As a Life Coach who specialises in mental health, I’ve come to learn all the tools and techniques my clients will try before they meet with me. The ‘successfully depressed’ is the fond term I give to my clients who have achieved success in their careers and lives but are still experiencing mental health challenges. It’s instinctive for many, first to attempt to overcome their issues without external support, and particularly that of a third party. These ‘mistakes’ should only be deemed to be so if they have been tried and not worked. Equally, I have worked with enough clients to know most times these interventions have been attempted they have been unsuccessful. In this article, I’ll share the seven mistakes people make to deal with their mental health, before seeing a Life Coach. Brace yourselves, some of these are controversial, unintentionally so, but a mentor once told me I needed to have an opinion and stand by it, so here goes.
Start taking medication
One of the questions I most often get asked is whether or not I am for or against medication for mental health challenges, and my answer is simple, no. I am not a medical professional; therefore all I can share here is my personal opinion. I believe medication is right for a small percentage of those experiencing a mental health challenge, but more likely this would be more extreme mental illnesses. I do think for the majority of people experiencing stress, anxiety, or depression; they should first explore other avenues before taking their first pill. Before you start medication, you should seek support through speaking with a professional, and you owe to yourself to see if you can alleviate your symptoms through the use of another less invasive intervention.
From personal experience, I have taken medication for anxiety and depression, and while it did dull my symptoms, it was never going to cure them. The dulling also made it difficult for me to be able to deal with the underlying issues which would ultimately give me the freedom I desired. Add to this I experienced side effects which often felt worse than my original symptoms. The medication also takes time to begin to work therefore talking to someone and beginning a speaking therapy could prove the quick fix you’re looking for that medication isn’t, it’s also a permanent fix which medication will more than often not be.
Disclaimer: if you have taken medication and it worked for you, then it works, and I wouldn’t challenge your perception.
So you’ve avoided taking the first pill, and maybe you’re someone who would never even consider taking medication. Maybe you’re the self-same person, like those I have worked with, who haven’t noticed that you’re potentially self-medicating. We experience negative emotions, some of us more than others, but rarely do any of us escape occasional feelings of anger, sadness, fear, shame, and guilt. For some, these manifest themselves in the guise of stress, anxiety, or depression, either on their own or in some unholy communion. When we experience these feelings we can so often look for something external to take the feeling away and distract us; and here is where an unhealthy relationship with an external substance or process can begin to take form. We are all familiar with the list of vices which includes alcohol, food, sex, shopping, drugs, and the list goes on. This self-medication may work for some time, but over time you will need to keep increasing the dosage until it dawns on you it is either no longer working, or you now have a potential problem. What started as a glass of wine on a Friday became a bottle. Then it became a glass on any weekday you had a problem, before becoming a glass on every weekday regardless, to chill you out. We all know where this metaphor leads. Dalin H Oaks once remarked (to my surprise as I thought it was Oscar Wilde!),
“You can never get enough of what you don’t need, because what you don’t need won’t satisfy you.”
See a counsellor or therapist
Before I get into this one, know I am an advocate for all forms of therapy including counselling, CBT, psychotherapy, etc. I also run a business called The Coach Collective, and I rent therapy rooms at affordable rates to counsellors and therapists in my home city of Leeds. Let me frame this mistake very carefully, read just as carefully so you don’t misinterpret me. Life coaching is a new intervention in comparison to counselling and therapy; therefore it isn’t as recognised or understood. In some cases people have no awareness of life coaching and will, therefore, choose counselling or therapy by default, not having had the opportunity to explore alternatives. For many, counselling and therapy will prove hugely beneficial and for some, it may be all they need to overcome their challenges. Some people would benefit more from coaching, and I find this to be the case for the majority of ‘successfully depressed’ people with whom I work. Primarily this is because they are forward focused and are looking to implement tools and techniques to use now and in the future. They have little need or desire to review experiences from the past. There are no cut and dry rules on what is and isn’t coaching but to help my clients understand I define coaching as being 80% focused on the present and future and 20% reviewing the past but only to take learning from it and move on.
As I said, I want to be careful on this point as I am passionate about all talking therapies, seeing a counsellor or therapist without first having considered life coaching is where this mistake takes place. Know that a good counsellor, therapist, or coach will always point you in the right direction.
