I co-designed and tested States of Mind's new online mental health course. Here's what I found...

Education Ella Gregory

Thu, Nov 12, 20

Team member Ella gives a sneak peek of our new education platform, coming soon.

Our education work involves working in London colleges and schools, providing mental health education and supporting young people to address challenges affecting individual and peer wellbeing. With the huge changes our world has experienced this year, we decided it was time to make our mental health education programme accessible to even more young people. So… we’re going online!

Using our existing education model as the foundation, we’ve created and piloted our first online course. Uniting knowledge, theory and self reflection, it aims to increase understanding about mental health, ourselves, others, and our world.

Right now we’re making final changes and plan to launch it fully in early 2021. Here, team member Ella shares what it was like to co-design the course, and then to work through the content as a learner.

I am in a very unique position when it comes to discussing this course as I had the privilege of creating it with States of Mind founder Bea, and then completing it as a participant. As co-designer I was already very familiar with the course’s content, yet I learnt so much from working through the content and gained a greater understanding of myself and others around me. I now apply the theories and ideas I have learned in my everyday life, and perhaps most importantly, the insights I have gained through reflecting on the material in the handbook have greatly influenced how I relate to myself and those around me.

This course is not only helpful for those struggling with life, who may feel like the mental health system isn’t supporting them enough, but also for anyone, young or old, who is searching for greater understanding of who they are and why they feel or act in the ways they do.

The course comprises five modules: Identity and Self Awareness; Body, Feelings, Mind; Relationships; Anxiety and Depression and Low mood. Each module delves into the chosen topic in detail but also contains information pertinent to all areas of life and the other modules.

‘Identity and Self Awareness’ is a nice starting point to gaining this greater understanding and it introduces the need to be vulnerable with oneself while completing the course. I personally noticed resistance in myself to some of the handbook exercises and therefore got some practice in compassionately responding to feelings of discomfort. This skill is essential for the course and will be learnt or built up as one progresses. It is a reminder that the moments where we usually respond with frustration or annoyance are usually the ones where kindness is needed the most.

‘Body, Feelings, Mind’ begins an exploration into how we identify with the different aspects of our being and how this affects how we show up in the world. It contains a truly beautiful meditation that reminds me that ‘I am my body but I am also more than that. I am my mind but I’m also more than that and I am my feelings but I also more than them’. This mantra reminds me of the complexity of our identity and that while these different aspects may seem at odds with one another they coexist beautifully within us. Meditations are a key part of the course and they remind me that while they can feel divisive sometimes, you are either a “yogi” or you’re not, meditation is a tool that can be accessible to all of us and can help to heighten the connection that we feel with all parts of our person. Working on this connection allows us to remember that we are whole without feeling a need to change or look externally.

These first two modules focus on possibly the most important relationship: our relationship with ourselves and this is then developed in the third module: ‘Relationships’. It explores the idea that the company we keep has an affect on our well-being and that our primary relationships have long standing impacts on our mental health. It stresses the importance of authenticity in our relationships and the link between how we feel and how authentic we can be.

Self compassion is a key component of all the modules, but especially in ‘Relationships’. The self compassion meditation offers a chance to explore how compassionate we are with ourselves and how by adopting a more compassionate attitude we can support our well-being. It also offers a chance to have a truly transcendental experience, as I discovered. I had been lucky enough to engage with a few of Bea’s meditations while creating the course, and love her style and this guided meditation is up there in my favourites for sure. Every person’s experience is different and even the same person can have radically different experiences with a meditation depending on the context in which they engage with it but for me, while completing the course, I was able to connect with an embodied connectedness that is beyond words; I could almost feel myself unlearning old patterns! It was an odd feeling to be learning so much about myself while on my laptop but it is an experience I am very grateful for. This course provided me with an opportunity to look at the areas of my life that I am unhappy about and look for tangible ways to improve them.

It is so incredibly important that courses like this exist because they give us chances to explore our feelings outside of a formal setting, like therapy, and do so in a way that engages not only our mind, but our soul and body too. There are opportunities to intellectually explore and opportunities to experience and feel, and in life these can feel disconnected. Completing this course reminded me that it is possible to show up using my mind, body and soul and that in the times when I inevitably cannot show up as fully as I wish too, kindness should be my immediate response.

While helping to create it, I wanted the course to act as a reminder to young people that we have more power than we realise or are told.

