22 February 2018

Why Testing Our Mental Health Could Change Everything

When a doctor diagnoses us with depression or anxiety it can be extremely dangerous.

The reason? We get given a label. In psychology this can be referred to as a ‘sticky label’ which once we're branded with can be difficult to remove. 

First of all, I’m in no way criticising doctors for diagnosing mental health disorders. I have spoken to some people who, after having received a diagnosis, finally got the answers they’d been looking for and it made them feel so much better. But with mental health disorders it really can be such a grey area that needs to be explored deeper.

In the USA there’s a great brain disorder specialist called Dr Daniel Amen. He’s a psychiatrist who’s done a few TED talks and has a great book called Change Your Brain, Change Your Life: The breakthrough programme for conquering anxiety, depression, anger and obsessivenessIn his book and during his talks he makes some really interesting points. This man has seen more brain scans than almost anyone else on the planet (over 100,000) so I value his opinion highly. 

He makes the great analogy that if we went to see the doctor about chest pains we’d be quite worried if the doctor suddenly gave us medication. Quite rightfully the doctor would want to check for further symptoms and in most cases run some tests, whether that’s an ECG or an X-Ray. The same as if you went in with bladder problems, before diagnosing anything they’d want to run urine tests. So why is it that when we come in with depression, anxiety or stress, the organ responsible for these symptoms isn’t being tested? How can we diagnose someone as having heart problems if we don’t test their heart? How can we diagnose a mental health problem when we’re not checking the brain?

Take a client of mine for example... Stuart was diagnosed with depression and no matter what we did it was difficult to make long-lasting progress because no matter how great he was feeling, a 9 out of 10 most days, there was a deep-rooted belief that it would all come crashing down because he was depressed/a depressive person. 

I simply asked Stuart a few questions as to why he believed he was depressed and how he was diagnosed. I didn’t challenge him and I certainly didn’t try to diagnose him myself, but it led to a really interesting conversation. He told me how he had sat down with a doctor who asked him questions about his well-being for 20 minutes, and after listening to him, diagnosed him with depression and put him on medication.

After our conversation and exploring the way he was diagnosed, for the first time since his diagnosis, he began wondering if maybe he was wired for happiness like everyone else. This lifted the wall in front of him and his progress excelled!

Again, I’m not trying to dispute a label and I’m not trying to tell anyone they’re something that they’re not. However, if we have an identity that’s not empowering us then it’s always worth testing it.

Take a moment now to question your own identity. When did you decide you were an X person? Who made that decision for you? When did you last test that theory? 

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