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Just like physical health problems, mental health problems can be short term or long term. Some can be solved or managed through medication and others through therapy, just as physical ones benefit from physiotherapy.

In fact, when you think about it, mental health problems are caused by faulty brain functioning – which actually makes it a physical problem.

For far too long, people have been stigmatised and feared because they have a mental health problem. It is encouraging to see that depression and anxiety are starting to lose that stigma, but there is still a long way to go for other issues.

The first step in treating mental health issues is of course to seek medical advice from a doctor. You will then often be referred to a psychologist or psychiatrist for a diagnosis. This is no different to how physical illnesses are handled, by referring you to the right specialist.

Just like a physical health illness, you may or may not need to be hospitalised. And just the same, once your treatment is over, you will need to have a plan to manage the problem yourself on a daily basis.

Peer groups are a very effective method for managing aftercare, for both physical and mental health problems. They allow you to get and give support within the group, from people who have similar problems. Peer groups are not designed to replace professional treatment, but to complement it.

When it comes to mental health, peer groups are a good way to discuss your problem before actually seeing the doctor. Because of the stigma surrounding mental health, you may not feel comfortable in seeking help. By going to a peer group, you can remain anonymous, allowing you to be honest without fear of repercussions.

STRIVE is such a group and is run by fellow sufferers who have years of experience in managing their own mental health problems. We do not judge anyone or try to play doctor. Our aim is to offer you a chance to find out what your problem may be, the best way to treat it, and let you decide whether you should seek professional help.

We encourage you to learn more by browsing this website. If you feel we can help, then please use the Contact form to ask any questions. We will never use your information outside of group meetings.

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Why Peer Groups Work

Back in 1935, two men discovered that by helping each other, they could stop drinking the alcohol that was killing them. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) was born, beginning what we call self-help peer support groups today.

Interestingly, one of them was a doctor, but could not solve his own problem. It was not until he met a fellow sufferer, that he could stop. The other man had been written off by every hospital he had ever been admitted to.

It took a while before both men figured out why they were staying sober. As they spoke with other hopeless alcoholics, they found some of them stayed sober too. So what was happening? Why was what they were doing (talking) working, when all other treatments had failed?

Eventually they came to realise it was the fact that both of them had the same problem and were therefore prepared to trust each other and help each other. They later called it “Identification”. When two people can identify with each other, they will listen and take notice, unlike when being told to do something by an “expert”.

Of course there is more to staying sober than talking. You have to be prepared to follow a plan and make major changes in how you think and behave. To ensure everyone in the group was working from the same page, they created 12 steps for members to follow.

Today, there are 12-step groups for just about every problem you can think of and can be found all over the world. But 12-step groups are not appealing to everyone, especially when they venture into religious or spiritual territory.

Nowadays there are other ways to treat mental health issues, such as CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy), among others. STRIVE uses both of these from text books and videos. But the underlying reason the group works is still “Identification”.

Medical professionals and counsellors have their place – but not in a peer group. Another term that has been developed is “Lived Experience”. This simply means “Been-there-done-that”. When you combine identification with lived experience, you have a group of people that is in a unique position to help each member in a way no professional help can.

Peers helping peers is still the most effective way to provide ongoing support, once formal treatment has been completed. It is also the best way for people to “test the water” before even seeking professional help.

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Can I Be Cured?

The one thing someone with a mental illness wants – is not to have it! So the obvious question is, “Can I be cured?”. The answer is, “It depends.”.

Just like any illness, be it in the brain or anywhere else, sometimes it can be cured and sometimes we just have to learn to live with it. A perfect example is type 1 diabetes. You can’t cure it (yet), but you can manage it with insulin. Allergies are another good example. If you can’t tolerate peanuts, don’t eat them!

Sometimes our mental illness is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. This is hard-wired in from birth and we can’t change it (yet). However, we can take medication to correct the imbalance. It doesn’t cure the problem, but it allows us to manage it.

Sometimes our mental illness is caused by environmental factors, such as growing up in a dysfunctional family. This type of damage can often be almost fully reversed – but it takes time and effort.

When we are treating any illness, we call it being in “Recovery”. How long this takes depends on the illness. It takes as long as it takes. Recovery will sometimes become a journey, rather than a destination. What we need is something to make the journey as pleasant as possible.

If you lose your legs, or the use of them, then they give you a wheelchair. It’s a tool to enable you to function as well as possible in physical spaces. The same thing applies to mental health. We need a set of tools that will enable us to function as best we can, at home and in the wider community.

Modern medicine is a wonderful thing and is getting better all the time. But there are still many things it cannot do. Even with medication, coping with a mental health issue requires an enormous amount of energy on a daily basis. Don’t ever accuse someone in recovery for a mental health problem of having no willpower. It is more a case of them not knowing the best way to use that power.

The greatest tool you can give a recovering person is hope. Feeling hopeless and helpless will keep a person “stuck” indefinitely. Peer groups consist of people who have discovered new tools and how to use them. The longer they participate, the more tools they discover and the more proficient they become in using them.

Everyone’s journey is different and unique to them, but the principles they live by are common to each and every person. Peer groups are where you find those tools and the people who know how to use them. They don’t just give you a “wheelchair” – they use one themselves and know from experience how best to use it.

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Summing Up

A mental illness is actually a physical illness. It is not some form of demonic possession, but a malfunctioning brain. You can no more blame a person for having a mental health problem, than a physical one. Sometimes it can be reversed by unlearning old beliefs and learning new ones. Sometimes it is a chemical imbalance which can be managed with medication, so we can learn new skills.

Recovering from a mental illness takes time, as does recovering from a physical one. Just as we need physiotherapy when recovering from a physical injury, we need psychotherapy to recover from a mental health one. Usually our doctor will refer us to a specialist who will diagnose the problem and provide the therapy.

However, therapy usually only lasts a finite time, often only 8-12 sessions. After that, we are left to our own devices to manage our life. Peer groups provide a means of maintaining ongoing support from people who are in the same or similar situation.

Identification and lived experience are the two most important tools peer group members have. They enable a trust and communication that works more effectively in the long run, because people by nature will take more notice of someone who is in the same or similar boat as they are.

If you are having problems with anxiety, anger, addiction, depression, compulsive habits or other common mental health problems, please read more about us on this website. If you have any questions, feel free to use the Contact form.