15 thoughts on “Mental Health Day: Should It Be Spiritual Health Day?

  • October 10, 2011 at 9:25 pm

    Do we really need to wait for an “officially approved” day to honor and observe these things?

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  • October 11, 2011 at 12:23 am

    I certainly agree that, from my own experience the spiritual aspect is not addressed. I think an imbalance in this area has a profound effect on the progression of mental illness and being able to accept what is happening from a patient’s perspective.
    I don’t agree, however, that humility would prevent mania… although it could hide it to an extent.

    I think that until we have global whole person centred approach to mental health, which addresses all aspects involved; spiritual, physical, environmental etc. then we will not have an approach that truly works.

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    • October 11, 2011 at 8:51 am

      Catherine–

      Thank you for the comment and your insights. I endorse your caution about humility as a counterpose to mania. It wouldn’t prevent mania at all, just grandiosity. What we need to clarify is the difference between the state of elevated energy and creativity, which can actually be beneficial, and the dysfunction that gets people in trouble. It is perfectly possible to be quite energized, with little need for sleep and a rapid flow of ideas, but also to remain grounded, appropriate, and aware of one’s true (and ultimately tiny) impact in the universe. A spiritual practice can prepare one to ride the excited currents of the mind without spinning out of control: no grandiose sense of self, no sudden and poor decisions, no sexual misdeeds, etc. Just a state of heightened sensibility that can even manifest as mystical bliss. This takes a long time to achieve, with much practice and introspection as preparation, but it is fully possible. Check out Tom Wootton’s program Bipolar Advantage for a therapeutic system that aims in this direction.

      –Will

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  • October 11, 2011 at 6:15 am

    “While it can’t be denied that people have problems in the mental sphere, I object to the widespread assumption that they suffer from organic diseases. Yes, symptoms sometimes diminish with pharmaceutical treatment, but that doesn’t prove they are caused by faulty neurons. But if we abandon the “brain dysfunction” formula, what do we replace it with?”

    Perhaps concentrating on “faulty neurons” is missing the point that it is an entire *system* that is distressed. Individual neurons are part of it, not all of it. I don’t think one has to throw out an analytical or “scientific” approach and replace it with poorly-defined mysticism — if only we take the whole system into consideration.

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    • October 11, 2011 at 8:44 am

      David–

      You perhaps missed this sentence in my post: “We need to combine ancient wisdom with modern knowledge and devise mental health treatments that transform people rather than suppress symptoms.”

      I’m not suggesting we throw out the scientific approach, but I don’t believe it warrants its current primacy. Modern psychiatric philosophy is itself “poorly defined;” what else would you call a system that prescribes billions of dollars worth of medications annually without any precise understanding of how they work? Yes, the spiritual approach is also without sharp definition, because it honors ancient traditions that may be contradictory and steeped in mythology. But at least those of us with modern mystical sensibility are aware of this imprecision, unlike those blinded by the scientific terminology of biomedical mental health care.

      Yes, there is a vast research base that supports our understanding of brain function. But if you look closely, you’ll see that very little of it successfully explains the psychiatric symptomatology that so afflicts people. Where is the comprehensive scientific understanding of anxiety, depression, and mania? It simply does not exist. Worse, the medications to treat these conditions are used only because they were noticed to have an effect. Only after each drug class was found did researchers cobble together theories of efficacy. In essence, we see trial and error framed by “Just So” stories. The situation would be humorous if it didn’t harm so many people through side effects and over-prescribing.

      On the other hand, I heartily agree with your suggestion that we take the whole system into consideration. You’ll note I didn’t suggest we quit using the old treatments (just the discredited “illness” paradigm). We need to expand the horizons, not merely look in a different direction.

      Thanks for the comment.

      –Will

      Reply
  • October 11, 2011 at 8:57 am

    “I’m not suggesting we throw out the scientific approach, but I don’t believe it warrants its current primacy.”

    It seems to me you are equating “science” with a strictly internal-biology approach to mental illness. That is, an approach which does not take into account how external factors (other people’s actions) affect the operation of the brain and associated systems. I don’t buy that that is scientific!

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    • October 11, 2011 at 10:37 am

      David–

      I get the sense that we don’t actually disagree here. I have no objection to scientific study of emotions and mental states. To the extent that they can help people suffering from psychiatric distress, I’m all for incorporating them into a broad-based treatment strategy. And I’m certainly in favor of looking at social interactions and their effects.

      The problem is that psychiatry has in fact embraced only a narrow wedge of the entire sphere of what could be considered empirical inquiry. There is intense focus on neurotransmitters, but very little attention given to either social factors or the deeper principles of mind and spirit. You can see this quickly by looking at any mainstream psychiatry textbook. It will of course cover Freud and other psychological theorists, but medications, synapses, and receptors will be seen to be covered in far greater depth throughout the book. Meaning, altruism, meditation, and similar aspects of wellbeing will be scarcely mentioned.

      My father was a physicist, and he taught me to love scientific investigation. Before going to medical school I did some graduate study in the biophysics of synaptic transmission. I still believe in the importance of neuroscience research. What I object to is overblown claims about the success of the biomedical model in treating real-world patients. For all the vast enterprise of psychopharmaceutical synthesis, we really aren’t helping people mature into satisfied and stable beings. At best we are giving them crutches to permit them to continue in their neurotic modes of life.

