Foundations of Holding Space: The Facilitation of Emotional Healing

Holding space is a highly effective, evidence-based method for providing emotional support for those in need. In essence, holding space is the act of generating a safe, supportive, loving, caring, and non-judgmental environment, as so the individual suffering is free to process emotionally charged events in a healthful way. It means to mindfully walk alongside them without attempting to change or alter their journey. It means to let them say what they need to say and feel what they need to feel. This process allows them to more readily achieve emotionally balanced states of mind, empowering them to walk in the direction they need to go. Holding space can be used in any circumstance by which a person experiences a great deal emotional distress; whether they are living with a major illness, hardship, poverty, grieving loss(es), nearing the end of their life (i.e. palliative care), or experiencing any other difficult event. The general principles of holding space are as follows:

  1. MINDFUL PRESENCE. Be there with them, grounded in the present. Put aside whatever musings are going on inside your head for a moment so you can attend to them fully.
  2. ACTIVE LISTENING. Hear what they have to say and allow them to express their thoughts and emotions without interruption. Validate that they have been heard by giving them gestures such as nods. If you’re not sure if you’re fully understanding what they are saying, ask for clarification.
  3. CONFIDENTIALITY. If they ask for it, grant them confidentiality unless they are in danger of hurting themselves or others. Let them know that you would only seek more help from others in necessary circumstances.
  4. NON-JUDGEMENT. Just like your own, their lived experience is highly complex and no one has the right to criticize it. Provide a space that is free of wrist slapping and finger wagging. This will allow them to more comfortably speak from their authentic experience.
  5. VALIDATE. Let them know that what they are experiencing is valid (because every subjective experience IS valid).
  6. EMPATHY. To the best of your ability, walk a mile in their shoes. Feel with them. Go on this journey with them, because it is probably daunting for them to go it alone.
  7. COMPASSION. Let them know that they are worthy, loved, and cared for. If the situation is appropriate and there is reciprocal consent, hold them or give them hugs.
  8. EMPOWERMENT. Keep the agency in their hands. This means that we must keep our own egos out of the equation and refrain from giving our own biased advice. Granting them their own independence feeds them confidence and strength.

Practicing the art of holding space builds relationships, communities, and broader societies that are more readily equipped to resiliently dance through hardships and trauma (because whether we like it or not, they are just a fact of life). So hold space for others, and allow others to hold space for you.

References:

Davidson, L., Chinman, M., Kloos, B., Weingarten, R., Stayner, D., & Tebes, J. K. (1999). Peer support among individuals with severe mental illness: A review of the evidence. Clinical Psychology: Science and practice, 6(2), 165-187.

Krause, N. (2004). Lifetime trauma, emotional support, and life satisfaction among older adults. The Gerontologist, 44(5), 615-623.

Puchalski, C., Ferrell, B., Virani, R., Otis-Green, S., Baird, P., Bull, J., … & Pugliese, K. (2009). Improving the quality of spiritual care as a dimension of palliative care: the report of the Consensus Conference. Journal of Palliative Medicine, 12(10), 885-904.

Stephens, J. P., Heaphy, E. D., Carmeli, A., Spreitzer, G. M., & Dutton, J. E. (2013). Relationship quality and virtuousness: Emotional carrying capacity as a source of individual and team resilience. The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 49(1), 13-41.

Solomon, P. (2004). Peer support/peer provided services underlying processes, benefits, and critical ingredients. Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal, 27(4), 392-401.

Stand Up to Stigma

MENTAL ILLNESS: THE IGNORANCE IS RAMPANT

Stigma against persons with mental illness are manifested in negative attitudes, stereotypes, and discriminating behavior towards those who suffer. Stigma occurs due to a lack understanding of mental illness themselves. For instance, mental illness is often perceived as something the sufferer has agency over;

“Everyone has total control over all areas of their brain”
“I can control this part of myself, so why can’t they?”

These statements are grounded in an assumption that everyone encompasses the same neurobiological make up; one that is alike their own. In reality, neurobiological deviance exists, and research has established that mental illnesses have can have many complex causal factors which can be genetic, developmental, and environmental– many of which are not within a person’s control.

Furthermore, specific mental illnesses can carry with them certain stereotypes that are once again, due to a lack of understanding. Some of these stereotypes include:

“Mentally ill patients are unintelligent and incompetent.”
“Depressed people are lazy and ungrateful.”
“Alcoholics do it to themselves. They can never recover.”
“Bipolar patients are bad people.”
“Borderlines are dangerous and need to be locked up.”
“PTSD patients are weak and need to get over it.”
“Anorexics are narcissists that just need to eat something.”

Note here that language of these statements define a person by their illness, when in actuality they are HUMANS, just like everyone else (!!!), that have a bit of a deviation in their brain biology. This is precisely the point of the problem– a whole, complex person who happens to have a mental illness is deduced into negative labels and stereotypes that are many of the time, untrue. This discriminatory social environment then in turn, leads to bigger problems in terms of treatment.

PUTTING AN END TO THE SILENT SUFFERING

Stigma compounds the suffering of persons with mental illness. Tiresome efforts to suppress and hide the illness, feelings of guilt, and social exclusion all impede efforts to recover. Stigma can also breed internalized oppression by which a person starts to believe the stereotypes they are subjected to, e.g. dangerous, incompetent, lazy, and worthless. Alongside, stigma may prevent a person from landing a job, maintaining a job, or receiving accessibility aids and social support; poverty is a whole new traumatic experience. Lastly, it steers them away from accessing essential public resources to recover, cope, and manage their illness due to shame.

So how can we help decrease mental health stigma in our society?

  1. KEEP THE CONVERSATION GOING. Let others know that they can speak openly about their mental illness. Within your comfort, express your own experience with mental illness if any; this naturally gives permission for others to do the same.
  2. SHOW RESPECT AND HUMANIZATION FOR PERSONS LIVING WITH MENTAL ILLNESS. See the person as a whole, complex person, just like everyone else. Doctors: I am talking to you too.
  3. IF NEEDED, ENCOURAGE THOSE WHO DISCLOSE THEIR MENTAL ILLNESS TO YOU TO ACCESS PUBLIC HEALTH RESOURCES such as psychiatric care, counselling, and support groups. Respect their level of confidentiality and let them know that they are not alone.
  4. EDUCATE YOURSELF. Unfortunately, those living with mental illness don’t always have the energy to educate everyone they talk to. Do some reading and challenge the stereotypes.
  5. BE MINDFUL OF YOUR SPEECH. Avoid stigmatized words such as “retarded,” “lunatic,” and “psycho.”
  6. NEVER SHAME A PERSON FOR TAKING PSYCHOACTIVE MEDICATIONS. Just because some individuals may not need it, it could be another individual’s life line.

Working together to stand up to stigma can create an environment where we can all heal a little more gracefully. This is imperative as a mental illness crisis continues to plague our world.

References:

Corrigan, P. W., Watson, A. C., & Barr, L. (2006). The self–stigma of mental illness: Implications for self–esteem and self–efficacy. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 25(8), 875-884.

Rüsch, N., Angermeyer, M. C., & Corrigan, P. W. (2005). Mental illness stigma: concepts, consequences, and initiatives to reduce stigma. European Psychiatry, 20(8), 529-539.

Corrigan, P. W. (2005). On the stigma of mental illness: Practical strategies for research and social change. American Psychological Association.

Corrigan, P. (2004). How stigma interferes with mental health care. American Psychologist, 59(7), 614.

Corrigan, P. W., & Watson, A. C. (2002). Understanding the impact of stigma on people with mental illness. World Psychiatry, 1(1), 16-20.

Unknown. (2000). Mental illness vies for attention. The Lancet.

Eating Disorders, Mind-Body Interventions, and Body Positivity: On Healing the Self and Society

EATING DISORDER OVERVIEW

Eating disorders are on the rise in the majority of industrialized nations, having among the highest mortality rates of all psychiatric illnesses. There are three main types of eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder. These disorders share a common characteristics: an extreme fear of weight gain, intense disturbance with body self-perceptions, and negative relationships with food. The distinguishing factor between each disorder lies in how one copes with these neuroses; in anorexia nervosa, one engages in intense food restriction. Meanwhile, bulimia nervosa is characterized by episodes of binge eating followed by compensatory purging (i.e. self-induced vomiting, laxative abuse, fasting, and/ or excessive exercise). Binge eating disorder is characterized by recurring episodes of binging without compensatory behaviors. Binge episodes are typically used to alleviate feelings of emotional distress.

While statistics report that eating disorders affect approximately 1-3% of the population, this represents an underestimation as these studies do not account for those undiagnosed and untreated. Moreover, a large proportion of the population (the majority being women and trans folk), still suffer from eating disorder symptoms at a subclinical threshold, even if they do not fully express clinical behaviors. Full recovery rates of documented cases are dismal at approximately 50% with many patients experiencing relapse. Thus, there is certainly a pressing need for more research and rapid clinical application to better assist existing patients and subclinical persons at risk, through their recovery.

MIND-BODY INTERVENTIONS

Mind-body interventions such as Hatha yoga and mindfulness meditation have been of increasing interest to mental health professionals. Both of these interventions share a common thread of their ability to aid in distress tolerance and emotion-regulation while improving body awareness– features that are impaired in those with eating disorders. For instance, recent neuroimaging studies have found that patients with eating disorders tend to have dysfunction in a brain area called the insula, which allows one to feel internal body signals such as pain, temperature, itch, tickle, muscle tension, hunger, stomach pH, and intestinal tension. Furthermore, many eating disorder patients face co-morbid affect disorders and emotion-regulation deficits such as maladaptive anxiety, depression, and intense shame.

With promise, mind-body interventions may work to combat these neural dysfunctions. Hatha yoga and mindfulness meditation have been shown to improve insula functioning, through practice of listening to internal body signals and thus re-establishing clear communication between the body and mind. Furthermore, Hatha yoga and mindfulness meditation can help tolerate and alleviate negative emotional states which can contribute to binging episodes. While studies on Hatha yoga are in their infancy, a recent array of mindfulness studies have shown promising effects for decreasing eating disorder symptoms. Mindfulness interventions that involve mindful eating components have been revealed to be the most beneficial for healing relationships with food by method of de-conditioning negative emotional responses to food consumption. Taken together, mindfulness meditation is recognized as an efficacious conjunctive treatment to eating disorders. Please see the meditation tab for a mindful body scan and mindful eating guide.

CULTIVATING A BODY POSITIVE SOCIETY 

Healing our relationships with food and our bodes is an important step in fighting eating disorders. However, this fight must not be disconnected from the sociocultural systems which strategically create this suffering for monetary profit. The fashion, diet, weight loss, and some exercise industries all cooperate in creating intense fears of weight gain and toxic ideologies of how we relate to food and our bodies, just so they can sell us “cures,” that quite frankly, do not work. It’s time to take a stand against these systems of oppression. Join in the body-positivity movement, where we work to create societies free of body shame and objectification. How? Start with your own social sphere: be mindful of your speech to avoid triggering someone with an eating disorder and/ or negative past histories. Here’s a quick guide how:

  1. RESPECT EVERYONE’S GENDER. Use appropriate names and pronouns. Respect style and dress.
  2. DO NOT COMMENT ON BODIES. There is a lot more to a person beyond the body they live in. Never criticize or shame a person’s body. Do not attach positive or negative connotations to certain body features. Be aware of weight biases (the false belief that fat individuals are undisciplined and lazy). Reserve compliments to style choices rather than body features.
  3. AVOID DIET AND WEIGHT TALK. Do not add to the obsessive diet and weight culture. Seek other ways to bond!
  4. KEEP YOUR HEALTH CONCERNS TO YOURSELF. Contrary to popular belief, studies show that self- and other health concern shaming is not helpful for changing health behaviors. If you want to help someone, focus on supporting them emotionally. Lastly, acknowledge that content of food consumed primarily depends on social class and accessibility; check yourself before making any potentially classist comments.
  5. YOUR BODY. YOUR RULES. Respect people’s sexual orientation, relationship orientation, diet, gender, style, and dress.

Let’s work together to heal ourselves and at the same time, create a more body-positive social environment.

References:

American Psychiatric Association (2000). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders: Fourth Edition Text Revision. Washington, DC: APA Press.

American Psychiatric Association (2006). Practice Guideline for the Treatment of Patients with Eating Disorders Third Edition. Washington, DC: APA Press.

Carei, T. R., Fyfe-Johnson, A. L., Breuner, C. C., & Brown, M. A. (2010). Randomized controlled clinical trial of yoga in the treatment of eating disorders. Journal of Adolescent Health, 46(4), 346-351.

Forbes, B. (2011). Yoga for Emotional Balance: Simple Practices to Help Relieve Anxiety and Depression. Boston, MA: Shambhala.

Kaye, W. (2008). Neurobiology of anorexia and bulimia nervosa. Physiology & Behavior, 94(1), 121-135.

Kaye, W. H., Fudge, J. L., & Paulus, M. (2009). New insights into symptoms and neurocircuit function of anorexia nervosa. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 10(8), 573-584.

Kim, K. R., Ku, J., Lee, J. H., Lee, H., & Jung, Y. C. (2012). Functional and effective connectivity of anterior insula in anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Neuroscience Letters, 521(2), 152-157.

Kristeller, J. L., Baer, R. A., & Quillian-Wolever, R. (2006). Mindfulness-based approaches to eating disorders. Mindfulness-based treatment approaches: Clinician’s guide to evidence base and applications, 75-91.

O’Reilly, G. A., Cook, L., Spruijt‐Metz, D., & Black, D. S. (2014). Mindfulness‐based interventions for obesity‐related eating behaviours: a literature review. Obesity Reviews, 15(6), 453-461.

…And THANK YOU to all the amazing community members who participated in a series of focus groups by which I was able to create a guideline for mindful, body positive speech.

Let Go of the Pursuit of Happiness: All Emotions Deserve Our Love

A MINDLESS OBSESSION WITH HAPPINESS 

Frequent experiences of positive affect (contentment, joy, excitement, calm) are beneficial for a variety of health and well-being outcomes. As such, happiness is a highly valued emotion in our culture; this is very evident by fact that we are often expected to put on a smiley face even when we are experiencing other emotions. However, happiness is not always appropriate and adaptive. For instance, happiness can also make us use heuristic shortcuts and stereotypes over critical and analytical thought processes. Moreover, happiness may not be appropriate when responding to others who are in distress and call for empathetic concern over positive contagion. Furthermore, studies have found that the pursuit of happiness almost always leads to dissatisfaction and distress when not obtained. Rather, it is best to engage in behaviors that have a high probability of leading to happiness (ex. building strong interpersonal relationships, volunteering, exercise), without holding onto the expectation of acquiring happiness.

On the other hand, subjectively unpleasant emotions can be evolutionary adaptive, and are important for survival when experienced to an optimal degree and in the appropriate situations. For instance, sadness and crying signals a need for helping behavior from social support networks. Moreover, anger signals a clear need for social reparations, and anxiety signals a fight or flight response to evade dangerous situations. Although these emotions may be uncomfortable, they must not be pushed aside when they can actually be of service to us. Therefore, it would be wise to listen and appreciate all of your emotions; express them to a healthy degree when appropriate. Likewise, it is important to understand that happiness can be beneficial, but not necessary to be put on a pedestal.

THE COSTS OF EMOTIONAL SUPPRESSION

Emotional suppression is an emotion-regulation strategy by which the person actively inhibits the expression of unwanted emotions. Chronic suppression of negative emotions is common in cultures where positive emotions are deemed the only appropriate emotion to exhibit in the public sphere. While this strategy may be adaptive in some contexts such as when completing tasks that require cognitive concentration, public speaking, building professional networks, and managing healthy degrees of anger during conflict resolution, it can be highly detrimental when employed long-term. For instance, emotional suppression can increase heart rate, blood pressure, and stress levels, while decreasing memory function. In extreme cases of emotional dissociation (a coping strategy for trauma where the individual completely cuts themselves off from all emotions) can lead to an unfortunate myriad of after effects such as nightmares, intrusive images and thoughts, and auditory hallucinations. Furthermore, it can be dangerous to ignore adaptive emotions such as anxiety and anger in certain social and environmental situations. The chronic inability to feel negative emotions and use them for their advantages can lead to other detrimental coping strategies which help to blunt emotions, such as substance abuse, self-harm, and addiction. The culture of emotional suppression is truly killing us all. In a similar vein, the culture of “forced positive thinking” must be better informed of the costs of suppressing negative emotions and thoughts.

THE OTHER PATH: A MINDFUL WELCOMING OF EMOTIONS

In mindfulness meditation, we practice the skill of observing arising emotions with acceptance. Instead of pushing an undesired emotion away, we practice saying “oh hello there emotion,” while sensing our breath and body sensations. When we become skilled at doing this, we are then able to 1) listen to the presented emotions without judgement and criticism, 2) regulate these emotions using a healthful method if necessary (e.g. with mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, re-appraisal strategies) and 3) respond with appropriate actions that the emotion calls for (e.g. problem solving, evading dangerous situations, preventing anticipated problems and conflicts, communicating concerns). The more we practice, the more we are able to call up mindfulness skills in our everyday life off of the meditation cushion. As a more adaptive way to process and utilize emotions, mindfulness meditation is health protective of dissociative disorders, substance use disorders, and affective disorders. Better yet, it is extremely cost effective; requiring no fancy equipment but our breath and bodies themselves. Please see the meditation tab for mindfulness meditation guides!

References:

Bonanno, G. A., Papa, A., Lalande, K., Westphal, M., & Coifman, K. (2004). The importance of being flexible the ability to both enhance and suppress emotional expression predicts long-term adjustment. Psychological Science, 15(7), 482-487.References:

Campbell-Sills, L., Barlow, D. H., Brown, T. A., & Hofmann, S. G. (2006). Effects of suppression and acceptance on emotional responses of individuals with anxiety and mood disorders. Behaviour research and therapy, 44(9), 1251-1263.

Ford, B. Q., Dmitrieva, J. O., Heller, D., Chentsova-Dutton, Y., Grossmann, I., Tamir, M., … & Mauss, I. B. (2015). Culture shapes whether the pursuit of happiness predicts higher or lower well-being. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 144(6), 1053.

Gross, J. J. (2002). Emotion regulation: Affective, cognitive, and social consequences. Psychophysiology, 39(3), 281-291.

Gross, J. J. (2001). Emotion regulation in adulthood: Timing is everything. Current directions in psychological science, 10(6), 214-219.

Gruber, J., Mauss, I. B., & Tamir, M. (2011). A dark side of happiness? How, when, and why happiness is not always good. Perspectives on Psychological Science6(3), 222-233.

Levitt, J. T., Brown, T. A., Orsillo, S. M., & Barlow, D. H. (2004). The effects of acceptance versus suppression of emotion on subjective and psychophysiological response to carbon dioxide challenge in patients with panic disorder. Behavior therapy, 35(4), 747-766.

Lyubomirsky, S., King, L. A., & Diener, E. (2005). The benefits of frequent positive affect: Does happiness lead to success? Psychological Bulletin, 131, 803-855.

Roberts, N. A., Levenson, R. W., & Gross, J. J. (2008). Cardiovascular costs of emotion suppression cross ethnic lines. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 70(1), 82-87.

Srivastava, S., Tamir, M., McGonigal, K. M., John, O. P., & Gross, J. J. (2009). The social costs of emotional suppression: a prospective study of the transition to college. Journal of personality and social psychology, 96(4), 883.

Change Over Blame: Fundamentals Behind a Determinist’s View of Problem Solving

Scientific determinism is a philosophy that posits that for every phenomenon in the Universe, there are preceding conditions which explain their occurrence. Many scientists adopt this view, since the nature of our work requires us to understand and disseminate the causes of simple and complex phenomenon at both the micro (e.g., molecular) and macro-environmental (e.g., sociocultural revolutions) levels.

When analyzing human behavior specifically, the deterministic neuroscientist believes that at the end of the day, it can be reduced into brain structures and functions at the biological level. These “inner biological workings” are influenced by themselves (e.g., genetics) as well as the natural and social environment. From this view, we understand that “we are our brain” (the underlying feature of neuroscientific monism).

A few points to note:

Determinism does not mean we do not make choices. We make choices every day, but there are natural systems in place that determines the expression of these choices.

Determinism does not mean that we cannot be in conflict with ourselves. In fact, our brains are made up of many structures that often compete with one another.

Determinism does not mean we cannot override biologically pre-potent behavioral responses. We actually have many evolved cognitive functions that enable us to resist impulse, habit, and temptation in favor of positive change.

Therefore, the determinist works on the basis of progression, whilst deliberately deciding to not waste energy and resources blaming an individual or a larger society for moral wrongdoings. The determinist asks: how can we rearrange a system to progress into a world where there is less suffering?

A common example is for the impulsive criminal. First, we understand that an infinite number of variables (e.g., early childhood abuse, neglect, lead exposure, poverty) led this person to act in a morally destructive manner. A note is then taken that these preceding variables need to be dealt with. Next, instead of blaming, raging, and locking this individual up in an extremely toxic environment, we ask: how do we make it easier for this individual to act in morally responsible ways from here on forward? Many scientists in the field of neurolaw are in fact working on the answer to this question right now.

This way of problem solving is not only rational and progressive, but it allows us to act out of compassion rather than destructive reactional patterns. It not only helps those who are completely dismantled by biological pathology, but it also helps us forgive and be at peace. It allows us to break out of cycles of massive destruction and conserve energy often wasted on playing blame games.

