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What is "Mental Health" Anyway?

As we begin discussions of how our community can improve safety and decrease the probability of violence, we must be willing to engage in some basic mental health practices.

In the wake of the latest school shootings, mental illness has been cited as a variable in the horrible equation of the latest massacre. This raises problems that have been with us for centuries.

First, as far as identified conditions like Schizophrenia and Bipolar I Disorder, we don’t know what causes them. Today’s theories are better than those of 10 years ago and implicate everything from genes to living in urban environments. But the fact remains that we have thus far failed to identify consistent factors/conditions that cause what we call mental illness. This makes prevention difficult.

Also, there is a universe of difference between something like Schizophrenia (which will probably turn out to be a subtle brain disease), autism or developmental disorders and psychopathy or what we call antisocial behavior. Maybe all of these will turn out to be the result of some brain dysfunction, but for now we should be clear that people with autism or Schizophrenia are nowhere near as likely to harm others as people who embody psychopathic traits (e.g. lack of guilt, conscience, remorse and laser focus on getting what they want regardless of how it affects others). The problem is the best predictor of violent behavior is a history of violent behavior, so how can we stop initial episodes of violence? 

One thing we can pay more attention to is the stories we tell ourselves. In psychology a delusion is a belief held with conviction that persists in the face of superior and contradictory evidence. By definition, delusions have to be pathological (causing distress or impairment). By that definition alone half the stories we tell ourselves qualify as delusional. The idea that civilians need assault weapons, that a local militia could “outgun” the government or that cold medicine should be regulated more closely than armor-piercing ammunition all qualify as delusional. To be fair, equally, the idea that everyone will love everyone else and put others before themselves is equally delusional. 

These stories, told by unsteady minds with no reality checks, are the shadow-side of self-awareness. Mental health includes the ability to make our delusions an object of awareness (whether through our own efforts or those of loved ones who “call us on our stuff”). This then could be a new threshold for “mental illness”: the unwillingness or inability to make one’s delusions an object of awareness to be discussed. We can make the case that this often results in distress or impairment.

In the coming weeks many of us are going to be calling for dialogues on school safety, gun and ammunition regulations and how these things shape the vision of what sort of community we want to live in. Hopefully when we do this we can all bring our personal “delusions” to the table for discussion. Simply harboring them is not the problem; allowing them to fester in isolation from the light of rational awareness is when the problems begin. 

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Teresa K. January 01, 2013 at 03:23 PM
reminds me of a quote: "One of the greatest delusions in the world is the hope that the evils in this world are to be cured by legislation." Thomas Brackett Reed
The Omnipotent Sponge - Soak it up! January 01, 2013 at 04:07 PM
“How people themselves perceive what they are doing is not a question that interests me. I mean, there are very few people who are going to look into the mirror and say, 'That person I see is a savage monster'; instead, they make up some construction that justifies what they do. If you ask the CEO of some major corporation what he does he will say, in all honesty, that he is slaving 20 hours a day to provide his customers with the best goods or services he can and creating the best possible working conditions for his employees. But then you take a look at what the corporation does, the effect of its legal structure, the vast inequalities in pay and conditions, and you see the reality is something far different.” ― Noam Chomsky
The Omnipotent Sponge - Soak it up! January 01, 2013 at 04:07 PM
“In reading The History of Nations, we find that, like individuals, they have their whims and their peculiarities, their seasons of excitement and recklessness, when they care not what they do. We find that whole communities suddenly fix their minds upon one object and go mad in its pursuit; that millions of people become simultaneously impressed with one delusion, and run after it, till their attention is caught by some new folly more captivating than the first.” ― Charles MacKay

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