Speak with friends and family
Here I go again, leaping out of a counselling and therapy frying pan and into a friend and family fire. I’ll make the assumption, and this is not always the case, your friends and family have your best intentions at heart. They want to help and support you through your challenges, and they’re there for you as you navigate your mental health. Speaking with friends and family does cause two barriers:
- You don’t share everything with them, and you, therefore, edit your version of your challenge. Maybe you fear to tell them everything in case you scare them, or maybe you’re concerned they will think it’s their fault. Maybe you don’t want to burden them with all your problems. Regardless of your reason, you don’t share the full picture and therefore any meaningful advice they may offer you will discount as you know deep down, they don’t know the full story.
- They aren’t trained to deal with this, and that’s OK. What it does mean is they might not be very good at listening. Most conversations are a 50/50 split, and you need 80/20 to be able to get everything out and feel like you’ve truly been heard. Equally, people will often listen to another person and sympathise; sympathy means they connect to how they feel about their life and attempt to draw a comparison. What you need is empathy; someone who is listening to understand how these challenges and their impact are unique to you and how you experience them. Further to this is the potential well-meaning friends and family may never understand stress, anxiety, or depression, which can lead to superfluous advice such as ‘it’ll pass’ or ‘pull yourself together’.
You should absolutely speak to friends and family and be open about your mental health, but you shouldn’t see this as the solution to overcoming your challenges.
I might ask a friend for an opinion on getting a new haircut, but if they’re not a hairdresser, I’m not going to let them cut my hair.
(For those who know me, I am bald, but this is such a good metaphor, I couldn’t let it slide!)
Like so many people seeking the ever elusive ‘more’. I discovered the self-help industry and became a self-help junkie. While the books I read, the videos I watched, the audiobooks I listened to, the events I attended all ultimately helped; they took a lot of time to get through. I had the realisation then, which I hold to now, the majority of self-help books can be condensed into potentially 20% of their original content and still have the same impact, Unfortunately, I don’t think I, or any other consumer, would feel they were getting enough bang for their buck if the book were 30-pages, and this could lead to our never making the purchase in the first place. There is a lot of self-help material out there, type ‘self-help books’ into Amazon and you’ll get over 100,000 results, it can be difficult to know where to start, my bookcase is evidence of this!
My clients are no different and will have amassed a lot of self-help content, all of which will have failed to fundamentally work, the way they intended. Primarily, because what is needed is not one single tool or technique but the bringing together of everything into one programme and approach. I will often piece together the self-help content clients have explored, and this can enhance their coaching but not having done so would not detract from it. Focusing on self-help alone can leave a person overwhelmed and also trap a person in a cycle of trying just one more book, or video, or podcast.
You fail to find the answer you are looking for because it’s a coach, and not a book, that has the right question.
At this point, I raise my hand, as someone who mitigated their OCD and depression for quite some years through compulsive over-achieving. I, like my clients, believed my problems would be solved by achieving more, and the fruits of this success would, therefore, make me happy. I would build a successful career, get out of debt, get a nice house, fill it with expensive things, have amazing holidays, and ultimately be happy and banish my depression. Unfortunately not. Further to this, at the time, I also felt I was creating a positive double whammy as all this success would evidence to the world just how happy and ‘together’ I was. There is a point at which you arrive when you review your life in its entirety, and it dawns on you no matter how many more goals you set and achieve, they just aren’t providing the reward you need. We have placed the problem outside ourself only to discover, with time, we need to look within and start working there. This is where true success lay.
Suffer in silence
Of all of the mistakes, this is by far the biggest and has the potential to do the most harm. For far too long, many people will decide to suffer in silence. Pushing through life and expecting it to get easier and where difficulty strikes they will often retract into their comfort zone until life can feel like it has very little to offer. We British are led to believe a stiff upper lip is all that is required and if we don’t talk about it, it can’t harm us. It does the opposite. When we speak about it, we cast it out of ourselves and begin the process to see it and deal with it. When we bottle it up, it festers inside of us slowly decaying and causing us ever-increasing challenges, until we are overwhelmed and experience poor mental health, sometimes in the extreme. I often describe dealing with anxiety and depression as an exorcism. The need to cast out the ‘daemon’ so that we might see and speak with it, asking what it needs to leave us alone and move on to the other side. At no point will suffering in silence deal with your mental health challenges, at best you will mitigate it to your death bed, knowing only then how it may have robbed you of a full life.
We all make mistakes, and these are positive and fundamental ways in which to make progress in our lives. The key is to learn from these mistakes and move forward, continuing to search and find the solution which works for us.