Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. Which means that it is time to acknowledge a massive problem which exists in our society.
Suicide is unfortunately surprisingly rampant in a modern world where it seems like we have everything and where life is comparatively so easy in relation to the daily burdens characterisic of many previous generations.
Yet we see it is not so simple, for when things seem fine it is even more of a struggle to deal with those things that aren’t. Since humans have always relied on social support, which can be hard to get when others do not know what you are going through.
So a goal of today would be to think about those who struggle with suicidal thoughts and to ensure them that they are not alone.
Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. Which means that it is time to acknowledge a massive problem which exists in our society.
Health is NOT the definitional absence of distress. Let me repeat, health is NOT the absence of distress.
Health is an adequate and productive response to distress when we are faced with it. An adequate response may differ for different people. For some, confronting the problem head-on is the best solution. For others, looking for ways to cope internally and make sense of the external is the way to go.
But shielding ourselves and closing our eyes is not the answer, at least for most of us.
When the college campus culture favors placing trigger warning before any content that can be deemed distressing, it is sending two messages.
One, that we cannot regulate our responses. Exposure to uncomfortable material is objectively harmful and we are incapable of reacting in any proper way to difficult material so it is better to remove all exposure, we are essentially hearing. Which implies that there is no proper way, because if there were, wouldn’t we be using it?
Two, that is it better to spare our emotional comfort than embrace head-on the challenges in our world. Yes, I am sorry to say that if we are to combat genocide and sex trafficking, we have to learn about these subjects. I know it is “distressing” to us to learn about them, but life is certainly more distressing for the individuals in the world who are actually suffering from these issues. Hence, this is partially a matter of ethics as well.
I would like to add a disclaimer: This post does not apply to anyone with diagnosed PTSD, where certain topics can actually trigger unpleasant and traumatic feelings. In those cases, individuals should stay away from these topics and gradually, taking as much time as they need, wean themselves into normal exposure those parts of life which trigger them as per their exposure therapy or other types of therapies.
But for the rest of us, creating a culture of trigger sensitivity is a bit of a stretch.
Alternatively, here some ways to respond to this phenomenon in a Heart-Minding way:
- Channel the distress felt in response to difficult topics into a desire to take action to fight the issue.
- Explore the topics’ triggering aspects in order to learn more about it and empathize with those who are affected by the issue.
- By painting a topic through the trigger-lens, we cut it off from the possibility of being viewed in a different way. Instead, we can try to approach the topic from multiple sides and uncover aspects of it that we may have overlooked.
- Focus our attention towards helping those who are truly triggered by the topic as a result of PTSD.
Today’s topic involves adaptation to the environment. The word “adaptation” may remind us a bit of high school biology, but it is so relevant when it comes to mental health as well.
Why is environmental adaptation important in the discussion of mental health, you may ask?
Well, one definition of mental health is the ability to do well in your surroundings, and to adjust to them in the ways that are necessary.
This doesn’t mean conforming to the expectations had of you if you cannot meet them, but it does mean making the best use of the unique qualities you have to do well wherever you are.
There are a few methods of adaptation, in our context.
- You can adapt using neurobiological means to adjust your brain’s functioning to that which might be more ideal for a given environment or to that which decreases impairment or distress. This method screams, “Oops! We have a problem which must be solved quickly and forcefully!”
- You can use behavioral training in order to manually train yourself, and as a result your brain, to respond to your environment by conditioning your responses in a certain way. Like the previous method, this can introduce permanent changes into your psychological patterns. This one tells you, “There’s a chance you might have some challenges navigating your world because of_______. There is a way to address this yourself without fundamentally changing anything in your brain other than what affects this challenge.”
- Behavioral accommodations are essentially saying, “Hey! It’s OK if for some reason you’re not responding well – or at least the way that most people around you are – to a certain environment. This in no way means you are deformed. Instead you’ve just got to use some tricks to make the environment work for you!” Of course, nobody is suited to adapt equally capably everywhere. There will most likely always be places where we just don’t do very well. The key here is finding the external tools that can help you navigate that environment as best you can, while using your innate skills to the best of your ability in that environment to let yourself shine in the area in which you are meant to do so.
Here is an example:
Say, you’ve been diagnosed with the condition known as ADHD.
- If your ADHD is impairing you, you presumably have the disorder and may be able to benefit from such treatments as neurofeedback, medication, good nutrition and exercise, alternative medicine, and lifestyle changes. These all directly target the neurobiological factors in your brain that could be causing distress or impairment of functioning.
- If your ADHD is less severe or at least significantly responsive to behavioral training treatments – or if you are simply, without diagnosis, a more “scatterbrained” or nonlinear thinker by nature and want to improve your attention skills – behavioral training allows you to manually influence the brain pathways through psychological work. Manual attention training exercises condition your brain and can help you learn to focus more easily. Of course, there are limits to what this kind of treatment program can do, and it likely won’t be able to fully change the brain type that you have, but it often is effective at removing some of the difficulties that come with a less directed attention span.
