Our current understanding of what is meant by the term ‘ mental health ’ needs a revolution; we stand in very great need of a mental health revolution!
What we understand to be ‘mentally healthy’ isn’t actually healthy at all – it’s a state of abject servitude to a mechanical system of beliefs. It’s a state of automatic compliance to whatever set of ideas happen to be prevalent at the time. If we subscribe unquestioningly to the system of beliefs that everyone else subscribes to then we are deemed healthy, and if we don’t subscribe then we aren’t – we’re actually supposed to be mentally sick in some way. The way things stand at the moment, conformity is seen as being mentally healthy, and non-conformity is in danger of being seen as something which needs to be diagnosed at an early age and corrected! This ever-increasing tendency to regard nonconformity and freethinking as a mental illness is reflected in the latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
Conformity to a pre-established pattern or template for how we are to think and behave (i.e. how we are to perceive reality) means becoming like machines, and so the hidden assumption behind our current viewpoint is that being mechanical, being like machines, is somehow mentally healthy! This is – not to put too fine a point on it – an extraordinarily bizarre (if not to say deeply disturbing) view of what it means to be mentally healthy. We might be forgiven for wondering if the people who are responsible for creating mental-health templates like DSM-IV are themselves mentally healthy. How would we know, after all? Perhaps the eminent and highly qualified psychiatrists who are responsible for defining what sanity is and what it is not are themselves suffering from some undetected form of mental ill-health, and if this were the case then it is of course true that whatever uncharted ‘syndrome’ or ‘condition’ it is that the psychiatric profession are suffering from is never going to show up as being a problem to be concerned about because they happen to be the ones creating and ratifying the assessments!
There is no category in the DSM-IV for those people exhibiting the deeply perverse belief that to conform to the collective way of thinking must be evidence of ‘sanity’ and to fail to conform is proof positive of ‘mental illness’! There should be such a category, but there isn’t…
It has often been pointed out that it’s not healthy to conform to an unhealthy society. Aldous Huxley, in Brave New World Revisited, writes:
The real hopeless victims of mental illness are to be found among those who appear to be most normal. Many of them are normal because they are so well adjusted to our mode of existence, because their human voice has been silenced so early in their lives, that they do not even struggle or suffer or develop symptoms as the neurotic does. They are normal not in what may be called the absolute sense of the word; they are normal only in relation to a profoundly abnormal society. Their perfect adjustment to that abnormal society is a measure of their mental sickness. These millions of abnormally normal people, living without fuss in a society to which, if they were fully human beings, they ought not to be adjusted.
According to esoteric psychology, it’s ‘being a machine’ that is the sickness (if we may put it like that) rather than ‘failing to be a machine’. P. D. Ouspensky states very emphatically that our ‘default setting’ – so to speak – is that of being machines, and that the only possible way of recovering our essential human dignity and freedom is for us to learn how not to be machines:
Man is a machine, but a very peculiar machine. He is a machine which, in right circumstances, and with right treatment, can know that he is a machine, and having fully realized this, he may find the ways to cease to be a machine.
Unfortunately, learning ‘how not to be machines’ happens to be the one thing that’s not on the school curriculum – nowhere are we encouraged or supported in the only truly meaningful endeavour there is, which is the endeavour to emancipate ourselves from being conditioned and essentially robotic creatures, and to recover who we really are underneath the conditioning, which is free and utterly unique. We might be encouraged and supported in all sorts of other endeavours, but all of these – without exception – are quite meaningless given the uncompromising fact that no matter what we achieve, if we achieve it on the basis of ‘being who we are not’ it isn’t worth a damn! If I’m not really there, if I’m not really present in my life, then of what possible value are my so-called accomplishments, my so-called attainments?
Seeing that ‘being who we are not’ (i.e. conforming to the template of who we’re supposed to be) is regarded as being admirably healthy, and seeing as how trying to deviate from this normatively-defined identity is perceived (either explicitly or implicitly) as being some kind of manifestation of pathology, we are starting off from a very difficult basis. The basis that we are starting off from is a society that sees ‘true individuality’ as an error to be corrected and ‘abject conformity’ as a marvellous virtue to be rewarded…
Mental health is not a mechanical sort of affair, and yet we insist on treating it as such. The mere fact we have so many ‘prescriptions’ for good mental health, so many ‘how to’s’, so many ‘ten-step methods’ and ‘evidence-based recipes’ proves that we think it is. Methods (i.e. rule-based procedures) only work for machines, and so if we think there is a method to becoming mentally healthy then we must think that we’re machines! If good mental health were a mechanical (i.e. rule-based) sort of a thing then these prescriptive bits of advice we keep getting thrown at us by all and sundry would actually work and all would be rosy in the garden. We’d all be mentally healthy, we’d all be happy! This however is clearly very far from being the case – things aren’t rosy at all. The hypnotic images of the ‘model consumers’ (the images we identify with) that we see in adverts for this, that and the other product might them look deeply fulfilled (if not to say ecstatically happy with their lot) but this is only a cheap illusion. This sort of happiness is a cheap illusion – albeit one that we are willing to buy into. Because these endlessly proliferating images are a lie they naturally cannot be used as a basis for anything but more lies. We can’t become mentally healthy by trying to approximate what isn’t true…
Good mental health is all about being who we really are – this is the only criterion and it isn’t a ‘rule-based’ criterion because there isn’t a standard for it! No one knows who we really are – even we don’t know who we really are. We can be who we really are, but we can’t know it, we can’t define it. If we could define ‘who we are’ then what we would be defining would be just another stereotype, just another regular ‘same old, same old’ standardized and ratified mental category. The true individual is absolutely unique, and there are no standards to define or assess the unique. If therefore I am truly and authentically myself (rather than being who somebody else thinks I ought to be, or being who society thinks I ought to be) then this is mental health. Nothing else is mental health. Nothing else qualifies!
Because mental health is ‘being the unique individual that you are’ no one else can tell you how to attain this state of affairs. No one can advise you, no one can tell you what to do. This is in fact the easiest way to lose oneself – by listening to other people’s advice, however well meant. We are not empty vessels to be molded or filled, we are unique individuals. It is to ourselves we must look therefore, not to the mass mind.
The trouble is that practically everybody we meet is trying to give us advice of one sort or another. Everything we meet (plus those we don’t actually ever meet) is trying – as a matter of course – to influence how we think, to influence how we perceive reality. Control is the name of the game, whether we realize it or not! The only time someone is not automatically going to try to control us (i.e. get us to see reality their way) is when they are no longer unconscious, no longer asleep, no longer mechanical. Given that ours is a deeply unconscious society, the official definition of good mental health is therefore when we obediently ‘fall in line’ with the collective viewpoint, when we are effectively mentally ‘controlled’. This regulated and standardized modality of existence isn’t of course even remotely ‘healthy’! It’s nothing to do with healthy. This state of affairs is only healthy to the extent that being a machine is healthy…!
By Nick Williams | TNP