Today is world mental health day. I welcome this in so far that it is a great way to highlight and normalise how we all think about and relate to the mental health in ourselves, and in others. Yet some stigma remains and often it is the perceived stigma that prevents people speaking out and asking for help. Therefore, it could be argued that mental health does not kill in itself, but the biggest factor is the associated stigma and how society and the majority of the population view mental health through a distorted lens. If people felt free to talk about suicide and mental health openly and unashamedly this would help to decrease rising suicide rates. It is not rocket science, although I wish it was.
I would also suggest, albeit with some hesitation, that the root cause in the majority of mental health symptoms and problems are societal and cultural. In other words, society fails to recognise the diversity of people’s inner experience and interpretation of the world and the more one deviates away from social norms and expectations the more ‘mentally unwell’ that person is likely to become. This is precisely because modern society sees us not as human beings with a heart and soul but as commodities to produce something of perceived value to the system and state. We are not allowed to be ‘different’ we are only allowed to be ‘normal’ so that we can think how society wants us to and produce for the welfare of the state. In this way, the welfare of the state comes before the welfare of the individual along with his or her right to expression and inner experience, which are almost always invalidated and denied. Further to this, the more ‘alien’ and adverse our environment is to the human heart and soul, the greater the rise in mental health issues. In this way, many mental health symptoms may in fact be a normal human response to living in conditions that human beings simply were not built for. Yet we are made to believe such symptomatology is a criteria for ‘disorder’ that needs to be treated with psychoactive medication. In reality, such medication attempts to ‘rewire’ the individuals brain in such a way so that he or she can fit and function in their respective societal environment. To illustrate, there is a direct correlate between the rise in mental health problems and the inception and wide spread use of social media and ‘smart’ phones, and of course the recent and rapid exponential rise in mental health this year can be explained by the current COVID pandemic and the vast and far-reaching adverse consequences thereof.
I would suggest that at the very least COVID has served to normalise the concept of mental health and the understanding thereof in the consciousness of the masses, precisely because everyone is being affected. Only when it happens to you can you understand. The world has been turned upside down for us all. Indeed, before the pandemic this is exactly what happened to people who had ‘breakdowns’ only it was their personal world and not yours.
To conclude, people need to be tolerant, accepting and open to the diversity of human experience. In addition, if mental health issues are to be addressed the very fabric of society must change for the welfare of all its people, regardless of class or individual economic output. People are different and these differences must be embraced. Finally, mental health ‘issues’ and symptoms may be a normal human response to adverse living conditions that we simply find intolerable: so instead of trying to fix mental health by altering brain chemistry, we should try to fix and change external factors so that society is more open and inclusive to the needs of human beings as opposed to the needs of big industry and the economy, so maybe COVID has taught us all something important.
Stay safe and never be ashamed.
Gowain Reid Patrick McKenna,
M.Phil. M.Sc B.Eng (Hons)