Exploring what we all can do to fill the void that exists for those with mental health challenges between limited medical support and the inadequacies of self-help.
Here’s how we can turn the no-man’s-land of mental anguish into a fertile land of hope and opportunity.
When it comes to mental health there’s a massive and ugly landscape of near-nothingness that those afflicted have to inhabit. On one side we have difficult-to-access and only occasionally available therapy along with other medical interventions. On the other side we have self-help, self-motivation and self-management in a world where the support of others is needed and self-anything is a struggle.
That vast landscape of no man’s land in-between appears to be an awful territory but one which the vast, vast, vast (etc) majority of people with mental health challenges inhabits. They exist without the personal resources to manage their wellbeing challenges, but without sufficient severity of symptom to get access to help.
We can reclaim that land. We can turn barrenness into fertility. We can turn fertility into opportunity. We can build an environment which enables those with mental wellbeing conditions to manage their challenges so that they can perform and be effective.
First you exclude the impossible or inappropriate. So, we cannot provide more trained medical intervention and therapy. The system can do that. The State can do that. But we, the people, cannot ourselves do this. Likewise we cannot pretend to become therapists or psychologists or psychiatrists. We cannot ourselves offer medical interventions. So now we know what we cannot do at that end of no-mans-land.
At the other end of no-mans-land we have self-help, self-motivation and self-management. We can eek this out a little more with books and courses. These all have a role to play to help people self-manage their condition.
So. What can we offer?
We can offer to give people a good listening to. Just because we cannot advise, give insights or offer opinions (because we are not medically trained) that doesn’t mean to say we cannot offer an ear.
Listening is an incredibly powerful tool. In my view it is often, in fact, better than advice. Put it this way. I have billions of brain cells firing in a completely unique way in my head. I have billions of unique life experiences that influence my way of thinking. How can anyone (trained or not) have an insight into that lot. You can’t. So don’t.
Just give me a good listening to and you’ll help me marshal my thoughts, give me perspective, help me make choices and so on.
We can also offer other people a non-judgmental mind. Don’t think that because someone is depressed, anxious, or (like me) has post traumatic stress, or is prone to self-harm, has suicidal thoughts, has bipolar disorder, ocd, autism, adhd and so on that they are weak or incapable, or strange.
There are people in each of these categories and more who have had wonderful lives, doing wonderful things. Some can explain their challenges. For others, their challenges are buried deep in genetics or deep in history or both. Too often we want a reason for people’s behaviour before we sympathise or empathise. Being non-judgemental means that we accept people for who they are.
The no mans land is a land of opportunity. Filled with people prepared to listen, with a non-judgemental mind; it offers the opportunity for us to offer each other mutual support for our mental wellbeing.
And if you wonder what that might look like. Try this. Form a group, a society, a network or whatever. Go to the pub. Go to the coffee house. Go for a walk. Ask each other how they feel and then listen, with a non-judgemental mind. Don’t offer insights, opinions or answers. Just listen.
And on those very straightforward foundations you’ll build a palace of support on no man’s land.
I wish you well — Jonathan Phelan
About Jonathan Phelan
Jonathan is the author of “The Art of the Mentally Healthy Conversation” which tells the story of how Jonathan learned how to manage the challenge of a mental health condition following a child bereavement. The book helps the reader discover how to have mentally healthy conversations, which are more likely to result in support, rather than stigma. It also promotes the benefits of workplaces, universities and schools nurturing a culture in which it is normal for people to talk about their mental health and to offer mutual support for wellbeing and resilience.
Jonathan has held a senior leadership position in a large financial services organisation since 2004, with a long-term career in law, law enforcement and consumer protection. When he went through the trauma of a child bereavement he gained an insight into the obstacles people face when they have mental wellbeing challenges. More importantly he learned how to overcome those obstacles by improving the way we talk about our wellbeing and resilience.
Through his talks, workshops and book Jonathan shares his personal story. Using the drama of how mental health has been portrayed in film, and his own particular take on how our brains process information, Jonathan guides the listener to discover more effective ways to talk about mental wellbeing.
Jonathan also promotes the concept of mutual support for wellbeing; based on the belief that we should all aim to make it normal for people to talk about their mental wellbeing, just as we are already willing to talk about physical wellbeing.