I can't overstate how happy I am that mental health is not only a topic of conversation these days, but a source of hope for the future. A future in which we're a little more candid about the awkward things we think and feel, and better placed to understand both ourselves and each other.
One of my biggest beefs with this country (and the world in general) is how reactive we are - none more so than in our approach to health care - and while the increased discussion around mental health has tried to change that, I don't feel like it's trying hard enough.
It's not that I don't appreciate the progress that's been made, it's just that parts of the existing narrative are still a little divisive and often draw a line between the haves and the have nots - those who are broken and need fixing, and those who aren't and don't.
So how about we take a different view. One that isn't here to undermine anyone who suffers - far from it - but one that's here to open the door to a world in which we're all involved...
I don't know a single person who doesn't have some experience of mental health problems. That's the God's honest truth. And neither do you. Am I being pedantic? Maybe a little. Am I being serious? Deadly. Let's break it down...
- Mental: relating to the mind.
- Health: a person's condition.
- Condition: the state of something or it's working order.
- Problem: a matter regarded as unwelcome or harmful and needing to be dealt with.
Of course the degree to which those problems are harmful and need dealing with will vary greatly between individuals, as will the cause of those problems, but the fact remains - we are all on the scale in some way, large or small, and we should all take a moment to remember that.
I must repeat that this (rather basic) revelation isn't designed to belittle anyone with more serious or lasting mental health issues - quite the opposite. If we can accept the fact that everyone suffers from problems of the mind, then not only are we immediately better placed to understand, empathise and converse, but those who need help are also better placed to reach out and ask for it.
Credit: Author's Own
The fact is, there will never be a 'one size fits all' method to fixing this stuff - we're all so different and one person's source of strength may be another person's source of guilt - but there's plenty of information out there and when it comes to mental health, knowledge really is power. A recent viral video, featuring author Mo Gawdat, describes happiness as not what the world gives you, but what you think about what the world gives you - and that really struck a chord with me.
Suppose we'd been taught in school that depression is really just a biological alarm system, designed to stop us from functioning properly when one or more of our innate needs as a human isn't being met. Or suppose the word 'problem' was never invented. It is, after all, just a word. Someone made it up... to try and categorise... a thought about a feeling? Okay, so what if the words 'thoughts' and 'feelings' were never invented? Would we think and feel the way we currently do about this thing we call depression? I doubt it.
See, both of those things are true... if you'd like them to be. The first is taken from the Human Givens school of thought - a relatively recent and seemingly lesser known approach to treating depression and other mental health conditions... and the second is from philosopher Alan Watts - who talks of how us humans are fascinated with words and labels, and spend much of our time solving problems, most of which are only created by words in the first place! These are just two ways of thinking - I'm not saying they're right and I'm not saying they're wrong... I'm literally just saying.
If you're reading this with a cynical eye, that's fine, I don't blame you. Even at the height of my own struggles I was still avoiding the obvious truth. The notion that me or anyone in my family might ever suffer from mental health problems was alien to me. Not because I wasn't aware of such problems - but because I didn't think they applied to 'people like us'. We weren't 'broken', so we didn't need 'fixing'.
But these days I've completely changed my tune and the reality couldn't be any clearer - we're all in this together and there's no shame in any of it. Our friends, our families, our colleagues, the Uber driver, the post office worker, the politician - all of us have some experience of mental health problems, whether or not we choose to label them as such...
And you know what? I'm totally fine with that... I just wish I'd realised sooner.
More information about the Human Givens Institute.
Hear Alan Watts speak about words and problems.
Watch Mo Gawdat's interview about the happiness algorithm.
Read Frank's article in The Independent, for Mental Health Awareness Week.