The mental health pandemic will be with us for many years to come so what do we need to know about reaching out and asking for help? Read that again ‘reaching out and asking for help’ as if having mental health difficulties wasn’t bad enough, the greatest problem can be the process of actually raising the alarm and calling for the cavalry.
This article looks at the drivers behind ‘mental health stigma’ and asks do the current solutions address this barrier to accessing help?
Why our brains are sensitive to stigma
“Tell me Mr Smith, Why do you feel stigmatised about your mental health problem?”
You probably already know that embarrassment, shame and humiliation are all governed by the Fight, Flight, Freeze response from inside our brain, but did you know that this is the same piece of hardwiring that prevents us from opening up and making ourselves vulnerable? When the primitive brain kicks in our executive function shuts down, making it very difficult for us to think rationally. This process explains very quickly why so many people may feel discriminated against because they have felt stigmatised by sharing their mental health issues.
Mainstream media, governments and healthcare systems worldwide are doing their best to ‘normalise’ the harsh reality of poor mental health. Many articles have been written to encourage us to open up and share our fears, but ‘our fears’ are sharing our fears! Neuroscientist, David Rock, put forward the SCARF model, depicting how this process of social threat and reward can be seen in everyday situations. Someone, who is struggling with poor mental health is sure to be seeing the world around them as a social threat.
If it’s irrational, then it’s emotional and the primitive brain is in charge.
When viewed through the SCARF model lens, the stigma of mental health becomes much clearer. Below, I ask the sort of questions that are frequently asked from private clients, who have acknowledged that they need a hand. Remember the questions are fired from a person who is struggling with stress/ anxiety and other associated mental health issues, so the answers may sound irrational, but that’s how it is.
Can mentioning my mental health issues affect my job?
This is a question about status, how will asking for help impact on my position in the group. If we feel that it will have an impact then there will be a stress response associated with this action. Therefore, the chances of asking for help are greatly diminished.
- Work– I might be demoted as I can’t keep up the pace. Colleagues’ look down on me
- Home– My partner thinks I am less of a person. I can’t be a burden on my partner
- College– I feel isolated and an outcast from my peer group. I’m feeling dumb
What can I be certain of if I tell them I have mental health issues?
There is a lot of research that has looked at how we deal with uncertainty and it may help you to understand what’s going on for you and those around you. The brain is excellent at dealing with uncertainty for a short period of time but over longer periods, both our mental and physical health can deteriorate.
- Work– I will lose my job. It will be kept on my file and used against me in the future
- Home– My partner leaving me. My children will go into care as people think I can’t look after them
- College– I could be kicked off my course. I’ll be ridiculed and singled out from my peers and tutors
How can I maintain my autonomy if I have to ask for help?
Mental Health Stigma at WorkThere will always be a philosophical argument around autonomy. Does the challenge of asking for help put the power outside of the self or does it give back the power as the person has acknowledged where they are at and need a hand going forward. Logically there is no shame here, but we are not dealing with the logical brain, in fact the smart brain is quite often redundant when the amygdala is engaged. Therefore, the answer in most cases is “I can’t”. During a coaching I will say “Tell me you ‘won’t’, then I’ll believe you!” This helps the person to see that their mind has created a fear that can be overcome.
- Home– I can’t
How can they empathise when even I don’t know how I feel?
From a tribal position not fitting in with the group could lead to death, therefore it is vital for ones survival to fit. The challenge is in realising that none of us fit, full stop! The only reality is the one that you are perceiving and even that is subject to your beliefs, values, your likes and dislikes, all of which may be due for an upgrade…
- Work– Worried that work won’t think I’m a team member
- Home– I feel alone and isolated and my partner doesn’t understand me
- College– I feel isolated and struggle to participate in social activities
How can I be treated the same as everyone else when I’m different?
