Giving people the tools to improve their mental health

Canadian Mental Health Association B.C. Division offers Living Life to the Full, a new program in eight 90-minute sessions

Editor’s note: the following is from the Canadian Mental Health Association, B.C. Division (CMHA BC)

Don’t worry; be happy.

Easy to say, but many of us don’t find it easy to do.

Mental illness is a serious health problem in Canada affecting relationships, education, productivity and overall quality of life. Approximately one in five Canadians, or 20 per cent of the population, will experience a mental illness during their lifetimes.

Fortunately, a pioneering new course developed in the United Kingdom and backed by CMHA BC offers the promise for a better life for thousands of individuals living with depression and anxiety.

Called Living Life to The Full, the course features eight “little books” that form the basis for eight consecutive 90-minute sessions or as the CMHA states: 12 Hours That Can Change Your Life. Bold words, but several independent evaluations show that most people who take the course report a real increase in their well-being.

The booklets outline a plainly-worded set of tools that allow participants to face and overcome the problems that are bothering them. The tools are designed to help people experiencing depression or anxiety, but they go beyond that — they work for anyone seeking to worry less and live a happier life, starting now.

Dr. Chris Williams, a psychiatrist and professor at the University of Glasgow, developed the program, which is based on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).  Williams was in B.C. recently to help CMHA launch Living Life to the Full in Canada. He told a group of mental health professionals that the plain language of the course is the key to its success.

“CBT has some great strategies for coping with mental health problems,” he said. “But when people aren’t able to cope, making them learn CBT language is not the way to help. “

The booklets have straightforward titles such as Why do I feel so Bad?, I’m Not Good Enough, How to Fix Almost Anything, and 10 Things You Can Do to Feel Happier Straight Away.

Williams designed the courses to be delivered by certified trainers. And if some participants need more help than the course can provide, the facilitator can refer them to the appropriate service providers.

At the heart of Living Life to the Full is the conviction that ordinary people can learn how to take ownership of their mental health by using the tools outlined in the books to feel better.

For example, book number three, Why does everything always go wrong? introduces participants to the Amazing Bad Thought Busting Program.

“Bad thoughts love attention,” said Williams. “They’re like bullies, and the one thing that works on a bully is to stand up to it. Don’t be bullied. If you’re having trouble with a bad thought, think what the person who loves you most in the world would say to you right now.  They’d disagree with the bad thought. They’d remind you that you’re not rubbish, or stupid, or bound to fail. Trust these positive things and let them help get rid of the bad thoughts.”

This plainly-worded advice that breaks big problems into manageable small steps is the hallmark of the program.

CMHA BC has adapted Living Life to the Full to the diverse needs of today’s British Columbia, translating the program into Cantonese, and training Ismaili facilitators who ran the program in their own mosque to enthusiastic participation.

For more information about Living Life to the Full, see