Someone asked me the other day what time of clients I worked with- whether it was people ‘just’ dealing with problems in their relationships, jobs or families, or whether it was people who had ‘mental health issues.’
What is the distinction? Is there one? What is ‘being well’ and how do we define it?
There seems to be some confusion as to what mental health actually is. So let’s put this in simplistic terms.
We ALL have mental health, just like physical health and it exists on a sliding scale.
If you’d sustained a physical injury you would need time to heal. Willing your bones to knit back isn’t going to have much effect. Similarly if you’ve sustained a psychological wound – a loss, a pain, a shock, a stress factor, an environmental change- your mental health will need time to process, reflect, find acceptance and heal.
It really isn’t any different.
The problem in society is that we can’t SEE the mind. We look at others and think, ‘Well, they LOOK fine’ without being able to experience their inner pain. Let’s face it unfortunately modern society is geared around productivity- governments contribute vast sums of money into the system in order to support individuals struggling with mental health issues, but why? Out of the goodness of their hearts? Because they’re full of integrity and compassion? No, because people who are struggling are not able to contribute to profit generation, in this sense mental health is a ‘problem’ to be dealt with.
Clinician ‘experts’ focus on treating pathologies; human beings are given labels and diagnoses which pigeon-hole them into treatment ‘pathways’. Understanding what brought the person to that current state of being is typically undervalued- CBT for example isn’t particularly interested in listening to the underlying meaning of how you came to be in this moment, it’s more interested in looking for ways to ‘fix’ your mindset- to turn your negative thoughts into more healthy, positive and ordinary ones. But what if your negative thoughts simply reflect reality, that your life and environment are difficult and painful?
Animals caged up in zoos suffer psychological disturbances- consider the pacing tigers, the birds which over-groom and pull out their feathers- when we cannot live how we want to live, we become stressed, ill, anxious and depressed. It could be argued that these are natural responses to hardship.
But the system demands that much of our natural response anxieties and depressions are reduced to false red flag triggers which must be psychologically reconditioned and banished. Medication largely helps abate the internal anguish by numbing out the power of the triggers and re-balancing depleted serotonin levels. But what happens when the flag ARE real? When you’re skint, in diabolical housing, have poor self-esteem or little motivation to go on because every day makes you feel utterly worthless?
The NIMHE Guiding Statement on Recovery talks about, ‘changing one’s orientation and behaviour from a negative focus on a troubling event, condition or circumstance to the positive restoration, rebuilding, reclaiming or taking control of one’s life.’
But this begs the question- how much control do people have over their own lives? Through no fault of their own, millions of people find themselves in dire socio-economic circumstances leading to deep unhappiness and poor mental health.
Carl Rogers, the father of Client Centred Therapy, talks about the internal struggle of incongruence- that is, by not living in accordance with your true self this leads to all kinds of psychological conflict. For the most part poor mental health doesn’t arise out of the blue, it’s typically linked to some unexpressed or unprocessed part of yourself.
Today we all have a golden opportunity to talk about how we feel, to share our stories, our fears and hopes, and bite back at those who suggest you can ‘think’ your way out of mental health struggles.
Telling someone to ‘think positive’ when they’re in a dark and scary place is as bloody pointless as asking a diabetic to control their insulin by mind power alone.
Yes, we can all do things which will support good mental health and get endorphins whizzing around (exercising, socialising, eating well, moderating toxic loads on your body) but let’s be realistic and stop heaping blame and shame onto the suffers.
Smash the stigma and raise the empathy stakes, we’re all human and deserve compassion and support