Are we in danger of cultivating the false assumption that we can easily separate the mentally ‘unhealthy’ from the mentally ‘well’?
It seems to me that the focus on wellbeing in schools has created a very unhelpful approach to mental health.
We seem to be saying that mental health is something that some people have whereas others don’t. We stress like mad that children have anxieties and they might actually be mentally unwell. It is a very binary view.
Children are unwell, some of the time, just like the adults around them. Some might be unwell most of the time too, just like some of the adults around them. Mental health is like physical health in that it is never 100% all the time. We get sick, we get ill and we get better. Sometimes we don’t.
Western psychology promotes the idea that a ‘perfect’ mental state can exist and we should all be trying our hardest to be mentally well, stable, in control and on top of things. This is ludicrous and unrealistic.
I don’t know anyone that is mentally well all day and every day. If they were I’d be worried about them. Yet, we are always trying to get on top of our mental health as if it’s something we can master. We can’t. There will always be something just as you will always get a cold, have an ache or a pain or develop something more serious.
Let’s think about it in terms of the weather. It is currently sunny but soon it may cloud over and begin to rain. I hope it doesn’t but it might. This atmospheric state of affairs will not last. The weather will at some point change. There might well be a depression moving in and it could well stay with us for quite a time but it will eventually shift.
In any one day we can be mentally unhealthy and healthy. To experience ‘good’ and ‘bad’ weather through the day as human beings is normal. If I cloud over at 10am so be it. Mental health and mental ill-health are temporary states of being always in flux with each other.
It is a core assumption of Eastern psychology that ‘nothing lasts’ and that is a more helpful view of human experience.
We seem to be pressing so many panic buttons in relation to our mental health that we forget being mentally unwell is not something we have to see in such catastrophic terms. What we perceive as a threat and something to get on top of is a part of ordinary emotional experience.
None of us have one personality type – we are multidimensional. This means that we possess many personalities even if we only exhibit one at any one time. Some of these personalities fair better than others. Mental dysfunction is not ‘bad’ but quite normal. Anxiety is normal and even beneficial in many situations yet it is often seen and sold as a negative state of being to children.
Mental health and mental ill-health runs through the whole of human life and both can actually be used creatively. Isn’t that something we should be sharing with children?
Creativity and chaos are inextricably linked. Mental illness can spark creativity and imagination. As Nietzsche (1892) said, “Only out of chaos may there be born a dancing star.”
None of us are well beings and it is madness to think we can ever possess total mental health. We slip in and out of good and bad health and everything in between.