Tag Archives for " mental health "
There's nothing quite like a fancy dress party. Lots of people getting dressed up in all sorts of weird and wonderful costumes, pretending to be someone/something else.
The process of making ourselves up in this way is actually not too dissimilar to how some of us deal with our mental health difficulties. Sometimes it's easier to put on a metaphorical mask and pretend that everything's okay.
Do we ever really take our masks off, though? And should we?
Masks are a useful way of protecting us when we're going through difficult times. We might not be able to take time off work, or we may not want to, so wearing a mask can be a way of us maintaining our role.
One would hope that we could talk to our superiors about any problems we're having, but as many of us know the fear of stigmatisation due to mental health difficulties is very real.
Even if we get support from our supervisors, some roles may be emotionally demanding (e.g., counselling). Therefore, it's important that we don't bring our personal difficulties into these roles as we're there to support others and not the other way round.
Whilst wearing a mask can help us through tough periods, it can also prevent us from addressing our problems. Wearing a mask may become quite addictive and something we're not able to stop doing for fear of the consequences of removing it.
However, in order that we can begin to address our problems we need to be brave enough to remove the mask and be vulnerable.
Allowing regular time to remove the mask can help you process your emotions and think of ways of tackling whatever difficulties you're having. By continuing to pretend that everything is okay, the problem doesn't get addressed and the emotions build up.
It's also a good opportunity to release any pent-up emotions. Whilst some people might see this as a sign of weakness, it's actually really healthy to do this. We're not robots, we're human beings, and it's perfectly normal to feel.
You may well want to put the mask back on when you're in work or with friends/family, and that's okay. If you've allowed yourself some time away from the mask to be yourself, then this will help during the times when it's more appropriate to wear the mask.
How helpful/unhelpful have masks been for you? Let us know in the comments.
A lot of what we usually write about explores logical, structured, ways of tackling anxiety and mental health, so you'd be forgiving for thinking we've gone a bit 'airy fairy' with this post!
Some people might find the concept of hope a bit 'wishy washy'. What exactly does hope mean? Can we actually use it as a way of tackling our mental health problems?
We believe you can.
Before you get confused as to why we've started with despair, we thought it'd be good to give some perspective to the concept of 'hope' by firstly looking at its opposite.
The Oxford English Dictionary's definition of despair is:
"The complete loss or absence of hope".
The Cambridge English Dictionary's definition expands nicely on this:
"The feeling that there is no hope and that you can do nothing to improve a difficult or worrying situation".
We're particularly drawn to the bit about "the feeling that...you can do nothing" within this definition. Despair, it seems, comes from a place where we believe we have no power to change our situation.
If we think of despair in terms of 'mindset', then someone who feels despair will have little faith that their situation will improve.
We've talked before about the importance of managing negative thinking. If we think our situation is never going to change we're less likely to do anything about our problems.
It then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy; nothing ever changes because we don't do anything to change the situation.
It's probably obvious at this point that despair is not really going to help anybody who's struggling with their mental health.
In contrast, the Oxford English Dictionary's definition of hope is:
'A feeling of expectation and desire for a particular thing to happen'.
While we think this is an accurate definition, it's important not to equate it with having unrealistic expectations.
Setting expectations which are too high or unrealistic can be anxiety-inducing and may set us up to fail if they're unachievable. Rather, hope is about wanting something to happen and having a certain level of belief that it will happen.
We recognise that it can be difficult during challenging times to see a light at the end of the tunnel.
However, if we assume there'll be no end to our problems then that's exactly what will happen. Nothing will ever change; we don't expect it to change so we don't make the effort to change.
On the other hand, if we have a sense of hope that things can be different then that's a much more positive mindset to start from.
Having hope is all about balance. We need to set realistic expectations for what we want, and believe we can achieve them. Without that belief, it'd be hard to have hope.
However, having hope alone isn't enough. Hope and belief are all well and good, but they have to be coupled with action in order for changes to occur.
For example, you could have a hope that you get that promotion at work, but you're not going to get it by sitting back and just hoping it's given to you. You have to put in the work to make it happen. Of course there are still no guarantees you'll get it, but you'll have more chance if you take action than if you sit back and do nothing.
So, don't just hope that things will get better. Instead, use your hope as a motivation towards taking the steps to make change happen.
That's how hope can help with mental health 🙂
The inspiration for writing this post came after an old Tweet from Piers Morgan in 2017 re-surfaced. For those who aren't aware, Piers Morgan is a British journalist/television host/general-fly-in-the-ointment.
