Updated: Nov 7, 2022
We have a problem of language with the term "mental health". The term has become so overused and narrowed down that it can be grabbed by institutions and individuals as a culturally sanctioned way of nobody taking proper responsibility. Worst of all, nearly everything that cannot be thoughtfully thought about and addressed at a societal level, all goes into the mental health basket where it doesn't belong. For example, the effects on the psyche and human spirit from a lack of opportunities for social mobility, homelessness, climate change, inequity, increased discrepancies between the rich and the poor, and lack of family and community support.
The categories of mental health and its treatment keep getting re-framed in order to re-frame who should be responsible and to maintain power relationships and markets. Anyone who has been around long enough and accrued enough of a body of knowledge in the area of psychology, realises that every generation seems to reinvent the same thing regarding concepts and treatment in their own way, that is somehow meant to be new and radical and make things instantly better without having to do much work. My tolerance for this has thinned, not only because it is nonsense, but the direction mental health has been going, especially during the past 10 years or so, has been structurally unsound and not contributed toward a better understanding of what mental health actually is. Instead, the area of mental health has narrowed to a thin slice of knowledge based on individualising, privatising, and consumerising mental health with way too much popular, political, or economically expedient psychology out there. Honestly, "not micro-dosing AGAIN!"
The current dominant trauma and mental health model, based on diagnoses (made up based on symptom clusters) places people too far toward being a passive victim with a deficiency, maybe even an inherited deficiency. People get pathologised and categorised. This is based on the consumeristic, Western idea that we should be happy; that, we should be "fixed", and medication, trauma-healing, and/or a psychologist will make something better without a wish to do the work or carry the load of our tensions, suffering, conflicts, and difficulties. We should certainly not have to wait, we should say what we want and get it. But, of course, our mental health is not something we can buy or just get, even though it's portrayed this way by many seemingly legitimised charlatans (individuals and institutions) who claim qualifications, skills, and knowledge they don't have and are in fact, undertrained for what they are dealing with.
Every person, even a very young child, has an element of determinism, an individual agency, about what they are going do about their circumstances. Life can be hard work and managing suffering, separation, and uncertainty is part of growing up to become an adult. Mental health is about learning what our dilemmas and conflicts are, what we did with them, and what we will do about them now. We can make choices about whether we use helpful or unhelpful strategies in any given moment. We might widen our repertoire of how we deal with things emotionally and develop some stoicism for times when we can't rely on something great happening. Maybe if we were more inclusive and understood that for all of us, life is more often than not, difficult and filled with small and large disasters, we wouldn't have to keep re-categorising terms like mental health and mental health diagnoses and actually cultivate a genuine knowledge of ourselves. This is what we call integration and in my experience, this does not come easily or cheaply on any level.
I would love for our thinking on mental health and mental health delivery to be akin to producing high quality literature. I don't know about you, but for me, I would, on the whole, rather stay with the challenges, joys, learning, sustenance, and enrichment of literature than to have the instant gratification of pop fiction that ultimately doesn't give you anything but short-lived entertainment. At the moment, it's mostly pop fiction.