I received a question to one of my previous blogs on the 4 mental health states based on Dr Kutcher’s pyramid model and although I replied briefly, I promised that I would use the topic as a blog post. So, here it is…

The language we use matters

In our daily lives we often use expressions such as ‘I am feeling anxious’ or ‘I am feeling depressed’ or ‘feeling down’ in response to a challenging event. We also use words such as ‘he is mental’. This has a big impact on how we conceive mental health and mental disorders.

If we use the expression ‘anxiety’ as meaning ‘anxiety disorder’ or ‘depressed’ as meaning ‘clinical depression’ or ‘stress’ as meaning ‘chronic stress’, we create semantic confusion between a normal response to an external stressor and a mental disorder.

When young people are using the language, they are now confusing: ‘I am feeling upset because my grandmother died or I failed my exam with severe clinical depression’. Experts explain that in doing so we pathologize normal stress responses and regard or treat them as psychologically abnormal.

The different forms of anxiety

There is a difference between the ‘normal’ anxiety people experience in response to everyday life. Anxiety is part of life in our modern society. I can think of many situations in life where it is judicious and appropriate to react with some anxiety. For example being worried about failure or losing something is normal.

However, there is a distinction between ‘normal anxiety’ and ‘anxiety disorders’ which can be more intense (such as panic attacks), will last longer (a feeling that lasts for several months or even longer instead of going away after a stressful situation has come and gone) and which may lead to phobias which then start having an impact in your life.

Anxiety can appear in different forms and at different levels of anxiety. It may express itself as an uneasiness all the way to a panic attack and some variants in between where we might  for example develop disproportionate apprehensions about driving on the motorway which then turns into a phobia when we avoid the situation and refuse to drive on motorways anymore.

What can be done to help?

As mentioned in a previous post, mental health literacy is the key (for everyone). Students also need life skills to bridge the gap when they transition from primary to secondary school and then from secondary school to higher education.

Instead of teaching to decrease the stress response, we need to teach everyone to focus on finding solutions to their problem. We need to teach that when we feel a ‘normal’ stress response, it is not ‘stress’ which really means ‘chronic stress’.  Every negative emotion or state is not a trigger for a pathology. And equally, denial of needed treatment for a mental disorder by labelling the difficulties being experienced as a problem and thus not requiring mental health care when it does.

We need to teach and encourage to solve problems using methods which are positive and lead to good outcomes.

One of the most effective ways to reduce our stress response is to seek out help and support from other people. When we gain a deep understanding of mental health, it leads to comprehension and a sympathetic awareness or tolerance (as defined by the Oxford Dictionary) – Understanding of mental health and mental health states (which include mental health disorder and illness) is vital and so is being outward focused so that we can start improving the quality of our social relationships.