Coping with my mental health: what can I do and when and how do I seek professional help?
What a year it’s been! You’ll have heard this time and time again but living through COVID in this past year has had so many consequences with one of these being the impact on our mental health. To be honest, we are probably all feeling totally done in in one way or another! No one seems to have escaped the impact of the past year, but what can we now do about it?
It’s important to remember that we all go through ups and downs in life and this is all part of being human. Experiencing a wide range of emotions is completely normal and natural. The vast majority of us will experience stressors such as money worries, relationship stress, exam / work pressure, loneliness, grief, anxiety and so on. Some people face significant but isolated experiences that suddenly shake their world. These might be things like being in a car crash, being assaulted, losing a loved one, having a serious illness etc. Some people may also experience difficulties such as significant hardship, trauma and abuse that happen repeatedly and over many years.
It’s not a given however that we will all react the same way to the same things. How we react to things is influenced by a wide range of factors including our earlier life experiences, our nature and personality, our relationships with others, our upbringing, our genes, our health, our culture, our sense of safety and security along with many other factors. Depending on our previous experiences, it sometimes it doesn’t take too much to throw some people ‘over the edge’ while other people (who may not have had the same previous experiences) might deal with many significant stressors with not much of an impact at all. How we react to events can often make complete sense once we take our history into consideration.
Recently, you might have noticed some bigger changes to how you or a loved one are feeling, or how you usually cope. You might be worrying more, have sleep difficulties, relationship problems, you might now be finishing off that whole bottle of wine when you might’ve just had one glass before. You might just be feeling that you’re not enjoying life much anymore. But is it any wonder? We’ve all just gone through a year that for many has been full of trauma, loss, worry and hardship.
Often people wonder if they need to seek professional help from a therapist. We can’t answer this in a simple yes or no but if you are struggling in ways emotionally or psychologically and it is having a significant impact on your life, then it may be that talking things through might be helpful. Many difficulties can often be helped by chatting things over with family and friends and also by allowing things to settle with time. As stated above, it’s important to remember that many emotional responses are often very normal reactions to difficult situations and they don’t always mean you need to see a psychologist or therapist. Looking after yourself by practising good self care, having a regular routine and showing understanding and kindness to yourself can often be helpful to get you through the rough times. This link here is a great resource for young adults and this is another helpful website full of hints and tips for self care.
The main thing to consider when thinking about whether you need a bit more of a helping hand is how much of an impact things are having on you. This may include changes to your:
· daily functioning (e.g. sleep, appetite, self care, motivation, concentration etc)
· engagement in education / work
· overall sense of wellbeing
· behaviours, thoughts and emotions (e.g. worrying a lot more, withdrawing from others, using substances to cope, having thoughts about harming yourself, not getting a sense of enjoyment from things you would usually enjoy etc)
If you recognise the above, think that life is getting to you a lot more than usual and you are finding it a lot harder to cope, it might be worth thinking about seeking professional help.
What can I do before or instead of seeking professional help?
Self-help can be very useful by accessing and implementing advice and strategies yourself via books, websites, podcasts, YouTube etc. There is a massive amount of information online and in books that can help us deal with a variety of difficulties. Recommended websites include:
As stated above, it can also often be very helpful to talk things over with trusted friends and family who can listen to you, provide emotional support but also practical support if and when required. Many people also seek virtual support through online forums. These forums can sometimes be very helpful to share experiences but also come with a risk of possibly being unhelpful and even risky depending on what advice you get or who you speak to.
I want to find a professional to speak to, where do I start??
Some people may not have a ‘natural support system’ such as friends and family or may not wish to confide in them. Many people are therefore attracted to the idea of finding someone completely neutral to talk things through with. Going to a session with a professional therapist can often help you understand your problems and learn what to do about them.
Difficulties can often come when people try to seek professional help. Where do you even start??! It can sometimes be a nightmare to navigate ‘the system’ and we often get contacted by people who are overwhelmed or unsure who to see or where to start. There are different types of therapists which can often be very confusing so we have outlined this in a previous blog which you may find helpful to read.
If you are noticing bigger changes in your feelings and how you normally cope and think you might need more professional help we would suggest going to your GP who may be able to point you in the direction of local supports, refer you on to a local mental health service, and offer you medication if appropriate.
Finding help in the NHS (public sector)
The NHS is within the UK public sector and all services are free at the point of contact. There are a number of NHS services that deal with different types and severities of problems and which your GP may be able to refer you to. In Scotland, people with mild to moderate mental health difficulties may be referred to a ‘Primary Care Mental Health Team’ (PCMHT). These are referred to as IAPT services in England (‘Improving Access to Psychological Therapies’ services). Those with moderate to severe mental health difficulties may be referred to a ‘Community Mental Health Team’ (CMHT). Crisis services are outpatient services that are for people who are at significant risk and which offer an alternative to staying in hospital. Inpatient services are also available for people who may have more severe problems or be more at risk and who need to be looked after in a hospital.
There are also often a number of specialist mental health services such as services for trauma, addiction, eating disorders, physical health problems, amongst others but this depends on your local authority area. There are also different services depending on what age you are (e.g., Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) are for those under 16 years and older adult services are for age 65 years and over).
Finding help in the private sector
Although there are many excellent NHS services, unfortunately waiting lists can be long especially since the advent of the COVID pandemic. There is significant demand for mental health services with this contributing to the NHS and other mental health services being under increased pressure. Some people may therefore seek help from the private sector in order to be seen sooner and to have a choice of therapist and type of therapy. The downside is that it has to be paid for therefore is not always accessible to all. However, different types of therapists offer different fees depending on their training and experience and some may offer concession rates. You can find private therapists in your local area by searching online, and also via specific websites such as The Counselling Directory, Psychology Today and also by asking around for recommendations. The Wellbeing Rooms in Bearsden have a number of different therapists who offer help privately.
If you or a family member have private health insurance you may be able to access a private therapist through this. Many people often have private health cover through their work and have a number of family members covered by their policy. Private health insurers in the UK include BUPA, AXA, Aviva, Vitality amongst others. There may be a small excess to pay but otherwise your insurance would meet the cost of professional services.
Third sector organisations
Other sources of help are services in what is referred to as the ‘third sector’ (the public and private sector being the other two sectors). They can also be referred to as the ‘voluntary sector’ and are non-profit services including e.g. charities and community organisations. These services can often help with areas such as housing support, crisis help, advocacy, befriending, counselling, employment help amongst many other services. Third sector services vary widely between areas so it’s best to ask your GP for what is available locally. In East Dunbartonshire where The Wellbeing Rooms are based a good contact where you can find out more is East Dunbartonshire Voluntary Action.
Most schools, universities and colleges have student support systems in place that can help students who are experiencing mental health problems. Mind has some great information here that can help students. If you are a student you can ask a teacher, tutor or lecturer to point you in the right direction.
Many workplaces may offer mental health support for staff. This may be provided within their own service or they may be able to refer you to an external therapist so you can access help for free. Some larger workplaces have what are called ‘Employee Assistance Programmes’ where you can access professional help.
Hopefully this blog has made it a bit clearer about when and how and where to find help if you are looking for an extra helping hand. Thanks for reading!
All the best,
Jo, Jan & Catherine
@The Wellbeing Rooms