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Exploring the role of emotional processing in safeguarding mental health

It is estimated that one in every four of us will experience a mental health problem each year in the UK [1]. Chances are that even if we ourselves are not struggling, we all have someone close to us who is. And as we contend with mounting anxieties related to the economy, politics, climate change and everyday stresses, it can oftentimes feel like a daily challenge to manage our mental and physical workloads. 

Despite high prevalence levels, and more openness and conversations on the topic, the fact is the stigma around mental health in the UK remains [2]. This stigma is deep-rooted, having somehow become engrained within our national identity – the British have long been characterised by placing importance on keeping a ‘stiff upper lip’. 

This seems to be embedded within the male psyche in particular – it is well known that men are on average far less likely to seek professional help when struggling with a mental health issue. And men and boys will often learn to mask emotions too [3], making the signs very difficult to spot (as this video released on the most recent World Mental Health Day so poignantly demonstrates – note the trigger warning at the start).  

The truth is we can all benefit from taking active steps to managing our mental health just as we would our physical health. We all encounter stressful life events one way or another – and whether they be highly traumatic events, or more day-to-day stressors – they can all take their toll psychologically. A wealth of psychological and psychiatric research has shown how stressful life events can have a ‘triggering’ effect for many different disorders. 

And yet, not everyone who experiences an emotionally-salient negative event will go on to develop a disorder. Clinical Psychologist Professor Roger Baker explains that such events ’need to be emotionally absorbed, adapted to, and integrated into our experience so that we can get on with the task of daily living.’ Over many years of research into this process, Professor Baker and his team discovered that there are both healthy and unhealthy styles of emotional processing:

‘A resilient emotional processing style means that a person can more effectively deal with stressors when they occur so there are less psychological and physical repercussions. Problematic styles of processing may mean that the stressful event is not properly absorbed or integrated, resulting in physical and psychological symptoms.’

Professor Baker recently spoke on illusionist and writer Derren Brown’s ‘Boot Camp for Emotion’ podcast, explaining:

‘It’s as if the body has a second immune system – an emotional system – devoted not to physical protection, but protection from emotional hurts and trauma; a way of dealing with it. So we’re equipped as people to deal with all sorts of problems.’

The key thing to recognise is that our emotions are not enemy forces to be suppressed or whipped into shape, as the longstanding ‘stiff upper lip’ approach would have us believe. Rather, they are entirely natural responses – like a second immune system protecting us and helping us to understand and interpret the world around us.

References

  1. statistics-facts-2017.pdf (mind.org.uk)
  2. Stigma and discrimination | Mental Health Foundation
  3. Exploring The Impact Of Masking Emotions On Men's Mental Health | BetterHelp

Target mental resilience and wellbeing with the Emotional Processing Scale (EPS) and the Emotional Processing Scale – Wellbeing (EPS-W)

Developed by Professor Baker and his research team, the Emotional Processing Scale (EPS) is a groundbreaking clinical measure that examines healthy and unhealthy styles of emotional processing and potential deficits. The EPS has received high praise from the British Psychological Society for its pioneering approach to mental health and is a BPS registered test. 

The Emotional Processing Scale – Wellbeing (EPS-W) is an adaptation of the EPS for use within an occupational context. The EPS-W is a practical tool used to identify vulnerabilities to stress, improve wellbeing, and build resilience in the workplace.