Mental Health Defenders And Mental Health Saboteurs.
The diagram above illustrates what can be either mental health defenders or mental health saboteurs. These are six areas of life that can help protect people from mental health problems but they can also make people more vulnerable to them. They can work to help people recover from problems or push them deeper into distress. The healthier these areas of life are the better equipped people will be to deal with the things that happen to them.
The mental health defenders can be like a ring of defenses surrounding a person. The more of these you have around you the more protected you are from the negative things in life.
The mental health saboteurs are like traitors within the fortress walls and act to open the person up to being undermined and attacked from within.
The diagram illustrates how negative things attack us from outside but these things are less able to reach us or do us harm if we have good defenses. Problems, stress, financial difficulties, health issues, losses, loneliness and so on are things we must all face at times. A well paid job can protect us from financial difficulties, loved ones can protect us from loneliness, interests and activities can protect us from boredom and so on.
On the other hand, a poorly paid job with a bullying boss, abusive relatives, friends who only come around to borrow money and a spend-thrift spouse can add to our problems and make it harder for us to cope.
The more of these things your life contains, provided they are positive and not negative, the better. The main reason it’s better is that it spreads your psychic needs around. A kiss from a loved one, a compliment from a friend, an hour daydreaming, a couple of hours on a fun run and meeting a work goal or making progress on one is much more likely to keep a person happy than a day alone wondering why life is such a drag and why they are so lonely!
I have met people who became physically and psychologically ill because one close, horribly toxic, relationship gradually pushed everything else out of their lives!
These are the six things people can have in their lives that can help protect a persons mental health or cause a person problems.
ONE – Partner
A partner can help protect you from many of life’s stressors if they are supportive and loving. They can share your burdens, provide a second pair of eyes on a problem, cheer you up when you’re down, take your side when the boss is mean to you, help you raise your children and, of course, a good relationship ensures the provision of sexual and emotional intimacy.
A bad relationship can be the iceberg that sinks your ship and leaves you drowning in misery!
If your family supports are good and you have good friends, hobbies, and/or work that makes you feel useful and valuable you will be better able to cope with problems in your relationship but, if the relationship is toxic, the only real solution is to end it.
A counsellor can provide you with the help and support you need to either address relationship issues with your partner with a view to solving them or find your way out of the relationship if no solution can be found.
TWO – Family
The more people you have in your life that know you well and love you the better equipped you will be to cope when things go wrong. Family includes your children, parents, siblings and other extended family relationships.
A supportive family provides a selection of people to whom you can turn for anything you may need. Sometimes all you need is a sympathetic ear and other times you may need more, like a loan to help you make ends meet in a crisis, or a place to stay when things go wrong. The bigger the family network the better the chances of finding someone who will not only have what you need but someone who will also be willing and able to give you the help you need too.
If, on the other hand, the people in your family don’t love and support you they can become a source of stress and distress. When family members are unrelenting in their abuse of you it will make it almost impossible to heal and recover from any abuse you may have suffered at their hands in your childhood.
Sometimes family members can be the reason you are suffering because they persistently come around taking what they want or need and doing nothing to take care of themselves. These people will remain helpless as long as they can rely on you to take responsibility for them and their well being. Sometimes the best thing you can do for a loved one is make them take responsibility for themselves and their life. They would have to do it if you got too sick or could no longer help them for some other reason.
Sometimes the best thing you can do for your own mental health is cut ties with problem family members at least until you have a counsellor who says you have progressed far enough to be able to deal with them without being dragged down again.
If you can’t, or don’t want to, cut ties with them a good relationship with your partner, supportive friends, and healthy physical and emotional outlets for your stress can help you weather problems with family members as can a good counsellor.
THREE – Friends
The more people you have in your life whose company you enjoy, people who care about you, the better equipped you will be to find life enjoyable. Close friends fall into this category but so do other friends and social acquaintances.
Good friends are ones who listen when you need to talk and don’t judge. They will lend you their couch, car, or money if they have it to lend and they will be understanding if you need space. Time with them will tend to leave you feeling heard and cared about which can make you feel a bit recharged or refreshed and better able to carry on.
Bad friends bleed you dry in a dozen different ways. They only ever focus on themselves and what they need. Any attempt to talk about your problem tends to result in “You think THAT’S bad…”, or “Sorry to hear that…” and then they change the subject to focus on themselves. Time with them will often leave you feeling drained and used. You will find this kind of friend, partner, or family member, only ever comes around when they are in need of something from you such as your time, attention, help, or money.
FOUR – Interests
There needs to be me time!
You may like to spend your me time catching up on sleep, soaking in the bath, cutting your nails, or just watching the clouds float by.
You might prefer to do other things during your me time like collect stamps, paint something, read, tend the garden, listen to music, write, watch TV or go for a drive. The activity itself isn’t what is important. What is important is treating yourself as if you like being in your own company and want to do something that makes you happy and helps you to relax.
It’s OK if other people join you in these pursuits sometimes but these need to be things you mostly prefer to do alone. If you always want other people around when you do these things they fall into the activities category rather than interests.
If you don’t like being alone at all, ever, that’s a sign you are not as mentally healthy as you could be.
If someone in your life objects to you having any me time at all that’s a sign they are being either too demanding, controlling, or needy which is also not healthy!
FIVE – Activities
Ideally you will have a range of activities you enjoy leaving the house to do such as playing sport, dining out, picnics, walks in the park, going to the movies or the gym and so on. These generally tend to be things you would do with other people but they can, and should, include things you like to do alone.
Activities help keep depression away. One of the first signs that depression has got hold of a person is they suddenly lose interest in doing things they used to enjoy. If you are suffering from depression one of the best ways to treat it is to resume doing things you used to enjoy.
Imagine you are having a major fight with your partner, your family is away on holiday, your best friend is sick in hospital and the boss tells you he’s thinking of sacking you and will let you know tomorrow if you still have a job. There’s nobody to talk to and being alone will just give you a lot of time to worry.
Going to the movies will distract you, going for a run or doing a work out at the gym will use up the adrenaline stress releases and that will help you relax a bit, getting lost in a hobby or pet project will also take your mind off things which will allow you to cope better with the stress.
SIX – Work
This one may shock you and you may be shaking your head in protest but read on. People need a purpose of some kind for their lives, something to reach for, some thing that makes them feel valuable or useful. The work may be paid but it can also be volunteer work or home duties, anything at all as long as the work makes you feel useful or valuable in some way.
People who do work they feel proud of buffer and protect their self-esteem and that can help when things go wrong. Your partner might say you are worthless but if your boss, or workmates or customers, tell you they think you are doing a good job, their praise will prevent you from being dragged all the way down by anyone who criticizes you.
Sometimes you may not be able to do work you can feel proud of but that doesn’t have to stop you. Everyone can volunteer to do work that makes them feel proud or useful.
My heart sinks when I hear someone say “He (She) is my whole world. I don’t enjoy anything if he (or she) is not with me.” That person is saying, in effect, all of my well being is resting on the shoulders of this one person.
That is a very heavy burden for their loved one to have to carry. It also means that person has no safety net to catch them if their loved one should die or leave.
So don’t put all your eggs in one basket – spread yourself around and increase your psychological health and well being.