I spent many years feeling powerless when it came to how I felt, I thought that it was up to professionals to ‘treat’ me and when that did not work I spiralled into thinking that I could never experience life in a peaceful and fulfilling way. I want young people to know that most of the time our suffering is not permanent and that we can take steps to understand why we feel overwhelmed or why we may not feel anything a lot of the time. It took me a long time to detach from the thought that my ‘mental health problems’ were inherent and to instead see the beliefs I held as a result of what I had experienced as a child and teenager and how I had dealt with these experiences. There is no simple ‘cure’ for these feelings and neither is there one method that will work for everyone but, for me, a greater understanding of psychology and theories about mental health allowed me to take more responsibility for how I felt and to become discerning. As a young person, who is the ‘patient’, it can be tricky to express our opinions to mental health specialists. I struggled with the power imbalance between myself and various medical professionals for a long time, staying quiet even if I disagreed with their ideas or assessment of me. Completing this course has given me a greater feeling of confidence when it comes to working with professionals on my mental health.

I no longer feel like I am being ‘treated’ but that it is a two way process of learning.

As a young person I feel a lot of anxiety, both about external and internal affairs. The ‘Anxiety’ module of the course was therefore very helpful for me and it includes many really useful graphs and pictorial representations to enhance learning. I was able to address some anxiety surrounding the course, especially the handbook, in this module too. At first I rushed to fill up all the space when answering questions and only after taking a step back and asking ‘who am i performing for?’ was I able to recognise that sometimes less is more. Sometimes I wanted to write a paragraph and sometimes one word means much more to me. At the beginning I had not realised that I felt like I was under the same stress from school of needing to write a certain amount, trying to show that I understood the material and was engaged. The module’s focus on anxiety allowed me to tune into my own anxiety, sometimes prompted by the course material and sometimes inspired by its focus.

The module introduces the concept of limiting beliefs: beliefs that are rooted in fear. This was one of the first ideas that Bea and I explored together and I was very familiar with the notion by the time I came to this section. Surprisingly I was still challenged by these slides, reminding me that my growth never ends but simply changes and evolves. It was an important realisation that this course is not only useful for people who have never engaged with these concepts but also for people who are very familiar with them. Learning about theories and applying them to yourself are two very different experiences and I think it highlights the value that this course has for all no matter your experience. The ideas around changing and evolving are key to this course as it is fundamentally about looking at our beliefs and actions and questioning whether they serve or limit us. This does not mean that we denounce or label them in any way but that we recognise that we have changed and the behaviours that helped the past versions of ourselves cope may not apply to our present life.

The final module ‘Depression and Low Mood’ is very intellectually stimulating. It introduces psychosocial theories of depression which will be foreign for many people and can radically alter the way those of us with depression see ourselves and we see those we know who struggle with it. It introduces the idea that depression is not only an individual struggle but also one that affects all of society and is very much a political issue. Prior to meeting Bea and working with her, I had many experiences with CAMHs which I have elaborated on in this article. In that article I argued that what young people need is a mental health system that values vulnerability, responsibility, truth and compassion and while we may not have that yet this course does embody these values. For me to explore such an emotionally charged topic like depression it was necessary to come from a place of acceptance and love and I felt the course supported me to do this. The calming look of the course, muted pastel colours and a rounded font, really helped here and it reminded me just how important the atmosphere is when talking about sensitive issues. This is another area where CAMHs fall short, the rooms that I have experienced are bare and often uncomfortable to be in. As individuals we cannot wait for CAMHs to transform themselves into the mental health system we so desperately need and so courses like this are key in taking some of the responsibility away from a failing system and placing it on ourselves. This can be a scary feeling and so it is important that individuals are supported while completing the course and is why facilitating sessions alongside individual completion is such a valuable thing and compliments nicely.

This module helps to reinforce in the individual just how widespread depression is, especially in the Western world and how we as individuals must help to turn the tide. It is adversely affected by the shame we as a society seem to feel in talking about experiences of depression and by educating ourselves we can begin to remove the individual shame that we may feel about our own experience or about others’. There is a need for us to reduce inequality to help mental health and this provides a useful reminder that nothing is isolated, mental health work is about improving society as a whole and to advocate effectively that must be taken into account. We must acknowledge that experiences between different groups of people can be fundamentally different and that this must inform the way we approach talking about mental health and the language we use. The course takes this into account, avoiding definite language and keeping in mind that we cannot know someone else’s experience only make educated guesses about it. This is why the handbook is such a key component of the course. Our individual response to the material differs depending on our experiences and thus how we relate to the course.

This course is needed because it provides the individual with a rare opportunity to feel empowered while exploring mental health. It provides a multidisciplinary approach that is so desperately needed to address mental health, using the tools of science and more mystical approaches. Often when discussing mental health different groups are convinced that their approach is the best, this course does not claim to be a magic cure, but recognises that to deal with a human issue, all aspects of humanity must be considered.

To learn more about our work, head to this link.