This is week two of the Season on Flourishing.
We tend to only hear about people with serious mental illnesses whenever some such person is violent or when a famous person commits suicide. In reality, the vast majority of people with mental illnesses are not scary (they are more likely to be the victims than the perpetrators of violence). They are mostly like everyone else. The appearance of a mental illness does not fundamentally change a person. Understanding how mental illnesses work will help dispel the fear and misunderstanding which surrounds these conditions.
More generally, it may be helpful to think of mental health by analogy to physical health. Everyone has a body and must take care of it. While some people have diseases which affect their physical health dramatically, we recognize that everyone is somewhere on the quite large spectrum from very fit to very unhealthy. Mental health works the same way. Though we often only think of mental health in relation to mental illnesses, we all lie somewhere along the mental health spectrum.
And it is important for everyone to care for that part of their lives. Why is that people who go to a therapist seem crazy but going to a doctor regularly is seen as good sense? It is widely acknowledged that a healthful diet and moderate exercise is the most important part of caring for your physical health. So too, taking your mental health seriously and caring for it as part of your daily routine goes a long way towards being happy and mentally strong.
This week we think both about those people who suffer from specific mental illnesses and about promoting and cultivating mental health generally.
● The National Alliance on Mental Illness has a great website with a wealth of high-quality, easily accessable information about mental illness. Take a look to get the facts and statistics about mental illnesses, to get descriptions of different conditions (including warning signs and treatment options), and to get advice on dealing with one’s own illness or helping others deal with theirs.
● The problem with mental health advice for those without a clinical diagnosis isn’t that there is not enough of it, it’s that there is far too much of it, and most of it is terrible. The self-help culture in this country does a lot of damage by taking useful tidbits and making them seem like panaceas, drastically oversimplifying mental health and giving false hope to many. The road to happiness is not short, nor is it easy, but it is there to be walked and there is reliable research on the topic. Here are some of the greatest hits of that research.
● Janssen Pharmaceuticals, a company which manufactures anti-psychotic medications, created a virtual reality simulation of what it is like to live with Schizophrenia. Watch this brief ABC News 20/20 description of it and then this slightly longer video simulation.
● One way to care for your own mental health is meditation. Read this article promoting meditation by no less a secular thinker than Sam Harris. When you’re done with that, check out these guided meditations from the researchers at UCLA.
● Donate, volunteer, or take political action to help people suffering from mental illnesses.The National Alliance on Mental Illness has a great action-oriented page on their website. The information you need is all right there.
● You can also attend a community discussion of mental health issues.
Can you think of other ways to celebrate Mental Health Week? Let us know!