Whenever I feel stressed, people often say sentences like, “if you teach Stress Control, why are you stressed right now?” or, “you work in mental health, why are you anxious?” or, “heal thyself, physician”. Granted, these people tend to be joking, but we do tend to have this idea that mental health professionals aren’t supposed to be affected by things like stress or low mental health and wellbeing. This attitude can be damaging, and may prevent mental health professionals from seeking help or talking about how they feel because they think they should be invincible or they should be immune to mental health problems.
The reality is, we all have mental health, and just like our physical health it will fluctuate. Even psychologists can have periods of depression or anxiety. Even counsellors can struggle with OCD or PTSD, and even therapists can battle with addiction. They are human beings like everyone else. In terms of the research, a study conducted by Patterson-Wyatt (2016) found that approximately 81% of the psychologists studied had a diagnosable mental health condition, particularly depression and anxiety. Similarly, in 2011 famous psychologist Marsha Linehan, who is credited with creating Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT), shocked the world when she revealed her own battles with borderline personality disorder – a condition she had spent years teaching people how to manage. And what about me, a Wellbeing Practitioner at Valleys Steps, teaching people how to manage stress everyday? I get stressed and I feel anxious sometimes. Why? Because I’m human.
I decided to work in mental health because of my own struggles, for years I struggled with anxiety and frequent panic attacks. When I learned how to manage those things, I wanted to teach people what I’d learned. That doesn’t mean I never get anxious anymore, but it means I can recognise when I’m anxious and I know what I can do to help myself.
Very recently, I suffered a family bereavement, my first bereavement of a close family member as an adult. My automatic reaction was to be the “psychologist”. I sat there thinking, “I’m a mental health professional, and I understand the psychology of grief, I should be able to move past this quickly in order to support other people around me”. But I’m human, I still need to process what has happened, I still need to cry, I still need to feel low… I still need time to grieve. Mental health professionals are not immune to these things. So when you see the practitioner delivering your Mindfulness or Stress Control course, remember that they too are human. They feel the same emotions, and struggle with stress or low mental wellbeing in similar ways to you. What often differs is they have a toolbox that they can use to manage things, and they want to share those tools with you to try and help you handle life’s ups and downs too. They aren’t any less knowledgeable just because they also experience stress or low mental wellbeing. If anything, that experience often makes them more knowledgeable.
Wellbeing Course Practitioner