Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Emotional health comes before mental health.

This is the extended* article, first published in the York Press on Tuesday, November 21st, 2017.

On Friday November 10th, I attended the Yorkshire Soroptimists’ Safeguarding Conference in Leeds.  I had been asked to speak on emotional health. That's not quite correct. I had been asked to speak on mental health. I changed the wording. The organisers had hoped to have a speaker from the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS). Unfortunately the service is under resourced and couldn't spare anyone.  It was sad to hear that this is still the situation in 2017 and well publicised as a nationwide problem. 

It was due to the waiting times for help, that led me to open the York Practice in 2001. *A mother with a teenage child in Cumbria, had telephoned my training institute in Sussex for help. Her child had made an unsuccessful suicide attempt and there was no immediate support or help available. My tutor contacted me and newly qualified I was initially reluctant to help, especially as it was a long way to go from York. In the end I made several visits to Cumbria and a little later, they visited me in York at the practice I had then opened. Recovery took time and I didn't hear anything for many years. I'm pleased to report that I was contacted after the book was published and they were doing well.  

Having passed the practice to colleagues in 2010, I contacted them to find out whether the situation had improved from 2001. Sadly not. I was told that desperate parents are still seeking private help for their distressed children, due to the long waiting times for CAMHS. Another colleague from the West Midlands, who works for the NSPCC, also told me that due to the lack of resources from CAMHS, the local NSPCC are piloting a project for adults, "to provide better pastoral support for kids languishing on CAMHS waiting lists."

One of the conference speakers was from a West Yorkshire Multi-Agency Safeguarding Unit. She agreed with me, when I said that the majority of mental health problems start as emotional health problems and if not managed in their initial stages, can become mental health problems. We agreed that there was a stigma attached to the word 'mental', but not so much to 'emotional'. Then I heard something shocking. If the agencies do not use the word 'mental' to describe a problem, only ‘emotional’, there is no help available. The door is closed, often with challenging *and life-threatening consequences. If a problem has been diagnosed as a Mental Health problem, it is easier for it to become medicalised and medicated.

* I spoke to a charity director last Saturday from Snowdrop Project. The charity mainly works with girls who have been trafficked into sex work, domestic slavery, cannabis growing and other abusive practices. She also agreed that the word 'mental health' has to be used, to enable access to other services, although in many cases, it's the emotional needs which need addressing.  

The writer Daniel Goleman coined the expression, ‘Emotional Hijack’ when writing on Emotional Intelligence in the 1990s. It’s a perfect description of those times when our emotions rise to a level that inhibits clear thinking and there is an emotional hijack of our thoughts and behaviours.  At the root of the majority of depressive thinking, anxiety problems and addictive behaviours is an ‘emotional hijack’. Emotional maturity brings the ability to take control, not lose it. We can learn to understand our emotions, what has triggered them and our subsequent thinking, perhaps with help from a professional listener.  We can help ourselves take control of situations before they become out of control and an ‘emotional health’ problem develops into a ‘mental health’ problem. This approach is the basis of Cognitive Behavioural Therapeutic approaches.

‘Control your emotions or they will control you’ A Chinese proverb.