Health Column:

Making change: A profitable idea for mental wellness

By Barbara Bolin

We can change a dollar bill. We can change a tire. We can change a diaper. But, sometimes we can’t seem to change our mind - and I don’t mean at the grocery store or while looking in the closet. Unfortunately, we may be stuck in unproductive thoughts, feelings or behaviors, troublesome relationships, addictions, depression or anxiety. We may never imagine that we hold the power to change -- or even believe we have the right to seek help when it’s needed.

Many people have unquestioned ideas about the type of person who sees a “shrink” and will reject the thought of asking for help. Without challenging old ideas or attitudes, they think in terms of harmful and negative words such as “crazy,” “weak,” “defective” or “hopeless.” These persistent stereotypes contribute to the stigma of mental illness. These attitudes have become less valid in light of the knowledge of how stress, failed coping and chemical imbalance impacts mood, thinking and function.

When we experience stress, it is difficult to identify problems or to recognize that ongoing unpleasant moods or risky behavior could be something more than just daily hassles. These difficulties can be symptoms of emotional problems that can be alleviated with professional intervention, medications and support. A person can sense that something is wrong, but may be reluctant to seek help, wanting to avoid being labeled with some terms mentioned earlier.

We may feel we should be able to manage problems on our own or tell ourselves they will go away. Often it is a loved one who insists that outside help be sought, because they observe problems the individual is having. The first step to recovery might be a family member reaching out to express concern -- or the sufferer reaching out to seek help.

We can engineer positive changes in our lives by identifying the issues and exploring reasons to try to feel better. It helps us build healthier relationships, and it increases our coping tools. We can begin to change the way we think about our place in the world, about others and about ourselves. Identifying the positive reasons to change can be the beginning of recovery.

From a practitioner viewpoint, seeing a patient walk through the door seeking change shows hope and courage. Psychiatry has much to offer for individuals and families who need relief- including medication, therapy, access to support services and education about psychological health. The Blount Memorial Emotional Health & Recovery Center has several levels of care available to help, including services for inpatients, outpatients, partial hospitalizations, geriatrics, counseling, seniors and stress-reduction classes. Services are confidential and tailored to meet each individual’s need.

The desire to engineer healthy changes in day-to-day relationships can lead to a happier home and work life, and a sense of well-being and integrity. Changing our thoughts can change our feelings, which also can lead to healthy behavior changes. That’s the first step to helping us begin feeling better about others, the world around us and about ourselves.

Barbara Bolin is a therapist with Blount Memorial Hospital’s EASE: Elder Assessment Service, an offering that provides assistance, assessment, treatment, support and referral sources to individuals age 55 and older along with their families.

© 2008 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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