Stress and depression always go together because going through depression is stressful. Often a stress overload is a precipitation cause in depression’s development. Today we interview Adewale who runs a fantastic website called Stress Therapist which focuses on the treatment of stress and mental health issues, specifically depression and anxiety. He has a wealth of insight and passion to give.
Can you give us a history of your work in mental health?
I first started working as a mental health care assistant in 1997 just prior to commencing my Diploma in mental health nursing. For the past fifteen years I have had experience working in acute mental health care for adults, community mental health specialist work, criminal Justice mental health practice, early intervention in psychosis Practice, crisis Intervention Practice and, lastly, the enhanced mental health practice within the primary health care in the UK.
What made you want to work in this area?
I have always been fascinated by how humans tick. I read my first book on psychology when I was around age 12, Eric Bern’s book called “Games People Play,” and I was completely fascinated by the new emotional world it presented to me. It was something I did not even know existed, and I was amazed by the fact that I could actually see the games being played around me. This discovery multiplied my interest in the psychological field a hundred fold.
Your website Stress Therapist focuses on the management of stress being paramount to good mental health, can you elaborate on why you chose to focus on stress and the link between stress and depression, and other conditions too?
Yes, this is something that is very close to my heart. All through my learning in the mental-health field, I have been struck by how stress is implicated, in one way or another, in every mental health illness I have studied.
It then struck me that there would be fewer experiences of mental illness if people could find better ways of keeping stress levels low. Another thing that is apparent in our current world is the people are still more likely to accept that they are stressed than they are to accept that they have a mental illness.
So the subject of stress seemed to be a way for me to help people bridge that gap.
I see psychological stress as a huge mental health component. In essence, the more stressed (and I am talking about toxic levels of stress here) we become, the less able we are at functioning adequately in our world. This would be fine if that was where it stopped, but unfortunately, people engage with the fact that they are not functioning well in such negative ways that it eventually leads them to develop a mental illness.
I have seen my site as an opportunity to share a number of points with the world.
- Mental illness is a normal thing. This may sound ironic, but the more we see mental illness as abnormal, the more difficult it will be to recover from it.
- Mental illness results due to a combination of how we react with our world, other people, ourselves and due to our mismanagement of stress.
- The more we can see the connections mental health has with stress, the better we naturally become at being in control of our mental health.
- The negative views about mental illness are completely misguided, and people will see themselves break free from mental illness if they can treat themselves compassionately instead of critically.
Stress and depression is an escalating problem in the modern world, why do you think it is?
The number one reason I feel depression has become so rampant in our modern world is due a profound ignorance of the emotional world. The emotional world follows very different rules to the physical world.
In the physical world it is appropriate to apply more effort to a load you want to carry if you realize that the load was heavier than you had judged it to be. In the emotional world, however, applying more effort when you are not coping well only serves to break us down further. As such, if we do not recognize our personal stress limits, we can invariably drive ourselves towards depression by merely trying harder and harder.
The current education system in the modern world has done very well at educating people academically but has completely undermined the importance of educating people emotionally so when many people are hit with sadness they don’t how to manage it and stop it from slipping into depression.
Are the numbers over-inflated? Are too many people medicalising sadness?
I actually think that the numbers are under inflated. I don’t have any statistical evidence for this, so I am only suggesting this from the sample of people I have seen for therapy. Too many people don’t understand what depression is and as such suffer in silence. Some are too ashamed to speak out about what they are experiencing.
I see sadness and depression as two parts of the same thing. Depression is really only intensified sadness. I see it as a scale anyone on earth can move up or down on.
Unfortunately, in my experience, the bulk of the people who have struggled to recover from depression have been people who previously believed that depression is not real and that people are only medicalising sadness. Since these people could not bring themselves to accept depression as a real normal thing, they could not bring themselves to follow the necessary steps for recovery.
Of the people you treat who make strong recoveries and are able to beat depression are there common factors in their recovery?
Yes, there are common factors with those clients who I have treated who have been able to beat depression.
- These clients were able to accept the idea that the symptoms of depression are just that, hence able to gain insight that the symptoms of depression are very separate from who they are. They were able to draw on their past knowledge that they behaved in very different and effective ways when they were not depressed.
- The clients who recover fully from depression put a lot of effort into practicing the different techniques I taught them regularly until the techniques became built into their normal way of life.
