Insights – 4

The seeds of mental illness germinate in cracks created by crises

March 6, 2023
By Dr. Mark Whittington and Gaby Bush

Sooner or later we are all challenged by critical times when our ability to cope is seriously challenged. Dark, overwhelming crises when we feel anxious, fearful, and, worst of all, powerless in the face of fate and circumstance. Our level of preparation and how we choose to respond has serious, far-reaching consequences. Crisis, anxiety, and depression are interconnected. That’s why crisis can have such a devastating long-lasting impact on your mental health. A crisis can be defined as a sudden, unexpected event or situation that poses a threat to your physical or emotional well-being. Events that trigger feelings of anxiety which, more often than not, lead to depression and to the many more serious consequences that go with it. In short: Adequate preparation and effective crisis management play a pivotal role in avoiding mental illness.

Psychological problems seldom occur in isolation. Crisis leads to anxiety. Anxiety leads to depression. Depression often leads to self-medication which can, in turn, spiral ever-downwards toward addiction. What’s more, crises come in many different guises. Big and small. Single or in terrible, simultaneous combination and coalition. These catastrophes often seem to arrive when we are at our most exposed and vulnerable. No two of us will react in exactly the same way. Some will be overwhelmed and decompensate, others will rise above adversity to emerge stronger and more resilient than ever. No matter how strong and psychologically resilient you think you are, rest assured, there is a specific tailor-made combination of calamities, a proverbial perfect storm, capable of bringing you to your knees. Especially if you find yourself facing it without a plan.

A crisis creates a tipping point.  An undertow into a rip of treacherous circumstances that can sweep you beyond the metaphorical point of no return. Anxiety is a natural response. But left unmanaged, this anxiety can become chronic, leading to feelings of helplessness and hopelessness by which time you are already on what I call the “merry go-down”. A seemingly inescapable vortex of depression that sucks you down into the danger of developing far more serious mental illness.

My advice, hard-won over more than thirty years as a hands-on clinician, can be distilled down to two words. The old boy scouts’ motto: Be prepared!

The best strategies and solutions are created in peacetime as opposed to in the heart, heat, and chaos of battle. When a crisis comes, try to stay calm. Especially in the face of circumstances that you cannot control. Your anxiety doesn’t change anything. Prepare to meet crises with a healthy mind and body. If you wait until a disaster arrives it may be too late. The much-touted saying prevention is better than cure is never quite true as it is in the context of your mental health. By establishing healthy physical and psychological routines you will build resilience and reduce the likelihood of a breakdown.

The connection between crisis, anxiety, and depression is well established. Recognizing the signs and symptoms of these conditions and seeking appropriate help can help you manage your mental health and improve your psychological well-being. If you’d like to armour your mind against the crisis in advance or, even if you are besieged and already in the midst of a crisis, you’ll find our latest MindMovie “Holding the Fort” a metaphorical treasure trove of wisdom, advice, and patient-proven coping strategies. It is the metaphorical story of the siege of a medieval castle. The walls, ramparts, and parapets symbolise the boundaries you set to protect you and yours. The stores of freshwater and healthy food are a metaphor for the nest egg you should set aside to meet the demands of that proverbial and, some would say inevitable, rainy day. Rescuing reinforcements is an analogue for the friends and family that can come to your aid. These are just a few of the time-tested gems of metaphorical wisdom embedded in a ripsnorter of a story presented in a highly polished biaural surround-sound production. Before you are ambushed by the crisis, have a listen to the trailer here:

About the author

Dr. Mark Whittington and Gaby Bush

Dr. Mark Whittington is a graduate of the distinguished Otago Medical School, and has more than 30 years’ experience working at the clinical coalface as a Consultant Psychiatrist.

Gaby Bush is a creative director, writer ,ex-patient, corporate refugee, and survivor of severe PTSD. Gaby is living proof of how well the Metaphorical Therapy System works in the real world.

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