions.
Often times, talking about our mental health can feel like a taboo subject or something we feel embarrassed or ashamed of. It doesn't feel natural or comfortable to bring our issues or struggles into a conversation. We may feel like this due to a historical stigma surrounding mental health which has not generally had appropriate understanding or recognition in comparison to how we focus upon physical health, for example... Or perhaps we grew up in a family who did not acknowledge mental health as a real issue, or they did not know how to talk openly about things.
However, the fact is, we all have a mental health, just like we have a physical health. Our mental health includes how we think, feel and behave, how we cope with life and how we feel about ourselves. We know when our physical health is impacted because we get a cold, a virus, or maybe we suffer a physical injury. We know to go to get some form of appropriate relief medication or alternative treatment, or maybe we will visit our GP – no questions asked!
Things are different where our mental health is concerned, the term itself covers a broad range of emotional and psychological concerns that negatively impact millions of people every day. Mental health difficulties can differ from person to person; with the symptoms varied in severity. Our mental health can be harmed by things like bereavement, the loss of a relationship or job, developing a health concern, or feeling too pressured by life commitments. The most common mental health issues that can be developed include anxiety and depression.
Some common symptoms of depression include low mood, negative thinking, fatigue and loss of interest or excitement in things previously enjoyed. Often, symptoms of depression will impair emotional and physical well-being, as well as the behaviour of the person. Some common anxiety symptoms can include increased or fast heart rate, churning in the stomach, feeling light headed or dizzy, problems sleeping, hot flushes, needing the toilet more or less often, and even panic attacks.
A person may go through life experiencing some of these symptoms and assuming it is a normal part of life, or part of their personality (e.g. 'I'm lazy' / 'I'm a worrier'). Well being a normal part of life is true in one way, as we are all susceptible to anxiety and depression given they are human conditions; however, it is not normal to struggle more than we need to or accept responsibility for the way our mental health is negatively affecting us. There is a clear distinction between who you are as a person, and who you are as a result of the symptoms of anxiety or depression (e.g. the depression is lazy - it takes away my motivation / the anxiety makes me worry about things excessively).
Facts and figures:
According to the Mental Health Foundation, the most common mental disorder in Britain is mixed anxiety and depression (7.8%), with up to 10% of people suffering from depression at some point in their lifetime. Mental health related conditions such as anxiety, depression and stress are the leading cause of sickness and absence from work. This is a particularly interesting statistic, as many of us are less likely to express a struggle with mental health as the cause of absence because it feels easier to blame a physical reason.
Talk about it:
One way of managing the effects of a mental health problem is talking about it with a trusted family member or friend, a trained professional or your GP. Talking to a professional can provide you with the opportunity to explore and be open about your thoughts and feelings without shame, judgement or discrimination. Talking about issues or difficulties can help to explore and understand what may have caused the problem and how to manage it. Talking about experiences that have led to feelings of discomfort can also assist in processing and move forward with your life.
Counselling can offer a confidential and non-judgemental space for you to explore issues that are causing you distress, with a view to making positive change for a more fulfilled life. A 2016 Time to Change survey of over 7,000 people living with mental health issues found that 60% felt relieved and "like a weight had been lifted" once they talked about their condition.
Just as you may take your car for a 'service' or 'MOT', sometimes people may wish to do so with their mental health. You do not have to be in crisis or on the verge of one to consider therapy; therefore someone may attend if they are experiencing underlying feelings of dissatisfaction with life in general, or seeking balance in their life. We take care of our physical health in order to maintain it through exercise, gym membership, or health eating; therefore it is useful to view management of mental health in the same way.
The more we acknowledge that mental health is just part of being a human being, the more beneficial it will be towards reducing the stigma. There is no shame in experiencing a mental struggle - it is an inevitable part of life and we will all face this in one way or another. There is no shame in being a human being.
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About Karen Corbett
Integrative counsellor/hypnotherapist – Life Matters Therapy, Central Manchester