Solutionways Blog, Going beyond the stigma of mental health


My name is Claudia van Zuiden, I work as a Solution Focused Practitioner and am a member of United Kingdom Association for Solution Focused Practice. I have created this blog to keep you updated  about my research in Solution Focused Interventions, about the projects I am setting up in this technique and why I am doing this. Please feel free to comment and discuss how we can improve the wellbeing of people in the application of Solution Focused Skills in the workforce and in daily life.

 “Going beyond the stigma of mental health”

“Working towards solutions for depression and mental needs.”

Mental health is a subject not many of us discuss in our daily lives. However it is important that we go beyond the stigma of mental health. Wherever you are in the world, people have to deal with mental health issues.

Many suffer of symptoms of depression at some point in their lives.  This can affect your whole being and your social environment. If you do not have the skills how to cope with this or if you do have the skills but just cannot apply them at the time when you feel depressed, this can lead to various situations that can be very uncomfortable.

If you are suffering from a mental health issue, then there are certain ways how you can deal with them. Some people will visit their GP and might get some support. There might be a referral to a psychiatrist, mental health nurse, counselling support or medication can be prescribed. Sometimes there might be a long waiting list before you can be seen by a specialist or therapist and this can have an even more negative effect on your wellbeing.

I have taught Solution Focused Skills to a variety of professionals in Aberdeenshire. As a Solution Focused practitioner I often work with people who are depressed. I have noticed that many of them find that talking about what is happening in their minds very helpful. They find that talking to someone who is an empathic, non-judgemental listener and is genuinely interested in their wellbeing can really help to get a clearer mind and to cope better. As there are so many people who are suffering from depression-, and/or ‘burn-out’- symptoms, could this be an indication that people don’t listen to each other as much? Could it be that we are perhaps so busy with our own lives that we don’t take notice of what goes on in other people’s lives? How often do you notice that when people ask you how you are, they actually don’t have time to hear the real answer and you hear yourself saying that you are well or not too bad? Or could it be that people don’t know what to do or say if you would really tell them how things were going in your life, if they were not going so well?

I have read in a newspaper debate article that it appears to be the latest fashion to have mental health problems. The advice that was given in the Daily Mail (5th August 2010) by Janet Street Porter, was that people who do suffer from depression should just empower themselves and get on with their lives. They should compare themselves with other people who are in a far worse situation in their lives so they could realise that they are actually not so bad off. I totally disagree with this. I have observed that wherever you live in the world, no matter what your nationality is, your depression is what it is for you. In Nepal for example, there is hardly any mental health support. Recently it was published that Nepal’s Department of Health Services released shocking findings in its report, “Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Study 2008/2009.” The study found that Nepalese women are committing suicide at an alarming rate. Some of these women live in very difficult and poor living conditions and also the stigma on mental health issues, such as depression, is frowned upon by many in their own culture.  These women are not capable of getting on with their lives and mental health support could really benefit them. Another option is setting up support groups in mental health awareness and teaching people skills of how to cope with depression.

In May 2010, the Himalayan Times published that, according to Dr. Sherchan, director of Mental Hospital, “Around thirteen per cent of illnesses are related to mental diseases”. The major challenge is that less than one percent of health care expenditure in Nepal goes to mental health. There are only fifty psychiatric clinics and twelve psychological counselling centres. There is one mental hospital and 0.20 beds per 100,000 populations. The total number of workers in mental health facilities or private practice per 100,000 populations is 0.59.

I have been invited by a member of the Ministry of Health of Nepal to share the skills in Solution Focused Practice with health professionals. I am also invited to teach the technique to trainers and volunteers at the Himalayan Healers Project in Nepal, who support survivors of human trafficking. I am now fundraising money to make this possible as there is no money available from the government in Nepal. Many health professionals in developing countries are dealing with the same financial problem of being able to facilitate training in mental health. My aim is also to share this technique in developing countries, as this technique can provide mental health support in a few sessions with people who suffer from depression.  To be able to finance this project in Nepal, I will need to raise £3000 which will cover all expenses for travelling, accommodation and teaching materials needed to train professionals and volunteers within a period of one year. 

I will be researching the effects of the application of Solution Focused Practice in developing countries. Much more evidence is needed to argue that by applying these skills, small changes can lead to big changes in people’s lives, without the need for years of psychotherapy especially in situations where this is not possible due to the lack of mental health intervention services. As Yvonne Dolan, M.A. Psychology, Executive Director, Institute for Solution-focused Brief Therapy, Hammond, mentions: “More microanalysis research into the co-construction process in solution-focused conversation is needed to develop additional understanding of how clients change through participating in these conversations.”

The mental health support system in the United Kingdom is much more advanced. We have much mental health service support available, either through the NHS or volunteer agencies. However, as mentioned, waiting lists are long and funding for training staff in mental health services and education is getting less and less available.  There is some evidence that Solution Focused techniques are being shared by throughout the country, either in schools or professional organisations. I have facilitated several Solution Focused Skills workshops with Westhill for teachers, youth-workers and mental health workers in Aberdeen and Deeside area. I have had positive feedback of the workshop participants using these techniques in their professional and personal lives.  I certainly believe that if in our societies we could teach certain techniques that train in empathic listening skills and solution focused questions, we could make a difference in many people’s lives. This could be taught at grassroot levels. I know that in some schools children are being taught Solution Focused skills. If more children are taught these skills at schools, this might help to empower them in their lives for now and the future. They will learn how to skilfully support their peers, friends, their family members and themselves.  This could help them too at some point when they might be exposed to stressful situations in their own lives and this could reduce the number of people suffering from depression.  The affect of this could help to reduce of the money spent on mental health services by the government. 

Also in community adult learning projects, these techniques could be taught. Again this will add to self empowerment and will be a tool for supporting others in their own social environment. Besides learning certain life skills such as these, there are also other ways that could be taught to communities at large to help relieve the levels of stress that people experience in their lives, such as relaxation and meditation techniques.

I feel that integrating this kind of constructive and empathic approach in our society we might be able to reduce many of the mental health issues and hopefully be more understanding of people who have to cope with the effects of depression and go beyond the stigma related to this.

Claudia van Zuiden, 3 September 2010

Solution Focused Practitioner

www.solutionways.ning.com

For more information or if you would like to make a donation to the Solution Ways Mental Health Project,

Please email: solutionways@hotmail.co.uk

References:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-1278510/Depression-Its-just-new-trendy-illness.html  [Accessed 3rd

 September 2010].

 – http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?ReportID=87823 [Accessed 3rd September 2010].

  –http://www.thehimalayantimes.com/fullNews.php?headline=Mental+experts+seek+equal+legal+provisions&NewsID=245129  [Accessed 3rd September 2010].

-Yvonne Dolan, M.A. (Psychology)

Executive Director, Institute for Solution-focused Brief Therapy, Hammond, IN 46323, http://www.solutionfocused.net/solutionfocusedtherapy.html  [Accessed 3rd September 2010].

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