Speaking up when struggling with a mental health issue is difficult, but important, as Christine Swift from Bath Mind explains.
The pandemic has made us all more aware of the importance of our mental health and wellbeing. More and more people are talking about their mental health difficulties, which, for many, may have increased over the past two years. But it can be hard to know when to manage our mental health on our own, and when it is time to seek help.
There’s a plethora of information on websites, social media and apps, and there are numerous books available. With so many different and varied sources of information, some may feel overwhelmed and not know whether they need professional help, or what may suit them best.
Check-in with yourself regularly, ask yourself how you are feeling. We all feel different ways on different days. Notice if how you feel changes or if anxiety or low mood last for a prolonged period of time. You may like to keep a diary noting how you are feeling. Try to maintain good self-care, including relaxation, exercise, good nutrition and sleep, all of which support your mental health.
Talking things over with a friend or family member can be a good way to start a conversation about mental health and exploring how you’re feeling. Sharing how we may deal with difficult times can be helpful to others and we can learn by sharing our experience and listening to others.
For some, mental health difficulties can escalate. Taking action at an early stage can help to prevent symptoms worsening. If you or someone you know are experiencing difficulties with your mental health, it’s never too early to seek professional help. There is no fixed timeframe for when you should seek professional help; everyone is different. If you’re unsure or you’re struggling, it’s always best to check at as early a stage as possible.
We all have mental health, in the same way as we all have physical health. Seeking appropriate help for either our mental or our physical health is an important step in improving our overall wellbeing. Mental health is not something to be trivialised; though we cannot see it as we can see our physical health, this does not mean it is any less important.
Some may not find it easy to ask for help. We may feel vulnerable or uncomfortable discussing our mental health issues. You’re not alone – thousands of people every year seek mental health support, and you can be proud of yourself for wanting to make positive changes in your life.
Taking the first step
It’s best to talk with your GP in the first instance. Never feel that your problem is ‘too small’ to talk to your GP, they are there to help you. If you find the thought of talking with your GP daunting, there is lots you can do to make this a little easier.
If you find it difficult to take the step to making an appointment, you could ask a friend or family member to book the appointment for you, with your permission.
If you are not comfortable talking on the phone, ask for a face-to-face appointment. If you feel able to, let the receptionist know when booking that you need support with your mental health. This will help them prioritise your appointment.
Try to write down how you are feeling, and take some notes with you to the appointment. Include a few notes on how your mental health has been affecting your daily life. You don’t need to have any special words, or try to self-diagnose beforehand, just explain how you are feeling.
You can let your GP know that you are feeling nervous about talking with them, and if you are unsure about talking to your GP alone, you can ask a family member or friend to be with you.
Your GP will be able to decide what type of support you need. Different types of support are available depending on where you live. Some services may be online; others may be face-to-face. If you have a preference, mention this to your GP. As services can be online, let your GP know if you don’t have access to the internet.
They may recommend talking therapies in the first instance. This may be available via the NHS, a local charity or through the private sector. There are various different types of talking therapy available, which use different approaches. Some may focus on a specific problem, or may involve talking about your past, others may be based around how you think and/or behave, or looking at how to support you to achieve your hopes for the future. Many therapists have trained in more than one type of therapy and can adapt their approach to suit you and your individual needs.
Finding your therapy
CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) is a talking therapy that is widely used to support a broad range of mental health difficulties, including stress, anxiety, low mood, anger, OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), sleep problems, eating disorders and self-harm. CBT is a combined therapy, based around the idea that how we think (cognitive) affects how we behave, and feel (behaviour). Through talking with a therapist, we identify our negative thought and behaviour patterns and challenge them.
CBT may not be the most suitable type of therapy for everyone, and you may not always find that the first therapist you see is the best ‘fit’ for you. Don’t let this deter you, as finding the most appropriate support is very individual and you will know when it is right.
Other types of talking therapy
- Dialectal Behaviour Therapy (DBT) – this is an adaptation of CBT, designed to support those who feel emotions intensely.
- Solution focussed – looks at finding solutions based around what you want to achieve in the future.
- Psychoanalytic – focusses on issues that may be deep rooted, or from your childhood.
- Person-centred – based around utilising your personal strengths and insight.
- Humanistic – a holistic approach exploring the mind, body, spirit and soul.
Your GP may recommend other types of support such as peer support – where people with similar experiences meet and are able to empathise, including art and creative therapies – and local groups which may spend time in nature, such as eco-therapy groups.
If you have tried something and you feel it isn’t working for you, there are always other options to explore, so do go back to your GP or health professional to discuss what is, or is not, working for you, and ask what alternatives may be available.
Bath Mind’s website offers helpful resources to support your mental health, visit www.bathmind.org.uk/resources/. You can also find lots of information on different mental health conditions and the types of support available at www.mind.org.uk, where you can also find details of your local Mind network independent charity and the services they provide where you live.