Mental health and ACT

What is mental health?

Mental health refers to a person’s emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how people think, feel, and act, and influences their ability to cope with the normal stresses of life, work productively, and engage in relationships. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.
Mental health problems can take various forms, such as anxiety disorders, mood disorders (like depression or bipolar disorder), psychotic disorders (like schizophrenia), eating disorders, addictive behaviours, and many others. These conditions can be influenced by biological factors, such as genetics and neurobiology, as well as environmental factors, including life experiences, trauma, societal pressures and family history of mental health problems.
It’s important to note that mental health is not just the absence of mental illness. It involves finding a balance in all aspects of life—physical, mental, emotional, and social—that contributes to overall well-being. Taking care of one’s mental health is essential for living a fulfilling and meaningful life.

Understanding mental health

Good mental health is characterised by a state of well-being, where an individual can realise their own potential, cope with the normal stresses of life, work productively, and make meaningful contributions to their community. On the other hand, mental health problems or mental illnesses can affect a person’s thinking, mood, and behaviour, leading to distress and impairing their ability to function.

 

Benefits of good mental health

Emotional well-being: Good mental health allows individuals to experience the full range of emotions, in a way that contributes to a greater sense of overall well-being and life satisfaction.
Resilience: Good mental health provides individuals with the ability to cope with and bounce back from adversity, stress, and challenges. It enhances their capacity to adapt to life changes and maintain a positive outlook.
Productivity and success: Mental health plays a crucial role in productivity, creativity, and achievement. When individuals have good mental health, they are more likely to perform well in various areas of life, including work, education, and personal relationships.
Healthy relationships: Mental health influences the quality of relationships. Good mental health allows individuals to form and maintain healthy and meaningful connections with others, fostering social support and a sense of belonging.
Self-awareness and personal growth: Maintaining good mental health promotes self-awareness and introspection. It enables individuals to understand themselves better, identify their strengths and weaknesses, and engage in personal growth and self-improvement.

Issues caused by poor mental health

Emotional distress: Poor mental health can lead to emotional distress, such as anxiety, depression, irritability, or mood swings. It can result in being overwhelmed by emotions or finding them difficult to cope with.
Impaired functioning: Mental health problems can sometimes interfere with an individual’s ability to function effectively in various areas of life. This can manifest as difficulties in work or school performance, impaired decision-making, and challenges in maintaining relationships.
Physical health issues: There is a strong connection between mental and physical health. Poor mental health can contribute to physical health problems, including sleep disturbances, weakened immune system, increased risk of chronic conditions, and a higher likelihood of engaging in unhealthy behaviours like substance abuse.
Social isolation: Mental health problems can lead to social withdrawal and isolation. They may make it challenging for individuals to engage in social activities, form or maintain relationships, and seek support from others.
Reduced quality of life: Poor mental health can significantly impact an individual’s quality of life. It can limit their enjoyment of life, hinder their ability to pursue goals and aspirations, and lead to a general sense of dissatisfaction and unhappiness.

 

Mental health exists on a continuum, and many factors contribute to an individual’s mental well-being. Seeking support, practicing self-care, and accessing appropriate treatment can help address mental health challenges and promote overall well-being.

Mental health and ACT therapy

The aim of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is to help individuals develop psychological flexibility which can therefore improve their mental health. Premised on the idea that suffering is a normal part of human existence, ACT focuses on accepting experiences and committing to actions that align with personal values.

ACT ModelHere are some ways in which ACT therapy can help improve mental health:

  • Acceptance: ACT encourages individuals to accept their thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations, even if they are unpleasant or distressing. Instead of trying to control or avoid these experiences, ACT teaches individuals to make room for them and allow them to come and go freely.
  • Cognitive defusion: ACT helps individuals recognise that they can choose how to relate to their thoughts. It aims to reduce the influence of unhelpful thoughts by teaching techniques to “defuse” from them, such as observing thoughts without getting entangled in them or using metaphors to create distance from them.
  • Mindfulness: Mindfulness is a core component of ACT. It involves being fully present in the current moment, paying attention to one’s thoughts, feelings, and sensations without judgement. By practicing mindfulness, individuals can develop a greater awareness of their internal experiences and learn to respond to them more effectively.
  • Values clarification: ACT helps individuals identify their personal values—what is most important and meaningful to them in life. By clarifying their values, individuals can set goals and make choices that align with their values, leading to a more fulfilling and purposeful life.
  • Committed action: ACT emphasises taking action towards one’s values and goals, even in the presence of difficult thoughts and emotions. It encourages individuals to identify small steps they can take to move in the direction of their values and to persist in their actions, even when faced with challenges.

ACT can be effective in treating a range of mental health conditions, including anxiety disorders, depression, substance abuse, and chronic pain. It is often delivered in the form of individual therapy, but it can also be incorporated into group therapy or self-help approaches. It is important to work with a qualified mental health professional who is trained in ACT to receive the full benefits of this therapy. Visit our therapy page for more information or browse our website to learn more about ACT, access free resources and explore our ACT training workshops for professionals.

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ACT for relationships

Dr Russ Harris

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ACT for obsessive compulsive disorder

Dr. Patricia Zurita Ona

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