Zindel Segal on mental health and the science of mindfulness

Zindel Segal is a world renown Doctor in his work on depression and Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). He is a pioneer in helping spread awareness of mental health and on February 9th 2011 (Mental Health Day) I had the privilege to share time and interview Dr. Zindel Segal on the impacts of mental illness and the power of mindfulness as a tool to help alleviate this suffering shared by so many.

The unfortunate reality of mental illness or disorders is that they aren’t as visibly evident as heart disease, cancer and other physical illnesses, but they are just as important to address. Our mental health dictates our physical well-being by impacting our ability to choose the right or wrong actions for health and wellness in our everyday lives.

1 in 5 Canadians will experience a form of mental illness at some point in their lives (Canadian Institute of Health Research).

Dr. Zindel Segal is the founder of Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy, a Professor of Psychiatry at University of Toronto, and Head of The Mood and Anxiety Disorder Clinic at the Center for Addiction and Mental Health. I recorded our interview and have shared his insights in the image link below.

In this audio clip Segal shares with us some of his real world insight into Mental Health, what goes on in our minds and how we can liberate ourselves from  entering the state of constant self-judgment. Below are a few excerpts drawn from the interview that I feel are most important when approaching your self, friends, and family in exploring your own Mental Health.

Questions for Dr. Zindel Segal

What is not being said about Mental Health?

I found very interesting Dr. Zindel’s comment to the question of “What is not being said?”, when approaching Mental Health. Zindel outlined two things, one being the issue stopping the help to the many of those in need,

People need to come out of the dark ages of the stigma that people are hopeless – when in reality if they received treatment they could liberate themselves from the disorder. It’s quite the paradox as the clinical reality is that many can be treated.

and the other a solution, an approach to bring them to help,

We need to use compassion to change the culture towards Mental Health. Be open with your judgments towards the situation of others, so that they can be helped rather than viewed negatively.

What is the current state of Mental Health in Society?

I asked Dr. Zindel to comment on the current state of Mental Health in Society, and he gave quite the powerful visual of how the demand for our attention is at a record high right now.

Many people underestimate our demand for attention, not only our pocket book. With that increase in demand of attention we often don’t realize that we’ve given up our choice to what we want to give our attention to, or what we want to stop paying attention to.
With Mindfulness Meditation and these contemplative practices we can reclaim that choice, and these choices can then be informed by a compassionate and carrying attitude towards ourselves where we might want to take a break from listening to the news for a week to help wash out the effects of hearing alot of the negative things.
Right now we don’t even know that that is a choice, we might want to do things to provide ourselves with a sense of novelty, we may not have a choice if we are told that this is the way we have to be doing things to get from point A to point B
On a very basic level these are the kind of molecular changes in our lives that we can build on for positive Mental Health.

I really enjoyed this illustration because of its simplicity. When we allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by impressions that we think are right (even though we could do with a big break from them) we could bring ourselves to a state of mental illness.

Take the time for your self by switching the way you do things, to get a break from the negativity don’t listen to the news for a week, switch from social media updates to a walk surrounded by nature instead.

By making these small but powerful changes and increases in our understanding we can greatly shift our mental health to one that is positive and clear. Sometimes you need to simply take a break and provide yourself with a fresh perspective to shed light on why you feel the way you do.

What is Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy?

Dr. Zindel’s work on Meditation treating Relapse of Depression better than anti-depressant drugs has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, Reddit, the Journal of Psychiatry and many more top publications. Zindel is the founder of Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy.

Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy brings together people who are in the same mental state in a compassionate comfortable setting. Together they witness that they are not alone and that others are going through the same thoughts and feelings.

Throughout the Therapy the participants are able to create a space to witness their thoughts and feelings.

One of the many interesting component to the program I found to be was the “Thoughts are not Facts” section that develops the ability to watch your thoughts simply as mental events, allowing the participant to not be attached to their thoughts, as many of those with mood disorders do.

The program is incredibly preventative, it can be used at any point of the day to connect with the present moment experience. It is an overall exercise in wellness – the more it is practiced the better you will be suited if a situation arises that brings you down.

What can someone expect if they take the Mindfulness program?

The Mindfulness Program integrates our current understanding of the mind and brings together a number of techniques to shift an individuals attention from the constant judgment of their thoughts and surroundings.

Dr. Zindel outlines that the program includes; Body scanning to be aware of bodily sensations, Observing experiences and witnessing how they affect the body, practicing techniques for bringing awareness into everyday life, breathing techniques to center you and bring you to the moment and Cognitive Therapy work to prepare for relapses of any mental disorders.

How does Compassion play a Key Role in aiding Mental Health?

Compassion to your self, being a fundamental message within the MBCT program I asked Dr. Zindel to explain how it is a key element in keeping us Mentally Healthy.

Compassion is an antidote to the states of mind and depression where the mind convinces a person of their inherent unworthiness or lack of deservedness, of attention, of presence.
Compassion is a way of allowing people to experience that they don’t have to do anything to connect with awareness, to connect with some of these experiences that are very tangible very real, and they can have them if they are able to see through the veil.

The underlying message in my own Modern Meditation sessions is to view yourself and your thoughts in a state of no-judgment, no evaluation. At times this can seem difficult though can provide such a tremendous release once you get a grasp of it, providing a freedom from judging each action, each situation, each person surrounding you.

What is the mind state called Rumination?

The judgments of self that we explored in the last question stem into a state of being that is called Rumination, and is an important state to be aware of. I asked Dr. Zindel to explore the meaning of Rumination.

Rumination is a form of thought analysis that is intended to help a person solve a problem. Why is this happening? What does this say about me? What will this do to me in the future?
Unfortunately it makes a person feel like they are solving the problem when in reality they are perpetuating the problem itself.

We are so poised to try to solve every problem that we begin to associate ourselves with the thoughts flowing through you head – with such an immense amount of stress in today’s modern life you can clearly see how many can get lost in this mind state.


What is the Value of Meditation to Mental Health?

To close off this article and interview with Dr. Zindel Segal, I thought I would leave you with this succinct and very modern approach as to the Value of Meditation to Mental Health.

Many emotional disorders are characterized by a mind that gets high-jacked – usually from thoughts that they are trying to address or repair.
Meditation allows an individual to simply watch the mind and still the mind allowing it to do what it does, and you are able then to choose to follow it or not, and move to more wiser ways.

For more information or to contact Dr. Zindel Segal you can visit his CAMH profile by clicking here.

For more information on the Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy Program please click here.

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