Destigmatising Mental Health and How Coaching Can Help

by Michelle Velan

Photo by Sorasak on Unsplash

Part of Wonder Source’s mission is to increase awareness around mental health and its illnesses and to help normalise and destigmatise it.

We’re all talking about mental health awareness…but is it enough?

At the 2018 Global Ministerial Mental Health Summit, with ministers and experts from all over the world in attendance, Mrs Theresa May gave the issue of mental health her blessing.

Here’s an excerpt from her speech on World Mental Health Day:

“I have made parity of care a priority for our long-term plan for the NHS. We can end the stigma that has forced too many to suffer in silence. We can prevent the tragedy of suicide taking too many lives. And we can give the mental well-being of our children the priority that it so profoundly deserves.”

It’s a step in the right direction, as is the inclusion of mental health in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

But while it’s great that we’re talking about mental health issues, the only reason we’re still doing so is because there’s still so much we have yet to actually do to deal with them.

What is mental health?

With everything going on in the world right now, mental health and mental illness are top of mind. But while the terms are often used interchangeably, they are not the same thing. Just as someone who feels physically unwell may not have an illness, people may have poor mental health without a mental illness.

The WHO constitution states: “Mental health is a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”

Further, “mental health is fundamental to our collective and individual ability as humans to think, emote, interact with each other, earn a living and enjoy life.”

Like physical health, there are different degrees of mental health that a person can experience throughout a lifetime, ranging from great to so-so, all the way to illness or disability. At some stages, people may have good mental health with very few to no problems in their day-to-day lives. Whereas other people might experience serious mental health problems that have a very negative impact on their lives. Those serious health problems can then either last for a long time or be resolved quickly.

Most people, however, fall somewhere in the middle. While they are generally in good health, problems do come up. These can be triggered by bigger life events like moving cities, losing a job, or handling a loved one’s health crisis, or something more minor like having a fight with a partner or being anxious about an upcoming presentation.

Everyone can relate to feeling a bit down, stressed out, or overwhelmed at times. Having good mental health means being able to look at problems or concerns realistically — it’s not about feeling happy and confident all the time or ignoring issues. When you’re mentally healthy, you have the ability to live and cope well despite those problems.

Where are we now?

With the way this past year has been, the reports on mental health issues are cause for worry. In December, the president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists said the pandemic was “probably the biggest hit to mental health since the Second World War”. Data from the Centre for Mental Health predicts that up to 10 million people will need first-time or additional mental health support as a result of this crisis.

Meanwhile, the respected Brain and Mind Centre at the University of Sydney has warned Australians that suicide rates could rise by up to 50 per cent in the wake of the economic impacts of COVID-19. This for a country far less hard-hit than the UK has been.

There is also a big knowledge gap in understanding mental health, which is a major issue that keeps people from accessing care that could be substantially beneficial.

On one end are the people who don’t think they have a mental health problem and are in the clear. But like physical health, we need to actively take care of our mental health to get ahead of potential problems. On the other end are those who believe that going to a therapist is the only option for handling mental health. These people may avoid getting help because they find therapy unapproachable either due to cost or the apprehension that it may not be for them.

This is why we have to do more and increase the knowledge around mental health, including popularising alternative options for getting help.

Who is most affected by mental health issues?

Depression remains one of the leading causes of disability and suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-29-year-olds. Not to mention that people with severe mental health conditions die prematurely — as much as two decades early — due to preventable physical conditions, according to WHO.

There are several factors linked to being at a higher risk for mental health issues, including:

– facing social inequality and disadvantage

– facing discrimination and social exclusion

– going through traumatic experiences

– differences in physical health

But while certain groups are more likely to have mental health issues, it’s important to know that your identity isn’t the root. The causes of mental health problems can be very complicated and affect anyone.

This past year is an excellent example. Even people who are generally resilient and have good mental health experienced more challenging times in the past year due to the uncertainty and the unusual circumstances of the pandemic and lockdowns. No one is unaffected at all times and we need to change the conversation around mental health to highlight that.

Once we begin to accept this idea, more people will be able to acknowledge when they are going through tough times and seek the help they need, whether it’s talking to a therapist or coach or trusted friend, journaling about it, or incorporating something like mindfulness or EFT into their routine.

