We all know that we, as a community, have enormous work to do when it comes to learning about psychology and the ways it affects our lives. Dr Marien outlined how the scientific study of the human mind has seen extraordinary advances in the past few decades. Robust research is now actively informing the various factors that can nourish and deplete the human spirit.
When we feel anxious we tend to have anxious thoughts, more worries and concerns, and these anxious thoughts can serve to heighten our anxiety. The heightened anxiety then generates even more worrying thoughts. This process, known as cognitive-emotional fusion, rumination, can be modified by using effective, proven techniques for breaking the cycle and achieving cognitive-emotional de-fusion.
Dr Marien also mentioned “An important thing is how you feel about how you feel. If you get stressed about feeling stressed it can rapidly exacerbate existing stress levels. This metacognition, or meta-emotion, is a well-recognised risk factor for becoming ill.”
In most fields of medicine, we know now that understanding the risk factors and protective factors is important, but this is not as widely acknowledged in psychiatry or psychology. We often wait for people to be ill before we do anything. “We should be moving upstream and giving people good, coherent, evidence-based techniques,” Dr Marien said.
And the key, he suggested, is to do so while the issues are still manageable.
There is a powerful business case for moving upstream. Once any organisation has recruited capable and competent individuals the best predictor of their performance and productivity is their psychological health – it is the KPI.
Dr Marien argued that this type of education should also be in school curricula. “We need to teach our children these life skills,” he said. “Young people often struggle with emotional difficulties and the number of young people experiencing mental health problems is escalating. The number of young people presenting with psychological problems was already increasing prior to the pandemic. The young seem to have been particularly hard-hit, over the past two years, by the impact of Covid 19.
We now know that psychological education, understanding the things that exacerbate emotional distress and learning how to better manage emotions, is protective. We can all benefit from learning how to manage our minds more effectively”.
He also pointed out that this emphasis on upstream initiatives should not negate or diminish the importance of downstream interventions, good access to effective treatment, which absolutely need to be better funded.
“It’s not ‘either/or’. It’s ‘both/and’,” he said. “And I’m not suggesting this as a panacea. We will all fall in the river. That is not the issue. The issue is getting stuck in the river.
“But we need to teach people how to swim back to the bank. It is a concept sometimes known as anti-fragility. We can never develop a world in which we don’t get stressed, anxious, distressed or unhappy,” he concluded. “But what we can do is teach people the tools and techniques to recover a bit quicker.”