What We Don’t Say About Mental Health
Today I wanted to share some writing from a colleague who wishes to remain anonymous. I deeply respect this colleague; what she had to say concerning Mental Health Week last year was well worth saying.
“[i]t's Mental Health Week. As a mental health clinician however I am perturbed by the current trend in referring to all mental health states and conditions as ‘diseases' and that people experiencing them are ‘sufferers'. I understand that it is a big leap to have moved from considering mental health as being some kind of scourge only for mad people, to this current approach which seeks to normalise it and remove its stigma.
However, so long as we continue to talk about mental health conditions being random and befalling people for no particular reason – or perhaps only for genetic reasons – then we are belying the enormous body of work that provides ample evidence of why people find themselves anxious or depressed or suicidal or one of the many other difficult states; and what can be done about it. We are also belying the reality that ‘mental health' can no longer be spoken of in those terms, given that the ‘mind' is now widely agreed to be an embodied entity; not just in the brain. It is great that efforts are being made to put ‘mental health' on the every day agenda – but as someone working in the field, it is all still completely missing the mark”.
The ignored cause of mental health problems
I strongly endorse what she is saying here. Her comments are very much on the money; there is a significant disconnect between the significant emphasis that is placed on treatment, but a strange silence concerning the cause of mental health difficulties. It's odd; we spend so much time treating something, and yet so little time understanding how these conditions are created; let alone what we can do to prevent them happening in the first place. It's as if we have no wish to look behind the curtain to see the full picture.
The effect of childhood experiences
There is no doubt that genetics plays a significant role in the development of mental wellbeing issues. However, since we began helping people we have understood a simple truth; that a significant contributor to the cause of mental health difficulties is the way that we have been treated in our formative years. Time and time again, it proves out that the experiences we have when young are significant; they play an extremely significant part in the adults we are later to become. This is true for aspects of general personality; it's also true for the development of some mental health disorders. This is something that we all seem to understand at a deep level.
What we can do
This leads to two important considerations. Firstly, if we wish to successfully address our own mental well being we need to spend appropriate time considering its root causes, not just its current manifestations. Secondly, if we wish to build the mental health of others, we need to be mindful of how we treat them; particularly those who rely on us and look up to us.
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