Tag Archives: normal

What is “normal” and is “normal” healthy?

by Dr. Ken Larsen

I started smoking when I was 12 yo.  It was the thing to do at that time.  Nearly everyone smoked.  Ashtrays were in every home, on every coffee table and end table and bedside table.  Cigarettes were advertised with their many benefits.  I even remember a TV ad for the cigarette preferred by doctors.

So if most folks were doing it and thought it was OK, did that make it normal?  And what were the consequences of this “normal” behavior?

incommonWhat did these people have in common?

These were just a few of our national figures who died of tobacco related diseases.

I think it would be safe to conclude that, at least in the case of smoking, “normal” was not “healthy”.  In fact, the effectiveness of the tobacco industry to “normalize” tobacco use was and still is horribly destructive to the public health of our nation.

You could reasonably ask me at this point “why are you telling me this?”

Our culture has been busy over the last several decades redefining what is “normal.”  True mental health and happiness are based on a more solid foundation than the shifting tides of popular opinion.  I am suggesting it may be worthwhile to think about the difference between what is popularly considered “normal” and what is truly healthy.

In the late 1970’s an anti-smoking educational effort was launched.  My personal first reaction was to see this as an affront and an assault on my personal liberty.  Fortunately for me and for many fellow human beings this educational public health effort brought us to a new and more healthy “normal” that did not involve smoking.

Our hope with these blogs in “MentalHealthandHappiness” is to do the same, to do what we need to do to emphasize mental health as a public health concern.



Toward an understanding of mental health

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?

ken-piecesI 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.”