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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.

Wednesday 7 November 2012

Justice For Mental Health

No one should be meant to feel they need to suffer in silence.

Think your life is hard?  Suck it up - it's a tough world.  Boss too hard on you?  Maybe you're just not up to the job.  Trouble at home getting you down?  Nobody cares - leave your baggage at home, where it belongs.  Never tell people how you really feel, 'cause nobody cares; if you do, they'll just avoid you.  The people you deal with annoying?  Maybe you're being to soft on them. 
That's common wisdom in on our streets, in our places of business, in our homes and on the playground.  Emotional responses are for weak-kneed, bleeding hearts and rage-o-holics.  Those aren't the kind of people you want working for you - right?  The worst employment advice I've ever received was also the most practical - when someone asks how you're doing, always answer "living the dream."  They aren't asking because they are sympathetic, but because they want to judge your usefulness in that moment.

But here's the thing - everyone has limits.  When they are pushed, something gives.  Nearly every majorly successful person I know has suffered a collapsed family, harbours deep-rooted narcissistic self-doubt or partakes in substance abuse.  Frequently, it's all of the above.  This shouldn't come as any surprise, because stress is stress, whether physical or mental.  We have designed our society from top-to-bottom to facilitate work, not people.  The something that's giving is why we have a growing mental health crisis on our hands - and it's costing us.
This is most observable among two groups - those with mental illness who are coming into contact with the Justice system on the one side, and First Responders on the other.  Police, Nurses, EMTs, Paramedics, Teachers, parents, spouses and yes, bullied children are the canaries in the cognitive coal mine.  People are chafing, falling, dying because we refuse to realize how harmful our social "suck it up mentality" is.
But it doesn't have to be this way.  There are tools, internal and external, that can be applied.  There are mental exercises people can do to nurture resiliency and better manage stress.  Simple things like stopping and counting the positive things in your life can reshape your thought patterns, resulting in more broadly positive attitudes.  There are external solutions like drugs, walks, music and laughter that salve emotional strain.  There's nothing corny about this - it's scientific fact.  Just as eating junk food is bad for your physical health, constantly thinking negative thoughts is harmful for your brain.  The reverse is also true - the entire field of positive psychology was developed around this concept.
There are also environmental changes that can be made - innovative workplace designs and work schedules that not only reduce stress, but enhance productivity.  It's the next labour revolution and it's already begun to happen - some players are just ahead of the curve.   
We get that planned physical exercise strengthens, but sudden blows or repetitive stresses are harmful.  Some people are designed to be faster or taller or more prone to illnesses than others, physically; the same applies mentally.  
Sometimes, pushing against a closed door even harder isn't the solution - sometimes you need to try and give it a pull instead.  That's not being lazy, or weak, or a quitter; it's being smart.
Mental health is a pull door that we are still collectively pushing on, to our own detriment.  It's time we stop working against our cognitive natures and proactively, collectively pull the door open.  There's a whole world of opportunity on the other side - we just need to be conscious of this.


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