I recently read a very interesting book, Positive Psychology for Overcoming Depression by Miriam Akhtar, which has helped me to manage my mental health. I was already a fan of positive psychology, but hadn’t read anything which applied the approach to mental illness. The standard line given in books on positive psychology is that whereas most psychology focuses on what’s wrong, positive psychology concentrates on what people can do to feel good — rather than fixing problems, it circumvents them to find solutions.
I personally believe that there are benefits to either approach when treating mental health problems: there is no need to choose one and no reason why they cannot be used simultaneously. While this book focuses on depression, the strategies it suggests can also be used to manage other mental health problems — in my case, I find them useful for anxiety and borderline personality disorder. Another advantage of using this book is that it explains the theory behind everything without being dry or too academic. It’s suitable for any level of knowledge regarding positive psychology; whether you have never heard of it or if you are familiar with the subject, the advice is pertinent and never patronising.
As always, I would never recommend altering your course of treatment without consulting your doctor or another mental health professional, but an advantage of these strategies is that the chance of them causing harm is minimal — the majority will be ineffective at worst. If you are unsure about whether a particular technique might have adverse effects, discuss it with a mental health professional first. I will also caution that there is a lot of trial and error involved in implementing the strategies effectively, although it is definitely worth persevering, so don’t be discouraged if some of them don’t seem to work for you straightaway.
So what are the strategies? They are divided into broad chapters which examine each topic in detail: savouring, gratitude, mindfulness meditation, learning optimism, developing resilience, connecting with others, vitality and focusing on your strengths. There are several techniques desrcibed for each strategy, as well as advice on how to apply them and details on how they can boost your mood. There are also recommendations on which other strategies to try if one resonates with you.
I love how practical Positive Psychology for Overcoming Depression is — the focus is on applying the theory to your life and counteracting the effects of depression. It demonstrates how small changes can spiral into big improvements and left me feeling empowered. I think it’s particularly helpful for people like myself, who are learning how to manage their mental health and need reminders of how we can help ourselves on the more challenging days. I also like the optimism of positive psychology; I have spent many years trying to fix my problems and the shift in focus to how I can feel better despite my problems is refreshing. Of course, that’s not to say that I won’t continue trying to solve my problems in addition to using these strategies, but sometimes it’s easier and more effective to look at what’s going right in life and how we can create more of those things.