At Suffolk Mind we believe that all of us need a better awareness of the emotional needs upon which good mental health depends.
Our emotional needs include the needs to feel safe; in control of our lives; to give and receive attention; to be a part of the wider community; that we are valued and emotionally connected to others; to have privacy and time to reflect; that we are achieving things in our lives; and that our lives have meaning and purpose.
We also need to develop the resources which enable us to meet those needs. Our resources include the emotions which guide and shape how we see the world, rational thinking, imagination, relationship skills and an ability to step back and become aware of the bigger picture.
These resources, our emotions and our sense of awareness, form part of nature’s warning system – when we become stressed or experience distress nature is telling us that an important need is unmet and that we should be giving it attention. We should never ignore what nature is telling us and always seek help when distressed.
In this sense, diagnosing the cause of our distress is an important skill. However, trying to diagnose without the correct information can be unhelpful and even prevent us from getting the right help when we need it.
It’s natural to want an answer and a solution to feelings of emotional distress, and we might turn to using online symptoms checkers for answers. However, even if they do correctly diagnose what you are experiencing, they are unlikely to relieve the problem – you should always follow up with your GP in the first instance.
One of our resources is the ability to categorise the world around us and giving upsetting feelings a label can help us to make sense of what is going on. However, labels can be misleading and unhelpful because they fuel assumptions.
For example, to differing degrees we all need to have some order in our lives. But that doesn’t mean that because we feel slightly irritated by untidiness, we have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
Likewise, our feelings ebb and flow and all of us will have ups and downs; days when we feel satisfied with our lives and days when we feel that things could be better. This doesn’t mean however that we have Bipolar Disorder, a condition characterised by disturbing mood swings, which can be profoundly distressing for people who suffer from it.
Just like high street fashions, medical labels can be trendy and even meet needs for meaning and purpose by providing an ‘off the peg’ identity. But this can devalue the genuinely distressing experiences of people whose lives are negatively affected by conditions like depression, OCD and Bipolar Disorder.
Another reason to be cautious about self-diagnosis is that if we are experiencing stress or distress, it can be easy to assume the worst. This happens when our emotions, which in part evolved to evaluate risks in the world around us, override our ability to think rationally and cause us to imagine the worst case scenario.
When this happens we default to black-and-white either-or-thinking and might assume that because one thing feels wrong that everything is bad. This kind of thinking might cause us to assume that “because I have a headache, it must be a brain tumour,” or “one of my parents had depression so I must have it too!”
So what should we do? As we said before, we should never ignore symptoms, and in all cases we should seek advice from our GP who may recommend that you contact the Suffolk Wellbeing Service, Suffolk Mind or 4YP – the Suffolk Young People’s Health Service.
For more information about mental health and wellbeing visit suffolkmind.org.uk or call 0300 111 6000.