ORIGINALLY POSTED ON JUNE 1, 2016 BY DR. DENISE BORLAND AT WWW.DRBORLAND.SCOT
As I reflect on Mental Health awareness week, I feel drawn to share some of my thoughts on how we talk or, more critically, don’t talk about mental health.
As always, these are my thoughts and beliefs today, I may change my mind and have no need for you to ‘swallow my beliefs whole’.
I do think it is important to de-stigmatise and openly talk about the mind and the ways it can be disturbed and unsettled. During Mental Health awareness week I’ve witnessed a lot of courage as people have told their stories. Visability is very important, so to those who have shared, a massive thank you.
For those dedicated professional souls who work in this field doing great work with tireless compassion, thank you.
Whilst I do think it is important to bring awareness to psyche-logical* health issues (my preferred title here), I have never met anyone feeling mentally unwell who has not been traumatised in some way… never, ever.
I think the stigma of the word ‘mental’ is close to irretrievable. It’s, at the very least, an uphill battle. Partly because this word is used, not just in our every day speech, without meaning to be particularity derogatory, even making it on to T.V. It seems clear to me we need at least an image overhaul. Partly, also because there are so many processes at play, external to and internal in our systems. So, unlike the word ‘mental’ suggests, it’s not all in the mind. Absolutely not!
Like many disruptions in life, there is a spectrum. Some natural life processes simply need to be understood, accommodated, processed. They don’t tell us that we are ill, only that we need to give ourselves care. That is, we gain nothing and lose much if we pathologise ourselves and others and see ourselves as ill or broken, as opposed to simply managing something that is challenging, such as change or grief. Many people can be left feeling stigmatised and shamed because there is a lack of understanding, education or support, without which we can feel quite trapped, disappointed and for some, suicidal.
These disruptions in life are more to do with the bits we hide, our sexuality, our anger, our fears, our joy and who we are; our true identity. Some are more to do with trauma, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Complex PTSD, traumatising relationships, e.g. narcissistic or toxic people and Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN).
Because people are people and are complex, complex and multifaceted approaches to wellbeing and psychological health are needed. Hence the ‘Psyche Star Approach’.
I see many online threads labels and phrases that cause me to have concerns about the lack of hope, labels of ‘severe’ and tricky, ‘difficult to treat’ personality disorders. Creativity may be misunderstood too and categorised in this way. Labels may help with signposting and there may be a value in this signposting towards a helpful toolbox and financial support if you fit the right category.
Richard Bentall is eloquent on these matters, drawing our attention to some words from Eleanor Longden:
They almost always ask what is wrong with you and hardly ever ask what happened to you.
Bentall quotes this in his ‘open letter’ to Stephen Fry and goes on to suggest:
Arguably, the biggest cause of human misery is miserable relationships with other people, conducted in miserable circumstances.
Austerity is killing and will kill people. Not because you need lots of things to be healthy but because you do need access to good psychological education, a roof over your head and a society that has compassion and care at it’s core to flourish – a society that promotes healthy narcissism. By that I mean, a good sense of self and respect of self and others, and a happiness to be seen as such. As I said I have yet to meet anyone who is feeling psychologically not well, ‘mentally ill’, who has not been traumatised at some point. Never. It’s not that I mean to be reductionist here. As I said some traumas are multiple, multifaceted and even complex with chronic anguish and pain and may take some time to figure out, however many feel too tricky, too difficult to ‘cure’ and get overlooked because, in my opinion, are just not yet understood. Just because we haven’t yet been able to name or describe the trauma doesn’t mean it’s not nameable or describable. And, in addition, naming and describing the trauma, and acknowledging it’s impact are key to helping people move away from ‘less well’ and towards ‘well being’.
Lastly, there are those who are not aware of their well being being impaired. There are many ways to help support people, in some cases people with lasting damage can cause damage to others. It’s sad but true that relentless kindness by those who are empathic, may be quite the wrong way of helping those truly Narcissistic, sociologically and pathologically inclined, who may require a more dispassionate approach. Unfortunately, these people are not so likely to know they are in need of help and may be busy running countries, empires, or being in high functioning places of power. Unaware. Whilst in a twist of fate – we may be the ones who then feel ‘crazy’ – which, it could be said, is itself a little ‘crazy’.
*Psyche – Origin mid 17th century: via Latin from Greek psukhē ‘breath, life, soul’.
Dr Denise Borland is a Performance Psychology Expert developer of The Psyche Approach® – a holistic approach to Life Performance and Professional Performance and founder of The Noble Institute The Performance Psychology Institute, Edinburgh.
Excerpt from ‘The Art of Change’ co-author Ali Bell, Noble House Publications due December 2016.