“Is everything we know about mental health wrong?”

I recently listened to an interview that Johann Hari conducted about depression. Hari states that depression is not purely biological in nature but is also largely to do with the way we live our lives. We have learnt to value expensive things rather than our communities, and we judge our success by the size of our wage rather than how content we feel with our life.  Consequently, he says, people’s physical needs are met but their psychological needs remain unmet. Many of us are missing that sense of belonging and purpose.

If depression is predominantly a social issue then, why do we continue to treat it largely with medication? Medication is designed to tackle a biological cause, not a social one.

I do recognise that medication provides relief for many sufferers; we can’t just escape our lives when things get tough, we have responsibilities and we need to keep going. But I do wonder if there’s more we could do to enrich our mental health.

So what can we do when life gets tough? We know that exercise and eating well is good for our mental and physical health. Mindfulness too is an ever popular way of managing stress. But did you also know that singing in a choir is proven to boost mental health? It helps us to feel part of a cohesive and meaningful group. Similarly, as Carl Rogers explained, the healing effect of counselling is based within the meaningful relationship between therapist and client. When we feel accepted and valued by others, we learn to accept and value ourselves.

When was the last time you were kind to yourself? Do you congratulate yourself when you achieve something, or do you berate yourself when you make a mistake, and then never let yourself forget it? Do you schedule in quality time for yourself, or is that reserved for the kids, your partner, your neighbour down the street? I sometimes ask my clients, “I’m wondering what you do for yourself.” They often look slightly bemused. “For myself,” they say, “I don’t know, I’ve never thought about it.”

If you do have time today, check out this Radio 2 interview about depression  (1:08:40). What are your thoughts on it?  What do you do to look after your own mental health? When was the last time you felt valued and like you belonged somewhere?

Today’s task: do something kind for yourself, and then, if you can, for someone else. Let’s connect to ourselves and each other, one act of kindness at a time.

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