- Clients who recovered fully from depression were able practice techniques that enabled them to gain a third-person perspective on the thoughts they were having. As a result of this they were eventually able to analyze their thoughts objectively and were able to stop being caught in negative interpretations of the thoughts they were having.
- Fourthly, clients who recovered were able to begin looking compassionately at themselves, their past lives and their experience of depression. Although they felt sad that about going through depression, they were able to stop blaming or criticizing themselves. They were able to realize that their experience of depression was just an unfortunate unintended outcome of their attempts to cope with feelings and emotions they were not familiar with. They were able to understand that it was not their fault that they did not have the correct tools to deal with depression when it first impacted them.
Working in this field can be tough. Compassion fatigue, burnout, poor funding are unfortunate realities for many workers. How do you keep up your motivation and passion?
I’ll be honest with you Justin it can get really tough, especially when I am faced with situations and decisions that are not within my control. People up the ladder make decision and expect you to carry their requests out even though the recourses are not available to do so.
Interestingly I use quite a large number of the techniques I have written about in stresstherapist.net. This helps me to regulate my own stress levels effectively. People tell me I talk and write so convincingly with passion about these techniques. I guess that the only reason I do so is the techniques work very well for me, so I am very passionate about them.
Who are your heroes in psychology and mental health?
I have a few.
Eric Berns as mentioned earlier (wrote Games People Play)
Ellen Gold White (died in 1915): She wrote a book called “Mind, Character and Personality,” This book is written from a religious perspective. What is particularly interesting about Ellen was that she was only educated to primary school level, yet some of her insights in this book, written at a time when knowledge of mental health was still very archaic, are simply spot-on with what the modern scientific world teaches today about mental illness.
Paul Gilbert: Who is pioneering the subject of Compassion as an emotional tool from breaking free from any mental illness and has written a book called compassion. I value Gilbert’s insight a lot as it sits well with a lot of my thinking. Actually, the subject of developing self-compassion is the central ethos of the stresstherapist.net website.
Marshal Linehan: Who developed Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT) for personality disorder. Her book was the instrumental in introducing the CBT approach to me.
Christine Padesky: Who wrote the self-help book Mind over mood. Her book is very simple but yet very powerful in it’s step by step explanation of some of the effective CBT tools that are used till this day.
Tell us about your most enjoyable experience with helping others try and recover from mental health.
Seeing someone recover fills me with the utmost joy. My current-day Job places me in a situation where I can experience this happening over and over again. Interestingly te joy I experience with it person’s recovery seems completely new because I become familiar with the difficulty in the life they were living and the pain they were experiencing. I love experiencing and helping:
- People returning to work, after 30-odd-years of not being able to do anything functionally.
- People realizing that they were a lot stronger than they had previously realized.
- People developing confidence to go to places they have avoided for most of their lives.
- People developing skills that enable them to cope better and become more effective at work.
- People realizing that they can actually have wonderful experiences in their marriage and with their children.
And the list just goes on!
So then, how specifically do you help people beat depression in your day to day practice?
This is a very loaded question that deserves a book to do proper justice to it. People often fail to realize that depression has a number of facets. They tend to focus their efforts on only one or two of the facets then give up. So the facets I regularly focus on for helping people beat depression are as follows. I’ll try to summarize my practice for dealing depression in bullet points.
- Tackling rumination
- Tackling self-criticism
- Tackling motivation
- Helping the client to master enjoyment
- Tackling the misperception of depressive symptoms (Normalising depression)
- Tackling negative thinking i.e. developing positive or neutral thinking patterns
- Tackling compensating behaviours
- Developing compassion
- Tackling unhelpful beliefs and rules that govern the way people live their lives
How can people connect with or make a reservation to see you?
To make a reservation, anyone can complete the therapy session request form found here.
The only prerequisite is that you will need to have access to a computer that has a good internet connection, a web cam and an audio card .I am currently thinking about allowing telephone therapy sessions, but I need to know that there is a demand for this first.At present I am offering the first two therapy sessions for free. I think this itself is a real deal when you consider how costly cognitive behaviour therapy sessions can be. However for you How I Beat Depression readers, i am prepared to offer the third session at half price.
Adewale we thank you so much for your thoughtful responses and reflections . We also commend your work in fighting the stigma of mental health and providing valuable information for people struggling with stress and depression and other mental health issues and wish you all the best with your website and career in mental health.
Adwale’s website is Stress Therapist.