- Accommodations are excellent both for those who have been diagnosed with ADHD and for those who are naturally more nonlinear and outside-the-box. Our modern education system is arguably unfairly tailored to those whose minds are more linear and logical. Our complex world today also requires individuals to be able to think straightforwardly and make organized decisions and plans. These tasks may be difficult if you have ADHD or if you do not have ADHD but are simply suited for a more free-spirited setting. The purpose of accommodations is to help you navigate the parts of life that do not come easily to you. Accommodations run the gamut from technology that helps you stay organized to extended time on exams in order to let you show what you know even though your brain may work a bit more slowly because of reduced working memory capacity. Such accommodations are what often raise the question pertaining to the gray area between (over)-diagnosis of ADHD and the acceptance that nonlinear, “all-over-the-place” thinking (which is a common foundation for creativity) is not by definition problematic.
We seem to be slightly pre-occupied with order in our world and our lives today. Not only do all of our ducks need to be in a row, but so does our understanding of the ducks’ neat organization. We cannot seem to live with the fact that sometimes our ducks are not in such a row and that sometimes we cannot even comprehend that row’s organization. To us, order is when something appears orderly to us. If it looks orderly to us, it must be so. Must it be? Conversely, if something appears disorderly, it must be so. Must it be?
Our preconceived notions must be challenged. Who said that order and disorder is determined by how we see it?
Our eyes are so tuned to screening for order and disorder, that anything we see which doesn’t subscribe to our conception of order is viewed as impaired in some way. Enter our proliferation of mental “disorders.” Some have more proof of biochemical malfunctions, while others consist of clusters of symptoms that are, for one reason or another, deemed as less than ideal to have, and hence our disorder is formed.
Then what is order?
Order in the context of the view expressed by the mainstream mental health industry and to many who fall under its thinking trap in this regard, is living a life with as many positive feelings and as little negative feelings as possible. Under this system, recurrent difficult emotions are quick to be branded as “depression” or “anxiety”. This is a logically flawed conception of mental illness, because deep sadness is the appropriate response to certain events, as is deep worry. There is nothing wrong with these emotions; they exist particularly for the appropriate situations they are suited for. In addition, those moments when we decide to use them indicate to us what matters in our lives and what would cause us to grieve or fear.
I propose that order is when a system is working well relative to its purpose. If the purpose of a human being is to maximize him abilities, create meaning, live a rich life embracing the most the world has to offer, and living a life true to himself and his values, order would be the ability to do so.
If one isn’t able to easily do the above as a result of brain dysfunctions, in the example of severe Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder in which irrational thoughts impair one’s daily functioning, one has a disorder. If one is experiencing very intense emotions and thoughts, even if they are difficult, while trying to accomplish the above, she is living life to her fullest.
Order is also a very individually dependent concept. Order for one person may not be order to another, and vice versa. One person may find equilibrium in her life in one way, while another may find it in another way. In the realm of psychological functioning, certain responses are normal for certain people even if to others they may be viewed as abnormal. For some, emotional intensity colors their reactions to stimuli and shows a liveliness characterized by passionate responses to everything life throws at them. Others have non-linear thinking patterns that may, in some cases, be the keys to their genius. These individuals can create order for themselves if they use these often innate traits in the best way.
The faults of applying the model of the continuum, with two extremes, of a trait lie in applying it without consideration of the context of this trait in a person’s whole being. The same “level” of a trait can work differently in different people because of where the trait fits into the individual’s entire order, his entire functioning. Each human order is its own sequence, with each part playing exactly the role that is appropriate for it to play in the greater system. In fact, it may even help to abandon the need to always think of a trait in terms of having “more” or “less” of it when referring to the holistic being. Traits can change their very consistency when working in different people’s psyches.
Therefore, order has many different looks and flavors. Order forms the structure and allows the content to develop properly. It forms the framework which allows for the fulfillment of particular goals. It is what those goals are that determine whether the framework created for them is ordered or disordered. This reality is what makes order remarkable.
What is wisdom? Some may define it as the ability to integrate observations and life experience into one’s worldview. Others may say it is the intuition that informs us whether we are headed in the right direction. Another definition holds that it is the ability to see everything in the right perspective. Wisdom can be seen as the “older cousin” of knowledge- it synthesizes knowledge with things like values, morals, and profound understanding. Unfortunately, wisdom is often heavily undervalued as a part of a person’s being. Here I attempt to show how wisdom is important as a part of one’s psychological makeup like are all other aspects of him/her.
- Insight. Wisdom allows one to truly comprehend that which he sees around him. The way you see the world around you depends on what you know and have been exposed to and how you decide to apply it. This is why wisdom is so complex; there is no one form and one answer that wisdom can bring you to. You may have had the same experience as someone else, yet you use your values to interpret it differently; hence, your wisdom is different from her wisdom but they are both equally legitimate.
- Ability to Analyze Life as a Whole. Using wisdom helps you to see the bigger picture of life. It provides a framework for looking at everything through a lens of choice and seeing how everything fits together. This gives you the power to decide what meaning your life has as a whole and how the different parts of it all comprise that meaning. Also, it helps you place the events of your life in context, thereby not leaving anything susceptible to confusion.
- Reasonable Judgment. This refers to reasoning through your realities to make decisions that are reflective of your principles. Having this lets you weigh the pros and cons of everything to come to a conclusion that serves your current self, your future self (the best that it can), and your values. It requires discernment and critical thinking. By exercising this trait, you allow yourself to not be a slave to what happens to you, and instead take control of your life as much as you can and mend it to your principles.