I’ve had this idea bothering me for a while. I keep going to write about it however I never seem able to put a voice or structure to it. So there it has remained, haunting my mind, attaching itself to my unconscious, begging for expression.
It’s the idea of our mental health being socially defined. Granted, this is no new idea and I openly admit that the formation of my thoughts around this have developed from seeds planted by writers such as Goffman, Foucault and Freud, to name a few. I guess the thing that has been bothering me is how our mental health is changing in relation to our modern lives.
We live in an ‘enlightened’ time where mental health awareness is, to some extent, fashionable and ‘in’. While most people (myself included) would see this as a positive move, we also seem to be fed statistics that suggests mental health related issues, such as suicide, are constantly on the rise. How do these two aspects of mental health and modern society coexist?
There is the argument that the stats reflect the increased awareness, in that before this generation these issues were somewhat swept under the rug, not spoken about, and that with increased awareness the effect is like a light being shone on issues that have always been there. There is also the argument that human suffering has been over-medicalised. That with increased awareness there becomes a pressure to explain away every human emotion and behavior as a ‘sickness’.
The persistent idea that keeps coming back to me is that mental health issues/human suffering/psychic pain, whatever you want to call it, that this ‘energy’ has always been with us as individuals and as societies. The difference between ages and societies is the way that it is expressed.
How modern society defines this ‘psychic energy’ is through the language of mental health whereas in pervious/other societies this was expressed in a different way, for example demonic possession. Now, this is a bit of an abstract idea and I am not trying to suggest that one form of expression of this energy is more accurate than the other. Inevitable, being part of modern, western society we see this argument through that lens and I have no doubt the expression of this energy will take a completely different and, at present, unrecognizable form in, say, two hundred years’ time.
I guess what I’m saying is; are we so ‘enlightened’? What are the drawbacks of our current understanding of these issues? I look at events in my life and, in particular, when I have faced traumatic events. I remember mostly being overwhelmed by thoughts like ‘I should feel more than this’, ‘in the movies people are distraught by such events and that must be what is normal’. I feel the same can be said for other forms of media such as social media. Perhaps the question I’m asking is if we are currently defining ourselves by the ultimately fictitious world of these various media constructs?
I have no idea how to answer these questions I just felt the need to get some of them out. Again I am aware that none of these ideas are original and I thank anybody reading this for putting up with the scrappiness of this article! I would love to hear any ideas about any of this.
Harvey Lidstone-Lane is an Integrative Counsellor working in Chiswick, London. Harvey offers therapy based on the individuals own unique needs. With the choice of traditional 'sit down' counselling or the pioneering 'walk and talk' counselling service. To find out more about Harvey's services you can contact him via Twitter or take a look at his website for more details.