02. Experts Corner

The Mental Health Bandwagon

February 3, 2020

Mental health has dominated conversations over the last few years. While there has been budget cuts to mental health services, the private sector are funding services and the public sector are stretching budgets from other areas, to provide support and education one way or another. Here we'll discuss the paramount importance of having qualified mental professionals.

Unqualified Health Experts

I set upon my holistic health journey five years ago, I felt embarrassed that I would research details when buying a car or house but wouldn’t read the ingredients of my food.

Around this time we had the health shakes boom, shakes like Herbalife were taking off, people were making money and then all of a sudden we had a surge of overnight nutritionists. It was usually personal trainers and professional athletes pushing the product and saying it was healthy as they were fit and great billboards for how we view health. There’s only one problem, they did not know the chemicals in the product.

I know this because many of my friends approached me to help them promote the product, but when I asked about the chemicals in the product their responses were similar, “All natural ingredients”. I would say, “Oh really, so what do you know about Cyanocobalamin?”. They couldn’t explain. I admit that at times I enjoyed the conversation too much and would make up chemicals, sometimes people would still try to explain what the made up chemical does. Seriously.

The same pattern is happening in mental health. My concern is that the conversation is being dominated by celebrities, people who are ill or not qualified, and because of this there has been a miseducation. I’m not saying that you cannot have people in those groups facilitating, I understand how effective it can be when people share their experiences.

However, there is an overwhelming amount of people and new companies set up to profit from the mental health trend, having vulnerable lives in their hands. “It’s the equivalent of someone who has CCJs and is bankrupt facilitating sessions on accounts. It will never happen.”

Expertise Over Storytelling

A person who is bankrupt has a story to tell, whether it be the unique way they fell victim to a situation or just simply being unable to manage their money. They may tell this story in such a way that it would be more effective than a qualified accountant speaking to the same group, trying to achieve the same objectives. The difference between the person who’s bankrupt and the accountant is that you’re more likely to receive information from the accountant that does not put you at risk. We all know this, and will go with the accountant so why are we allowing this to happen in mental health? People who are not qualified (or taking short courses) or mentally ill, or both are taking sessions on mental health.

This is reflected in the overwhelming amount of people who think mental health is mental illness, because the conversation is excessively referred to in the context of illness and not the spectrum, by people reinforcing this with the same narrative (stories of their woe).

Please note: I am not saying that there is note a space for people who are not qualified therapists

The Switch Off

People are unplugging themselves from the mental health conversation because it has become repetitive and predictable, so they are not learning anything. The current narrative has led to people self-diagnosing based upon the stories their exposed to and this new unregulated space. Creating resistance from others who see them as using the “mental health outlet” as an excuse.

Mental Health is the Physical Education of Society

English, science and math seem immune to budget cuts. Teachers would never think to prevent students from doing a lesson in these subjects as punishment and these subjects would never be compromised to catch up on work from another subject. Physical education on the other hand is victim to those situations, a subject where the games blind people from its importance.

Physical education is linked to your health for the rest of your life, if students are taught how serious it is and staff take it seriously, they will create a healthy connection with their body. A connection that doesn’t wait for the doctor to tell you that if you don’t start exercising you will die, a connection that has you willingly socializing with friends over a game you connected with during your youth.

Although important, physical education is a token and unfortunately mental health has become a token too. When a topic has to be repeatedly justified with data, that is an indication of resistance from somewhere. Every year there’s a conversation on the worrying levels of obesity data, mental health now shares the same pattern. Topics that link to making money are prioritized and losing a small percentage of people along the way is seen as the sacrifice.

Reality of Being a Mental Health Professional

I love human behavior, I’m very competitive and part of my fascination is linked to the fact of it being a topic that cannot be mastered. You are always learning and society is always changing, when you qualify as a Psychotherapist, Psychologist, Psychiatrist etc.. your qualification gives you a new lens. A new lens to view yourself, your client and the relationships that involve you, and the relationships that your client brings to the session. The process of building this new lens comes with a great challenge, you are broken down and built back up again. This is what some of your clients will go through so it’s fundamental you experience the process to develop your understanding, bring your blind spots into view and the suppressed emotional history to the surface for you to deal with.

To shine a light on the depth trainee therapists go to on their pursuit of becoming accredited therapists, one of my colleagues told me that when she was studying to become a Psychotherapist she was in a class of 30, by the end of the course, half of the class had split up with their partners. They were able to view themselves, their partners and the world with a new lens, and what they saw, led them to take action.

When training we help each other sift through our past in mock therapy (triad) sessions. Triad sessions consist of a therapist, a client and an observer, on my course we continuously carouseled through triads practicing and being observed and assessed for the last three years, then did a placement year where we had to facilitate one to one therapy for 100 hours alongside our studies and in the last year we had see a therapist for 20 sessions too.

Why do therapists have to deal with their baggage? To help others be healthier, it needs to come from a healthy place, also you are a model of excellence and most importantly, your past can block the client’s present, if you don’t deal with it. I share this to give insight into how rigorous the process is. It’s this way because when working with a person’s mental health, they are vulnerable.

Be Careful What You Wish For!

Because of my work I get to see the world for what it is. I work in a schools where you see children playing and laughing, what you don’t see is that their battle with physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, neglect, abandonment and bullying. During this time they have learnt that while schools try to help, school work is priority.

As these children journey into becoming adults they find coping mechanisms - suppressing their feelings, self harming, substance abuse and a gang. Some don’t make it into adulthood, for those that do (and not in correctional system), learnt from their time in school that their work is priority. Although this is not ideal, years of suppression helps people to survive. To survive this journey of life, retaining their sanity, avoiding substances and helping them to self contain and not spill out everywhere (emotionally).

''Our mental health is directly linked to the quality of life one’s, the length of one’s life and the safety of everyone’s life!''

If we encourage people to speak we must be aware of what we are asking them to do and what it could potentially lead to. In many instances we are asking people to venture into the unknown, a place they have locked up for years. This can reverse everything that the suppression was protecting them from. Suppression is their coping mechanism, like self harm. Self harmers are not advised to stop self harming, they are monitored and advised on how to be clean in the process, because taking away their coping mechanism can lead to suicide. It’s that serious!

Am I asking people not to speak about their problems? No. I’m saying be mindful of asking people to speak about problems when there is no support in place, therapy is expensive and only a portion can afford it. If you are asking people to potentially revisit a place of trauma, have a think about what it will do to them and the long term support that will be accessible afterwards.

I would like mental health awareness/support, what should I look for when booking for my organization?

  • If you’re going for inspiration then it’s a free for all, get anyone with a story, engagement is your only concern. Please note that it would only be for inspiration, and not for mental health awareness/support.
  • To provide training, support or education for students and staff, it’s important that you get a qualified therapist. A therapist that is registered to a governing body to ensure that they’re keeping in lined up to date with ethical practices.
  • Here are a few of the professional bodies that qualified therapists will be registered too, BACP (British Association for Counsellors and Psychotherapists), UKCP (United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy), CPCAB (Counselling & Psychotherapy Central Awarding Body).
  • After you draw up a shortlist of qualified therapists, it’s important to think about engagement. Someone present a PowerPoint and talking at the group, loses the group, theory is the skeleton, the facilitator needs to bring it to life, make it relatable and engaging for those present. Everyone has experiences, the facilitator must be able to draw on the experiences of those present so they feel part of the process.
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