I’m Dr Emma Svanberg, a Clinical Psychologist working with parents and parents-to-be through pregnancy, birth and the early years. A writer and campaigner, I co-founded Make Birth Better. I offer individual therapy in North London, and run a number of groups in my local area. You can find me far too frequently on Instagram.
I am always full of admiration for those who are brave enough to talk about their mental health. Having conversations about how we feel and what can help us feel mentally healthy is so important to break down the stigma around mental health.
One of the biggest misconceptions that still exists about mental health is that you’re either well, or you’re ill. This isn’t helped by the way we talk about mental health in such a black and white way. We have a diagnosis, or we do not. It means that, if we are at the point of seeking help for our mental health, we might go to the GP nervous about whether or not they will recognise that we feel we have a problem.
In fact, mental health is more subtle than a yes or no- it’s more like a very colourful spectrum. We all have mental health, it’s just that some of us feel healthier than others (just as with physical health)- and this of course may change at different times in our lives. For example, we all know what it means to feel anxious. We’ve all experienced nerves before an interview or an exam. Many of us experience certain symptoms of mental health problems, but without the cluster of symptoms that would warrant a diagnosis.
When we move away from that idea of ‘illness’ we can start to see how each and every one of us can relate to mental health. Some psychologists have suggested that all mental health problems are, in fact, very sensible reactions to difficult life events. In my area of work, with parents and parents to be, there is an argument that post natal depression is an understandable response to the pressures placed on modern parents. In this way, mental health problems become not something that happen to you, but a complex interplay of different factors in the past and present. Therapy often works by unravelling these factors and finding a new way forward.
If you do feel that your mental health is not as healthy as you would like, the number one thing to do is to talk about it. People are incredibly resourceful and often do recover on their own, but support from others can make that process so much easier. You might want to talk to a friend or family member, but if you would like some additional support do speak to your GP. Many talking therapies services also accept self-referrals. Or perhaps you know someone who you’re concerned about. Don’t be afraid to raise it with them. Often people don’t know how to approach the subject, but asking whether there is something on their mind – and listening without judgement- can come as a relief.
Just as we need to look after our physical health, we need to look after our mental health too. Expose it to the sunlight of kind words (yours as well as others’), hydrate it with activities that help you feel cared about, feed it with rest and, when you need to, support it with professional help.