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Holistic mental health with Louise Hildebrand

Louise Hildebrand talks about her experiences and learnings


Louise Hildebrand
Louise Hildebrand

Louise Hildebrand holds a bachelor’s degree in health psychology and a master’s degree in social psychology, which gave her theoretical knowledge to learn more about the human psyche. After working for several years as editor-in-chief at an educational journal, she decided to go self-employed in 2005. She has recently started a new business: Mental Health Empowerment where she focuses on holistic mental health.

How did you first get interested in mental health?

I was not feeling mentally healthy, even as a child and teenager. I could not understand why everybody around me seemed so happy and I was feeling different and gloomy. My despair worsened when I sought help from psychologists and psychiatrists. No one could tell me what was going on. I felt alone and misunderstood. I was severely depressed when I was 28 years old, which was my lowest point. My doctor prescribed medication and told me that I was entitled to medication for my entire life.

I became immensely sad. I could not believe this! Was I doomed to take pills for the rest of my life? Would I be so miserable? I decided to take matters into my own hands. I realized that there was nothing wrong with me. I could train my mental health, similar to my muscles. The ‘socially desired’ path focusing on external things like study, work, and a relationship was not satisfying me. I needed to turn inward instead of outward.

What people/ideas influenced you the most in your mental health journey?

I discovered that my thoughts were my biggest enemy. So, managing my thoughts better would be very helpful. I started exercising more and encountered yoga. Initially, I thought yoga was floaty and dull, but I gradually noticed its benefits. Not only physically but also mentally. I read books by many inspiring teachers, such as Deepak Chopra, Byron Katie, and Mooji. The latter particularly opened my eyes. I was able to experience my essence during one of his retreats. By constantly getting in contact with this essence, I can increasingly distance myself from my thoughts and take life less personally. That makes me happier than ever.

What is your approach to your mental health?

I pay very close attention to my mental health. I have a daily ‘backpack of tools’ that I can choose from to stay mentally healthy and strong: exercising, breathing exercises, going outside, yoga, healthy nutrition, and meditating. But I also take time for myself to do things I enjoy, take plenty of rest, and reflect on the things I do (does it make me happy or not?).

Time for myself is paramount. The more I interact with other people or the outside world, the more time I need for myself. When I was younger, I was a lot less aware and did things more on autopilot or because it was expected of me.

Despite a change in attitude toward mental health in recent years, the mental health stigma still exists. Why do you think that is?

Society has so-called guidelines and standards that lead to a ‘good life and therefore happiness.’ Think about high grades, the best job, finding a partner, having children etc. If you stagnate somewhere along this path, then apparently there is ‘something wrong with you.’ This, of course, is not the case at all! Perhaps, on the contrary, there is something wrong with society’s image and expectations. 

Mental health is not visible but experienced between the ears. Therefore, mental health may seem vague and elusive. Discussing the topic makes some people uncomfortable, which perhaps perpetuates the stigma.

We also live in a so-called ‘makeable’ world. According to many teachers, we have the power to manifest anything we want. The bigger the better. Social media feeds into this idea, as an image is painted that everyone leads an amazing life. And we compare upward, not downward, which can be destructive to our sense of well-being and cause people to feel ashamed if they don’t manage to feel good.

Despite a change in attitude toward mental health in recent years, the mental health stigma still exists. Why do you think that is?

I would like to see more focus on mental health as a lifestyle so that mental illnesses have less opportunity to develop. The more we talk about mental health as a lifestyle, the less stigma. Preventive care instead of curative care! This way we help prevent people from slipping into, for example, major depression.

Moreover, we must learn to deal with life. Being mentally healthy and strong does not mean that you are always happy. Shit happens. People die, relationships break down, and life can be disappointing. And yes, even the best psychologists, psychiatrists, and doctors can have mental problems. There is nothing wrong with that if we dare to be open and vulnerable. I have noticed that people appreciate it enormously when I talk about my less fortunate period. People feel more hope and trust.

If you could give one final message to the readers about mental health, what would it be?

Make mental health one of the biggest priorities in your life. Ask yourself regularly: how healthy are your thoughts? Can you distance yourself from non-helpful thoughts? Are you satisfied with yourself and the things you do? And most importantly, do you feel moments of joy and happiness in your life?

Be alert to physical signs such as fatigue, pain, or stiffness. Your body communicates with you all day long! When we ignore these signals, our body starts protesting louder, which can lead to feeling physically and mentally ill. Also remember: what works for you doesn’t have to work for someone else. Every day I express gratefulness for discovering that I can impact my mental health greatly. I wish that feeling and insight to everyone!