Psychosocial Influences, Healing and Recovery

Human beings are extremely complex and amazing in equal measure and for that reason healing, treatment and support must be individually tailored, there is no “one size fits all” model that works.

In my experience as a Mental Health Practitioner I specialised in Psycho-Social assessment and interventions, this applies Psychological and Sociological models of understanding to a persons mental health needs. I explored the nature of their difficulties within their social context whilst exploring underlying psychological difficulties. By acknowledging and exploring their social history and their perceived position in society, we usually arrived at a shared understanding of their mental health needs, which then allowed for self discovery, ownership of their symptoms of distress and what they were symptomatic of, which then lead to recovery and empowerment. Once the mind is allowed to seek its own forms of equilibrium it will find it.

This approach was always helpful, however some people didn’t consider themselves “cured” and this was due to being labelled with “an incurable disease” such as Psychosis or Schizophrenia, for most of their adult lives, therefore had built their whole identity based upon their diagnosis, believing that they could not secure a relationship or employment because of their illness.

The impact of the label therefore became more harmful than the symptoms they were experiencing, on top of that they also were taking toxic and harmful medications that affect functioning, thought, sexual appetite and weight, again extremely disabling and debilitating. In general these medications would be prescribed with minimal information given about side effects, if any and with the understanding that you must never stop taking them! This generated fear and dependency, but also a complete disregard for the persons choice as most, if not all, people who begin their journey are lead to believe that this is the only way to “treat” their symptoms.

There are a multitude of labels that have been created by the Pharmaceutical industry to describe disease or Dis-ease, in order to medicate societies ills, whilst making substantial profits (multi billion dollar industry). My experience has shown that unfortunately most people are not only willing, but prefer, to believe that the root of their physical and mental Dis-ease is some abstract biological matter that they have no control over and will happily take as many pills as necessary to make it go away. Where as in reality the Dis-ease is representative of their life of what they are feeding themselves on literally and psychologically. By unifying the body, mind and spirit the human body has the ability not only to heal itself and heal others too, but this takes commitment, discipline and belief in ones self.

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By encouraging people to firstly BELIEVE that they would get better and secondly that they had the control and ability to make that happen, gave hope, which for me was an excellent starting point. We are social animals, how we interact with our family, partners, community and wider society, determines how we see ourselves, feel about our self and determines our social outcomes, such as relationships, employment, self discovery and financial security and every human being has the right to all those things, without exception!

I had the privilege of working with people experiencing a range of mental health problems such as Bipolar Disorder, Psychosis, Depression, Anxiety and OCD. Every single person with the same label presented with their own unique set of symptoms, but one thing they all had in common was the start of their journey as a “patient”, claimed by the system and owned til death do us part!

The journey usually began with a visit to the GP explaining the current difficulties, this was then proceeded by a prescription for medication and a label “you have anxiety” or “you have psychosis”, a “label” or diagnosis, to inform the course of action and “take this pill and you will be okay”, in reality, for most people, they made very little difference. It was the beginning of their career in mental health services, a revolving door of being discharged and readmitted, discharged and re-referred by the GP and a perpetuating fear that you wont get in quick enough at a time of crisis or when relapse symptoms are appearing.

I firmly advocate for the non toxic treatment of emotional distress, which has essentially been pathologised for various reasons . By medicalising distress and social disharmony it does not have to be addressed at a political and community level, it remains an individual problem “you cant handle life”. Equally within our own communities there is still evidence of ignorance surrounding mental health problems, people considered being “ mad” by their own neighbours and families and as such given a very wide berth. Stigma continues to prevent mental health difficulties being fully accepted and understood, but in reality it is only by being unified, loved and nurtured, that the mind can recover, heal and remain strong in the face of adversity.

Now this is a long term approach, not a short term fix, looking at a “symptom” such as panic or mania and finding ways to dampen them down or get rid of them chemically does not allow for growth and understanding of what the problem really is. If you consider them a barometer, your internal smoke alarm, that underneath all is not well, then the root of the dis-ease or distress can be truly explored. I am not suggesting that people in acute periods of distress are left to suffer their symptoms, because when mental health symptoms become so acute that the person becomes a danger to themselves or others, then that is not the time to be exploring complex psychological and social experiences and as an Approved Mental Health Professional I have personally detained individuals, whom without medical intervention at that time would have likely ended their life, no chance of therapy then! But what was always evident was that there were multiple occasions prior to “crisis point” that the person could have been helped differently.

Mental Dis-ease or distress is symptomatic of our life experiences to date, our internal appraisal of those events, familial influences and sometimes religious and spiritual beliefs. It can occur for the first time in times of crisis or acute stress such as a bereavement, exams, a relationship breakdown or more confusingly when everything on the surface seems just fine! There is no rule book and EVERY individual is different. Some people experience a life of abuse, trauma, poverty, poor relationships and misery, yet they never develop depression, instead they develop chronic physical health problems or substance misuse issues and are seen by everyone as being ‘incredibly strong’, yet someone else could experience a life considered to be very blessed with abundance of wealth, family, success and academic attainments, yet they suffer with a chronic mood disorder. What is for sure that the signs of unrest are there a long time before they are acknowledged usually and it is when they physically STOP the person from functioning, that they are addressed.

This can be seen as an opportunity to “RE-SET” ones life compass and consider what the problem really is. Again this is not as straightforward as it sounds and the exploration phase can be difficult, which is why people often opt for the medication option of “these will make you better in 6 weeks”, if only that was true? For some individuals the concept of looking internally for the cause of their mental health difficulties is wholly unacceptable as it has been carefully marketed as a disease with a biological cause for many years so that now people completely expect a medical cure. What does seem like madness is that someone will happily take a pill everyday to remove their unhappiness yet engage in what makes them chronically unhappy every day? Which is why it is challenging for people to comprehend that they have a role and responsibility to address their difficulties and that it is not the role of the professional to “make them better” but to guide them to their own recovery.

Many people feel trapped in the life that has been created for them which can lead to frustration, unhappiness and eventually mental illness, which cannot all be addressed on an individual basis. The structure of the society that we have allowed to develop maintains inequality, poverty, unemployment and isolation so unfortunately people will need to reunite and reignite their sense of injustice for their fellow man and challenge oppressive regimes before any significant individual changes can be made.

In general, human beings have an inner sense of right and wrong and they do know that it is unacceptable in the 21st century for people to be living on the streets or to be waiting for 18 months for a hip replacement or similar medical treatment, that living in chronic debilitating pain is not conducive to good mental health, but again it has become the norm amongst the working classes to accept living in this way, which should have resulted in major political pressure and change, so why are the general population so apathetic and accepting of this control that is exercised over us?

Contributed by Kirsty Barlow, Illuminate.

I am an experienced Approved Mental Health Professional (AMHP) and have been working on the Fylde Coast supporting individuals and their families for over 15 years. I am passionate about providing person centred support that is led by the individual to explore their mental health difficulties and promote a truly holistic approach, which is not medically led. My experience includes working in Community Mental Health Teams, hospital settings and Primary Care, to assess and support people experiencing mental health problems.

Illuminate

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