Opinion

Mental health: Combatting negative thoughts

Don’t worry, be happy—easy to say, but many of us don’t find it easy to do.

Mental illness is a serious health problem in Canada affecting relationships, education, productivity and overall quality of life.

Approximately one in five Canadians, 20 per cent of the population, will experience a mental illness during their lifetimes. Mental illness costs the Canadian economy an estimated $51 billion annually.

Fortunately, a pioneering new course developed in the United Kingdom,  and backed by the Canadian Mental Health Association, offers the promise for a better life for thousands of individuals living with depression and anxiety.

Called Living Life to The Full, the course features eight “little books” that form the basis for eight consecutive 1.5 hour sessions or as the CMHA boldly states: 12 Hours That Can Change Your Life. Bold words, but several independent evaluations show that most people who take the course report a real increase in their well-being.

The booklets outline a plainly-worded set of tools that allow participants to face and overcome the problems that are bothering them.

The tools are designed to help people experiencing depression or anxiety, but they go beyond that —they work for anyone seeking to worry less and live a happier life, starting now.

What’s remarkable about the program is not just its simplicity, but the fact that it works.

Recent trials in Northern Ireland followed 480 people through the course.

At the outset 80 per cent of the participants were depressed and only 20 per cent were either happy or not depressed.

At the end of the eight weeks, the numbers were reversed—83.3 per cent were happy or not depressed and only 16 per cent were depressed.

Dr. Chris Williams, a psychiatrist and professor at the University of Glasgow, developed the program as a way to more effectively help which is based on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).

Dr. Williams was in B.C. recently to help CMHA launch Living Life to the Full in Canada.

He told a group of mental health professionals that the plain language of the course is the key to its success.

Dr. Williams designed the courses to be delivered by certified trainers, who can encourage people to get the most out of the eight sessions. And if some participants need more help than the course can provide, the facilitator can refer them to the appropriate service providers.

At the heart of Living Life to the Full, however, is the conviction that ordinary people can learn how to take ownership of their mental health by using the tools outlined in the books to feel better.

People lose the ability to cope when the problems they face get too big or overwhelming, and that launches a vicious circle.

They go from thinking bad thoughts to feeling emotionally upset to experiencing altered physical feelings and finally altered behaviour—staying in bed, missing deadlines, crying jags, blowing up.

You can go from worrying about failure to actual failure unless you interrupt the vicious circle before it gets to that. “You can break the vicious circle by changing any point,” said Dr. Williams.

CMHA BC branches around the province have delivered 29 courses to more than 380 people during a pilot program from April 2010 through March 2011.

Of the 228 people who completed the evaluation, 85 per cent said the course was either useful or very useful and 91 per cent said they would recommend the course to their family and friends.

The course has inspired people to claim little victories such as cleaning out the garage or ending a nail-biting habit to bigger changes—taking out-of-town trips or moving to a new house. One relieved participant is “now sleeping at night.”

CMHA-B.C. has adapted Living Life to the Full to the diverse needs of today’s British Columbia, translating the program into Cantonese, and training Ismaili facilitators who ran the program right in their own mosque to enthusiastic participation.

CMHA-B.C. chief executive officer  Bev Gutray is leading the effort to roll out the Living Life to the Full program across Canada, starting immediately in our province.

“I really believe Living Life to the Full is for everyone, and when I say everyone, I include myself,” she said. “We all have ups and downs, and now there’s a way to deal with the downs and turn them back into ups that’s accessible, easy, and it’s even fun to do.”

For more information about Living Life to the Full, go to www.llttf.ca, contact the Canadian Mental Health Association at Kelowna@cmha.bc.ca or call 250-861-3644.

The Kelowna branch of the CMHA is a charity that promotes the mental health of all through community-based programs and services, public education, advocacy and research. It is part of a network of more than 10,000 CMHA volunteers and staff in over 135 communities across Canada.

For more information see the website www.kelowna.cmha.bc.ca.

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