In this podcast (episode #428) and blog, I talk about why we need to change the way we think about mental health. This podcast is part 8 of my series on the different parts of the mind and brain.
As mentioned in my previous podcasts on this topic, The Difference Between the Nonconscious, Subconscious & Conscious Mind (part 1), How to Tap Into the Nonconscious Mind to Unwire Trauma & Toxic Thinking Habits (part 2), How to Listen to & Learn from Your Mental & Physical Warning Signals (part 3), The Difference Between Thoughts & Memories (part 4), What is the Mind? (part 5), How to Make Intrusive Thoughts Work for You, Not Against You(part 6), and Neuroplasticity: What It Is & How to Harness Its Power for Your Benefit (part 7), when you consciously engage the nonconscious mind through deliberate, intentional, strategic, and proactive deep thinking, you draw your thoughts, with their embedded memories, through the subconscious mind and into the conscious mind. When these thoughts arrive in the conscious mind, they’re in a malleable state, which means you can change them and reconceptualize them—you can change the way they impact your life.
But what about mental health issues? Can these be managed?
Anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress are all ways of describing natural human responses to adversity and the experiences of life. And we all face adversity in many different ways: challenging events and circumstances are as much a part of modern existence as they were a part of human history. Just calling these mental and emotional responses diseases misses the point.
As mentioned in the first part of this podcast series, anxiety, depression, burnout, frustration, angst, anger, grief, and so on are emotional and physical warning signals telling us we need to face and deal with something that’s happened or is happening in our life. This pain, which is very real, is a sign that there’s something wrong: you are in a state of disequilibrium. It’s not a sign of a defective brain.
Your experience doesn’t need to be validated by a medical label. Mental health struggles are not your identity. They’re normal and need to be addressed, not suppressed, or things will get worse.
Yet this is often what happens. Modern psychological and psychiatric approaches to mental health, particularly the use of drugs like antidepressants and antipsychotics, don’t address the complexity of the human mind.
Indeed, they haven’t reduced the prevalence of mental health issues—major depression, for example, has remained at around 4 percent between 1990 and 2010. Population studies indicate that something is going terribly wrong: people ages twenty-four to sixty-five are dying eight to fifteen years younger than previous generations from preventable lifestyle diseases.
There’s a pressing need to change the way we approach health care, including mental health. We must shift our focus from a symptom-centered approach to one centered around each person’s complex story and unique experiences. You are uniquely, wonderfully you—your quest for optimal health and well-being should be just as singular as you are.
The current mental healthcare system has largely reduced the source of human pain and suffering to neuropsychiatric brain diseases, with symptoms that need to be suppressed with medication or the conditioning of our thoughts and behaviors. Mental health has been sucked into the biomedical model. It has become something we often fear and stigmatize, and this fear in itself is damaging to the mind, brain, and body.
This perception of mental health has come at great cost. When we only suppress, label, and drug our mental distress instead of embracing, processing, and reconceptualizing the sufferings of life, the pain can become embedded toxic energy in the brain and cells of the body. That can, in turn, affect cognition, damage the brain, and increase our vulnerability. Every system of the body becomes at risk. Over time, this embedded toxic energy can affect how we think, feel, and make decisions, which, in turn, may shorten our life span.
Neuroreductionism removes a person from their life experiences, making them an “it” that needs to be diagnosed, labeled, and, most likely, treated with psychotropic drugs, which suppress, not cure, the symptoms of mental distress.
Mind issues are being treated as if they are diseases like cancer or diabetes, but they’re very different. The biomedical model works beautifully for the latter but is not the right approach for mental issues like anxiety and depression. These are intrinsically connected to our stories—our place in the world and how we perceive ourselves and our lives.
Our story is not an “it” to be diagnosed and labeled. And depression and anxiety are not labels but rather warning signals, telling us that something is going on. As we embrace the warning signals, we find the actual message behind the messenger. This doesn’t mean that mental ill-health doesn’t have real, physical effects on the brain and body—of course these are impacted, because the mind is moving through the brain and body and impacting the physiology and neurophysiology right down to the DNA. The mind and the brain are separate but inseparable at the same time.
Depression and anxiety are serious and can be debilitating, requiring attention in the form of proper support, understanding, and mind-management. These warning signals affect the 99 percent mind portion — our psyche — and the 1 percent physical portion — our brain and body — so they have a 100 percent impact and therefore do not need to be validated with a disease label. They’re valid enough in themselves.
The mind-body connection is very real, which we observed in our most recent clinical trial. Even mild depression and anxiety, if left unmanaged, can lead to an estimated 20 percent increase in risk of death from all causes except cancer (which is generally associated with high levels of psychological distress). Someone suffering from the emotional and physical warning signals of depression and anxiety needs to be noticed and listened to. Their pain, which is very real, needs to be acknowledged, and they need help learning how to problem-solve and manage their minds. They need to tell their story, and we need to listen.
Obviously, a lot of things can go wrong as we go about our lives in vibrant, dynamic human communities. People make choices, and those choices affect us just as much as our choices affect others. We should not, and in fact cannot, medicalize the complexity of the human experience.
As much as we love classifications, labels, and systems, we also have to respect that they have their limits—and they have their sting, especially when they follow you into job applications or insurance eligibility or lead you into being too afraid to talk about how you feel because you will be seen as “crazy.” Labels may give a little comfort, but we have to be careful of seeing them as an end point and avoiding managing our mind.
The key thing to remember is that we shouldn’t use labels as a coping mechanism. Rather, we should use them to better understand where we are and to challenge ourselves to overcome what we are dealing with.
For more on mental health and mind management, listen to my podcast (episode #428), and check out my latest book Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess and app Neurocycle. If you enjoy listening to my podcast, please consider leaving a 5-star review and subscribing. And keep sharing episodes with friends and family and on social media. (Don’t forget to tag me so I can see your posts!).
You can now also join me on Patreon for exclusive, ad-free content! Sign up for a membership level that suits you, and receive access to ad-free exclusive bonus podcasts. These episodes will include more targeted, step-by-step guides for specific mental health issues AND some fun, more personal podcasts about topics like my favorite skincare products and favorite books, as well as live Q&As, fan polls and requests, and exclusive digital downloads!
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2:06 Why we need to change the way we view mental health
6:12 The shortcomings of the biomedical model for mental health
7:30 Why labels are not everything
10:30 The rise in the mismanagement of mental health issues
11:50 Our lives are the product of our life experiences
14:30 The power of listening to people’s stories
This podcast and blog are for educational purposes only and are not intended as medical advice. We always encourage each person to make the decision that seems best for their situation with the guidance of a medical professional.