Thursday, 12 December 2013

I don't understand mental illness

OK. So how do you understand mental illness? And how do we change things?— Terry Burridge (@Kleinrules) December 12, 2013
revised already, a couple of hours after posting
Terry, I've been to your blog and found something there I liked very much:
"All counsellors are not the same! If you want a flavour of how I work, please look at the pages headed Counselling." 
I have also read the pages headed "Counselling", and concluded that your way of working would not have been right for me. And I really appreciate your being so clear about how you work. Getting the right kind of help would be much easier if all therapists took that approach. 

And it is true what I wrote in the blog title: I do not understand the concept of mental illness. I do, though, have a very clear definition of mental health. This is translated from my Norwegian blog, and the list is a variation of Virginia Satir's:

Mental health is knowing that people do not need to be hindered, polished, trained, pruned, enlightened, blocked and normalized in order to become useful citizens.
Mental health is knowing that, just as plants need light, water and nutrients to  grow to their full potential, basic needs must be filled so that the inborn health of humans can develop:

  • the need to take responsibility for our lives
  • the need to see and hear what is, instead of what ought to be
  • the need to feel what we feel, instead of what we ought to feel
  • the need to convey what we think and feel, instead of what we ought to think and feel
  • the need to be able to ask for what we want, instead of waiting to see if we get it - or asking for something we think we can get
  • the need to take chances instead of always playing it safe 
And, since people are not plants, it is never too late to begin the process of fulfilling these needs - and to see when our surroundings prevent us from fulfilling them.

The next paragraph is taken from this blog post:

In my belief system, isolation and bullshit is the main cause of mental health problems. Problems. Not illnesses. The short-short version is that the collective stories of our surroundings drown out the stories of individuals. Some people, the so-called normal ones, are able to adapt to the collective stories, and the so-called mentally ill ones are incapable of it, for many different reasons. And “mental illness” is in itself a powerful story of alienation, isolation, bullshit, disempowerment and hopelessness.
As I see it, we can change things by making it possible for people with mental problems to own their own stories. And their own lives. And that change begins with getting rid of the label of "mental illness", because labelling is the most destructive force in the universe

Change begins when therapists know, to paraphrase Jung, that we can only help others as far as we have helped ourselves. 

And change begins when therapists say "we". I would like to see this text as a poster everywhere that mental health care is provided: 

We have been allotted misleading maps 
and defective compasses early in life. 

Everyone has the right to draw their own map,
and find and trust the compass they were born with. 

No one is 'mentally ill', no one is 'normal', 
we have all reacted with natural defenses against societal harm. 

Many manage to hide their societal damage, 
and many forms of societal harm are so prevalent 
that they are considered normal. 

We have a right to grow out of our defenses,
become aware of what is happening 
in us and around us,
describe it in our own words,
evaluate and judge,
and take responsibility 
for our bodies and our lives.

These are my thoughts. And in my two previous posts I shared some tools that have helped me draw my own map, find my compass and take responsibility. They have been right for me, and that does not mean they are right for everyone. 

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