Having a conceptual framework can help us make some sense out of complex ideas. There are two definitions of a framework which are particularly relevant here.
1. It’s a set of coherent ideas or concepts organized in a way that makes them easy to communicate with others, and:
2. It can provide a basis for thinking about what we do, and about what it means, influenced by the ideas and research of others.
A framework can be used rather like a travel map. Like a map, a framework can help us make decisions about the route we want to take, and it can show us that there may be many different paths to get to the same place. Using a conceptual framework, we can explain why we would try this or that path, based on the experiences of others, and on our own particular circumstances.
At the Good Mental Health Cooperative, we find this framework a useful way to focus our project work, always seeking to meet a combination of these purposes to support good mental health and wellbeing.
Thinking about the human form is a way of explaining the 5 Cs Framework.
First let’s think about our legs and particularly our feet. Our feet ground us, keep us balanced, help us walk tall and straight. We neglect looking after our feet at our peril.
Let’s think of this right foot as Character – this is about knowing ourselves, self awareness, having a strong sense of values, knowing the strengths, skills and resources we bring to the table. Plus its about how we tell our own story.
Good mental health is about having a strong sense of self, secure in our values, taking pride in our achievements, feeling confident about where we’re heading in life. Poor mental health is those times when we feel like a victim of circumstances, buffeted around by life. Someone experiencing mental ill-health will often have lost sight of their own story, feel fragmented, powerless, lack self awareness and so on.
One of the key features of many therapies is to help someone piece together their sense of self, their personal story, and reframe this more positively. For example moving from a story about being a victim to being a survivor – a shift which emphasises qualities of strength – endurance, courage, persistence and so on.
The left leg represents Composure. This is the other aspect of our mental health which keeps us grounded. This can be described as the distance between our sense of self and our thoughts and feelings. Have you ever found yourself reacting to your thoughts and feelings in ways that feel out of control or disproportionate to the situation? Are you what might be called a mental time traveller? Maybe you spend a lot of time doing things automatically but your mind is busy thinking about things that have happened in the past or worrying about things that might happen in the future.
Composure is about being present in whatever you’re doing, being mindful of what’s happening in the here and now, responding rather than reacting to our thoughts and feelings. We can practice this through meditation, spending time in nature, finding ways to connect with our inner peace or spirituality.
Our arms represent the ways in which we reach out to the world around us.
Let’s think of the right arm as Connection – this is about our relationships, not just close ones but our wider social network too. Feeling part of our community through work, friendships, groups, common interests – these are all really important for our sense of belonging, social status and so on. We learn how important this is very early in life.
Being ‘sent to Coventry’ is one of the worst punishments to endure as a child at school. Solitary confinement is considered a form of torture. Another aspect of Connection is our contribution to the world. Giving really is good for our mental health.
The left arm here represents Creativity. This is about remembering how to play, use our imagination, laugh and have fun. Maybe we want to develop a creative talent but all too often tell ourselves we’re just not good enough. Creativity has been described as an antidote to existential loneliness – a condition everyone experiences and which certainly links to our mental health. Art, music, dance, drama – these are all forms of expression which connect with our deepest feelings, provide solace, inspire us.
For the 5th C let’s consider the head as representing Challenge. This is what we need to grow and develop – its about learning, setting ourselves goals, stepping outside our comfort zone, taking risks. Challenge can be an uncomfortable place – you need a level of self confidence and self motivation to get you through to the other side, to learn or experience something new. If our mental health is poor we retreat into our comfort zone, and this can get smaller and smaller.
Finally the 6th and 7th Cs are about how we approach these first 5 Cs.
First we need to approach these with Compassion – be kind to yourself. Notice what you’re already doing to take care of your mental health, things that you might not have recognised in this way. This is represented by the heart.
Lastly, treat all this, and everything in life with Curiosity. Ask questions, be interested, notice what’s going on around you. It’s virtually impossible to be curious and depressed at the same time. You may recall the phrase ‘Curiosity killed the cat’ but the origin of this phrase was actually ‘Care killed the cat’ where Care meant worry and anxiety in the 16th century. The phrase changed in the 19th century as ‘curiosity’ became an undesirable trait, disapproved of by the establishment.
It’s high time curiosity was rehabilitated as being good for our mental health.