Mental Illness - time for a sensible perspective
The first thing to understand about 'mental illness' is this: it’s a label.
Our medical system groups together a range of symptoms - most often relating to emotional, relational, social, and/or behavioural difficulties - and pops a label on them. The label masks the human suffering, scares people, and gives the impression of an 'illness' which is a static and unchangeable part of the person. It's not - it's simply something the person is struggling with and doesn't yet know how to change.
So, what if we instead look at these symptom sets as the result of brilliantly created coping mechanisms, developed to ensure survival? What if we recognise that these coping mechanisms might now be outdated? That with guidance, knowledge, respect, and utilisation of their underlying creative brilliance, the person experiencing the symptoms can adopt more resourceful ways of living. Ways of being happy, healthy, productive, and socially connected.
A closer look at labels
The value of a label is to tell you what’s inside the packaging and what the contents do. Let’s see how well that works…
In my practice I've worked successfully with people labelled with such diverse diagnoses as: Bi-Polar Disorder, Anxiety Disorder, Clinical Depression, PTSD, Hypochondria, ADHD, Paranoia, Schizophrenia, Phobias, Alcoholism, and a range of so-called learning disabilities.
The thing all those wonderful clients have in common? They're human beings who were struggling with negative thinking, overwhelming feelings, inner and outer conflict, and unwanted behaviours. People who for whatever reason, never learned how to be particularly resilient and often had been rejected or stigmatised through their family's and/or society's fear of difference.
Baking soda and muesli bars
Baking Soda is soda you bake with, right? Well, yes – and also mix with vinegar to clean just about anything; dissolve in water and drink to settle an iffy stomach; add to hot sugar and golden syrup to create a magical concoction called hokey pokey; mix with fragrant ingredients to make fizzing bath bombs…
In fact, googling “baking soda uses” got 241,000,000 results. The nine results on the first page alone outlined hundreds of uses ranging from personal care to saving the planet – and not one mentioned baking. It is just so much more than its label.
And what about the muesli bars?
The label includes (we hope) the ingredients list, and gives us some idea of whether we might want to eat the product. But we can’t know until we take the first bite and experience the unique combination and ratio of ingredients in that particular muesli bar.
And so it is with the wide-ranging sets of symptoms grouped together by our medical system to label mental illness. Like the muesli bar, each person with this label is unique, each put together slightly differently, every one overcoming different challenges in different ways and receiving different rewards. And like the baking soda, each person is so much more than their label.