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Routes to Resilience: a guest post by Carolyn Barber

When we talk about physical health, we mean healthy habits, fitness, strength, agility, energy and so on. Mental health on the other hand has become synonymous with ill-health – depression, anxiety, stress, unable to cope, and above all stigma.

With physical health, we all know that at times we have to work harder at it. We all know that if we get flu, or if we have an operation, there will be a period of recovery needed. Sometimes we have to build ourselves up physically to take on a particular challenge – stamina if we plan to run a marathon, for example. No one imagines that if you get yourself into peak physical condition you never have to think about your physical well-being again.

The stigma which surrounds mental ill-health means that we are often ignorant about what contributes to good mental health, which habits are beneficial and can help build psychological strength and mental resilience in times of change, for example. And if you’re in the 25% of the adult population who are identified as experiencing mental ill-health, such as depression and anxiety – many people say that the stigma and attitudes of others are the hardest things to deal with, making recovery tougher than it needs to be.

For those working in the people professions, self-care in terms of good mental health and well-being, is a pressing concern. According to the Health and Safety Executive in their 2013 report, the ‘industries that reported the highest rates of total cases of work-related stress (three-year average) were human health and social work, education and public administration and defence.’

There are huge challenges in the changing political and economic context, as well as the organisational cultures associated with human health and social care services. A better awareness of how to take care of our own mental health strengthens our professional ability to help others in a climate of uncertainty.

The 5Cs framework represents five core components of good mental health:

Challenge – this is the way we grow in self-confidence, and develop a sense of competence and capability. ‘Challenge’ represents learning new things, taking risks and stepping outside our comfort zone, setting goals for ourselves.

Character – this is about how we understand and believe in our own personal values, strengths, skills and resources. We all have stories about our lives, but how do we tell them?

Composure – this is the ability to distance ourselves from our thoughts and reduce emotional intensity. It means learning how to still the mind, notice more, and develop our self-awareness.

Connection – this is about our relationships with others, our social networks, and our contribution to work, to our family, to the community.

Creativity – this represents the fun, child-like aspects of our nature which all too often we lose sight of as we grow older. It’s about using our imagination, developing our creative talents, and thinking outside the box.

The 5Cs framework is simply a way of organising information to make sense of complex ideas. It’s helpful to think of a framework rather like a travel map. Like a map, a framework can help us make decisions about the route we want to take. It can show us that there may be many different paths to get to the same place. Using a framework we can explain why we might try this or that path depending on our circumstances.

Carolyn Barber is a qualified social worker with over thirty years’ experience as a practitioner, manager, practice educator, researcher and trainer. She is the author of The Layperson’s Guide to Good Mental Health: Your A-Z for a Happier Life (2013) and a founder director of The Good Mental Health Cooperative, a social enterprise based in Hampshire. Her new e-learning course, Positive Mental Health, uses the 5C’s framework to explore self-care in relation to good mental health, well-being and resilience; develop a broader perspective on the research and theory around what contributes to good mental health; and identify specific interventions which can be applied in direct work to support people experiencing poor mental health and mental ill-health. For more information go to

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