Mel Schwartz, LCSW

#082: Stop Calling It “Mental Health!”

In The Possibility Podcast with Mel Schwartz episode 082, I take a hard look at why we need to stop using the terms “mental health” and “mental illness.” What’s the alternative? Listen to discover a holistic, whole-life and whole-history perspective when examining the struggles and challenges that keep us from experiencing mind wellness.

Have you had an experience with a limited, sterile mind health diagnosis that ignored many of the important factors in your life? Let me know… in the comments!

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Transcript of The Possibility Podcast with Mel Schwartz #082

Hello, everybody and welcome to The Possibility Podcast. I’m your host, Mel Schwartz. I practice psychotherapy and marriage counseling and I am the author of the book, The Possibility Principle, The Inspiration and The Companion to this podcast. I’ll be introducing you to new ways of thinking, a new philosophy and a new game plan for life and all of the infinite possibilities that await you.

Hello, everybody. I’m going to explore, and more honestly, eviscerate and rip apart, the terms mental health and mental illness. I find them harmful, old paradigm thinking, and destructive.

First of all, let’s look at the term mental. He or she is mental. What does that suggest? It implies that mental in this case means there’s something wrong with them. When you look up the word mental, you’ll find that it may refer alternatively to your intellect or to your feelings as though they are separate. We have to step back and look at this whole philosophy of psychology and really really understand that we’re operating from a very old paradigm of dysfunction. It doesn’t really speak to wellness.

By the way, where is mental located? Can you point to it? Most of us would point to our head but how about our heart, our feelings, our biography? There’s so much more involved here. So, I’m going to propose that we need to change this term mental health or mental wellness. Change it to what? Well, let’s take a look at it.

As you’ve heard me explain in many prior episodes of The Possibility Podcast, we have a tendency to pathologize, to turn normal life experiences into dysfunctions and not actually to look at the larger operating system, our environment, the way we live, what we value that contributes to our challenges, this Cartesian reductive tendency to reduce a symptom to a cause has us missed the bigger picture. So I am proposing a new term. Perhaps we should use the word mind rather than mental.

The mind in the way I describe it encompasses your beliefs, your thoughts, your feelings, and your entire biographical history. We need mind health and mind wellness. In this case, mind does not refer simply to the intellect but the whole being.

So now, let’s consider what impacts mind health or mind wellness which until now we called mental health. Well, there are so many places we can go. First of all, we start with our family, our life history. How that has impacted us? Where we are in terms of our financial ability to have proper nutrition. Are you or your family members able to afford nutritious food, not laden with chemicals that are going to impact your feelings, your thoughts, your distractedness? The correlation between so many of the chemicals and additives in food as to how it impacts hyperactivity. Yet, the diagnosis of ADHD is given without anybody ever asking, tell me about how you eat. Tell me about how you sleep. What’s life like in your home? How does exercise impact our mind health and our mind wellness? Well, I think that’s a rhetorical question by now we all know that along with eating well and eating healthy, exercise is one of the most valuable things we can do along with meditation.

What else impacts what we previously called mental health? Things that we don’t look at. Spirituality. What are your beliefs about life? What are your beliefs about death? If you believe that you’re born, you live, hopefully you get old, and you die and that’s the end of you. You’re going to experience a very different life than if you have a spiritual belief that something happens beyond death.

Education: where you unfortunately born in a zip code whereby the tax revenues were really limited so the quality of your education was really limited and how does that education and the limitations and constraints on your ability to live well, eat well, live in good housing, earn enough money to sustain yourself and your family. How does that impact your mental health or your mental illness?

How does your environment impact your mental health and your mental wellness? Are you living in a safe environment or crime laden environment? Do you ever get to see the sun? How does pollution affect you? How are all of these things either hospitable your well-being or inhospitable?

How does fear impact you and your life and your mental health and your mental wellness? Fear can be very personal. Did you grow up in a family and an environment where you had an alcoholic or an abusive parent? Did fear become part of the archetype of your being? If so, that fear would absolutely impact your well-being, your ability to be still to be quiet. The toxicity, fear has a direct correlation to your well-being to your mental health.

How about abuse? Have you been abused? Did you grow up in an environment in the family where you saw family members being abused? Was there violence? How did that impact you? You see the dichotomy that we’re creating here between just looking at the symptom and not understanding the underlying pieces that informed us is part of what I call the pathologizing.

