Many years ago, I pitched a programme to the BBC called Dr Phil's Mind Gym. It wasn't an assault course of crosswords and sudoku puzzles, but a serious attempt to get people to work on their mental health. Go to any gym and you will meet people who know all about nutritional supplements for building muscle bulk or how to develop a six?pack, but ask them how to keep their mind healthy and they stare back at you blankly. And that's why the series died a death. Blank stares and mental health problems just aren't as sexy as heart surgery and sick kids.
Mental ill-health is perhaps the biggest issue facing us in this century. Stress, anger, anxiety, and depression are everywhere we look; and many patients who are obese are also emotional eaters. Yet the British find it hard to even talk about mental illness, let alone think about how to become happier or more resilient. If your mind is healthy, your body generally follows suit. So I'm always on the look out for people who can talk about mental health in an accessible and engaging way.
Step forward Paul McGee, who I met at a recent conference for GP practice managers. Paul has devised a life-coaching programme called S.U.M.O or Shut Up, Move On, which uses techniques such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) in a way that anyone can understand and apply.1 The theory of CBT is simple enough—the way you think determines your feelings and attitude—but I've found some patients get brainache trying to put it into practice. The SUMO programme is 'CBT for dummies'. Even the most dysfunctional doctor can apply it to any stressful situation. Paul breaks down any challenge into seven simple steps:
- Where is this issue on a scale of 1–10 (where 10 is death)?
- How important will this be in 6 months' time?
- Is my response appropriate and effective?
- How can I influence or improve the situation?
- What can I learn from this?
- What will I do differently next time?
- What can I find that's positive in this situation?
The SUMO steps come on a card that is illustrated with cartoons, and I've stuck one up in the kitchen and taken one into the surgery. In the last month, I've found it helpful in getting the kids to do their homework, getting myself to clean the toilet, making the awful decision to have our pony put down, and making three of my most irritating (sorry, challenging) patients smile.
My first life coach was my Australian Uncle Ron who, when faced with a challenge, would consider whether any useful purpose would come from addressing it, and if not, he just said 'Stuff it'. He actually used a stronger word that you can probably guess at, but it's worth remembering that most of the worries we have don't happen, and most of the emails and letters we receive are anything but urgent! As GPs take on responsibility for everything this year, we're going to be inundated with information, much of which will be pointless. I recommend collecting it all and having a 'stuff it!' party every Friday as you put it through the shredder. If it's that important, they'll send it again. SUMO!G
Paul McGee's book S.U.M.O is wonderful. Dr Phil's three books and two DVDs are too.
- McGee P. S.U.M.O. Chichester: John Wiley and Sons Ltd, 2006