The real reason mental illness is on the rise – Could the way you take in the world be the cause of our mental health epidemic?
Over the last few years, health concerns of all kinds have come to the fore; the rise in mental health conditions being one dominating the media. And for good reason. Our world has turned pretty dark over the last five years. A sad reality that sees no end in sight. While there have been many calling for better access to care, it has been slow to come.
See my article `Nova Scotia wants to fix mental health`
With all that in mind, I think we need to look at a lesser talked-about issue. An issue that is, nevertheless, just as important. This to which I am referring to is our pervasive tendency to “take things out of context.” How is this fairly common human interaction a contributor to the rise in mental illness?
Well, that’s a good question. And its answer may not be immediately obvious or even a concern for most. Nonetheless, I see it as a major obstacle in the fight for our mental well-being.
See, we often don’t know enough about how we actually operate – kinda like our relationship with our vehicles. We may be excellent at navigating our way around town, but few of us understand the inner workings of our most prized possession. In other words, our knowledge on how we (and our vehicles) operate is limited.
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So, if our knowledge of how we operate is limited, is it fair to say that we can be unaware of what’s harmful? If for example, you don’t know that you need to check your car’s oil, does that mean you’ll avoid destroying the engine, simply because you didn’t know? Oil is after all, needed to lubricate the internal parts and to help cool the engine. Regular oil changes and checks will help avoid catastrophe. However, if one is oblivious to this fact, it doesn’t change the potential outcome.
In other words, one’s lack of knowledge does nothing but increase the odds of a major conundrum down the road.
Similarly, our own engine, the brain, needs more than a sense of awareness. We may have a perspective on something, but our position on said perspective may lack intimate knowledge.
In the case of taking things out of context, we have a tendency to allow our interpretation of someone’s view to be absolute and true. So, if you have a particular strong feeling in any given subject, you may see someone’s opposite view as a slight – even threat.
The problem here is that we are primed to respond. What we are passionate about is merely the detonator for our defensiveness. We must “defend our position.”
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Just think about how stressed you are when you read an opposing comment on a post you made on Twitter, for example. For many, it’s a direct path to level-ten anxiety. And countless amounts of us have no idea why.
And for good reason. Our ability to build a belief system is legendary for swaying us toward one group or another. When you see it that way, it’s hard not to see why we are wired to defend our viewpoints. Like it or not, we are wired for “us vs. them.” Therefore, understanding this fact can help us take pause and evaluate what’s being said.
Or to put it another way, “To listen to hear, not listen to react.”
The mental health angles.
As far as I can tell, the assumption/taking things out of context can be hell on mental health. I mean, all reactivity and no wiggle room for listening? It’s a recipe for higher rates of anxiety and depression. Or an exacerbation of an already-existing mental health condition.
So, what’s going on here? What’s the igniter for all these woes? Well, in short, lots. However, the key things are: Social media, and an over extension of emotions.
Essentially, these two factors in our lives feed off one another. And you? You’re the ignition switch that keeps you in a perpetual state of mental unwellness. Basically, our poor mental health gets locked in a loop of self-inflicted pain. The fuel? Opposing others’ positions or beliefs. In essence, we are to blame for our troubles. Or more accurately, we are in control of our well-being.
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Adding fuel to this fire are the messages of what I like to call “helper confusion.” Essentially, well-meaning people all over the internet use trending buzzwords like, “everyone’s feelings are valid.” While I personally see them as well-intentioned, they are nevertheless causing the mental-health crisis to worsen.
“If my feelings are valid. why am I being brutally attacked for feeling a certain way?” I don’t feel like I’m being validated; I feel like a piece of crap.”
A failure to connect the dots by all of us, well-meaning and otherwise, is feeding a phenomenon that I call collective narcissism. In other words, an increasingly large number of people believe that everyone’s feelings are indeed valid, as long as they are the same as those of our group.
In short, we’ve created a society of absolutists, the source of which can be traced back to a near-universal emotional state.
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Sadly, if it’s true that we are more collectively narcissistic, it will be, by its nature, harder to heal. Narcissistic behaviour is marked by selfishness, grandiosity, and a feeling of “better than. “How do we combat that? Especially when it infiltrates the most well-meaning agents of change.
It feels to me like we are going to have to weather the storms, as we can’t simply change one’s feelings. Not if what I describe above is true. Ironically, the best thing you can do is check yourself. Some ways that can help include:
Budgeting your time on social media. Use social media as a way to “entertain rather than blame.” Like golf? train the algorithm to show you golf. Something comes up that gets you going? Go to “hide this post/video.
Learn that how you feel or what you believe doesn’t need to be advertised.
Understand that an opposite view is not an attack or that one is anti-something.
We don’t necessarily know better just because we think we do.
Learn that hearsay information doesn’t count.
Bob: “More purple people are homeless than orange ones!”
Jane: “How do you know that”?
Bob: They say it’s what’s happening and therefore, that’s what’s really going on.”
As far as I’m concerned, Bob is automatically spouting fiction but has folded this narrative into his belief system as truth. Don’t be like bob. If you don’t know the source, then you need to see it as false until it can be proven right or wrong. Why do I feel this way? Because he has nothing to prove that what he said is true.
When I went off work because of PTSD, I was left in limbo while I waited to see if I would be awarded Workers Compensation. It was long and painful, hanging in the darkness of my home.
So, I began to try and figure out this PTSD thing; how did I get here? I was a firefighter, so I knew that much but my battled with anxiety and depression was a life-long battle.
I began to write out my story, mostly to help quell the angst of being lonely and in mental illness purgatory. It helped – immensely. I survived the dark because of it.
Now, it’s here – written for therapeutic intervention and published in hopes that it can do the same for you or someone you know…..
And finally, read 5 ways to maximize your mental health. for more of the best ways to look out for you.
As a final thought, I think it’s important to ask yourself questions like:
Is what I am hearing from another what I think it is?
Am I taking what I am reading, hearing, etc. out of context?
Could I be the one who is wrong?
Is my behaviour appropriate in terms of how I am responding to what I am reading/hearing etc.?
Note: Our interpretation of what one is communicating can, in fact, be wrong. Therefore, the responsible thing is to ask: “What do you mean by that?” Further, the response you get is more often than not, going to be truthful. So, be sure you understand this.
These are just but some of the questions you can ask yourself to shift away from being emotionally primed and more towards logic and reason. What a wonderful world it would be if more people understood that it’s ok to change your mind.
So, why not give these a try? you may find your anxiety will subside and your depression lifts. I’m rooting for you.