Mental illness is on the rise.
Everyone you talk to nowadays seems to either have their own mental and emotional issues – or knows someone who does. It’s tragic really.
There are many potential root causes of this epidemic, including: The breakdown of family units, the isolation caused by our reliance on technology, diets lacking in nutrition, and a culture obsessed with me, me, me!
What Happened to Our Minds?
The Mental Health Foundation estimates that 1 in 6 people in the past week has experienced a common mental health problem.
What is even more disturbing, is the fact that many people suffering from mental health illnesses become dependent on prescription drugs. As an example, the number of antidepressant drugs prescribed to patients in England doubled between 2005 and 2015.
According to a report from the Health and Social Care Information Centre, England’s National Health Service prescribed and dispensed a total of 61 million antidepressants in 2015. This is an astonishing figure, especially when you take into account the population of England in that year was only 55 million.
The Power of Therapeutic Writing
With such an abundance of mental health issues around the world, I thought it would be useful to take a look at a ‘drug-free’ way of tackling the problem.
Whether you, or someone you know, is currently suffering from a mental health issue (such as attention deficit, dementia or depression), writing has been shown to have a therapeutic benefit.
As we’ll see, though, it’s not just any form of writing.
Let Writing Be Your Medicine
If you want to boost your mental wellness through writing, then try these seven techniques:
#1 Clear your thoughts using a ‘mind dump’.
Spend 10 minutes writing down everything that comes into your mind. Don’t worry about the rules of writing – just let your thoughts flow onto the paper or screen. Try not to stop writing at any point during the 10 minutes. It’s amazing what this short exercise can do. You’ll literally dump thoughts from your mind. This will leave you able to think clearer and sharper.
#2 Keep a diary.
Diaries are not just for famous people who want to store their memories for future autobiographies. They are also a great mental health tool that you can use. A good practice is to write down in your diary your plans for the day. This will instantly give you purpose and direction. At the end of the day, use your diary again, this time to write down what went well – and what didn’t. By reflecting on your day, you’ll be able to quickly see ways of improving your actions (and reactions). Keeping a diary is also a great way of keeping your memory sharp.
#3 Practice ‘free writing’.
Have you heard the term ‘free writing’ before? Perhaps not. But you may have heard of journaling, which is another term for ‘free writing’. This technique involves writing down strong emotions that you would like to express. For example, “I can’t stand my manager, one day he’s going to get what’s coming to him!” Disturbing thoughts such as this one, can be captured on paper or screen. By doing this, we can acknowledge and accept our thoughts and feelings. This can help shift them into something more positive.
#4 Make a list.
Lists can be incredibly powerful. For mental health issues, try creating a list of practical questions. These could be along the lines of: “What went wrong with my relationship?” “How did I feel when I lost my job?” “What’s the purpose of my life?” By asking yourself probing questions such as these, you’ll give your subconscious mind an opportunity to answer you. This may be immediate, or may happen the next morning or even later. Lists don’t need to be this serious, though. How about writing a list of your Top 10 favourite comedy films?
#5 Write a letter.
If you have ‘unfinished business’ with someone from your past, write them a letter. Now, to be clear, you don’t have to send them the letter. You’ll benefit anyway, just by putting your thoughts down on paper or screen. As an example for you, perhaps you had an abusive partner. Compose a letter to them that sets out your thoughts and feelings on the matter. It might be hard to write such a letter, but you’ll be helping to release trapped negative memories and feelings.
#6 Become a poet.
John Fox said it well: “Poetry is a natural medicine; it is like a homeopathic tincture derived from the stuff of life itself – your experience.” Poetry can take many forms, but I’m sold on the idea of recalling positive memories, and then writing short poems about them. You don’t need to worry about the quality of your writing, instead, just have fun with this exercise! Of course, if you do find yourself becoming a proficient poetry writer, then you never know, you may be able to publish your poems for others to read and enjoy.
#7 Free your inner creativity.
Modern schooling and life often blunts our creativity. For some of us, this can lead to a deep feeling of frustration – or even depression. Fortunately, we can use creative writing to break free from our chains. Reawaken your inner creative being by doing the following: writing lyrics for a song, writing a novel, writing your autobiography. Creative writing knows no bounds, so let your imagination run wild. You’re likely to find yourself enjoying life once again.
Hopefully, some (or even all) of the above therapeutic writing techniques will be of help to you or a loved one.
It goes without saying, however, that serious mental health issues will need the aid of a professional psychotherapist. An excellent resource for finding licenced practitioners is the Good Therapy website.