by Dr. Ken Larsen
Years ago I came to the realization that what might be considered “normal” within a social culture is not necessarily healthy. Smoking was a “normal” behavior, but it was and is killing people. This is not healthy.
Then I looked at how many people really wanted to change the seeming inevitability of dental disease. Even though most of these folks did what was recommended, which was to brush their teeth regularly, the problem continued. What was needed was an understanding of the cause of dental disease which could then lead to steps to remove the cause and prevent the disease. As a result of this learning, more and more people are living a lifetime with their own teeth.
Now I want to look at mental health and happiness through the lens of these insights. With understanding comes the power to change.
One thing common to both the issue with smoking and uncontrolled dental disease was that significant progress was made when they were treated as public health issues, rather than individual problems.
I believe we have begun to see mental health and happiness in this light. The rise in violence in our culture, most dramatically seen in the incidents of school shootings, have gotten our attention. This along with the alarming trend in suicide among our troops, and the quiet desperation experienced by much of our population are certainly indications of a problem.
We are experiencing a growing awareness that there is a significant portion of our population who are being “treated for a disease they don’t have with a drug they don’t need”, quoting Dr. Wm. Glasser. The high incidence of depression and anxiety conditions has provided a lucrative market for drug companies. Unless there is a diagnosed organic disorder, most of these brain drugs simply treat the symptoms without treating the underlying cause. Is the underlying cause of these conditions a lifelong “mental illness” or an unsuccessful effort to cope with the challenging circumstances of life?
I have not found a simple “one size fits all” answer to the question of mental health and happiness. I do believe strongly that we need to think about the mental health of the individual in the context of relationships as well as in the context of the social and physical environment.
I see health, (mental health, physical health and spiritual health) as more than the absence of disease. There is no absolute state of health. It is best to think of health as a process, a journey if you will. This process is primarily about integration. The coming together of the components of life into a functioning whole. Our words for “health”, “whole”, “holy” all derive from the same root word in old anglo saxon “hal”, which means “whole”. This move toward health and wholeness is the process of linking the parts of our self with our connections with others and our social and physical environment. This coming together of parts, this “integration”, is what I call “health.”