Mental Health Coping Strategies

How many different mental disorders are there? The reference often used by mental health workers, the DSM-5*, has about 157, though some people spend a lot of time arguing about whether that is accurate or not.

Some say that it could be as many as 600, and some say it is not nearly that high. Whatever the number, it is obvious that there are lot of different disorders we could choose from… not that we would choose to have any of them!

It really, really helps to get an accurate diagnosis of whatever is troubling us. Psychiatric medicine is improving, and being able to get the right diagnosis means that we can then be lined up with the best treatment. Even before the treatment has any effect, it is so helpful, and usually a relief, to finally know what is really going on.

Despite the kaleidoscope of conditions, and the huge range of pills and therapies used to treat them, there are several basic strategies that nearly always give a lot of relief, regardless of the underlying condition. Of course, always follow the advice of your doctor and other mental health professionals, but the following can be safely added to any treatment regime and can have great benefits.

Positive self-talk

We talk to ourselves all the time, and too often we criticise and discourage ourselves. “I couldn’t do that”. “I’m getting too old”.  “My mental health means I shouldn’t even dream about it”. Honestly, the rudest person most of us ever encounter is that person who stares at us out of our bathroom mirror as we brush our teeth! Catch yourself doing negative self-talk and, as soon as you notice that you are giving yourself another dreary sermon about your limitations or guilt or failure or whatever, challenge it. “No! The truth is I can change.” “There is always hope.” “That failure is stinging but it isn’t the end”. “I can get through this”. “I have strengths and abilities that I haven’t even discovered yet”. Become your own motivational speaker! It is amazing how your mood, energy and behaviour can lift as you deliberately alter your self-talk.

Get more sleep

It sounds so easy and yet is so hard. When we have the right amount of sleep, and sleep at the right time of the night, it heals and helps in so many ways.  A couple of tips:

  1. Set a bed time and a getting up time.  Be strict with yourself.  Resist the temptation to doze at other times during the day. “It’s the sleep before midnight that counts”.
  2. Make your bedroom exclusively a bedroom… not a TV lounge, not a dining room, not a gaming room, not a kennel, not your computer room.
  3. Limit technology, especially for the hour before bed time. Late-night social media too easily turns into all-night social media.
  4. Let your tummy rest when you do. Eat well before bed time
  5. Coffee, colas, energy drinks and alcohol all mess up your sleep.
  6. Listen to soothing sounds. Get some sleep apps on your phone (okay… THIS technology is all right at bed time!)
  7. A sleep measuring app like Sleep Cycle can help you track your progress.

Initiate positive social contact

Being alone is fine. For many of us who are introverts, we get tired out and stressed by too much social contact, even with people we like. But we all benefit from friendly, caring people in our lives and, if we have mental health challenges, we need to guard against isolation. Isolation is when we feel we have no one we could turn to if we needed to. It’s when we can’t think of anyone who cares enough to listen to our problems. Most of all, we feel lonely.  Sometimes circumstance isolate us – the elderly and unwell can have great difficulty sustaining a social life – and sometimes the isolation is a side-effect of our mental health problems. Embarrassment, shyness, anxiety and depression can all make it very, very hard to get out and meet people.  If our social life has dried up, reviving it is part of our recovery plan.

  1. Structured and safe groups are an easy place to start
  2. Meeting with people who share similar problems can be a good start
  3. Your support worker can help get you to groups
  4. If you find it hard to meet people, realise it is not just you feeling like that: the people you are meeting are probably a bit shy too.
  5. Attending to grooming and self-care greatly increases confidence
  6. Citizens Advice, libraries, churches, local newspapers and community Facebook pages can help you locate suitable groups. 

*DSM-5 Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders