A New System
There is a new movement concerning how we handle problem issues in our personal lives. That may mean the things we have called mental illness. It’s about time.
As a psychologist I’ve had to wrestle with my profession and the allied profession of psychiatry. Fundamentally I’m not a huge fan of the term mental illness. Obviously no one would be enthusiastic about mental illness. But I’m talking about my reservations about the whole concept and how we respond to problems and crises in our lives.
Long ago we dragged problems assumed to be associated with demonic possession and related issues away from the church and gave it to the medical professions. Not a bad idea but it is long overdue to reformulate our concepts. Time for a redefinition.
Down With Mental Illness!
Certainly there are biochemical issues which can be devastating. I’m thinking of such things as schizophrenia. But there are also a class of problems with varying severity we all have to contend with. Then recently I heard a discussion about new approaches.
The people presenting were fundamentally talking about management. They pointed out, for example, that anxiety is a significant problem for many people and probably all of us from time to time. There are a number of diagnoses associated with anxiety. But there is the suggestion that we need to approach it differently. Certainly it can be a major problem but it is also useful in that it alerts us to danger and problems and pushes us to seek cause and management. Now that it a conceptualization I like.
We may have a life coach but we actually need to conceive of ourselves as in the business of life management for ourselves. We tend to do it in our day to day lives when we take time off, go to the gym or give ourselves a treat. But management goes well beyond that.
We have to understand how we are. Introverts manage their tendency to withdraw. They come to understand that they are much more comfortable when they are clear how they should react and manage a situation. I remember Johnny Carson talking about how introverted he was. But night after night he went before an audience as a comedian. He spoke at one point about how well it worked when he was well prepared and knew what he was doing exactly. He knew how to manage it and he looked like an extravert.
Extraverts have to learn to back off with some people and be engaging but not too engaging. For more serious issues we have PTSD and Autism for example. The new movement is taking a different approach.
PTSD is, in many ways, completely understandable. If you live day to day being forced to kill people or trying not to be killed, it is going to take a toll. A change of perspective rather than seeing oneself as a failure for reacting is helpful. Also there are ways to help a person decondition with exposure to specific stimuli. These examples merely hint at productive approaches.
Then there is autism. When we listen to the issues autistic people deal with, each of us will identify specifics which are at issue for us as well. The difference may be of degree and the number of different issues present. Managing in discrete areas will help.
Stepfamilies pose another set of issues. Often everyone in the family is making a life change adjustment at the same time. It’s very stressful and requires attention to management for adults and children. Is it pathological or a mental illness? Of course not. It requires understanding and management.
The Bottom Line
New thinking is leading us away from the concept of mental illness. Now it seems we are turning to management when we use such things as exposure to stimuli, cognitive behavior management. We can now stop threatening people with stigma and help them manage their lives in new ways. At last!
What are your primary life management issues?