The Mental Heath MOT: A new service and some tips for everyone.
I've been a counsellor for 10 years now and whilst I'm pleased to say I've noticed conversations about mental health becoming more mainstream, we still have a lot of improving to do - as a society - to get better at managing our mental health.
People often come to see me when they are in crisis or when they've been suffering for quite a while and I hear the phrase "I wish I'd done this sooner" an awful lot! I get it - doing healing or personal growth work is hard and can be expensive; it's tempting to put it off. But we all know that turns out worse in the long run and it's better to deal with things early on, if possible.
Signs of poor mental health
Below is a list of symptoms that can people with poor mental health struggle with. Again, we all feel these things from time to time but if you are experiencing a lot of these or they have been around for a while, it's time to take action:
Persistent low mood
Frequent sense of worry
Low energy levels
Bursts of anger
Often feeling tearful
Reacting strongly to things that don't normally bother you much
Intrusive or suicidal thoughts
This is not an extensive list and these things can have many causes. If you feel you are ticking a lot of them then your mental health needs urgent care. I don't say this to judge or criticise in any way - I say this to encourage you to take very good care of yourself.
New service: 'MOT' session
To help with this, I'm offering a new service: The Mental Health 'MOT'. This is a bit like a routine check up at the dentist or any other health appointment: it's a check in to see what's working as it should and what might need some attention. This is a one-off, 90 minute appointment where you will have the opportunity to pause and reflect on how things are in your life. I'll use a selection of tools and psychology models to help us get an overview and identify any areas for action and change. We'll look at what is working (so you know to keep doing what you're doing) and what might be missing, because it's not always about what IS happening - sometimes it's what's not happening that really affects our wellbeing.
It's rare we pause to take stock in our busy lives, but if we do what we've always done, we'll get what we've always got. In the Mental Health MOT session I'll be there to listen without judgement, provide perspective and gentle guidance on next steps. If you're interested in booking an appointment (online or in person) please email: firstname.lastname@example.org .
DIY Mental Health MOT
For those who aren't able to come for one of these sessions, here's a few tools to help you do a 'DIY MOT'. So get a brew, a journal and a pen and give yourself a bit of time for some proactive mental health maintenance!
Step one: How do you feel?
Ask yourself how you are feeling right now, in this moment. You can use use emotions wheel below to help you.
Next, ask yourself if you are feeling a range of emotions in your life (this is normal) or if you feel that some are more frequent that others. If you think the balance of your emotions is off and you're not sure why or you don't know what to do about it, it might be time to get some support. Do take into account the context of your life at present - for example if you're recently bereaved it would be understandable to be feeling sad, angry or numb.
We all experience ups and downs in life, it's just being human, but if you feel a lot of difficult emotions a lot of the time then your mental health might not be in great shape.
Thoughts and feelings are intricately linked; in the same way you checked in with emotions, now ask yourself what your thoughts are like. Mostly positive/negative/neutral? Or a mix? Do you feel OK about the types of thoughts you're having? Lots of negative thoughts can be a sign that your mental health has taken a dip - see the last paragraph for what to do if things don't seem right.
Step 2: the basics
If the foundations of our mental health aren't in place then we can't expect to be feeling all that stable or happy. Whilst it can be a bit chicken-and-egg about what situation is causing what symptom, it's never a bad idea to work on the self care basics.
How is my sleep? Am I getting enough?
How are my energy levels?
What is my diet like - am I eating enough healthy foods?
Am I drinking enough water?
Do I move my body enough? (this doesn't have to be exercise in a gym - movement of any kind counts)
Am I regularly spending time outside?
Am I happy with the balance between social and alone time?
What is my work/rest/play balance like?
When we feel overwhelmed by our problems it can help to focus on getting the basics right - we might still need to tackle some more complex issues but we'll be better placed to do so. Just like putting fuel in your car, air in the tyres and oil in the engine you need to keep yourself topped up if you want to function at your best and enjoy life.
Step 3: wellbeing overview
There are lots of different tools that doctors, therapists and psychologists use to assess someone's mental health, such as the CORE-10 form and many of these need to be used whilst working with a professional. One that is often used by coaches and is possible to do by yourself is the wheel of life. This looks at the main areas of your life and asks you to score them out of 10. It's a good visual to help you see where you're doing well and what needs attention. You can do one online here.
Don't forget to acknowledge what is good in your life - yes you want to work on the problem areas but it's important to also be grateful for what we do have and celebrate what is going well; you've probably put in a lot of effort in that area.
If you don't want to use that tool a simple version is just to divide your page in two and make lists of what feels good and what feels difficult in your life. This should give you a bit of clarity and perspective on how things are right now.
Step 4: taking mindful action
Now that you've got an overview it's time to be an active participant in your own rescue and identify some next steps. Please remember your life is not a constant self improvement project and you can't 'fix' all areas of your life at once; perfectionism will not help you here!
Some suggestions to help you decide on what to work on:
Identify one or two of the self care basics to improve on. Think about exactly how you are going to do this and keep your plans realistic.
Prioritise: which area of your life feels like it really needs your attention right now? Remember you can switch your focus in a week/month/year as needed.
Set a simple intention that is realistic, important to you and actionable. E.g. "connect with friends more", "start looking for a new job", or "try new things". Write this down and keep taking steps towards it every day.
Be supported: talk to a loved one about how you're feeling and seek support in your intention. This will help you to feel more accountable and less alone and probably inspire others in the process!
If you've identified that you could do with some help improving your mental health, firstly, well done - I am proud of you for acknowledging that. It's the vital first step! Next, you need to think about what kind of help you need and is available to you. Here are some options:
Talk to your GP - they will be able to give you information on NHS services, medication and lifestyle changes
Talk to family, friends and colleagues (you decide who is appropriate) about how you're feeling. Think about how they can help you - maybe just listening, maybe something practical or maybe doing something enjoyable together - and don't be afraid to ask for that.
Recovery from mental health problems can take time and usually a variety of different types of treatments and lifestyle treatment, so try to be patient with yourself and know that you're doing a courageous and important thing in prioritising your mental health.