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Royals help show positive way to address mental health

PUBLISHED: 17:08 16 July 2019 | UPDATED: 17:08 16 July 2019

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge Stockholm last summer to hear about Sweden's approach to managing mental health challenges

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge Stockholm last summer to hear about Sweden's approach to managing mental health challenges

PA Wire/PA Images

James Brittain, who has worked as a psychotherapist in Norfolk, both privately, and within the NHS for over 20 years, says we now live in a world 
where we can be open about mental health

At last, we are becoming increasingly aware of our mental health. There is growing media interest, celebrities are more open about the pain and turmoil they suffer, and the young Royals are doing their best to eliminate the negative stigma which has surrounded mental health for years. 
I am sure this has encouraged more people to own up to their problems. In the past decade people seeking help has risen from around 20% to 40%. This is good news. However this means that around 60% are still suffering in silence.

Even though we are doing our best to change this, the negative stigma around an invisible illness that stems from thinking and emotional feeling, is all around us. When we try to help loved ones, statements like "you have nothing to be anxious/depressed about" tend only make things worse, because we can have no concept of what's going on inside someone else's head. It takes enormous courage to ask for help. Please respect those that do.

The big question is, who do you go to? The first port of call for many is your GP. Doctors have access to a host of medications tailor-made to different types of mental disorders. Those in the medical profession do a marvellous job in helping patients who are suffering with mental disorders. They can save lives. Drugs are able to change moods which in turn can prevent us from harming ourselves. A schizophrenic who does not take his or her medication can also cause severe harm to others.

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A psychotherapist's job is to help people retrain their brains so that they can live happier and more focused lives. The psychotherapist is there to help the client to achieve their own goals and use all the therapeutic tools at their disposal. The process of making the actual change is up to the client, anything else would be disempowering, and from the practical point of view, impossible.

Our brain is a magnificent organ, it controls everything we do, some of which we are aware of, and most of which we are unaware. We use the words subconscious and unconscious every day, they describe everything of which we are not consciously aware. It is the unconscious mind which is the most fascinating. We are not aware of it controlling our breathing, or the magic women create to grow babies, or sending white blood cells to parts of our bodies that are injured to protect us from infection. From a very early age, we learn ways to keep us out of harm's way. We know that putting our hands in the fire, or jumping off the roof of the house is likely to end in tears. We avoid doing these things automatically without thinking.

Most of these behaviours are essential for our wellbeing. Some patterns of behaviour however, are outdated and no longer serve any positive purpose. As children we may have learned that it is dangerous to let people get emotionally close, or we may have got attention from "playing the fool", or we learned that anxiety keeps us safe, so we developed behaviours which were congruent with this at the time. We may continue to play out these behaviours now, even though at a conscious level we know that it no longer helps us.

The good news is that all unconscious behaviour is created with positive intent, using the resources that we had available at the time. As grown ups we have very different resources. The encouraging thing is, we are all capable of change. We can do this on our own, but sometimes we need help.

Different psychotherapists use different techniques, but it is the ultimate goal of all to enable their clients to make changes for the better, and that this positive behaviour becomes unconscious.

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