Mental Health Awareness Week – Why aren’t we shifting the tide?
By Terry Rubenstein
Date: May 15, 2024

“Sin is looking for the right thing in the wrong place.”St. Augustine

 

I’ve come to appreciate that us humans waste an enormous amount of mental and physical energy searching for the most important things in the wrong places. These places, to be fair, do often seem obvious to look in. It reminds me of the well-known story of the inebriated man looking for his lost car keys late at night under a lamp-post – when he had last seen them on the other side of the road where it was dark!

However, unless we want to perpetually be singing a line from a famous Irishman’s song “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for, we have to start looking somewhere else.

Each year during Mental Health Awareness Week, it is incumbent on us to reflect on this question: Why, despite enormous resources, investment and a genuine intent to turn the tide of mental struggle, do we seem to be making so little progress?

For the record: I consider myself to be an optimist, who has worked passionately in the field of mental health and resilience for nearly two decades, after nearly losing my own life to a suicide attempt when I was in my late 20’s.

Steve Jobs is known to have said: Understand that you can poke at life, and that if you push something in, something will pop out the other side.” 

So why the lack of meaningful progress? We are poking, are we not?

Many people reading this will be thinking (or shouting) various true and wise answers to this question, such as: ‘social media,’; ‘lack of resilience’; ‘too much pressure as life moves faster; etc., etc.

However, it’s worth considering that while we can perhaps identify some of the surface problems relatively easily, what we have seen time and time again is that sometimes a field needs to be shaken up in order to see change.

We have seen this in the medical field with discoveries like germ theory. We have also witnessed it in fields of science, music, art, politics. Sometimes it emerges slowly: a ship only needs to change direction by one degree to end up in a completely different destination (a wise person once said). But sometimes, it needs a revolution.

Abigail Shrier, in her new book “Bad Therapy – Why the kids aren’t growing up” emphasizes the need for some type of revolution, arguing that therapy and the general ‘modern view‘ on mental health and trauma has, for the most part, made the problem worse, not better.

Abigail addresses ideas that I, and many others, have been sharing for decades. She brings these into the mainstream, and for that I am grateful. Do I agree with all her views ? For sure not.

These discussions need to be nuanced; they need more voices and are often reflective of a stream of opinions that flow one way. But her main point that many therapies create hyper-aware and non resilient children/adults, strongly reflects my own childhood and adult experience.

So this seems an opportune moment to put forward some new thinking that will help ‘poke’ at the problem – and perhaps even make a dent large enough to shift the paradigm. Here are my 5 ‘MUSTS’ for Mental Health Awareness Week:

    1. We MUST begin to learn that ‘awareness’ itself is often dangerous. There is significant research pointing to the large rise in teen mental illness and the correlation of their heightened awareness of self-harm, eating disorders and other mental health issues, creating trends, self diagnosis and ways to try to alleviate insecurity, pain and discomfort. This resonates with my personal story: Aged fourteen, I read a book about eating disorders and promptly decided that starving myself was the perfect solution to fill the hole created by normal teenage angst and self esteem issues!
    1. We MUST not delude ourselves that self-care, movement, breathwork, life balance and good nutrition (all important ingredients contributing to good mental and physical health) address the root cause of why people struggle. You only have to look at the many sportsmen and women who live incredibly healthy lives and struggle with mental health issues. I have had many clients who practice self-care diligently, and are still depressed and anxious. Don’t get me wrong: I am an advocate of self-care and mental hygiene, But we need to discern the wheat from the chaff, and not pretend otherwise.
    1. We MUST challenge and counter the narrative that has insidiously imprinted itself into our culture, into our mental health story: that we lack what we psychologically need for life. This narrative is encouraged and amplified by social media, with consequences that are not only harmful in terms of a significant increase in anxiety and depression, but are also creating generations of humans that are  searching for wellbeing outside of themselves. Unable to find this elusive wellbeing, they invariably feel under-equipped to deal with their life challenges. This sense of psychological inadequacy covers everything from the daily irritations of life such as deadlines, critique, and work demands to major issues such as loss, relationship breakdown and illness.
    1. We MUST reflect on the profound words of Ralph Waldo Emmerson:What lies behind us and what lies in front of us are tiny matters compared to what lies inside us.” This game-changing statement counters the views of the Irish novelist, Samuel Beckett, who somewhat cynically maintained that: You’re on earth, there’s no cure for that.”  Yes, life does often feel like a malady for which there is no cure. But this view creates a mindset of feeling trapped, limited, vulnerable, and non-resilient. We’ve lost before we’ve even begun. So I say to Beckett: You’re wrong! The ultimate cure is that we are born with all the inner resources we need to not only survive life, but to thrive in life. Wellbeing is intrinsic to humans and we merely have to learn what the barriers are to it so that we can uncover it. Not build it, not find it. But uncover Knowing that wellbeing is pre-existing makes for a totally different ballgame.
    1. We MUST learn – and then consistently model for our families, friends, colleagues and communities – that the world does not hold power over us. The power lies inside of us. Deeply appreciating this psychological fact will expand our tolerance for discomfort. It will allow us to do the inner healing work we need to do. It will remove so much of the unnecessary, insecure thinking that preoccupies our minds such that we cannot feel and access our innate resources of wisdom, optimism, gratitude, love and self love, confidence, motivation, innovation, connection and kindness.

Perhaps in an attempt to make up for generations that failed to see emotions as relevant, we have swung too far and just forgotten who we really are inside? Whilst ‘movement’ is an understandable theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week (I myself go to the gym at least three times a week), is it just another plaster that prevents us from poking at the real problem?

Written by Terry Rubenstein, Resilimy’s Co-Founder and Head of Content.

See also…

Mindfulness won’t ‘boost’​ your wellbeing

Mindfulness won’t ‘boost’​ your wellbeing

I would like to challenge the picture portrayed in this recent article in The Guardian . For a start, it’s actually not possible to ‘boost’ one’s wellbeing. This is terminology that is better suited to the gaming industry.

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