Take Charge of Your Health
An article by Dr. Kirtland Culmer

Mind Your Health
In these monthly series so far, discussion has been centred on physical abnormalities and diseases that affect your health. In this issue, the desire is to venture briefly into some mental aspects of threats to the health. It was established at the onset of this series that man is a three dimensional entity consisting of mind, body and spirit.

Almost every day, we see patients in our offices whose condition defy one word or one line description of their diagnoses. A diagnosis puts a name on a problem, and lets people know that there is a shared belief of an explanation for their symptoms. A diagnosis focuses on symptoms and behaviours, which are often treated only with the medication approach. This approach alleviates only some of the surface symptoms. This can delay or stop understanding and healing. Having a name put on a mental disorder does not mean that you are “crazy”. It may simply means that you need help in learning to cope with the stresses that may present and overcome you.

Some of the stressful problems which we may face are childhood abuse, adolescent adjustment and identity problems, marital conflicts (including domestic violence), aging, gay issues, sexual abuse, stress on the job etc. These are some of the obvious causes of mental disorders, but there are also insidious or endogenous causes of anxiety, depressive and bizarre illnesses, the cause of which are not so obvious because the root is deep within the person’s subconscious. Here are some of the professionals from whom you may receive help: -

The General or Family Practitioner:
These are the medical professionals that are most often first contacted, and should listen, assess, diagnose and adequately treat to the limit of their ability. They should appropriately know when and if to refer. A recent survey in the U.S. indicates that a great deal of healing can be done at this level, but unfortunately many practitioners are not making the time and effort to be truly effective.

The Psychiatrist:
These practitioners are medical doctors, and, in addition, have postgraduate training in diseases of the mind. They treat with medicine and psychotherapy. Your family physician will refer you to him if he feels unqualified to treat the severity of your condition.

The Psychologist:
These folks are at the top of the ladder of non-medical counseling providers, but may team with the psychiatrist if indicated.

Social Workers:
They also are counselors, and are a very important part of the mental health team. Ministers, Priests and Church Lay Counselors.. Ministers and priests have always been available for counseling with a Spiritual flavour, and now, many churches (including my church) have incorporated Pastoral Care and Counseling Committees giving selected lay members the opportunity to share this very important task.

Patients present with various complaints that signal their mental distress. These may take the form of anger, anxiety, lack of assertiveness, depression, unexplained fatigue, denial, defenses and shame. Anger can take over to such an extent that it can impair efficiency and cause people to lose friends and support. Anxiety is a fear reaction originating in the subconscious. The object of fear is not usually clearly identified. Anxiety can cause a feeling of discomfort, speeding up of the heart, shortness of breath, excessive sweating, hyperventilation and sometimes fainting. Codependency means that the individual is unable to effectively carry out necessary functions. Denial means that the person involuntarily uses a mind blocking mechanism, which enables him/her not to recognise an obvious mind-threatening occurrence. The Defense mechanism is also a form of denial in which the person makes excuses for the obvious thing that is happening. The feeling of shame can occur because of something done to the person, something the person has done himself, or because of the feeling of inadequacy, inferiority or lack of self-esteem.

So how do we TAKE CHARGE in these situations? Some of the types of professionals that can help have been pointed out. Guidance can be obtained from these folks, but there is a lot that we can do for ourselves. First we can strengthen our feeling of assertiveness by deliberate practice methods. We can repeat over and over to ourselves that we can do positive things. We can succeed. We can learn to accept negative criticism by listening and assessing, but allowing ourselves to be the final judge as to what is positive or negative. We can try to remain calm when discussing with others some criticism of our behaviour and personality, and give our opinion in a calm and positive manner. We need to work on developing verbal skills. Communication is the key to getting our needs met. When effective communication is not used or learned, people tend to learn unhealthy tactics to cope, such as passive aggression, being by themselves, acting out angrily, cussing etc.

We need also to develop self-esteem. No matter what negative image people or parents tried to tack on us in the past, we need to recognize them as false negatives, and dwell on a positive image of ourselves. As physicians or patients, we need to listen, and not be so quick to tell people why they should not feel that way. When we do that, we trample on their feelings. Build your self-esteem by having compassion for yourself, by accepting the fact that no one is perfect, and that you have some very special attributes. Have respect for yourself, and wallow in the great feeling that comes over you when you know that you have earned it. We all need encouragement. Encourage yourself from the inside to achieve the goals that you must set for yourself. Support: Do not just stay in bed and hide from the world. Be kind to yourself, and give yourself the support needed to carry on. Stroking: Pet yourself. Massage your body; stroke yourself physically, emotionally, with words and with gifts. YOU DESERVE IT! TAKE CHARGE! GOD LOVES YOU!