As I see it: the relationship between mental health and emotional intelligence

Published: 11th September 2018
Look Ahead staff member Leon Eckford writes on his experience with mental health and how that has influenced his work with men experiencing mental health crisis.

Male role models in my life have been thin on the ground. I grew up in the care of a single mother, with the black cloud of domestic violence something we worked hard to remove from our life. I experienced a disjointed family dynamic with traditional roles blurred, sometimes even absent.

My grandad was my main source of grounding. His core values helped build my trust and respect. By testing the boundaries I was set, I developed a sense of what was right and wrong.

I’ve been socially awkward, isolated, and put myself into situations that developed into toxic relationships. A combination of fear and self-assumed shame blocked me from reaching out to others, and I felt that relationship problems led to discomfort in ‘talking things over’.

Here are my top tips for changing things!

  1. Recovery 101: Change the people you surround yourself with, change the places you go, change the things that you do

I have worked hard to address negative associations that affected my progress and personal development.

I requested therapeutic practice through the NHS with a focus on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. I looked at my decision making processes, recognising correlations between learned behaviour, deep-rooted trauma, and familial relationships, and reconstructed my identity in a very nuanced and mindful way.

  1. Practice good health: Health and well-being are central to my thinking. I am in the gym at 6am, every day. I use yoga and meditation for relaxation and reflection. I have taken charge of and improved my nutrition and I finally have a positive and constantly evolving self image.
  2. Remove negatives: I removed negative associations from my relationships, choosing to keep only friendships that are nurturing. If family members impact on my well-being, I try to negotiate more effective communication.
  3. Think about your living environment: I saved and worked for my own flat, where I was able to start to find comfort in my ‘uncomfortability’ and deal with my own company.


“Be comfortable in your uncomfort, be aware that we all live with fear.”


So how can we create an environment that is empathic towards personal circumstance whilst implementing impactful recovery practice?

Some men are fortunate in having strong, supportive relationships with a spouse or life partner, close family members, and sometimes a church group or other support system. However, studies suggest that a majority of men struggle in silence. Suppression and anger management isn’t a healthy combination for body, soul or mind.

Many men are averse to therapy or professional counselling, where they are asked to talk about their feelings and communicate in a manner that is often foreign to them.

As a specialist support worker in a secondary care unit, I found mindfulness techniques the most effective. The majority of men that I worked with had problems emoting and lacked literacy in primary and second emotions. I taught emotional literacy, guided meditation and grounding techniques specifically to assist with panic attacks, acute substance withdrawal and anxiety disorders. I encouraged participation in service activities and reinforced the importance of building relationships.

The best outcomes I have witnessed professionally are when our customers utilise our services in full. They build positive co-productions with staff and peers, they participate in group activities and they look to engage in the face of the most punishing socio-economic circumstances. In response, I focus on people’s strengths, what they want from their lives and how I can work with them to achieve this.

I am thankful to the many people I have supported within Look Ahead for their inspiration and hope and I look forward to providing more positive solutions in the future.


“We all need connection to others. It’s how we learn, thrive and grow towards a more positive future.”

Leon, now on our Repairs Team, worked in mental health for five year, most recently as a Specialist Mental Health Recovery Worker at one of our crisis services. In 2018 he was recipient of a Central North West London NHS Foundation Trust Award for Creativity and Innovation.