Reality Check: A Step in the “Take Charge” Direction

The word “crisis” conveys a sense of urgency and it’s sometimes associated with the mental health system, accompanied by commentary that there aren’t enough resources and things are getting worse.

Perhaps that’s true; perhaps it’s not. Allocation of resources will never suit everyone as different people want different things. Enough resources to satisfy the perception of one person would be far too many resources in the opinion of another.

As for crisis, when Dr. Stan Kutcher spoke recently at St F. X, he’s quoted as saying, “There is no epidemic of mental illness for crying out loud…We have the same proportion of mental illness in our society now that we had 40, 50, 60 years ago…what we’re seeing now is an epidemic of ‘I think I have a mental disorder when I’m just really feeling unhappy,’ and that is a direct reflection of poor mental health literacy.”

I’m glad to see the recognition that unhappiness is not a mental disorder!

Dr. Glasser published a booklet about a decade ago called “Defining Mental Health as a Public Health Issue.” Its subtitle is, “A New Leadership Role for the Helping and Teaching Professions.”

Glasser described mental health as being quite distinct from mental illness. Here are a few points from his description of what it means to be mentally healthy.

  • You enjoy being with most of the people you know, especially with the important people in your life.
  • You are generally happy and willing to help someone who is unhappy feel better.
  • You enjoy life; you laugh a lot.
  • You can accept other people who think and act differently from you.
  • You rarely criticize or try to change anyone.
  • In difficult situations (no one can be happy all the time) you’ll know why you are unhappy and attempt to do something about it.

Dr. Glasser’s views were sometimes at odds with those of other professionals. As a psychiatrist, his interventions were drug-free and centered on teaching choice theory. He focused on helping people improve their own mental health and their relationships. Essentially, he taught people how to get along with each other.

In addition to pointing out the human misery that results when people aren’t able to develop satisfying relationships, Glasser decried the waste of health care dollars when system resources are misdirected.

His suggestion? A low-cost, high-impact approach that moves mental health toward a public health model rather than the currently-used medical model. Education (particularly choice theory, of course) is part of that public health model, and key to helping people move out of misery.

Meanwhile, however, real people are suffering with real unhappiness. If that’s you or someone you care about, what might you do right now?

These two books could help:

“Take Charge of Your Life” by Dr. Glasser is, as the title suggests, an accessible look at how to take charge of your life, improve your relationships, and increase satisfaction.

“A Set of Directions for Putting and Keeping Yourself Together” by Dr. Wubbolding is a choice theory-based book with a lighter tone but the same serious and helpful content.

Ask for either at your library.

Adopting a mindset that chooses to take charge of one’s own happiness is quite different from accepting a mindset that dwells on unhappiness, that blames others and that feels victimized, controlled, and helpless. Is it worth the effort to make the change? What do you think?

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