Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Mental Health?

It's been said before, but it's worth repeating: there is no such thing as mental health. Not because everyone is partially neurotic, not because it is a fiction perpetrated by the ruling elite, but because the term is a metaphor.

Since a mind is not a living organism, you cannot logically say that it is healthy or sick. This means that it makes no sense to have a science of mental health, a science whose object is a metaphysical entity like a mind.

Why then are we comfortable with the term? Perhaps we have used the term to describe certain conditions that were manifested by defective mental functioning but that we did not understand medically. Neurological and metabolic illnesses sometimes cause abnormal mental processing or bizarre behavior. It is not crazy or dishonest to use the term "mental illness" until we find out the nature of the physiological condition.

The real problem arises when psychotherapy defies "mental health" as its goal. What exactly does that mean? When we speak of biological organisms, health refers to a normally functioning organism. It matters most when you do not have it.

But you do not expect that someone will love or marry or hire you because you are mentally healthy.

When you lack mental health you may be unable to perform on the job or to be a good spouse. Yet, its presence does not enhance your resume. Mental health has no moral or ethical dimension.

According to Confucius, your goal should be to become a good person.
Your ability to be responsible, reliable, trustworthy, competent, and focused... matters far more than whether you are mentally healthy. How many therapists, trained to diagnose and remove mental illness, know how to help people to build their character?

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