October is Mental Health Month in Australia, so I want to focus on mental wellness in this blog.

Our health is determined by many factors, particularly our physical and mental states. The term ‘mental health’ refers to a state of wellbeing in the mind, and someone’s ability to cope with stress and function positively in society.

In contrast, a mental illness refers to a medical condition of the mind that negatively impacts a person’s ability to function in their daily life. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Wellness two in five Australians (44%) aged 16 – 85 reported having suffered from symptoms of a mental disorder sometime in their life. This is an immensely high percentage of people who feel that their mental health is out of alignment.

As a women’s empowerment coach, I teach my clients mental strategies to change their thinking and help them gain mental wellbeing. Methods such as Neuro-Linguistic Programming can help when feeling low, anxious or panicked. It is a great tool for increasing confidence and developing assertiveness.

Alongside NLP, clinical psychology offers individual and group therapy treatments that aim to change a person’s thinking towards their circumstances and behaviour. As a life coach, I frequently come across clients who experience anxious symptoms, low self-esteem or hopelessness. Many are searching for a sense of purpose. Factors that contribute to these feelings include biological genetic predispositions or learned cognitive behaviours. Psychologist Martin Seligman developed the Theory of Learned Helplessness, which suggests that depressive emotions and thoughts arise when people feel that they have no control over the stressors in their life.

Fortunately, there are many ways to re-establish one’s mental health. One of the most popular is one-on-one work between the Life Coach and the client, known as the Individual Approach. This method recognises negative patterns of thinking, which require cognitive therapy to replace them with positive ways of thinking. The therapist’s primary goal is to uncover the specific cognitive factors that may be causing negative thoughts, symptoms or behaviours.

This is structured in six to ten sessions, and clients are taught to monitor and write down negative thoughts and mental images, so as to recognise the association between their thoughts, feelings, physical symptoms and behaviour. They learn to change their dysfunctional cognitive processes and learn adaptive coping skills.

Another popular method of the Individual Approach is Interpersonal Therapy, which examines the ways in which the client’s interpersonal behaviour may be interfering with their ability to maintain pleasant relationships. IPT assumes that mental illness occurs due to their interactions with their social system, and sees that social roles are the key to recovery. To do this, the therapist along with the client, examines their past and current social roles, and helps them to develop social skills. IPT uses the social risk factors for depressive symptoms, identified by Harris and Brown (1978) as the basis of the treatment, for example maternal loss, lack of confiding relationships or unemployment. During therapy, the client is taught how to improve their communication with others in order to meet their social needs and gain satisfying interactions. In addition, the client focuses on testing their reality by realising that their thoughts are only mental events that do not always translate to reality.

The Group Approach, is where a therapist uses mindfulness techniques with a group of people, who are suffering from similar symptoms. This method assumes that symptoms arise from social factors rather than negative thinking patterns.

One’s exposure to many life stressors, the support network of their society or lack of, gender roles, violence and many other factors, can contribute to the onset of mental illnesses.  It differs from CBT as it teaches the client to adopt an objective perspective towards their negative thinking rather than change the content of their thoughts. Thoughts are reframed as mental events that do not always correspond with reality, and the client learns to mindfully acknowledge their existence without them triggering negative associations. This method has been extensively studied for its effectiveness by Kingston et al. (2007),

The Group Approach is not as intense or expensive as the individual methods, and encourages social interactions between the group members. Being in a group shows the client that they are not the only one feeling this way and encourages them to see their behaviour from the outside. The Group Approach is also less dependent on the therapist, as the clients can use each other’s ideas and strategies. However, this method also contains several limitations. It operates under a reductionist view that lacking mental health is due mostly to social factors, without accounting for cognitive and biological aspects. It also relies on subjective reports from the client about themselves, which may be swayed by the desires of the group or an unbalanced group dynamic with some members being more vocal than others. The Group Approach is also not suitable for clients with severe mental illnesses who may become distressed in a social environment. Despite these limits, this method is very effective in helping to realign one’s mental health.

Clearly, there are many treatments that aim to bring balance back to people’s mental health, however the methods evaluated above are merely the tip of the psychological iceberg. Many Australians live with a mental illness, which makes the promotion of mental health vitally important for our community this month and every month.

If you are feeling depressed, anxious or suicidal reach out to Beyond Blue.

If you are looking to change negative patterns, or kick goals reach out to me.



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