The determinist is often accused of being completely disempowering. But this is misunderstood. I see it as the acceptance and commitment therapy of life, that is, accepting what is, and committing to moving forward.

“Function Illness”: Reframing Definitions of Mental Disorders

What constitutes a mental disorder? At what point does human neurobiology and behavior exceed the threshold of “normalcy”? The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) was made to answer these questions, and is the main go-to for mainstream psychiatry and clinical psychology. The latest edition, the DSM-5, has expanded its array of what is classified as “mental illness.” Faced with much outcry in the psychological science community, the DSM-5 has been criticized immensely for its seeming intentions of “making up disorders from thin air,” and medicalizing otherwise normal, functional individuals. It has been accused of serving the interest of pharmaceutical industries, allowing psychiatrists to over-medicate otherwise functional populations.

While I understand that diagnoses can be helpful in the process of treating a patient (for instance, knowing which standard treatment to prescribe and enabling patients to build self-awareness), I agree that the DSM-5 and the current system of mental health care is pushing its boundaries. To elaborate, I believe this classification system presents an overall lack of tolerance for human neurodiversity and an unwillingness to accept functional deviance. I believe that a person only needs treatment if (1) they are subjectively suffering and (2) their neurobiology is impeding their ability to perform everyday functions in the environment they are given. Otherwise, mental disorder diagnoses can be extremely damaging to an individual’s self-efficacy, and lead them through a path of self-fulfilling prophecies by which they adhere to the dismal statistics of that disorder.

Perhaps the real problem is the intolerances of the greater society and the shame that follows when individuals who don’t adhere to culturally prescribed norms. For instance, homosexuality was considered a mental disorder up until 1973. The intense stigmatization, discrimination, hatred, and subjection to conversion therapies on these individuals bred (and continues to breed) an insurmountable amount of stress-related mental illnesses within the LGBT community. I believe that movements fostering greater acceptance to varying lifestyles would diminish a lot of mental illness reared by social discrimination, isolation, and rejection. I also believe that offering those with neurobiological deviances work environments where their differences are seen as talents rather than illness would do a great service to both the individuals and greater society.

Too much work has been brought into trying to “fix” individuals we deem “broken.” It’s time to look outside the box on broad based structural solutions such as celebrating neurodiversity, and only providing individual-level interventions that are truly necessary.

Self-Help Techniques are Band-Aids: The Social Determinants of Mental Health Vies for Attention

I write a lot about self-healing. The idea that one can be as radically self-reliant to trust their own inner capabilities and resources is very empowering to me. I still hold true to this statement.

However, I would also like to bring light to the fact that this movement cannot be detached from the fight against mental illness which lies on a more macroscale; that is, while individual factors are important to examine, the larger scale toxicities of the current environment are also imperative to combat as well. Certain social and economic level structures create environments that fostered and continue to foster an uncanny rise in mental illnesses in Western societies and beyond—and we need to start taking this seriously.

To demonstrate my point, I will make parallels with how we have approached chronic physical illnesses in public health for the past half century. For a long while, we viewed individuals with type-2 diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular diseases as “lacking will,” “lazy,” and major burdens on the health care system—with bitterness. However, with more research, we soon realized that these epidemics were more complex, and that multiple factors which had nothing to do with individual control was creating these diseases at an exponential rate.

The same thing is happening with chronic mental illness, except the movement is lagging behind. We are pointing our fingers at people with mental illness, asking them to get out of their heads, put themselves back together, and be more functional members of society. We’re blaming individuals and not asking why these illnesses are attacking an enormous percentage of the population in the first place. As such, these sick individuals immerse themselves in developing self-help techniques, as to plug the holes larger societal factors created.

If we want to fight chronic mental illness, we cannot simply stop at teaching individuals how to be more mindful. We also need to fight the growing income gap. We need better job security and affordable housing. We need to make education accessible to individuals of all socioeconomic statuses. We need more funding for community level interventions such as the art programming. We need to dismantle all forms of systemic oppression. We need to stop praising ambition and perfectionism over pro-sociality. We need to stand up against the stigma surrounding mental illness.

I stand true to the research presented on my blog—but I also acknowledge that while Band-Aids are handy, preventing cuts are important too. If we want a more mentally healthy society, we not only need to teach individuals how to help themselves, but we also need to fight for some major societal restructuring.

References:

Eckersley, R. (2006). Is modern Western culture a health hazard?. International Journal of Epidemiology, 35(2), 252-258.