In his Tweet, Piers was responding to a statistic which stated that an estimated 34 million British adults have experienced mental health difficulties. Piers' response was "...man up, Britain and focus on those who REALLY need help".
Whilst I don't want to get into a debate about Piers Morgan - there are plenty of those going on - his response really highlights the ongoing stigma faced by people with mental health problems.
It also emphasises that the language people use often perpetuates the expectations placed on men when it comes to discussing mental health.
Prior to training as a Counsellor, I had real trouble talking about my feelings. I'd grown up with messages like "boys don't cry". I'd never seen my father talk about his emotions and I was worried that people would think I was "weak".
As a male, I believed that showing my emotions would mean I couldn't cope. On top of this, none of my friends talked about how they felt either. Conversations were limited to what had been on the television the night before, our hobbies, or the daft things one of us might have done.
The way that I dealt with situations was with anger. I didn't understand other feelings and I certainly didn't do sadness or crying.
Anger was a tool I'd learnt as a child. I was bullied at school and anger enabled me to keep people at a distance. It was a defence mechanism to stop me feeling hurt. I'd observed other people's ways of dealing with problems and came to believe that showing anger made problems go away and "won" arguments.
I carried this strategy with me into adulthood; however, I also came to learn that my way of coping pushed people away and affected the quality of my relationships.
When I was in my 30s, a friend of mine passed away. He was one of the few males I'd been able to talk to about my problems. He was helpful and supportive, but I'd had no idea that he had been struggling with his own difficulties.
As well as the sadness of losing a good friend, his death also brought up feelings around my father's death 12 years' earlier. For the first time in years I cried, and began to realise that the way I'd been coping with my problems wasn't working any more.
It was at this point that I decided to go for counselling.
I was able to explore my childhood experiences, the beliefs I'd developed and how I'd coped. I talked about who I wanted to be as a person and that I no longer wanted to hide behind my anger. However, this came with its own fears of becoming more open; how would people react to me, as a male, expressing my emotions?
Counselling gave me a place to talk to someone who wasn't involved in my day-to-day life. I could be upset and cry without being judged, and I no longer had to hide behind the mask of anger that I'd been wearing for so long.
It taught me that it was okay to be a male and show my emotions, and that this made me no less of a person.
From my experience of working with males, many who come to see me don't feel able to talk to other people. Some may talk to their partners, but even then they still have fears around opening up completely for fear of how they'll be perceived.
A lot of my clients have had difficulties expressing themselves. They may have been told as young boys that it wasn't right for them to do this. Some believe that they'll be perceived as "weak". I've heard many phrases along the lines of "I'm a man, I should be able to cope". They believe that, as men, they "should" be strong.
Like myself, many males I've worked with have developed defence mechanisms as children and have carried these through into adulthood. They've not been able to allow themselves to be vulnerable or open, because they fear what other people will think of them.
When I first started my counselling training, some of my male work colleagues laughed and made comments like "Why are you doing a woman's job?". However, as time went on, more of them would come to me to talk about their problems.
Conversations no longer revolved around what had been on television the night before. They started focusing more on life issues such as relationship problems. It was as though they felt they had permission to do this, because they saw that a fellow male would listen to them without judgment.
As a Counsellor, I feel that part of my job is to be a role model to my clients of how it is possible to be a male who can express their emotions. It's about changing the message from "men should be strong" to "men should be able to talk about how they feel".
Talking about emotions does not equal weakness. In fact, it takes great courage for someone to open up to others and allow themselves to risk being vulnerable.
Although there are ongoing efforts to tackle the stereotypes of males and mental health, the sticking point is society's expectations of how men deal with their emotions.
It's also worth remembering that these are just expectations and opinions; they are not laws. We as males can make a choice to move away from what society expects and express ourselves when we're finding things difficult.
Whilst this might be scary, it can definitely be beneficial for us in the long run.
I've been on both sides of the line. I've been the male seeking help for his problems and am now in the privileged position of being able to provide support to others.
If, like me, you've been wearing a mask in your everyday life for fear of opening up, the counselling room is a place where you can remove that mask. Counselling is a safe environment where you can be honest and vulnerable without being judged.
If you choose to put the mask back on when you leave then that's your choice, but I try to encourage clients to rely on the mask less and less as time goes on. Opening up is scary, but it's also very liberating.
If you want things to change then counselling can support you to become the person you want to be, as opposed to the person you think you "should be". It made a great impact on how I deal with my emotions and I'm forever grateful for it.
Please do contact me if you'd like to access counselling.