In the section entitled ‘What are mental health problems?‘, the point was made that we should be wary of oversimplifying mental health problems by seeing them simply as illnesses. It is certainly true that medication can be very valuable for certain people at certain times, but the danger is that we can over-rely on medication without looking at the broader range of solutions that could be explored. It is therefore important to be aware that there are various potential ways forward depending on the situation. Some people can be helped by ‘talking cures’ such as counselling or even in-depth psychotherapy. Others can be helped by cognitive behavioural therapy (a process whereby they are helped to change their view of their situation and of themselves in order to be able to deal more positively with it). However, whichever approach is adopted, one important thing to recognise is that mental health problems are often very frightening for the person experiencing them. It is therefore likely that, in addition to any formal therapeutic approach, the individual concerned will need a lot of personal and social support – perhaps in the workplace as well as outside of it. Sometimes this can be moral support in the sense of ‘being there’ for him or her but, in addition, there will often be a range of other things that can be done to take pressure off the person concerned – for example simple, supportive measures like providing childcare help or other such practical measures to help them get through a very difficult period in their life. Often, the provision of practical support has the added bonus of providing emotional support at the same time. That is, in providing practical support, we show that we care, that we are prepared to put ourselves out for the person concerned – and that can be a very important message to give. It is important that we retain a balanced approach to mental health problems and their potential solutions without going to one of the two extremes. At one end of the spectrum, we can have the very unhelpful response which assumes that people with mental health problems are necessarily dangerous or particularly prone to aggression and violence – this is a dangerously misleading stereotype. At the other unhelpful extreme of this continuum is the naïve view that all that is needed by people with mental health problems is basic support and sympathy. There are risks associated with mental health problems, but these need to be explored carefully by the professionals involved in mental health work, and we should therefore be careful not to oversimplify the situation by either over-reacting or naively ignoring potential problems. It is therefore important to draw on the help and support of the various professionals and voluntary bodies involved in mental health work wherever possible. Helping someone who has mental health problems can be very draining and demanding at times. We should therefore make sure that we also get the support we need.

Dr Neil Thompson                        

Neil’s website and blog are at www.neilthompson.info

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