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Examining the link between mental illness and lifestyle choices (Interview with a psychotherapist)

*Warning * Some of the content within this article may be sensitive for readers.

It is an extremely positive aspect of today’s society that more and more people are speaking out against certain stigmas related to mental illness. More people are coming forward and asking for the help that they need and fewer people are feeling ashamed or nervous in doing so. 

 According to, “If mental health becomes more of an everyday issue, that matters to us all, then the stigma attached to getting help can be reduced. While Irish society will continue to experience considerable change and face new challenges ahead, a mentally healthier Irish society will be much better able to cope”.

The feelings a person has before coming forward with their mental health issues and seeking help is something which has hindered the recovery of so many people in society. A sad fact is many people worry about how they might be perceived, instead of looking after themselves as best they are able to, at this vulnerable time of their life.

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Fortunately, this is changing every day, due to people becoming more informed and gaining a stronger understanding of mental illness as a serious issue. Something which aids peoples understanding of mental illness is receiving the correct information regarding it. For centuries, mental illness was viewed as a personal weakness and something not to be acknowledged. The lack of acknowledgment in these scenarios can so many times, be fatal.

Just like if a wound was untreated for months, an infection would begin. If this infection is not treated, it could go deeper into this person’s body and cause irreparable damage. When a person, for example, begins to feel like their life is lacking worth and they fall into a depressive state, this is also the beginning of something which can be helped if treated; just like a physical wound.

Speaking with a fully accredited counsellor of over 10 years, Claire Hughes, gives some insight into her experience with mental health issues. Claire has spent her time working with depression, anxiety, and suicide prevention. She first made a strong point of explaining through her own personal experience that, “every single person on this planet has the potential to suffer from mental illness, and the people who think they are invincible are the ones which need to be watched”. 

A common conception related to mental illness in a modern society, is that lifestyle choices have a lot to do with a person’s mental state. Indeed when viewing the importance of a healthier lifestyle the BioMed Central gathered findings related to this and found that “Our findings underline the importance of healthy lifestyle choices for improved psychological well-being and fewer mental health difficulties”. When Claire was asked whether she has seen an increase in depression, anxiety, and other mental illness in younger people over the last 5 years, she said “Yes, definitely. And the reason for that is that addiction is at its highest in this country and getting higher every day”.

However, when asked what she viewed as common ‘triggers’ for a mental illness she explained that “when there is a lack of stability, particularly in a young person’s home life, a feeling of being unsafe can develop”. She further explains the importance of a young person to feel safe, as “when safety is threatened, there are no boundaries in place for the person”.

When asked whether in her trained experience she believes lifestyle choices have a link between mental illness with her own clients she says “all addictions whether it be alcoholism, gambling or overeating are a source of escape for someone and can help the person to feel safe within a peer group within their addiction”.

When asked whether anxiety in youths of today is linked to addiction in later life, she says “this can be a 50/50 scenario because if the issue from younger life is not addressed or cared for it can lead to addiction as an escape; but if the person is heard, they are certainly less likely to fall into any addiction”. When asked to describe how a person can begin to feel anxious Claire remarked strongly that “anxiety is almost like an entity in a persons mind. It can be something going on in the back of your mind like a silent movie until it suddenly becomes loud”.  

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Speaking specifically about the link between lifestyle choices and mental illness, Claire remarked on many of her clients work, and even her own experience with depression and anxiety growing up to answer further questions. When asked whether she believes it is possible for somebody to drink heavily or take recreational drugs continuously and not be affected by mental illness, she plainly says, “It is impossible. All drugs and all alcohol is a depressant, and your everyday functionality will be tainted. 

Finally, when asked whether depression and anxiety are fuelled by certain poor lifestyle choices, Claire directly explains that “lifestyle choices are a symptom of a person’s mental illness”. In speaking of her own experience, she says that “some people need to lose a lot to acknowledge an illness”.

When Claire was asked what she wants people to understand about mental illness going forward is that “Trauma is hidden. Everyone should be made aware of mental illness even from early as 5 years of age in taught classes at school, so people grow up with empathy and awareness.” Finally, she says that “We need to keep making people aware to all of this, even if it means shouting it from the rooftops”.

If you or anybody you know has been affected by the content within this article, please ask for help. Here are some resources, for people to speak out and be heard:

Photo Credit: SONY DSC


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