How do you define fairness in a world where we are all uniquely different and perfectly the same? In the land of Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) there is a particular meta program, a below conscious filter that we could use to help define fairness, it’s called My/My. This is a ‘Rule Structure’ and it means My rules for me and My rules for you. This filter is on full alert when the amygdala is engaged, constantly searching for imbalance, injustice and wanting someone or something to blame. It’s 2021 is it possible that in the past 12 months you have witnessed something unethical or unprecedented? When people in powerful positions set rules for others to follow and don’t abide by them the ‘Rule Structure’ changes to No/My. No rules for me but my rules for you. This seismic shift can be earth shattering as the tectonic plates of the observers brain struggles to come to terms with this injustice.
No rules for me, My rules for youTell me how to think and I will obey!Fairness-
- Work– I might be overlooked for promotion
- Home– I’m not doing my fair share around the house, which leads to arguments
- College– It might affect my chances of getting onto the course I want
The above statements are just a few examples of how the threatened brain reacts to uncertainty, notice how irrational the thoughts can be. This is worth remembering in the wake of the past 12 months, as the uncertainty of 2020 continues. A threatened brain burns energy and blocks creativity.
For further reading on how uncertainty relates to physical pain and chronic conditions please go here and download the article at the end of the blog.
Traditional Solutions for mental health in the workplace come with stigma attached
Below is a list of traditional mental healthcare solutions and resources, bearing in mind the SCARF model ask yourself which of them come without stigma?
A friend or colleague Mental Health First Aid Occupational Health Counselling/ Talking Therapies Help Lines
Digital solutions, GP’s surgery for mental healthcare referral Support groups
I’m guessing that you, went for Digital solutions as it is closer to the SCARF model and gives you a greater level of autonomy, but you still have to hand your details over to the company who own the app, or tell your boss that you are using it, don’t you? A recent study revealed that
•82% of employees, prefer a digital solution for a mental-health issue before asking a human for help
•75% of employees say AI has helped their mental health at work
•76% of people believe their employer should be doing more to protect their mental health
The study shows that more and more people are wanting to reclaim their mental and physical health and if we apply the natural way of thinking, which has allowed for our survival up until now, then the choice has to be one that gives us full autonomy. The reasoning for reaching out for digital solutions to mental health problems, becomes obvious, we trust our own phone and we have a greater trust of technology over human interaction. I have to be honest, that was the weird part for me personally, but it does make sense. Sometimes it’s just easier to open up to a stranger than our family, friends or colleagues and artificial intelligence is providing that solution. The next question is, which one?
MindReset a mental health app without the stigma
http://www.umoove.me/The MindReset app is the brain based digital solution that complies fully with the SCARF model, targeting the five social domains of the brain that are activated during stress responses. MindReset uses the world first eye tracking technology from Umoove an Israel based tech company who have created mobile based software that can diagnose and track brain activity through your phone. Merging this technology with nearly 30 years of clinical experience, helping people in private practice overcome their fears, stress and anxiety, Mind Help Ltd, believe they have a unique digital solution for improving mental health.
Current Mental Health apps are using the principles of meditation, mindfulness, Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), breathing techniques, etc and then putting them into the users hand, which is excellent, however, given that we were already in a mental health crisis prior to 2020, doesn’t it seem feasible that we have been getting something wrong? MindReset is based on a ground breaking discovery, that connects time, the flow of information and our eye movements. Think about it for a moment, how long does it take for you to fear something? A split second, an instant. Why? Because that’s how we survive, we act fast, but what if an emotional experience is blocking the flow of information and causing your brain to sound the alarm, over and over again. Troublesome thoughts should be cleared at the same speed that they were created. There will always be those who prefer to spend time in one to one therapy but for those who prefer not to share their story or go into any overwhelming emotions, there’s MindReset.
The user can maintain their:
Status – no one need ever know that they are clearing their stress and reclaiming their life
Certainty – Accessible 24/7 whenever and wherever you need it
Autonomous – MindReset takes no personal data, that stays safe with your mobile supplier
Relatedness – Nobody need ever know, so, you can just be part of the gang, again
Fairness – The app is unbiased, lead by your own unique below conscious response, acting in the moment
So, If you want help with your mental health or the mental health of your organisation, friends and family, who you gonna call? Please keep in mind the SCARF model. Use the insights to human behaviour and our natural response to threats within our environment, let them be our guide when choosing the next steps to mental wellness.