Complex mental health

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Health Assured team

21 December 2022

Mental health issues don’t often occur in isolation—many people will be affected by multiple mental or physical health conditions at the same time. This co-occurrence is what's known as a complex mental health condition, and it can be extremely challenging to go through. 

So in this article, we’ll look in more detail at what complex mental health is, the challenges that come with it, and how you can support yourself or someone you love through this time. 

 

What is complex mental health?

A complex mental health condition is a term used to describe a combination of multiple disorders. For example, this could be depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or schizophrenia and an eating disorder. A complex mental health issue can also be referred to as a co-occurring disorder or dual diagnosis.

Experiencing complex mental health issues can be extremely challenging and frustrating, varying symptoms can have a huge impact on day-to-day life. But mental health conditions occur simultaneously more often than you might think. 

Studies show that 60% of people with anxiety will also have symptoms of depression and vice-versa. Complex mental health conditions are common—they can impact anyone at any point in life.

 

Mental health and substance misuse 

One of the most prevalent complex mental health issues is addiction and one or more conditions.  Reports show that 50% of people with severe mental disorders are also affected by substance abuse.

Recovery from addiction, substance abuse or alcoholism is no small feat, and this can become even more difficult when other mental health conditions are involved. 

Many people suffering from mental health issues use drugs or alcohol to self-medicate. But while it might provide a quick release in the moment, it can often worsen symptoms in the long run.

 

Challenges of complex mental health 

Complex mental health issues can be challenging for many reasons. Some of the main struggles people with complex mental health problems face include:

Receiving more than one medication or treatment

Managing different types of medications or treatments can be difficult for several reasons. Some medications can trigger varying side effects, and therapy can be a challenging process; for example, you might find yourself juggling Cognitive Behavioural Therapy with talking therapy and the side effects of anti-depressants.

Obtaining a diagnosis

Sometimes complex mental health issues can be hard to diagnose and explain effectively. Without proper diagnosis, people might not get the treatment they need, or they may have to pay privately for treatment.

The stigma attached to mental health conditions

Lots of people hold a stigma around different types of mental health conditions. Sigma can occur as judgement or prejudice from others, making it hard to discuss feelings and emotions. There's also self-stigma, which can lead many people experiencing mental health issues to internalise negative stereotypes, causing shame, reduced self-esteem and further barriers to recovery.  

Limited resources, funding, and services

There are long waiting times for many mental health services and a lack of support for certain mental health conditions. Limitations like this can make the road to treatment and recovery for multiple mental health problems even more difficult.

 

Support for complex mental health problems 

Sometimes people will deal with complex mental health problems for a very long time before seeking help. But the longer you leave it, the worse symptoms can become.

If you broke your leg, you would go and seek treatment. We should see mental health problems in the same way we see physical ones. Opening up about mental health issues isn’t always that easy.

But if you can, try to reach out to someone, be that a friend, family member or a mental health helpline. Plenty of charitable organisations such as Mind and Samaritans have freephone lines where you can get things off your chest confidentially.   

Below we’ve put together some ways to support yourself or someone you love.

Routine 

Keeping a regular schedule can help you improve your mental health by helping you to incorporate healthy habits into your day-to-day. Going to bed and waking up at the same time, will also improve your sleep schedule, which will do wonders for your mental health.

Mindfulness 

Research shows that people who practised meditation regularly over an eight-week period showed reduced levels of anxiety and depression. Meditation has also been shown to improve critical thinking ability, stress management and emotional regulation.

There are many meditations available online, and if you have the My Healthy Advantage App, you can find Health Assured’s collection there too. 

The research speaks for itself, but the benefits take time to accumulate. Try incorporating 5 minutes into your daily routine every day—over time you’ll feel a difference.

Nature 

Getting outdoors is one of the best things you can do for your mental health. It gives you a dose of vitamin D, provides a change of scenery and increases social interaction.

Exercise 

When you exercise, the body produces natural feel-good endorphins that lift your mood and energy levels. It doesn’t have to be anything strenuous, just whatever you can manage, be that a walk, a swim or a fitness class—every little helps.

Journaling 

If you find yourself stuck in a cycle of negative thoughts, journaling can be a very cathartic experience. Getting your thoughts out of your head and onto paper can help you gain some perspective and help relieve any difficult emotions you might be feeling.

Get creative

Drawing upon your creative side can help bring you out of your mind and into the now. It could be painting, drawing, decorating or baking, use these activities to wind down and create something new.

 

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