There’s an ongoing debate in mental health about how we frame mental health and in particular, mental illness. I first came across this idea watching Eleanor Longden’s TED talk on her experiences with psychosis. She discusses the importance of asking what happened to you, rather than what’s wrong with you. When we ask about people’s experience we understand that mental illness is a product of our life experiences which can help eradicate stigma. And move us to a more trauma-informed community approach. Not just to mental health services but to society as a whole. Opening up our world and our experience of it with more empathy and compassion.
For Mental Health Recovery is a Journey Not a Destination read here.
Why It’s Important?
So, why is this argument so important. Is there a huge difference between what’s wrong with you and what happened to you? I think so. For one, what’s wrong with you is a stigma laden and discriminatory question. Even if someone is trying to be supportive. The idea that something is inherently wrong with you is offensive. Despite the lack of intention to do so. Any support which is predicated on their being something wrong with you as a person is going to fail right out the gate. Stigma fuels disconnection which we desperately need to curate for affective support to take place.
For The Crucial Difference Between Sympathy and Empathy read here.
Reframing Mental Ill Health
Secondly, what’s happened to you reframes how we view mental illness. Our lived experience of mental ill health should not be viewed as an intrinsic part of us. A flaw in our biological or genetic make up. Rather, it’s the result of our life experiences. Particularly when they are profound or we have been supported inadequately. There’s a huge difference in not only how we support others, as per above. But also how we understand how to provide support when we accept. To really buy in to this idea, we have to acknowledge that we all have life experiences. And difficult life experiences can happen to all of us. Indeed, they probably have.
Why Ask What’s Happened to You?
When we consider each other’s life narrative and the suffering or trauma that may have occurred. I hope we will meet each other with more empathy. And less judgement or voyeurism. Making the invaluable personal support we can provide each other that much stronger.
Likewise, a society, community and mental health service approach to trauma informed support has been proven to be affective. Not only do healthcare professionals across the board need to be aware of the possible impacts of trauma on the mind and body. But how this impact may present challenges to current treatment options. Or the need to tweak treatments to take into account experiences of trauma. When it comes to community, community services need to take trauma into account too. Helping us all be more vigilant and know where to support people to get further help when needed.
What are your thoughts on reframing mental illness and creating more trauma aware communities? As always, let me know below.