Mental health is not a ‘one size fits all’ issue

Every mental health problem is unique to the individual and should be treated as such, says Cathal O’Reilly, mental health author and campaigner from Clonmel, Co. Tipperary
Mental health is not a ‘one size fits all’ issue

"We need to work out what works best for ourselves and secondly, we must not impose advice on another person..." so says Cathal O'Reilly, mental health campaigner. Picture: Stock

I WOULD be extremely reluctant to write an article narrowing down mental health advice to a ‘Top Ten Tips’ list or ‘How to look after your mental health — step by step’, because mental health is much more complex than that.

I think it is impossible for any person to google search on how they can look after their mental health as each individual’s mental health is very different and what works for one, may not work for another.

However, there are some similarities in how we feel emotionally and there is both scientific research as well as personal stories we can draw from, and perhaps it may improve our health or possibly reduce the healing process based on what has worked for other people.

I must stress how difficult it must be for someone to hear “Well that worked for this person, so it should also work for you”. For example, in relation to exercise, running may improve one person’s mental health while it may lead to the deterioration of another’s. Again, how one person may view exercise may be with ease, however how another individual views exercise may lead to an increase in feelings of stress, guilt and anxiety.

There are two factors we need to be careful with here. First, individually, we need to work out what works best for ourselves and secondly, we must not impose advice on another person and tell them “That is good for your mental health” as it may not be the case and may even be counter-productive.

Mental health is much more complex than physical health in that regard.

While we know a high sugar diet can lead to obesity, I don’t believe we can say, regardless of science, that exercise in totality, is good for our mental health. Yes, while on the whole, it may lead to a decrease in stress and anxiety and while the release of endorphins may alleviate depression, I still believe mental health is too complex to compartmentalise as each individual case is different.

This brings me to the diagnosis and medicating of people suffering mental health issues.

Let’s take depression as an example. This is where we need to be careful with science and giving advice. An individual presents to their doctor with low mood. “I am feeling low, I’m down, I think I’m depressed”. The doctor asks, because of scientific evidence, “Are you getting any exercise” The patient, with guilt, answers “No”. The doctor prescribes, in this example, more sleep and exercise to see if it works for the individual at hand.

Cathal O'Reilly, mental health campaigner.
Cathal O'Reilly, mental health campaigner.

Meanwhile, the patient does not have the energy, because of low mood (fatigue is a symptom of depression) to exercise and may experience increased feelings of guilt due to an inability to do so. As a result, the depression increases. In this case, the patient is than prescribed an anti-depressant medication to combat the low mood element. However, this patient is reluctant to take medication due to the stigma around taking an anti-depressant.

The story goes on. My point is, what may work for one person, as much as proven cases are welcome, may not for another. Therefore, we need to be careful using Dr Google for advice, careful with who we take advice from and be mindful of what ‘advice’ we give out.

Therefore, I would, if I could ‘advise’ — find out what works for you. For some, it is sitting in quietness with no noise, which isn’t always easy when you have children, however you need to make that time for yourself too. For others, it may be listening to music and taking it out on the boxing bag in the garage. Again, it is what works for you, nobody is to say otherwise, all that matters is that it works for you.

With regards mental health diagnosis, some people are against psychiatric diagnosis and believe it is only a label, whilst others actively seek a diagnosis and will learn every minute detail about it. It is not for anyone to say which course of action is better. Some are against medications, others take their medication religiously. It is down to each individual to decide and we should not impose judgement.

If I could give my two cents on the topic of mental health diagnosis. I believe that, similar to my above points regarding exercise to combat depression, it has its place. Mental health disorders may be genetic or develop as a response to, for example, trauma such as bullying or work-related stress. Diagnosis, I believe, exists as a means of identifying present and future issues that may exist with the patient. I would be of the belief that, most of the time, a diagnosis can help the person gain an element of control of their condition. Why? Because certain behaviours and patterns have been observed by clinicians over the years.

A diagnosis is to help both the professional and patient. It helps the professional because, without boxing you in or labelling you, they can identify certain patterns where humans respond to stress, anxiety, trauma or depression in similar ways. It helps the patient as it allows the person to gain ownership of their condition. Whilst no two people are the same, patterns can be identified that may reduce the healing or recovery time because of what has worked with other people in the past.

This is different to the point I made earlier about mental health advice. I am referring to psychiatry and the medical model diagnosis here, whilst earlier I was referring to mental health advice that we see every day.

However, I do believe, like advice, diagnosis is not the same for one person as for another, even though two cases may display similarities. It would be unfair to say one case is the same as another, no matter how similar they are.

In conclusion, the nature of mental health is extremely complex. No one case is the same and should be treated accordingly by both individuals and clinicians. Advice, even though it may be scientifically proven in a large sample experiment, may not necessarily work for the individual and may be counter-productive, even detrimental to a person’s mental health.

While recovery time can be reduced by using the medical model of diagnosis to identify and implement an adequate recovery plan, medications remain a trial and error process which is a testament to how complex each case is. / @CathalOReilly17

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