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Mental Health Problems

Mental health problems – what actually are they and what can I do about them?

Mental health problems refers to those problems that are associated with the way that we feel, think and behave that are negative for us in any way.

As psychologists we recognise that NO one person experiences mental health problems in the same way as another and so, from this perspective, all mental health problems are subjective.

What this means is that each person interprets or makes sense of their own experiences and so what for one person may be a source of anxiety, for another, may be a source of inspiration!

Man suffering mental health problem at work

Is there something wrong with me?

Life in contemporary times is full of challenges and difficulties which almost everybody is going to face at some point or another.

For psychologists the question of whether or not feelings of anxiety, depression and stress are normal or signs of something wrong has been a major issue of debate for at least the last 40 years.

This long running debate about the causes of mental health problems has led to the splitting of scientific understanding into two distinct streams of thought, what we now refer to today as the medical and psychological models of mental health.

The medical model of mental health problems

Medical models of mental health problems hypothesise that the cause of problems such as anxiety and depression (for example) is due to some sort of faulty biology inside the brain, the most common concept being that of ‘chemical imbalances’.

Note how we describe this as a hypothesis rather than as a fact as there has never been any definitive research to show that chemical imbalances are the cause of menal health problems, only that they are present inside the brains of people who are suffering mental distress!

It is true, of course, that in many other areas, such as viral interactions within the body, or the fixing of broken limbs or even heart surgery, that the medical models of human biology make total sense and have been tremendously effective, but the modelling of depression (prolonged sadness) as a ‘disease’ rather then a normal human response is highly contested.

The psychological model of mental health problems

People live their lives within a ‘context’ or set of unique circumstances and so to suggest that depression has exactly the same cause (faulty biology), regardless of that person’s life circumstances, seems rather ridiculous.

The difference, for example, between the symptoms (the experience) of grief and the symptoms of depression is nil. On paper, they have exactly the same symptoms, but would you say that somebody experiencing the feelings of grief at losing a parent is ‘mentally ill’ or has a ‘disease’ of the brain?

Thought about like this it seems absurd to think about normal human responses as being an illness.

In psychological terms, we argue that mental health problems are normal responses that people may find difficult to manage due to a range of other factors within their lives, including:

  • Cultural & racial influences
  • Social influences
  • Economic influences
  • Life experiences to date

and any number of other unique, highly personal characteristics.

Overcoming mental health problems

Because mental health problems have been modelled as both biological and psychological phenomena, two principal methods for overcoming them have also emerged.

On the one hand a medical practitioner such as a GP or psychiatrist is likely to argue that you need medicine to ‘correct’ the chemical imbalances you have due to your mental disease. For most people this will be anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medication.

On the other hand, mental health or psychological counselling and talking therapies are used by psychologists to address thoughts and feelings in new and more useful ways that can lead to the diminishing of mental distress.

Talking therapies, by the way, have been clinically proven to be more effective for mental health problems than medication, although for some people in extreme distress, medication undoubtedly has some value.

Here at Tranceform Psychology we subscribe to the psychological model of mental health and largely reject the bio-medical modelling of mental distress. It is our view that describing normal human emotions as pathological is both inaccurate as well as being an obstacle to overcoming those difficulties.

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happy group of people after having mental health counselling

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