I've been thinking an awful lot about what makes us happy or not. Why are some people happy and others aren't. During my interview with The Green School, I was asked what struck me the most in my travels and I said it was how people seem happier in developing countries.
I've been reading, writing, thinking, conversing and all sorts of other -ings about mental health.
My own mental health has improved markedly. For a number of reasons. Including:
- starting to understand and apply Brene Brown's ideas about shame and shame resilience;
- moving to a better place for me, a place where I have social interaction;
- removing alcohol (mostly) from my life;
- meditating and studying Buddhism;
- seeking out support;
But this post is not about me. It's about the idea that thinking positively can make us happy. That has been said in many places. And I do agree - to a point. Those of us who have basically good mental health can do it. It might take work, but it's possible.
Those of us who suffer from mental illness are another story. Especially more severe mental illnesses. People who are suffer from clinical depression, bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia, post traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, OCD, etc., have a much more difficult time turning their thinking around. And, many people with these illnesses also have addictions to deal with as self-medication offers some relief.
We all know people who need help pulling themselves out of depression and/or addiction. People who have mental illnesses lack the impetus to help themselves and are caught in Catch 22 - one needs to help herself to heal, but the very illness she has prevents her from seeking help.
The anniversary of my Dad's death (May 31) is what brings this to mind. Lately every day I've been reminded of him in small ways. A Beatles' song comes on the radio, singing lullabies to the girls, and so many little things in my daily life.
Our culture attaches a stigma to all mental illnesses. Every. Single. One. This stigma is one thing that prevents people from getting help. Also, we don't know how to help. How do we help people who often don't know there is something wrong with them. Or who are flattened by severe depression and/or anxiety. My heart breaks when I read or hear stories of families dealing with mental illness. People who are trying so hard to help their loved ones but can't find or afford what they need. Young people who cannot get control of their lives. I've seen this first hand with my own brother. People who never get the help they need and die young - like my father and many, many other. The heartbreak of suicide. A ten year old in my community committed suicide a few weeks ago.
Every year one in five people in Canada experiences a mental health problem or illness. The yearly cost to the health care system is $50 billion. We currently underfund our mental health programmes - by quite a bit. If you want more details of costs and solutions check out the Mental Health Commission of Canada's Strategy.
We seem to be forever stuck in the raising awareness phase of making change. With articles like the Toronto Star's special series on mental illness, blog posts, CAMH campaigns.
I'm going to start with being compassionate. Building connections with my community and students. I'm going to think more about how to build empathy and compassion within the school system.
I couldn't help my Dad. But maybe I can help someone else. And I'm not going to place the blame on people suffering by saying if only they could think positively they would be happy. I don't know why that bothers me so much - I think it is the blaming aspect - I'll ponder that some more. I'll have to write another post about how I think our culture creates some of our mental health issues - milders ones of course.