MENTAL HEALTH SERIES, PART 1
WHAT DOES MENTAL HEALTH LOOK LIKE?
This is a series of blogs related to a series of foster parent training classes that I am facilitating at San Bernardino Valley College on Tuesday and Friday mornings from 9 a. m. to Noon, starting September 28 and concluding on October 15, 2010. If you live nearby and want to attend the classes, email me.
The focus of this series is Mental Health. Today we begin by coming up with an operational definition of mental health.
In the blogs to come, we will look at some of the more common diagnosis that foster parents will see in their foster children with suggestions for becoming part of the healing process.
So what is mental health? As obvious as it sounds, it is not mental illness. What is the point of that obvious distinction? Well, there are not many psychological instruments (often referred to as tests) out there to measure mental health. There are plenty of instruments available to measure all kinds of mental illnesses and their subsequent risks, for example, suicide.
Now I am not totally convinced of this, but perhaps there is a difference between mental health for "ordinary" folks like you and me and Fred, the Ax murderer! I am not sure of that, but I am open to the possibility that there is a difference.
These two articles pose some very good information for creating your own picture of your own mental health.
MENTAL ILLNESS AND MMPI
Now I just want to take a moment to talk about mental illness. There is a wonderful psychological instrument that has been used for years dating back to 1939. The MMPI’s primary purpose is to measures psychopathology or to what degree an individual is mentally ill. In a sense, no one is going to come out looking good on this instrument. So it is important not to try to make yourself look better than you are when and if you take the MMPI. The instrument has a way of measuring lying and faking to make yourself look more healthy than you are! So don’t do it!!
But here is the kicker. The instrument is not based so much upon content validity. In other words, it is perhaps less important how you score on a particular scale. For example, college students tend to score high on the psychopathic deviant scale. Does that mean that college students are psychopathic deviants? NO. College professors may beg to differ, but they have to remember that they also once scored high on that scale and maybe still do!!
But each person who takes the MMPI comes out with a profile, and they have gathered literally thousands and thousands of profiles and amazingly, groups of people have similar profiles. So most alcoholics, for example, have a similar profile. Most folks who are incarcerated have a similar profile, and so on. So its value lies in the similarities of profiles among specific groups. I find that really fascinating, and so when people get nervous about taking the MMPI, I tell them, "No big deal. Answer honestly, and don’t try to make yourself look good. We are all more less mentally ill according to the MMPI."
So my main point here is that traditionally when we talk about mental health, we tend to talk about it in the context of mental illness rather in the context of mental HEALTH.
OPERATIONAL DEFINITION OF MENTAL HEALTH
So today, we want to establish an operational definition, for ourselves, of what mental health is.
In 1966, a psychologist by the name of Shostrom, constructed the Personal Orientation Inventory which was designed to measure mental health. Shostrom indicated that mental healthy folks are able to know, acknowledge, take ownership of their strengths and limitations. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a really cool definition of mental health to me. Mental health is the capacity to know and take ownership of your strengths and limitations.
STRENGTHS AND LIMITATIONS
So let’s begin to day with each of us making a LONG list of our strengths and also a list of our limitations.
AT HOME WITH EMOTIONS
We just finished our series on Being At Home With Our Emotions. This is also another good criteria for determining our mental health. Am I at home with my emotions? Which emotions am I at home with and which emotions am I really uncomfortable with?
Can I cry? Can I laugh? Can I feel myself getting nervous, being anxious, being afraid?
Am I able to be intimate with the people I love? Do the people I love really know that I love them?
Am I able to allow other people to love me?
How am I with my anger and my rage?
What do I do when I am really down in the dumps? How about when I consider suicide? What do I do? Whom do I tell?
When I go through loss, do I allow myself the time, however long it takes, to really really grieve? And do I grieve alone, or do I allow myself to receive the support of others?
MY WORK AND CREATIVE LIFE
Another way of exploring my mental health is to take a look at my attitude toward work and my creative energy. What is my experience of work? And do I set aside enuf time to allow the creative spirit within me to get expressed?
Another important part of my mental health is my soul work. So do I take time to nurture my soul? If I am actively involved with a particular church or religious group, am I really taking time to nurture my soul? Attending a particular church does not necessarily mean that I am doing soul work.
Do I have friends? And if not, why not? Do I have only men friends or only women friends, and what is that about? Am I close to my friends? Do my friends really know me?
