by Tobias Phibbs
Friday, 3
September 2021
Debate
08:00

We don’t need to talk more about our mental health

The focus can become all consuming and harmful
by Tobias Phibbs
Work in a cubicle, work-out in a cubicle, see a therapist in a cubicle

The ONS has published new statistics showing the suicide rate dropped between April and June 2020, offering apparent support to lockdown supporters and a rebuke to those who opposed it in the name of mental health. They should be taken with a pinch of salt: whenever a crisis first emerges, the sense of something happening and the chance to act heroically usually provides an initial ballast, before disillusion sets in.

But whichever side is ultimately right on the stats, the real winner is the all-powerful cultural hold ‘mental health’ has over all of us. We are encouraged to turn ourselves inside and out, to search our inner recesses for trauma. We are told to place our mental health over our relationships, our family.

Every major company is in on it. So is the government (and the opposition, who’ve appointed a shadow minister for mental health). Your town lost its industry and drugs and crime have filled the void? You’ve been locked out of the housing market and a landlord who won’t fix the mould takes half your salary? Chuck another few million to a campaign for footballers to talk about the importance of mental health.

Mental health places endless demands upon us and, if you surrender to it, can come to dominate every last aspect of life. Constantly wary that you might be hurting others — and that you need time for your own self-care — you end up in a droopy world of inactivity, a race-to-the-bottom of neurosis and pathology.

It is hard to find any proof that all this makes people feel much better. Our culture is uniquely open already; we have never before talked so much about mental health, yet it has had no effect on suicide rates – certainly not for men, the main targets of the demand that we open up. It may be that men in particular need to talk more, but there’s no reason to think they need to talk more about ‘mental health’.

We are quickly following coastal America in the ubiquity of therapists and anti-depressants, not as a response to severe pathology but instead as a thoroughly normalised part of our culture. Work in a cubicle, work-out in a cubicle, see a therapist in a cubicle, then back home for a takeaway and an SSRI.

There’s a real danger here. Rather than embrace integral lives filled with joy, pain, love and hurt, we can attempt to shave off life’s excesses in the name of some smoothed-over notion of ‘wellness’. We have lost the ability to speak persuasively about the good life; mental health is our desiccated replacement.

Join the discussion


To join the discussion, get the free daily email and read more articles like this, sign up.

It's simple, quick and free.

Sign me up
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
17 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
ralph bell
ralph bell
1 year ago

Great article.

We need to do more, meet more, and get outside more not navel gaze more.

Jon Hawksley
Jon Hawksley
1 year ago

A very long time ago I was told that depression manifests itself as an inability to make decisions and the best response is to make a decision. Any decision, an inconsequential decision that needs making but not thinking about. Which side of the bed to get out of. Keep focussed on deciding and acting not thinking and delaying. The function of a brain is to decide things and the function of a body is to move things. The brain and body need exercise to function effectively and with exercise do function well.

Last edited 1 year ago by Jon Hawksley
Gavin Stewart-Mills
Gavin Stewart-Mills
1 year ago

The discourse only really includes certain kinds of “mental health issues” though doesn’t it. Depression? Anxiety? that’s OK. Let me put my social media arms around you. Narcissistic personality disorder? Paranoid schizophrenia? For sufferers of these conditions somehow we don’t see the same “brave for speaking out publicly” reaction. There seems to be a somewhat limited and safe definition of mental health issues which only waters down the whole concept, and lowers the threshold for self-identifying as a sufferer.

Dawn McD
Dawn McD
1 year ago

Narcissistic, borderline, and histrionic personalities suffer from being seen as character defects and were even described as such at some point in the past in the DSM. Joshua Slocum discusses these “Cluster B” personality disorders on his Disaffected Podcast, emphasizing the harm done by these people to others, especially to their children (Slocum speaks from experience). There is so much collateral damage done, I can see how it happens that these people engender less sympathy from a lot of people. Also a lot of these people think there’s nothing wrong with them, especially narcissists.

Charles Lewis
Charles Lewis
1 year ago

I am OK, but not OK in that I have not been able to lay claim to a mental health problem. I want one, so that I can appear weak and feeble and needing help. Then, as a victim, I will have status, and people will have to listen to my outrageous demands or they will be cancelled as mentophobes.

Andrew D
Andrew D
1 year ago

If we called it mental illness, people might not lay claim to it as a badge of honour quite so much.
It’s fun to play ‘mental health bingo’ while watching the news – seeing how long before the phrase gets mentioned – last time I watched it was about two minutes in.

