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The Maudsley Blog

The mental health lessons we are learning: a discussion with Anya Borissova

Learning about mental health empowers us to improve our wellbeing and quality of life; it helps us to understand the experiences of others and know how to support them in a compassionate and effective way. If stigma around mental health goes unchallenged, it can discourage people from seeking help when they need it most.

We are privileged at the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust to be able to continually learn about mental health. Each day brings new lessons and we wanted to share these you, to help you improve your own mental health and recognise and challenge the harmful stigmas that exist within society.  

We spoke to Dr Anya Borissova, Academic clinical fellow training in psychiatry and panellist on the Maudsley Learning Podcast to find out what lessons she has learnt while advancing in her estimable career.

Why did you decide to work in mental health?

One thing that brought me to working in mental health was my passion for working with people and talking to them in quite a meaningful way. I was sometimes quite slow in some of the other aspects of medical training because I think I found it difficult to tear myself away from talking to people. I want to give everyone the space to talk about whatever they might want to and in psychiatry we have more time to do that. It's still a very busy specialty but the time that you spend with an individual patient just has to be bigger because of the depth in which we have to get into. It’s a huge privilege to hear people’s stories, to help them figure out the problems they're experiencing and find the solutions that could help them.

How has working in mental health has affected your life?

I definitely have a bit more awareness in myself and in others. For instance, I’ve done a lot of training and reading around cognitive behavioural therapy and that has helped me to spot the errors: like when you might catastrophize or expect the worst possible outcome. I notice when people might have misread an interaction with someone else. When someone ignores us in the street, we can make assumptions about what that means but we neglect to consider other factors, they might be busy or distracted and it’s not because they hate you. You spot yourself thinking those things and when you're having conversations you spot when that might be happening. I try and not be switched on when I’m having general interactions though because it's not helpful to force these things on people, it's more important to be a compassionate listener. I think having an awareness that things just aren't black and white anywhere in the world has really helped me. When I see difficult interactions I'm a bit more mindful that we're all human and everyone is in some way trying their best. At their heart most people want to be kind and nice, but something might be getting in the way of that and I try and not get as bothered about it.

What's something that you do to look after your own mental health?

This is something that I've focused on a lot because I have become aware of how important that is the more that I do this work. For me I find sport really helpful, even though it has always been a bit of a battle for me. I've never learned how to get into a routine where I do it automatically but it is easier when I reframe it. I try to accept that it will be hard but it will help and I say to myself that I'm not doing this to feel good now, I’m doing it to feel good later. There's just something about moving your body, getting out of your space that really works to make you feel better.

Another thing I do is I try to recognise when I've been working too hard, and I force myself to take a break. I know that working without proper breaks can get to the point of being counterproductive. You need to take a step back and say I need this or I need to do something with people around me that I care about, because that will help me be able to meet my deadlines.

To hear more from Dr Anya Borissova check out the Maudsley Learning Podcast  

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