The need for preventative care in mental health

As it is, 1 in 6 people report experiencing a common mental health problem (like anxiety and depression) in any given week in England.

Usually, people seek out a mental health expert only after a crisis has occurred. According to a 2016 study by the Columbia University Medical Center, less than a third of American adults who screened positive for depression received treatment for their symptoms.

We need to be addressing these issues earlier on before people are in crisis mode. Throughout a lifetime, 1 in 5 people have suicidal thoughts, 1 in 14 self-harm, and 1 in 15 will attempt suicide. There is also a strong correlation between mental and physical health with increased rates of cancer and coronary heart disease among those who are depressed.

And yet, there is still such a limited approach to helping people build mental health and resilience and heal. At Wonder Source, we want to provide people with the tools and support they need to do so.

*If you have a mental illness or are having a mental health crisis, please contact a professional immediately or reach out to one of the helplines listed at the end of this article.

Strengthening Resilience and Bolstering Mental Health

For those who aren’t suffering from a mental illness, there are many ways to support our mental health, build resilience, and ultimately reduce our risk of finding ourselves in a mental health crisis in the future. One of the most popular and effective ways is through communication.

Talking is healing

When going through a mental health issue, it’s very common to feel like you’re alone or unique in your experience. However, talking through it can help you make huge strides.

Studies have shown the powerful healing effect of simply talking about our problems and sharing our negative emotions with someone we trust. Keeping painful secrets is stressful, which can manifest into physical issues. But if we allow ourselves to open up, whether through speaking or writing, it not only reduces stress but also strengthens our immune system and reduces physical and emotional distress.

Typically, when we think of mental health, we think of going to a therapist and “talking it out”.

On a personal level, I’ve had two stages in my life where I went to therapy. I want to preface this by saying that I’m grateful to have had access to that kind of care and that most people would benefit from therapy if they are able and open to it.

The first was briefly in my early 20’s when I was going through a stressful situation that resulted in insomnia. Working with a therapist was an amazing experience and it was what I needed to help me through a difficult period.

The second time I saw a therapist was in my 30’s when I was experiencing burnout. This was a more complicated situation where work and career challenges were inadvertently impacting my sleep, stress, and overall health. I had the awareness of what was going on and needed help successfully navigating through it. Because of this, it was difficult finding someone who was the right fit for my specific needs.

When I finally did find a great therapist I clicked with, it was a valuable experience that allowed me to further develop my self-awareness and gain other benefits. But I eventually stopped seeing her when I realised my needs were more suited to a coach. Friends and family have also felt unsure of who to turn to during similarly challenging and complex points in their lives.

Therapy, it turns out, is not always what works best.

Coaching (as opposed to therapy)

Again, speaking from experience, coaching has helped me tremendously in a range of situations, from supporting me through a complex contract negotiation to helping me work my way through a challenging work situation. It made me realise that although working with a coach is an investment (both in time and money), it’s one that can pay for itself many times over. For me, this came in the form of a significant contract rate increase and the ability to navigate a business negotiation for positive results. Not only were my business related outcomes more successful than what they could have been otherwise, but the relief of having the support was a great boon to my mental health at the time and it is part of the drive of setting up Wonder Source to be what it is today.

One thing to remember is that coaches are not miracle workers. You have to want to be there and make an effort to see any results. That being said, coaching can help you become proactive about your mental health, dramatically reduce your stress levels, help you see opportunities where you felt fear and ultimately help you from falling into a crisis in the future.

When is coaching an optimal solution?

There are many situations where coaches can provide tremendous support and enhance your mental health.

1. Processing a challenge. Whether you’ve been fired, your business has failed, your kids have left home, you’re dealing with a health crisis or you’re going through menopause, the common reaction is to simply soldier on and just “get through it”. But not recognising whatever emotions you’re going through at the time often leads to living with underlying resentment and depression for much longer than is healthy. Plus, studies show that suppressed emotions can lead to health problems.

Working with a qualified coach and allowing yourself the time and space to grieve can ultimately help you move through the struggle without getting stuck in a place of hopelessness.

2. It feels like nothing Is happening. It is a frustrating yet familiar scenario: you keep trying to improve a situation but nothing seems to work. Setting aside any factors that are completely beyond your control, achieving the results you want mostly requires a change in attitude or underlying beliefs.

