Mental illness and mental wellness


I prefer the term mental wellness to mental illness, partly because I believe that the body moves naturally towards health. I think we are all basically OK, but there is no doubt that suffering occurs and the old-fashioned attitude of, 'pull yourself together' does not, to my mind, address how we can restore our mental wellness. Hearing these words can actually make things worse for us as it reinforces the idea that it is all our own fault.

Medication can help suffering when a person is anxious or depressed. If your GP has prescribed medication, you will know whether it is helping you over the short and long term. The underlying causes of anxiety are complex;  anxiety has been described as 'feelings that are not supported in the body' and are often the result of deep inner conflicts. It can certainly seem as though the feelings of anxiety are too strong or are going on for too long. This can be miserable to experience and prevent us from leading the lives we want.

 Sometimes extreme anxiety can be confused with symptoms of trauma (PTSD): panic attacks, freezing, dissociation ('out of body' feelings). These symptoms can often have clear origins in traumatic events but sometimes a person does not understand why they are suffering in this way. A body-based approach can often locate a person's anchoring or calm memories and help to steer us back from the overwhelming feelings without having to 'revisit' the traumatic memory. 

Depression which does not go away but recurs like a shadow on our lives is also a condition with deep roots.  Hormonal changes around adolescence, pregnancy and menopause can be contributory, but many people also believe they have to go on suffering depression and that there is no cure. Often the body has its own resources and energy to lift a person from the heavy weight of depressive symptoms but we need the support of a therapist to help us tap into our own capacity. 

Bereavement can also bring overwhelming feelings of sadness and loss. Sometimes it can feel as though our whole body has been taken over and that we cannot function. Grief has its own trajectory and runs its own course; often people talk about it 'coming in waves'. The feelings can at times  be unbearable even when we think 'we should be over it by now'. 

Eating disorders and body image disorders are becoming more common and occur within complex social changes. These problems do not lend themselves easily to simple 'talking' cures and may reflect difficult early patterns of attachment and relationship.  Overcoming such problems may take a long period of commitment and struggle but can create a person with great strength and inner reserves.