Mental illness is a term that suggests that someone is sick, their thoughts are distorted and their views are wrong. What if there were a paradigm shift were we viewed mental illness not as a sickness or pathological condition but rather an experience of discomfort, distress and mental pressure that is a normal part of life?
The acceptance of labels such as ‘clinical depression’ would no longer include an inherently negative or defective state of being but would rather be viewed as an experience of low mood and varying levels of distress that come from this. We would see ‘depression’ as a fluid moving series of mood states that fluctuate naturally over time and also in response to situations. How would this change the way we treat mental illness?
Firstly, in this new paradigm, mental illness would not exist. There would be only preferences of how one would like to feel and acceptance of non-preferable states of mood (thoughts and feelings/sensations). Therefore one would learn to enjoy their preferred mental states (and feelings) when they arise and accept as normal the more uncomfortable mental states (and feelings). This would build a person’s resilience and therefore assist them in having a psychological buffer to being or feeling depressed.
Secondly, mental illness would not necessarily be treated with medication. Mental illness would be understood as a particular mood state that is changing in intensity and cyclical. Just like seasons change in nature, mood would also be able to change and fluctuate. We would therefore use a mindful approach to understanding depression and in turn know that depression is impermanent, it will change from moment to moment and cannot last forever. This would help in accepting unexplainable feelings that a person cannot find precipitating factors for (i.e., “why am I feeling depressed when I have a great job, a beautiful and caring spouse, am financially secure and have two healthy children?”
Mental illness would be treated through education and practice. Awareness of thoughts as being thoughts and feelings as being feelings, neither good nor bad, would be at the heart of treatment. There would not be debate about trying to stop thoughts as we would teach flexibility in how to hold thoughts such as asking oneself “is this thought useful to me?” If the answer is yes, we may want to act on the thought. However if the answer is no we may want to recognise the thought as simply being a thought and allow it to be there without further judgement or action. This mindful practice could be used with all mental illness as it does not judge any thought as being disordered, dysfunctional, abnormal, strange or odd.
This new paradigm would also mean we accept others for who they are and not prescribe that they are wrong in their thinking because it is not in line with our own view. Maybe this is the greatest challenge for us all.
Please note this is written to create thought provoking discussion exploring the use of labels in mental health and is not the views of psychology, psychiatry, medicine or Strategic Psychology.