Because more often than not, it’s not the lack of knowledge or skills that kills plans and ideas. It’s the fear of failure or lack of a clear strategy or action plan.

Failure is a big risk to take, yet failing at any action, even failing to take action, is a necessary part of building anything meaningful and is a rich learning opportunity.

When it feels like you’re stuck in a loop, the right coach will help you dissolve those patterns and beliefs that keep you from stepping outside of your “safe” zone.

3. You want to make something happen. “Everyone needs a coach. We all need people that give us feedback. That’s how we improve.” – Bill Gates

When there is something in your life you really want, it’s easy to become frozen by the enormity and implications of making such a massive change. This is when self-limiting behaviour makes its big appearance and knocks down the courage you need to follow through.

A great coach can help you reframe these limiting beliefs and help you overcome the self-made obstacles that derail your dreams and plans. They’ll support you through the fear, resistance, and panic that can arise when you create something exciting and new, especially when it comes to your primary relationships, making a career change, or starting a business.

4. You feel stuck. When you feel like you’re out of options or don’t know what to do next, it can be frustrating and disheartening. This feeling of “stuckness” may not be tied to a specific challenge or situation but rather, to your perspective or feelings of defeat and confusion.

A trained coach can help you identify and navigate through what’s making you feel helpless or stalled out. This in turn can lead to a clearer vision of what feeling fulfilled and balanced would look like for you. While fulfillment and balance come in many different forms, they are always centered around living a life of value and purpose and finding alignment between a compelling vision and action.

5. You’re not sure what’s next. What if you make a decision that’s for the best — like ending a bad relationship or walking away from a job that was no longer a good fit — but haven’t figured out what to do after that?

First of all, don’t panic. This is a good time to allow yourself to let go of what’s already happened and establish the things you no longer want.

An expert coach can be the guide you need during this period of discovery and transition. By posing powerful questions that break through old patterns and defenses, a coach will help you explore your sense of self and become more confident in taking new paths you may have once balked at.

Where does this leave us?

There is a lot that needs to be done around mental health education, including destigmatising it and giving people the proper support they need.

For 75% of the population, while you may not experience a mental health problem in a given year, you will go back and forth on a continuum. Know that there are different ways you can find support outside of the traditional forms of mental health care we’ve come to know and accept.

With the right support and tools, people are much more likely to live well — however they define well — and find meaning, contribute to their communities, take advantage of opportunities, and work towards their goals.

Our goal at Wonder Source is to give our users access to experts who can provide support in key areas of life so that they can find sustainable ways to support their well-being and success. It is our hope that as we expand our understanding of mental health and the many evidence-based tools that help provide support, people will be more open to trying different approaches and therefore more likely to find a solution that works for them.

If you are experiencing symptoms of any mental health condition, it is important to contact a professional who can help you. Eating right, meditation, exercising or coaching can help some people improve their mental health. However, others may need medication or counselling for change to occur. By partnering with a medical expert, you will be better able to find out what’s right for you.

If you have any questions, are interested to learn more or want support from Wonder Source, email admin@wondersource.co.

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If you have a mental health illness or are having suicidal thoughts, it’s important to seek professional support. In the UK, there are free helplines to help when you’re feeling down or desperate.

Unless it says otherwise, they’re open 24 hours a day, every day. You can also call these helplines for advice if you’re worried about someone else.

Samaritans – for everyone

Call 116 123

Email jo@samaritans.org

Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM)

Call 0800 58 58 58 – 5 pm to midnight every day

Visit the webchat page

Papyrus – for people under 35

Call 0800 068 41 41 – 9 am to midnight every day

Text 07860 039967

Email pat@papyrus-uk.org

Childline – for children and young people under 19

Call 0800 1111 – the number will not show up on your phone bill

SOS Suicide of Silence – for everyone

Call 0300 1020 505 – 8 am to midnight every day

Email support@sossilenceofsuicide.org

Message a text line

If you do not want to talk to someone over the phone, these text lines are open 24 hours a day, every day.

Shout Crisis Text Line – for everyone

Text “SHOUT” to 85258

YoungMinds Crisis Messenger – for people under 19

Text “YM” to 85258

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