How much time do I set aside to play each day and each week? Or have I stopped playing and why? Am I still able to play children’s games so I can be a fun person for my children and grandchildren to be with? Or have I become either psychologically or physically so sedentary that I am no fun for anyone to be around?
Am I driving my own car, so to speak? Or is everyone else in my life telling me how to live my life? Do I take charge of my life, or do I just let life happen to me?
Am I still dreaming? Or have I given up on my dreams? Are my dreams still juicy?. Am I still going for it, so to speak, or have I settled?
Do I feel comfortable, at home with, who I am as a man or woman? If not, what am I doing about my discomfort?
Am I at home with who I am culturally and ethnically? If I am not, do I know what my discomfort is about, and what am I doing about the discomfort?
SELF RESPECT AND SELF ACCEPTANCE
Do I have a healthy respect for myself and an healthy acceptance of who I am right at this moment?
Where am I in terms of addictions? Do I escape into addiction when I am not respecting myself or when I do not accept who I am?
Are there people in my life who I really love? How do they know? And are there people who love me and how do I know?
Is there anyone in my life with whom I experience intimacy (not necessarily sexual intimacy)?
Are there people in my life who are wanting intimacy from me, but I am too afraid?
And where am I with being a sexual being? Have I gone out of my way to be sure no one will be attracted to me sexually? Or have I gone out of my way to make sure everyone in the world is attracted to me sexually? What kind of lover am I? Am I free? Am I the perfect gentleman? Am I the good girl? Or do I allow myself to be at home with the God-given passion inside of me without applying any negative labels to my passion?
How do I go about solving my problems? (Not someone else's problems!) Do I take them on, one by one, or am I a procrastinator, a conflict avoider? Am I a control freak and won’t allow anyone in to work along side of me in addressing my problems? How do I address my stress? Do I escape into addiction when I cannot handle my stress?
How do I take care of myself? Do I have a place inside me where I experience unequivocal WORTH. I know I am somebody totally separate from my achievements, from my financial success, and am I worth enough to take care of myself? When I am not able to take care of myself, am I able to reach out and ask for support?
What does my diet look like? How about my weight? Am I seeking out some kind of professional support in addressing my over all health, and are there any health issues? If so, am I taking care of them? And if not, why not?
What is my relationship to the community at large? How do I contribute to my community? Do I convince myself that I am too busy to be involved in my community? How do I get away with that? Or have I become too involved in the community to the exclusion of everything and everyone else?
FLEXIBILITY AND RESILIENCE
Do I consider myself flexible in dealing with life’s challenges especially when they come at me unexpectedly?
How resilient am I? This is an important question because it does not mean how fast can I move on. Grief work can contribute a great deal to my resilience, but the grieving itself may go on for many many years. So do I have the will and courage to keep stepping up to the plate knowing full well, I will do no better than batting .300? Which by the way is only thirty percent success.
OPTIMISM AND HOPEFULNESS
No matter how bad things get for either myself or the world with in which I live, do I have the capacity to continue to see life through an optimistic and hopeful lens, or do I tend to jump in the negativity pit?
CAPACITY TO LEARN, GROW, AND DEVELOP
Do I experience myself as a "work" in progress? Do I realize that perhaps I am never growed up? Do I realize there is always one more new item to learn? Do I have a bucket list? Do I look forward to new growth, increasing my capacity to learn all there is to learn, and to continue to develop as a human being? Or do I have a sense that life is over, and there is nothing new for me either to learn or accomplish?
Am I a leader or a follower? Even if I am a follower, do I lead within the group I follow? Can I step out of the group and beckon them to go in a different direction? Or do I do nothing, be apathetic and then complain and blame?
If I am a leader, what kind of leader am I? Am I a tyrant? Am I a push over? A control freak?
How do I lead my family? With love or with bitterness? With gentle nudging or am I a drill instructor? Would I ever qualify to be the good shepherd?
So the bottom line is this. Regardless of what diagnosis someone has given me, do I know my strengths and my limitations? And do I do my walk within the context of both strengths and limitations? Do I avoid bragging about either one? And if not, what is that all about?
Well this will give us some really good information as to where we each are in terms of mental health. Do not fret, we are all a little bit nutty and a little bit crazy! There is no such person as the perfectly actualized man. So if you are striving for that, give it up. I once strove to be the Carl Rogers of the twenty first century until someone who knew him, told me I really did not want to be that person!!
The point is simple. Again own my strengths and my limitations!