Self-esteem and mental health
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THIS week I would like to talk about self-esteem and how it relates to our overall mental health and well-being. This is a topic I have touched on many times, but I still see at least three clients a week who show many signs of low self-esteem. Honestly, if I had to guess, I would say at least 75 per cent of our population suffers from low self-esteem and therefore, it needs to be spoken about again and again.

I don’t think much attention is paid to self-esteem itself, but rather what it causes. For example, people may be receiving help for their depression and anxiety without even knowing the cause of it in the first place–which very often is a lack of self-esteem. They are treating the symptoms but not the cause. Even worse, there is no medication that one can take to increase their self-esteem- it must be done through counselling and practising new behavioural techniques.
I want to start out by acknowledging the difference between self-esteem and self-confidence. Self-esteem refers to how we feel about ourselves. Do we like, care, value or respect ourselves? What is the overall view of ourselves? Is it positive or negative?

Self-confidence refers to how we feel about our abilities. How do we think we can handle a particular situation? Can we do anything well or right?
You can have one without the other as they actually have little influence on each other. Someone can have very high self-confidence but very low self-esteem and vice versa. Obvious examples of this would be celebrities who perform in front of millions of people, but use a lot of drugs, or do so many inappropriate things to feel good about themselves. They definitely have high self-confidence but low self-esteem.

It is much easier to develop and build self-confidence, which is why I would like to focus on self-esteem.
When people have high self-esteem, they not only like themselves but care, respect and value themselves. They like themselves just as they are without making huge efforts to change who they are. They do not attribute their happiness to any external factors such as money, houses, new phones etc. They have healthy coping skills to deal with their stress and most importantly, setbacks and hardships do not diminish them; they are resilient and forgiving to themselves and others.

Low self-esteem is not a mental illness in itself, but it should be. When one has low self-esteem, they dislike or even hate themselves. Feeling not good enough or sometimes even worthless,it is difficult to make decisions (as questioning yourself is common), easy to blame yourself for all your setbacks and believe no one likes you (simply because you don’t like yourself). These people are unable to recognise their strengths, focusing only on their negatives while constantly thinking or saying self-deprecating things. They compare themselves to others often, always believing they are lower than others. It goes without saying that they often feel sad, irritated and angry. Low self-esteem can lead to stress, anxiety, depression, addiction and even suicidal thoughts and behaviours. Worst of all (I think), it leads to a life of mediocrity. Imagine all the things we have missed out on simply because we thought we couldn’t do it or we were feeling badly about ourselves.
The bottom line is if you feel a certain way about yourself, you believe that is how the whole world sees you and nothing could be further from the truth.

A wide range of biological, environmental or situational factors can cause low self-esteem. A person with mental illness in his/her family (especially if it is passed on) has high chances of developing low self-esteem. Growing up in an abusive household, seeing use or personally using drugs/alcohol, having low grades or unemployment, having a physical illness or just ongoing stress can all cause low self-esteem.

I believe one of (if not the biggest) reasons for low self-esteem is social media. I think it is one of the biggest issues within our generation. Don’t get me wrong, there isn’t anything wrong with having a social media account (I do); but there is if you don’t take the benefits out of it, but rather only the negatives. Social media causes self-comparison, jealousy, envy and extreme and unprompted mood swings. It makes many people feel as though they aren’t good looking enough or rich enough or not travelling enough and millions of other self-deprecating things. On social media, we see everyone having good days and doing fun things, assuming that we may be the only ones struggling that day or any day. Again, incorrect.

How can we increase our self-esteem?
The first thing you need to know is what makes you feel good in the first place. The quickest way to find out is to ask yourself what compliment you would like to hear the most. Is it that you are smart, pretty, a good person? When you figure that out- then you know which area of your life you need to focus more on.
Body image is highly associated with self-esteem and a negative body image is the biggest cause of low self-esteem. It is important to remember that self-esteem starts in the mind and not in the mirror. Having a healthy body image doesn’t mean that we love everything about ourselves, it means we accept what we look like without doing anything drastic to change the way we look to suit how we think we should look or worse- how others make us feel we should look. It means that we recognise our individual strengths far beyond our height, weight, skin colour and size of nose, eyes etc. If you don’t like the way you look, it is going to be much harder to like anything else about yourself.

How to start liking yourself more? Take basic care of yourself- eat, sleep and exercise right. It makes a huge difference in how you feel.
Avoid negative self-talk. For most of us, no one can be meaner to us than we are to ourselves which is a real shame. The rule of thumb is – if you wouldn’t say it to anyone else, do not say it to yourself.

Set realistic goals for yourself– both short and long term. I often see people set unrealistic goals and end up feeling like a failure when they cannot accomplish them. If you have big goals, that is fantastic, but do them in baby steps- give yourself a realistic time frame to get it done.

Focus on your positives and reward yourself for them. You did a good job at work? Did you get an A in school? Did you clean your entire house today? These are things you should feel good about. Celebrate any and every success.

Everyone who reads my columns knows how much I like writing lists, so make a list of everything you like about yourself. Add in something new every day. Eventually, you’ll see how easy this will become.

Do things you enjoy doing and spend more time with people who make you feel good about yourself.
Do not compare yourself to anyone. You are separate from your thoughts of other people. Also, remember, there will always be someone better and worse off than you.
Most importantly, forget what people think. This is the fastest way of being self-conscious and unhappy. Not everyone is going to think nice things about you. Most people don’t even think nice things about themselves — hence why I’m even writing this piece.

Keep in mind that even if you do everything that I recommend, you still won’t feel happy all the time and that is fine, no one does. Embrace your bad days when you have them. Don’t beat yourself up over them, they will pass.

I have come to understand that in life, we don’t get what we want. We get what we think we deserve; so believe that you deserve all the good in the world.

Thank you for reading and please send in any topics to

Suicide Prevention Helpline Numbers: 223-0001, 223-0009, 623-4444, 600-7896
Say Yes to Life and No to Drugs! Always!

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