      We could do better, and the ancient meditative and contemplative traditions point us in some useful directions. They aren’t the whole answer, but they look a lot better to me than business as usual. Much can also be learned by looking at social behavior, and I believe David Brooks book, The Social Animal, is a good place for interested readers to begin. The Positive Psychology movement has a lot to offer, too. As I suggested before, we need to broaden our horizons and not let the illness model and pharmaceutical treatment dominate mental health care.

      Thank you for the interesting discussion.

      –Will

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  • October 11, 2011 at 1:56 pm

    “we need to broaden our horizons and not let the illness model and pharmaceutical treatment dominate mental health care”

    The trend may be starting to go in the opposite direction now. There is a lot more interest in things such as mindfulness, for instance. Maybe things (at long last) are looking up?

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    • October 11, 2011 at 2:11 pm

      David–

      I believe they are. Obviously, my writings don’t come out of a vacuum, but from what I’ve learned in the course of many readings, conversations, and my own personal work. A new paradigm is emerging that incorporates a much broader approach to mental wellness. The psychopharmaceutical industry continues to spend millions promoting its agenda, but more and more of those working in the trenches have started to see the benefits of new (and ancient) ideas.

      –Will

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  • October 11, 2011 at 2:09 pm

    When the scientists can see the effects of mindfulness practice on their PET scans, they may start to say “Now we are getting somewhere!”

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  • January 21, 2012 at 3:25 pm

    I don’t think you should wait until an official day to observe these things. They should be always observed.

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  • January 30, 2014 at 12:22 pm

    I don’t think you can completely discount RX treatment in lieu of spiritual practicies. I’ve been that route, and after being badgered by family and a friend that all I needed was to deepen my spirituality and meditation, I went off medications. Asyou mentioned in your article, Iam one of those people that have had multiple tramatic occurances during my teens. So after a few years, I was unable to cope when several more tramatic events happened and found myself on the verge of suicide. It was only going back on medication and to a therapist that helped me through that. I learned my brain chemetry had changed so much due to all I had /was going through that no matter how much I meditated, I was never going to be able to off meds. There are times they have been decreased, but again, when I eliminated then due to lack of insurance, I spiraled downhill rapidly. It’s like a diabetic – they can watch their diet and exercise and this may lower their need for insulin, but for some, it will never eliminate the need for the medication. That is the way their body works for now.

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    • January 30, 2014 at 7:23 pm

      Gretab–

      Medication is an individual choice. It’s not my place, nor anyone else’s, to state what’s right for others. Whenever possible even psychiatrists should advise, not dictate, though mental health laws give them greater power.

      I believe a safe, sane policy is this: when possible and under medical supervision, aim to lower both the number of medications and their dosages. The objective would be to take the fewest meds at the lowest dose compatible with stability. This would minimize side effects and leave margin for drugs to be increased during times of crisis.

      The goal should be mental health, not a fixed idea of what a given diagnosis needs. Dogmatism has no place, and this includes rigid stances against medications as well as frightened insistence that they’re mandatory.

      Thank you for your honesty. By sharing your story you’ve demonstrated how one makes the decisions necessary for oneself. You’ve also highlighted how often those who aren’t suffering from mental distress may think we can simply meditate or pray our way out of difficulty. The task is more complicated than that.

      –Will

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  • January 31, 2014 at 2:16 am

    It was only the friend that was against the medication. Thankfully, twenty yrs later the others have grown in their understanding too in the role of spirituality and mental health. I’m very grateful for doctors that do work with me and don’t just me stuck at the same dose if I don’t need as much. It might mean more appointments than I’d like, but as you said, this way the medications help as they are supposed to.

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  • February 29, 2016 at 4:08 pm

    Iam a strong believer when are spiritaul health is a top priority and we come to know God in accurate knowledge of his being and purpose for us as his children and when we live by his awesome standards we can do a lot if not all to win the battle with mental illness.We are his children and he has our very best at heart and since he created us he knows what we need and will provide for us if we listen to him in all his ways.Man and woman did fine till they went againist God in eating the fore bidden fruit, it was and act of disloyality to God in what they to test them out to see if they would be loyal to his word and by going againist what his word of truth they failed( Adam and Eve) and mankind has been in a down turn every sense, but through Christ and getting accurate knowledge of him and studing his word the Bible.All he asked for in the Garden of Eden was obedience to what he asked of them not to eat of the tree in the center of the garden and if they did eat from it as he told them not to they would prosper but they didnt listen after Satan tempted them to eat from it and from that day forth humans have died and been going down hill.If you would like to know more about this please listen to Jehovahs Witnesses when they come to speak to you at your home or where they come into contact with you, you will hear the truth of the true God Jehovah, this has helped millions of people to come to know him and Christ Jesus who came to redeem mankind back to his Father( Jehovah God) and ours to over come mental health issues and other health issues to have happy and healthier lives. Please at least look into it, if you are seeking the truth about God you will find it here with Jehovah and his people who by his word the Bible and not just give it lip service, sincerely, Jim

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