Having worked many years as a therapist encountering emotional situations and dilemmas daily, I am acutely aware of how language can colour and, unfortunately, cloud our actions. The old adage ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me’ is only half correct.
Actions and words are the very vehicles that direct our lives. The experiences we have during our formative years are just that: our early formation and negative nurturing can create ripples felt throughout one’s life.
My role has been to listen to and understand my clients’ inner worlds and assist them in disentangling the emotional turmoil that they find themselves dealing with in adulthood.
This leads me to my concerns regarding the terminology ‘mental health’, which is being used by well-meaning leaders and experts who are actually describing people’s ’emotional health’.
These emotional states, such as depression (created from trauma or events), anxiety and stress, are being labelled as ‘mental health’ issues, in my opinion, unnecessarily so – even damagingly so.
I believe there is a very crucial distinction to be made between mental and emotional health, which I will later define. However, despite mental awareness campaigns having been waged in the hope of de-stigmatisation, the subject matter being worded as ‘mental health’ is increasing the stigma.
There is an association being created by linking the word ‘mental’, which categorises schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and psychotic disorders, with the following conditions: depression, anxiety and stress to name a few. The treatment of these conditions are entirely distinct.
A basic analogy to differentiate between the emotional mind and the brain is a computer: the brain being the hardware and the emotional mind the software. If our hardware is damaged, we can’t run any program from it, until we have sought medical treatment, but the software – our emotional minds – can be put onto another system, reprogrammed, and updated, through therapy.
Someone coping with depression or anxiety may fall under the ’emotional health’ banner, which is often a temporary situation, especially if therapy is engaged in owing to its origins, such as trauma and bereavement, for instance. A life event creating PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder) is an exemplar. If left untreated, however, these states can become chronic.
The difference between mental and emotional health
During psychosis (mental illness) a person loses touch with reality, has delusions or hallucinations, and may have schizophrenia or paranoia. Meanwhile, neurosis (emotional) is a class of chronic distress without delusions or hallucinations.
Why is this distinction important? I feel people would attempt to find help for their difficulty quicker if they didn’t worry that they would be considered ‘mental/mad’, as I have encountered clients asking me that very thing: ‘Do you think I’m mad?’ I explain: ‘As you are able to construct that thought, it’s proof that you’re not’.
Please, well-meaners, understand the difference between a psychotic brain and a neurotic one. Accurate diagnosis is essential to receiving the correct help.
Claire Ivey gained her first diploma in psychotherapy and hypnotherapy at Woodbury Counselling, based in Kent. She runs HypnoCaring.
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