Mental Health - A Community can do Wonders
For a really long time, I was unsure of what comprises mental health. I didn't understand them and, to be honest, I was quite afraid to look into them. The first mystery was, I'm on the other side of naughty at forty zones, and all throughout my lifetime, year after year, serious depression and anxiety have plagued people around me and across the world. And I wanted to understand why. Why is this happening to us? Why is it that with each year that passes, more and more of us are finding it harder to get through the day? And I wanted to understand this because of a more personal reason.
I’m a coach and one of my coachee shared that when she was a teenager, she remembers going to her doctor and explaining that she had this sinking feeling, like something was missing in her life. She couldn't control it, nor did she understand why it was happening, Moreover, she felt quite ashamed of it. And then her doctor told her something that was well-intentioned but quite oversimplified. The doctor said, "We know why people feel like this. Some people just naturally get a chemical imbalance in their heads -- you're clearly one of them. All we need to do is give you some drugs, it will get your chemical balance back to normal.”
So she started taking the prescribed drug, and she felt much better initially. But not very long afterward, this feeling of sinking something missing started to come back. So she was given higher and higher doses until, for more than nine years, she was taking the maximum possible dose that is legally permissible. And for a lot of those nine years, and pretty much all the time by the end, she was still in a lot of pain. And she started asking herself, "What's going on here? Because you're doing everything you're told to do by the story that's dominating the culture -- why do you still feel like this?"
So to get to the bottom of the matter, I decided to catch the bull by the horns, sift through the internet, access the world wide web to get a peek-a-boo into what causes depression and anxiety and crucially, what solves them, and to read about people who have come through depression and anxiety, out on the other side in all sorts of ways. And I learned a huge amount from the amazing people I got to know along the way.
What I have learned so far is that we have scientific evidence for nine different causes of depression and anxiety. Two of them are indeed in our biology. Your genes can make you more sensitive to these problems, though they don't write your destiny. And there are real brain changes that can happen when you become depressed that can make it harder to get out. But most of the factors that have been proven to cause depression and anxiety are not in our biology. They are factors in the way we live. And once you understand them, it opens up a very different set of solutions that should be offered to people alongside the option of chemical antidepressants.
For example, if you're lonely, you're more likely to become depressed. If, when you go to work, you don't have any control over your job, you've just got to do what you're told, you're more likely to become depressed. If you very rarely get out into the natural world, you're more likely to become depressed.
And one common factor that causes depression and anxiety is related to human psychology. Everyone here knows you’ve all got natural physical needs, right? Obviously. You need food, you need water, you need shelter, you need clean air. If those things are taken away from you, your life would be a mess, isn’t it? But at the same time, every human being has natural psychological needs. You need to feel you belong. You need to feel your life has meaning and purpose. You need to feel that people see you and value you. You need to feel you've got a future that makes sense.
And it only really began to fall into place for me when one day, I was sharing with my wife an incident at Sierra Leone in 2001. There was an “Operation No Living Thing” just before we landed in that beautiful country ravaged by internal strife and rebellion by their own people. A major portion of the population was affected and the effects were so severe that survivors were administered chemical antidepressants. One day a local headman brought his son to the Indian Field Hospital. His son was a rebel and post surrender was leading a normal life with occasional bouts of uneasiness & emptiness. During his rebel days, he had stepped on a landmine and one of his feet was blown away. During farming, he was finding it difficult to stand for long hours.
The people were struggling with their lives and support from the community was vital for survival. A person having a problem with standing for too long was offered alternate productive work. If you were with an amputated leg and couldn’t till the field for long hours, instead of giving you a chemical depressant, the community will discuss what could be done to reduce the pain individual was going through. I shared with the sparkle in my eye, the people in the community figured, “Let this guy be given a cow, and he could become a dairy farmer, he wouldn't be straining his legs for long which will cause problems and lead to his dependency on chemical drugs.” So they bought him a cow. Within a couple of weeks, his mental health improved, within a month, his problem was gone. In the instant case, that cow was an antidepressant.
If you're depressed, if you're anxious, you're not weak, you're not crazy, you're not a machine with broken parts. You're a human being with unmet needs. And it's just as important to think here about what those locals did for the young lad. They did not say to this youngster, "Hey, buddy, you need to pull yourself together. It's your job to figure out and fix this problem on your own." On the contrary, what they said is, "We're here as a group to pull together with you, so together, we can figure out and fix this problem." This is what every depressed person needs, and it's what every depressed person deserves. The power of community is unmatched.