A New Approach to Mental Health
Where we Stand
The germ theory of disease was a landmark in our struggle for survival. It brought to attention, the critical significance of microorganisms and their role in human health.
What has this discovery done? We learned, germs, also called microbes, have a lot to do with all our health problems. Humans (and plants) are nothing (as far as health go) but a place for germs to live and multiply. Many methods evolved, to keep the growth of germs in check. Like Hand Washing, Proper Hygiene, and Preparing the Immune system.
Where we need to Go
We now need to evolve something similar, for our mental spheres too.
Here, various theories have been used to help understand problems related to emotional and behavioral adjustment. Different approaches to mental health and treatment options are constantly being explored.
As a result, we continue to have a plethora of views or theories regarding mental health, giving rise to many specializations or paths. Like, Analytical/ Developmental approach, Behavioral psychology, Cognitive theories, and Social influences. Essentially, all these theories present the problem with two sides, a biological, self-serving side, and, a non biological, predominantly social side (e.g. intellectual, spiritual, philosophic, or aggressive influences), each needing our attention. Of late there has been much discussion about how clinicians make differential comparison of symptoms of mental disorders in diagnosis and cure.
Also, psychologists put forward reasoning to understand and explain, primarily, extremes of human behavior. We thereafter accept the same, perhaps in a subdued version, and go ahead with understanding and controlling normal behavior. I feel this cannot be termed as scientific approach.
A review of the broad models of mental health and illness that have been in use can show us how we think about the concept of mental illness. The first and oldest explanatory system for mental illness is spiritual. This was followed by the dictum that mental illness is moral in character. As humans progressed, biological and neurophysiologic reasons came to be the culprit. Along with which, we also attributed mental illness to learning and developmental (or psychological) reasons. The final explanatory system is sociological, where we are willing to blame ourselves, at least partly.
But one thing is there common with all the above. Unlike other problems of our body, the central philosophical debate over mental illness is not about its existence or cure, but rather over how to define it. And we are constantly busy with questions of such nature. Whether it can be given a scientific or objective definition, or whether normative and subjective elements are essential to our concept of mental illness. Are we are on right track?
I think we need to attack mental health issues more holistically. One can easily see, all our inventions and discoveries owe a lot to the desire some of us felt, for lessening their burden, or for adding comfort. In fact our constant effort, like that of other forms of life, is to make one's life more and more comfortable. Accordingly, all the developments in science and technology, which we celebrate as the principal proof of human accomplishment, can be seen as nothing but the result of such a path, that is, the desire to add comfort or oppose discomfort. In fact we actively pursued this thought when we attacked the issue of physical illness and found its cause lying in entities external to diseases, namely germs, as discussed in the beginning. Ever since, we are following this path successfully in the realm of physical health.
Germs of Mind
Why can't we think about germs of mind? Some entity external to us or present in our life, that can initiate mental disorders at will? For example the exhortations we constantly receive from our leaders, be it of spiritual domain, political arena, or cultural playground. Or things that can make us too uncomfortable, as well as those that can take us to a state of bliss. (Here, we need to remember the significance of the term ‘operating range or linear range’ in all physical systems like that in electronic or mechanical controls. Any system will behave in a designed (predictable or calculable) manner, only if the input, or other entities of interest, remain within this range. Conversely, if a system is operating beyond its linear range, the output produced shall not be proportional to input)
This can open a new front. The sources, classification, and properties of such ‘germs’ could become another topic of study. Perhaps evaluating people based on various tendencies they exhibit. We know, even a harmless physical injury, if left open could attract germs, leading to infection. In the same manner, an abnormal behavioral tendency should be becoming a sore issue. Terms like, to proclivity to add ‘germs’, to act germicidal, etc., could become the attributes of interest,while assessing or describing mental states in the days to come.
..and To Treat
That means, if we say, human behavior in normal circumstances involves actions or reactions that shall follow a predictable path, extremes of feelings or experience can put us in a state where our reactions shall be unpredictable. Any extremes, like the condition of bliss, the state of abject sorrow, extreme perplexity, or too much of anger can lead one to such a state. The exhortations we constantly receive, sometimes from religious leaders, sometimes from politicians, also form all those who would like to show their interest in our welfare and are not inclined to think pointedly about it, can add to this. Cumulative effect of our responses to such unusual triggers, over time, can result in a mental disorder.
Also, it is possible to codify various such triggers (aka germs of mind), the expected reactions, and the suggested cure, perhaps producing a formalized regime for management of mental illness.
This can definitely make classification and control of mental illnesses, more orderly, and structured, like all other branches of medicine. Also of the triggers, the innocuous looking remarks that can hide a tempest. Quite pointed, selective measures can then arise both for prevention, like suggesting temperance or proscribing extremes, and for treatment of mental disorders, like mind washing, mental immunization, or elements of good psychological hygiene. I think, as a result of all these, rather than feeling intimidated by a plethora of symptoms, medical practitioners in this area too shall be able to handle health issues objectively.
Obesity of the Mind
What do Artificial Intelligence, Alexa, Siri, and many other devices of similar nature have in common? That these are going to add to our woes.
Let us see how. For the past many years we have been making it more and more convenient to do human chores, effectively eliminating much of manual work. And we landed with a trouble too, obesity. Learning from its consequences, we continue to bring back manual work, of course in disguised form. Calling it planned physical exercises for the body.
Now, the above mentioned techniques and devices replace much of our mental labour. How are we going to compensate for the inactive brain? Is such an issue unlikely?
I think we are already experiencing this. Nowadays, popularity of the irrational is at an all time high. Take a few recent examples.
One, the vehement opposition to the theory of evolution, simply on the grounds that the social status of one of the important elements of the theory is not, say, aristocratic enough.
Two, interested groups can dictate what should be the content of artistic creations.
And people taking it. We know that these essentially are the products of imagination. Are we planning to put a limit here?
Of course people are reacting to this. But only restricted to each specific case, where we get enamoured by the sheer magnitude of the irrational in it, and miss the whole picture.
What do the whole picture show? That these are not isolated issues. I think it points to the need of a totally new, closer look, at ourselves.
Isn't this the right track?
Note: We can already see some of these ideas in action. All people are not swayed equally by a disturbing signal in the psychological plane. Their education, living standards, religious outlook, and many other parameters can come to be of significance here.
Questions & Answers
© 2017 ROY T JAMES