Most people know what self-esteem is – it describes your opinion of yourself and if you see yourself and your actions in a positive or negative way – but few know how to manage this cornerstone of our mental health properly.

For decades, psychologists have been trying to measure and appreciate how self-esteem impacts upon our mental health, with tools such as Morris Rosenberg’s Self-Esteem Scale attempting to quantity what most people consider to be a mysterious force that ebbs and flows through our lives depending on circumstance.

This strand of psychology is important because, by measuring and assessing self-esteem, we can get a good picture of someone’s current mental state as self-esteem is one of the main pillars of our mental health, along with locus of control and social anxiety.

And when we can measure and quantity things like self-esteem and identify cases where poor self-esteem is evident, we can take actions to improve our opinion of ourselves and thus our mental health in general. Self-esteem is a great conduit through which to improve our mental wellbeing.

The problem with tools such as Rosenberg’s Self-Esteem Scale is that the general public are infinitely wiser to tests such as these, compared to a few decades ago, so they are very likely to ‘hack’ the results.

It’s easy to see what the questions asking and what the ‘correct’ answer should be, and someone with low confidence and anxiety is likely to want to swerve yet more mental health diagnosis by not being 100% truthful in their answers. We must find a better way to identify poor self-esteem as this is undoubtedly one of the root causes of poor mental health.

From this stand point – one of recognising poor diagnostic tools – it’s easy to see how someone with low self-esteem can get stuck in a cycle of poor mental health. They might seek help for anxiety or depression, be offered the standard ineffective combination of medication and talking therapies, relapse after a placebo effect has worn off, and be in a worse state than before with their self-esteem at rock bottom because this wasn’t identified as being key to recovery.

This cycle is common amongst many with poor mental health – it’s understandable when we’re trying to treat deep-rooted issues with drugs that don’t work and talking therapies that don’t address the underlying causes of the problem in the first place. A loss of confidence and feeling of agency over their life is completely understandable if this is their experience of poor self-esteem and medical interventions.

However, there is good news: when we can correctly identify poor self-esteem and take actions that really address the cause of its deficiency, it is possible to vastly improve mental health in just a few weeks.

This is because, contrary to what many campaigners, medical professionals and sufferers will tell you, self-esteem – like many aspects of mental health – can be measured and managed effectively without the use of medication and/or therapy.

Founder of The Thrive Programme, Rob Kelly, is particularly passionate about the role of self-esteem in great mental health, and for this reason Rob has spent over a decade developing new tools to measure and address this important aspect of mental wellbeing.

One such tool – and something that is now being used around the world by Thrive Consultants – is the use of a specially designed online questionnaire to assess aspects of mental health, including self-esteem. Unlike Rosenberg’s system, the questions are written and presented in such a way as to provide a true reflection of a person’s mental health, with the individual receiving scores relevant to particular aspects of how they see themselves, how they view the world and so on.

This has been highly effective in providing a starting point for people wishing to overcome issues such as depression and anxiety. They can see a honest assessment of where their mental health needs work – and by taking a six-week Thrive Programme course with a Consultant, or working through the book-based version, they are then equipping themselves with the tools and knowledge necessary to manage their self-esteem and mental health in general.

This is a brief testimonial to demonstrate the life-changing power of taking such a course, in this case for clinical depression and anxiety:

“Following some unfortunate life events, my self-esteem was really poor a few years ago. I had a pretty low opinion of myself and this was reflected in my mental health. I knew this was the case but felt no benefit from any of the medications my GP prescribed. I felt these were just sticking plasters, and not very good ones at that.

“When I began to understand how my self-esteem works – that most of it is derived from how I’ve thought about myself over the past two weeks – and learn the tools to manage it effectively, it was life-changing. Two years on and my self-esteem is great and I have a high opinion of myself – my mental health is working for me, not against!” Ben, Thrive Programme graduate (2016)

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of self-esteem, as hinted at in the above testimonial, is that it’s rarely based on events that are more than two weeks old. Or, more precisely, it’s based on our reaction to events in that time.

For example, someone with poor self-esteem might process the successful completion of a project at work as being down to the efforts of others; or maybe luck, someone feeling sorry for them or some other external factor.

This negative reaction will, like a vine taking over an old building, work its way into the cracks of your psyche and take over as the dominant voice in your mental health in the short term, or as long as you allow yourself to brood over this particular event. You aren’t good enough, you can’t do this, you are not capable or clever enough, you’ll tell yourself.

Someone with good self-esteem would process the above event differently. They would see this success as being down to their hard work and talent, and they would add this to a bank of positive thoughts and emotions that they keep topping up to ensure good self-esteem. A continual flow of these thoughts and emotions equals continual good self-esteem and mental health.

It’s often said that self-esteem is like a voice in our heads marking us on our progress in life – and for many people, that voice is a negative one.

Imagine if that voice turned into your biggest friend and cheerleader, boosting your self-esteem and general mental health every day. That is life-changing and it can be learnt in just a few weeks.