Positive psychology, mental health and being well
As it's World Mental Health Day I thought I'd reflect a little on my work within the field to date - most notably in collaboration with the inspirational Chrissy B Show - the only UK TV programme dedicated to mental health and wellbeing. (It airs on MyChannel Sky203 on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 10pm). The show, hosted by Global Women Award Winner Chrissy Boodram, who herself has overcome depression, tackles a wide range of mental health topics from the workplace, to self harm. Chrissy's team of resident experts comprises Doctors, Nutritionists, Business, Life and Family Coaches, Personal Trainers and Psychologists - and I'm delighted to be included.
Psychology has always interested me - from a young age I had a preference for textbooks over fiction, and the first book that made an impact was "Be Glad You're Neurotic" (now a "cult classic" in the psych field) which my dad picked up at a boot sale. I enjoyed the subject immensely at A-level, and went on to study it at University. After a short forray into history, law and teaching, I found myself returning to organisational psychology for my PhD which gained me British Psychological Society Chartership and is the base field of my book "Be a Great Manager Now". While my "day job" is
more focused on academia and management coaching, I have found that a sound background in psychology has permeated through everything I do - including performance! And it is always a delight to head to the Chrissy B Studio to discuss the mental health topic to be showcased each week.
The format of the shows that I'm on (the three broadcasts vary) often highlights the topic, then explores it through guest stories, concluding with positive news and tips to cope. It is not a substitute for professional counsel, but aimed at raising awareness, hope and reassurance that you are not alone and the knowledge that so much can now be treated. What resonates the most with me is the positive approach the show takes to the subject of mental health (note the pertinent word is "health" not "illness").
This attitude forms the heart of "positive psychology" an area promoted through Martin Seligman's presidency of the American Psychological Association in 1998. For Seligman psychology was "half baked". It looked only at what was "abnormal" and how to correct it, rather than looking at what was good and making it better - or encouraging those who had overcome mental illness to embrace life in mental health. Indeed, when I was studying there were "five schools of thought" - Behaviourism, Psychodynamic, Cognitive, Biological and Humanist - and these were taught as "an approach to explaining and treating mental illness". None of the focus was on how each could help a person thrive.
Similarly it has been the crux of my frustration within academia - that while thesis after thesis looks at what is going on and identifies current processes, recommendations are sadly still given short shrift. The opportunity to write my book - largely focused on implementing the recommendations from my thesis, working with the Brunel Business School #LIFESKILLS programme to instill good interpersonal
practice before bad habits take hold; and of course my work with The Chrissy B show has reinvigorated me to know that while the path is still muddy, and the journey is likely to be a long one, there is a slow shift in the mindset to the importance of life beyond normal.
Now, tips are getting pro-active rather than only re-active. Now we are beginning to promote the initiation of positive action not just reward. Now we have started celebrating the old "endpoint" as a fresh start rather than a case closed.
Through this I have noticed a change in my own mindset. I find myself inspired more and passing judgment less. I am more accepting rather than always analytical; and I am more appreciative of what I have. Academically too, this has helped me become a better listener - more open to each individual experience and able to form a broader picture of what is going on and the patterns that persist rather than worrying if a new experience should be discarded at once as an outlier. While I have long bemoaned the difficulty to generalise from a case study, I now appreciate the richness each individual contributes to my knowledge and thinking about an area. I've learned to hear opposing opinions to my own as opportunities to understand different perspectives (as opposed to a challenge); and I've also come to recognise what is mine to affect - and what affects me knowing my option is to change my perspective or my environment - not the other person. While I have been fortunate to have had a mentally healthy life - I delight in my own chances to thrive and grow.
Positive psychology, mental health and being well is not an endgame - it is the starting line.