What is Mental Health?

I want to invite you to join an international online conversation started by the Social Therapy Group called What Is Mental Health? It’s part of the National Dialogue on Mental Health started last summer in response to the shootings at Sandy Hook and the increasing violence across this country, and it’s one of several conversations taking place in the Civic Commons Initiative, Creating Community Solutions, in partnership with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) of the Department of Health and Human Services. As an independent mental health institution with affiliates throughout the US and abroad, we think these dialogues are crucial. We all have experienced the media reporting on Adam Lanzer, the horrifying number of killings that have followed, the increased bullying that has resulted in suicides, and the ever-increasing number of adults and children taking psychotropic medications in response to exponentially growing diagnoses of depression, anxiety disorders and attention deficit disorders.

So what is mental health? What produces the devastating and increasing amount of mental illness in this country? And is naming and defining what’s happening enough?

Recently a piece on the New York Times “Opinionator” blog, How Inequality Hollows Out the Soul by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, raises a bigger, upsetting picture of American inequality, class division, and the ongoing, ever-deepening impact of poverty on our mental health.

The editorial points out how the cost of inequality touches all of us, that it has an emotional impact, and is destabilizing and socially invasive. The authors posit that there are relationships between our financial wellbeing or lack of it and psychiatric conditions. Inequality, they assert, intensifies status anxiety. The actual economic conditions of our lives foster feelings of superiority or inferiority. Psychologically speaking, this creates emotional turmoil which results in the disproportionate spread of depression in areas of the country where economic inequality is the greatest.

Most interesting to me was the finding that schizophrenia, often understood as chemical imbalances in the brain, was three times as common in societies that had greater inequality. Other studies showed that the financial and psychological tension of living in increasing social hierarchies can contribute to bipolar and other personality disorders.

As I said, this is terribly disturbing — though not altogether surprising — information. As a social therapist, the question I ask is: How can we work together to create the conditions for mental health, free from over-determining diagnosing and overmedication of our children? And, most importantly, how can we spread the word of innovative, collaborative therapies that help people build communities in which we can create  mental health together.

What are your thoughts? Here’s how you can join the conversation:

First, click here to register on the website.

  1. When you arrive on the page, scroll down below Conversation Starter, and in the What do you think? box, click on Register.
  2. In response to Our Guiding Principles, check the box by I’m on board....
  3. Choose to continue the conversation as an individual or organization by clicking Continue in the appropriate box.
  4. The next page asks you to say a little about yourself and for your zip code.
  5. Register by clicking on Connect on Facebook or Register with an email address.
  6. If registering via email, the next page asks you for profile information and to create a password. After completing all the fields, select Continue.
  7. You will receive a confirmation of your registration by email.
  8. Go to your email and confirm your registration by clicking on the link.

Then, click here to go back to the ”What is Mental Health” page and enter the conversation.