Search This Blog

CCE in brief

My photo
Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Tuesday 1 May 2012

Pay Attention to Your Mental Health

If you have never lost hearing, you've probably not spent much time wondering what the world would be like if you couldn't hear it.  Same applies to using a wheelchair or stroller - unless you have had difficulty accessing society, you'd never have thought about what it would be like to be restricted.

You probably have, however, been laid up by a severe cold, unable to do the things you would like to.  The cold is not a reflection of any personal flaw, any more than hearing impairment, though it might be caused by a loud workplace or listening to music at full volume, says anything fundamentally negative about you as a person.

What about having an off day?  A day where you just have the blues, or things set you off a bit more than they would otherwise?  "I just need my coffee," you might say, or "I'm due for a vacation."

That's mental health.  Just as a cold, a sore muscle or weakened eyes are manifestations of physical health, how you feel, overarching thought trains that cloud your judgement or make you hyper- or less-aware are mental health.

We all have brains.  Those brains function through complex neurochemistry that are impacted by internal factors like diet, general health, genetics and by external factors like work environments, family life, the weather.  Since we spend so little time thinking about how we think, we aren't connecting these dots; moods are dismissed, people either make us feel good or they don't, life is pain or a box of chocolates.  We tell ourselves it's got nothing to do with us, we're just responding to what the world throws at us.  Well, what causes us to respond reactively vs proactively?  To be patient in one situation yet short-tempered in another?  Ultimately, it's all in your mind.

Because we don't take conscious ownership of our mental health, we have very little control over it.  We don't design our systems - our home lives, our workplaces, our social services - with cognitive function in mind.  As such, we are all being moved around, like pieces on a board, by factors beyond our comprehension.  The rich businessman who thinks he can escape consequences for graft yet gets caught - that's mental health.  The politicians who postpone important decisions in favour of flashy ones, knowing it will burn them in the end - that's mental health.  The tired parents who yell at their kids for no deserving reason, with all the consequences that entails - that's mental health, too.  The call we're not returning because we owe information or the call we are taking because the person is fun to talk to - that's all our cognitive selves, motivating us in ways we don't even fathom.
This simple reality (our unconsciousness about consciousness) has huge consequences for how we plan, how we parent, how we manage or respond to management.  The subconscious rating of expense vs payoff tells us whether we act today at the expense of consequences tomorrow or if we plan ahead.  Here's the fun thing, though - you can train yourself to have conscious control.

Social-emotional learning.  Programs like Roots of Empathy.  Cognitive workplace design.  "Mindfulness," which is a fancy way of saying "pay attention to your thoughts and what impacts them."  The mind, like the body, is a tool we can harness, if we know how it works and if we make the effort to do so.

Mental health isn't just about disorders like bipolar or schizophrenia, any more than health is just about cancer or diabetes.  Mental health is about individual control in a social context and fostering a social context that empowers individual control.

Unless we are conscious about what's going on in our own heads, we will continue to be victims of circumstance.

No comments:

Post a Comment