Keith Jefferson
Keith Jefferson
1 year ago

The worrying thing for me is how this dialogue (almost an obsession) about mental health has entered the workplace. It worries me for two reasons. Firstly, it gets employers off the hook for presiding over a stressful or unhealthy workplace. If you are overworked or put under excessive stress to meet targets or deadlines, employers can just refer you to their ‘wellbeing’ program, often little more than some cuddly sounding blurb written by the HR department. The problem then is shifted from the employer (who could do something useful like hiring more people to reduce workloads) to the employee, i.e. “get some therapy”. I haven’t read Vivek Ramaswamy’s “Woke, Inc.” yet, but I get the feeling that a similar strategy that he describes is at play with the corporate world’s enthusiasm for promoting mental health issues.
The second reason it worries me is that continually suggesting to people that they might be suffering from mental health problems is a type of gaslighting, that in other situations would be considered abuse. If you continually suggest that to people, then they may start to believe it, even if it isn’t true. It then might actually prompt mental health problems where none existed before.
Don’t get me wrong; I realise that many people do suffer mental health problems and I have much sympathy. I also think that NHS provision for mental health care is woefully inadequate and that a lot of sufferers are falling by the wayside. But encouraging people to believe that they are suffering such problems, especially when the emphasis is on the milder spectrum of mental health problems which anyone can add to their portfolio of grievances, is wrong. I would rather that more energy be spent on addressing serious mental health problems, such as severe / psychotic depression and schizophrenia (and myriad other conditions). 

helen godwin
helen godwin
1 year ago

Goodness this is complex
As a gp, a woman who suffered serious postnatal.depression rescued beautifully and effectively by medication and now as a partner an employer of staff who can also call mental health issues as reason for failing to manage work environment I sit on all sides of the coin!
Without a doubt woefully underfunded because actually a lot can be achieved by fairly minimal intervention. But societal and material circumstances play a huge part. There is no doubt that during the large part of lockdown we saw a huge surge in very acute MH issues many of which were circumstantial (anyone tried to work full-time run a household and home school?) Often the solution was that had schools remained open and people not lost jobs…plus variety of life and social contact…would not have occurred.
One of the great great Joy’s of being a gp is he ability albeit awfully time limited, to listen and help find ways through. I forever wish I had more time.
But resilience is far too easily packaged as achievable without understanding of material circumstances.
In the end, funding both health and education are likely to be effective tools….I am not convinced celebrity rhetoric will help
I’m off for my gin and tonic now…

Caroline Watson
Caroline Watson
1 year ago

Depression is suppressed anger. Work out what you are angry about and do something about it. It could be external – job, poor housing, lack of education, unsatisfactory relationship – or it could be internal – the belief that you have to conform to sex stereotypes or familial expectations rather than living your own way. Above all, it is lack of hope and belief that something can be done.
Most of the things that people are unhappy about come down to money. If people could afford to leave unsatisfactory jobs, relationships and housing, they would stop being angry about them. They also need to recognise that being angry is allowed!

J Bryant
J Bryant
1 year ago

Great comment.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago

“Depression is suppressed anger.”

No its not.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago

In fact anger is almost always a later reaction to some fundamental hurt. People brought in an insecure and chaotic way, without love and comfort, – or any other kind of real hurt in growing up, can result in the person having anger issues.

Depression is nothing to do with suppressed anger.

Allie McBeth
Allie McBeth
1 year ago

Yes, oh yes – at last, a good article which encapsulates my own belief that we are normalising ‘mental health ishoos’, like a new fashion trend. When I hear celebrities or young people, especially, talk about “looking after” their mental health, I want to scream. You don’t go on about looking after your physical health, do you – with your fast food, social media obsession, casual drug use? It’s become a woke rallying cry :-lookatmelookatmeloo..
And the people with real problems quietly slide by, missing their psychiatric appointments, stopping their meds, “because I feel fine” – their appointed mental health nurse overworked and exhausted by huge caseloads. Sort yourself out. Look after your physical health first.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago

Naturally there are mental health issues. Society is broken down as compared to all our urban living evolution prepared us for.

Gone are Extended Family, Ending of Church and thus community, and some structure, calander of duties and social situations. Local community broken – the mixing of all ages ended. That one is actually huge, how all the people seperate out by age – a huge amount of learning and stability comes from the different ages really knowing each other. Break down of marriage, single parenthood, and hedonism, where if it is fun then go for it – situational ethics and relative morality.

The solitary meals, that is terrible, it really is. The phones so one’s peers and ‘Influencers’ do the child rearing instead of the extended family….

The Liberal Lefties have royally Fu* k*d up society up. Liberal = anything goes, and humans are built for family, community, and duty.

Catriona Flear
Catriona Flear
1 year ago

At last, someone saying what I have since this “mental health” trend took over, making people analyse themselves inside out, rather than look at the big picture. Where would we be if our ancestors had spent their time on this, rather than getting out there and getting on with life and all it’s ups and downs.

Will R
Will R
1 year ago

I’D been thinking pretty much the same but dont have the ability to express it so eloquently. Thanks for the article

Alan T
Alan T
1 year ago

I have often wondered if there is any scientific, medical or any other evidence to show that the promotion of mental health awareness leads to better mental health. Any evidence for this at all?