I’d love to show you my appreciation for your subscribing to and rating this podcast by offering you a gift to one of the following The Power of Mind Alive Talk that I gave or one of my digital e-books, Creating Authentic Self Esteem, Overcoming Anxiety or Raising Resilient Children and lastly, Cultivating Resilient Relationships. Once you have subscribed, please send an email to Mel at Mel Schwartz. com and just let me know which gift you’d prefer. Thanks.

I’m going to share a story with you about what happens when we reduce a human being to a diagnostic term and don’t look underneath it.

I had been working with a man in his early 20s, let’s call him Timothy. He shared with me that he had felt severely depressed his entire life he was isolated borderline suicidal and he dropped out of college and when we reviewed the history of his therapy he recounted a detached mechanical series of interventions. All of his psychologists and psychiatrists diagnosed him and medicated him. They said the best he could do was to try to manage his depression. They were contributing to his beliefs that he was a damaged human being, mentally ill.

First, I tried to understand on an emphatic level what this word depression felt like for him. I wasn’t so much interested in the clinical term but what this word signified for him. He shared a traumatic period early in his life when his alcoholic father was emotionally and verbally abusive. This created a confining wave collapse. Remember, for me, wave collapse is a quantum term that expresses why our identity literally collapsed and became confined. So, having this wave collapse of an emotionally and verbally abusive alcoholic father helped him develop a coping mechanism.

Timothy’s coping mechanism helped him compensate for feeling at risk. You see, rather than feeling at risk to feel safe, he had to insulate himself in a womb-like protection. He literally protected himself from disengaging life in relationships on any intimate level. He did that early in life to protect himself from an abusive father but that coping mechanism remained rigid in him. He began living a reclusive life. He avoided any interpersonal contact whenever he could. He never got to enjoy friends, hobbies, sports, and he isolated himself into young adulthood.

I said to him, living life that way would mean feeling depressed would make perfect sense. Why wouldn’t he be depressed? He was barely living. His depression was symptomatic of his lifeless experience. Given his previous therapies, I presented him with a radically new belief. Could it be that might he potentially be able to overcome his affliction of depression. I suggested to him that he wasn’t damaged as much as he was damaging himself.

I was urging him to create a new defining moment full of possibilities where he could shift his perspective and realize that by inflicting isolation on himself, he was enduring his consequences. I was trying to have him buy into new possibilities.

His recurring thought, there’s something wrong with me, just affirmed his whole history of therapy. It became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Something was indeed wrong with him. His primary beliefs and ensuing thoughts denied him a reasonable life.

Thankfully, he was open to reconsidering his core beliefs. Instead of saying I am a damaged person, I had him say, I keep having the same thoughts to keep telling me I’m damaged.

Well, Timothy is now employed, he’s graduated college, he’s got a great job, and he’s in beginning to enjoy some friendships.

You see what I’m getting at here? Under the paradigm of mental illness and mental health, Timothy is a severely depressed man. He’s dysfunctional. There’s no humanism there. So instead, we need to come into mind wellness and mind wellness would have us look at his beliefs, his thoughts, and his feelings getting past the symptoms.

When we try to understand mental health, mental wellness. It’s essential though that we don’t fragment the human being. We look at the whole person. We don’t treat the diagnosis as the real thing but just as a description. We need to refer to mental health wellness. We are human beings. Struggle is part of life.

When we refer to mental health, we’re really referring to a mental health madness. We’re human beings. We should not be reduced to mental or mental illness. Struggle is unfortunately part of life. But why pathologize these struggles? More regrettably we do it for convenience, for simplicity, and for profit.

The more we can diagnose, the more we can medicate. We need to turn a corner here and we need to turn struggle into success, not into profit. We need a new picture of mind wellness. Mind wellness again incorporates our beliefs, our thoughts, our feelings, our whole lived experience. When we do that, we can start to honor the fact that we’re human beings again trying to overcome hurt, trauma, pain. We all deserve to live the best life we can. We need to come into mind wellness and let go of the mental health stupidity that grips us into a state of pathology.

Well, I hope you enjoyed today’s episode. I look forward to speaking with you again soon. Be well and seeks those possibilities.

I hope you enjoyed this episode of The Possibility Podcast and I welcome your feedback on this or any episode. Please send me an email at Mel at Mel Schwartz. com or leave a comment in the show notes for this episode at Mel Schwartz. com. If you like what you’re hearing, please take a moment to rate and review the show at Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcast. Your reviews really help boost the visibility for the show and it’s a great way for you to show your support. Finally, please make sure to subscribe to The Possibility Podcast wherever you listen to podcast. In that way, you’ll never miss an episode and thanks again and please remember to always welcome uncertainty into your life as you embrace new possibilities.

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