Mental health is a phrase that gets tossed about a lot -- this is true especially during the few decades prior to this one -- but its full meaning often gets shorted. Casual mental health discussions usually focus on significant disorders: schizophrenic condition, bipolar condition, sociopathic tendencies, even Alzheimer's disease. But what gets left out in these sorts of discussions is how mental health affects each of our lives, without exception.
Mental health emphasis is typically on disorder. A person with some sort of a condition is mentally unhealthy, while a person free of condition possesses mental health. This sort of thinking is problematic in a couple of ways. Firstly, many people with legitimate mental health conditions go undiagnosed. The world is filled with the mentally and emotionally undiagnosed.
The second problem is that mental health is not simply an absence of a diagnosed condition, or presenting symptoms. In other words, mental health isn't simply about lacking; mental health is equally about having.
Being mentally healthy means a number of things: coping successfully with the setbacks life invariably presents; healthy relationships with loved ones; functional relations regular acquaintances -- coworkers, for example; and integrating successfully into general society. These traits can certainly be absent in people who don't show symptoms or indications of mental illness.
In the event that one does lack these coping and social interaction capabilities, would they be considered mentally ill? Very unlikely under current definitions. But perhaps current definitions should be changed. An argument could be made that the lack of coping or interaction skills does, in fact, indicate mental illness, particularly when acting out, or the use of drugs or alcohol, is a response to poor coping. Habitually angry or addicted people don't typically fall under the label of mentally ill. Were this to change, large numbers of people might be encouraged to get some form of mental health care.
The argument against broadening the definition of mental illness, and encouraging more people to seek psychological treatment, is that seeking psychological treatment for common dysfunction is overkill, is intrusive, and is akin to sedating large sections of the population. But mental health treatment needn't be oppressive, or sedating, at all. This is not a suggestion to pass out pharmaceuticals in bunches -- even more than they're being passed out already.
Mental health treatment, at its core, should emphasize the teaching of coping techniques. This is different than changing a person's reality. Let the reality remain the same: just change the dysfunctional strategies and methods people use to cope. This approach needn't involve using pharmaceutical treatment at all.
Mental health treatment has a long history, and during much of that history pharmaceuticals weren't even available. People don't need to use pharmaceuticals to treat basic emotional and psychological functioning. Let's get that truth out in the open, where it belongs.
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