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Mental Health is Complicated

Mental health is complicated, but so is physical health.  In fact you can’t separate the two, but that’s not how it is generally viewed or treated in the Western medical establishment.

How and what you are feeling or thinking has a direct impact upon your physical health, just as how you are feeling and holding your body has an impact on your mental wellbeing.

In recent years I have seen the term biopsychosocial being used in relation to the treatment of chronic pain: bio (body), psycho (mind) and social (environment). Thankfully osteopathy has always looked at a person from this perspective: it’s called being holistic.

Not looking at the whole person, in my mind, is where modern medicine fails, and where this gives us false expectations. If you see a GP, for example, you will most likely be offered drugs for your symptoms, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, depression or anxiety. These drugs may make you feel better and may stop you dying – but they do not address the reason why you have high blood pressure, diabetes, depression or anxiety. 

Mental health is even more difficult because we generally don’t talk about it. It is still a taboo, a dirty word, seen as a failing or that something is wrong with you because you are not coping.

We need to have support as a child growing up to learn, express and process our feelings and emotions. If we don’t learn how to do this we develop coping strategies which invariably push / box those feelings and emotions away and we carry these strategies into our adult lives.

Now on a level that is very clever, it allows us to cope with whatever is happening to us / around us in that moment – and allows us to survive it – but what is the long term impact?

During Covid-19 for many reasons – more time to think, more anxiety or fear – our mental health will be challenged and those emotions and feelings that we put in boxes in the back of cupboards may be falling out.

How are you coping or managing those feelings and emotions? I am guessing that because we put them away in the first place they will probably be painful, uncomfortable, upsetting, distressing, frightening or unpleasant.

How are you avoiding these feeling and emotions? Are you trying to make yourself feel better or are numbing yourself to these feelings? Are you drinking, smoking, eating, exercising, gaming, gambling, sleeping, taking drugs, putting a brace face on it or changing the subject?

As you realise how and what you do, be kind to yourself. Recognise that these strategies may have started as a child, to keep yourself safe, and they may still be keeping you safe. They have served you well as you are alive and here today.

To treat or address anything successfully we need to look beneath the surface, to find out the ‘how’ and ‘why’ we got where we are – and the answers are unfortunately not found in a pill. There is not a quick fix to address these issues, since they took time and effort to develop and they will therefore take time and effort to resolve. This can be enormously daunting and the realisation that we may need help can be a big struggle to achieve.

Perhaps the biggest achievement to taking that first step is to truly appreciate that asking for help and support is a sign of strength and those that you ask will be honoured to work with you, trusting that they will offer support, help and guidance.

This article was written by Karen Robinson, formerly a Registered Osteopath.