Reclaiming Good Mental Health by Carolyn Barber

    • enlightened_brain
      What is good mental health? We are all more or less mentally healthy, and this usually varies through our lives especially as we deal with difficult life events, change and so on. Whether we call this psychological wellbeing, happiness, contentment, positive mindset, all these terms relate to good mental health.

      With our physical health, it’s part of our everyday discourse to be aspirational. We want to feel physically fit, energetic, strong, balanced in our weight, eating a healthy diet, supple, resilient and not prone to minor ailments. Sure we complain about our problems, and talk about how we can’t do all the things we know we ought to do. We know it’s not easy to stay physically healthy without working at it, especially if we’ve experienced health problems. We know that even if we reach the peak of physical fitness, we can’t maintain this for the rest of our lives without paying attention to it.

      Research tells us that good mental health is even more beneficial than good physical health. A positive mental outlook increases the rate and speed of recovery from serious, even life threatening, illness. Psychological resilience and wellbeing gives people the strength to turn problems into challenges into triumphs.

      Yet whenever I ask a group of people to tell me what words come into mind in relation to ‘mental health’, their responses are about mental ill-health! It’s as if the term has been hi-jacked to become totally problem-focused.

      In the meantime, we’re experiencing an epidemic of mental ill-health. About 1 in 4 people are experiencing some form of common mental health problem such as depression, anxiety and various stress related symptoms. GP surgeries are overwhelmed with such problems, mental health services are only able to provide support for the 1% of the population with much more severe mental health difficulties, and there’s a plethora of largely unregulated services, treatments and remedies out on the private market. A recent research study showed that the majority of long term sickness absence from work resulted from stress related conditions.

      The trouble with focusing on the problems and the pain, is that that’s what we become experts in. We’re looking for cures and treatments to fix the problem, instead of focusing on what makes for good mental health. We know that physical health is multi-dimensional – no-one imagines that pumping iron to build your muscles is a recipe for overall physical health, although it will certainly make you stronger for certain activities.

      So what are the essentials of good mental health?

      Connection is certainly one of the best known. Having positive close relationships is good for our mental health, as is having a wider network of friends, colleagues and acquaintances which will vary over time. Giving to others is another really important aspect of connection, improving our sense of self worth and wellbeing.

      Challenge is about learning and development, it’s how we grow. For children, everyday brings new challenges, yet as adults we often become increasingly fearful of change, unwilling to learn new skills or put ourselves in unfamiliar situations. So expanding our comfort zone, sometimes in small ways if we’re feeling particularly vulnerable, will help develop our self-confidence and sense of personal achievement.

      Composure means a sense of balance, and ability to distance ourselves from our thoughts and emotions. It means our ability to respond rather than react. This could be described as our sense of spiritual connection, which may come through a particular belief or faith, or may be found through connection with nature. A mentally healthy person will feel an inner strength of spirit, and find ways to support that.

      Character relates to the way in which we interpret our experiences and our responses to them. We all have our own personal story, or stories, which we may or may not tell others. We may cast ourselves as the hero, the victim or the villain, and however we do this will impact generally on our mental health. Someone who has experienced severe life trauma may have great difficulty piecing together their story at all, leaving them feeling literally fragmented. Good mental health means having a strong sense of personal values, awareness of our own strengths, skills and resources, and personal stories of learning from mistakes, survival, success and appreciation.

      Creativity represents the fun, childlike aspects of our mental health. As children we are naturally creative and we play. As we grow into adulthood, our creativity and playfulness is often discouraged or devalued, and this can cause great frustration, literally diminishing the capacity of our brain to function as well as it could. Exploring creative activities has often been found to have a powerful therapeutic effect, and good mental health certainly depends in part on opportunities to bring fun, playfulness and creativity into our lives.

      These 5 C’s of good mental health offer a framework within which we can think about our mental health in the same way as we might our physical health. It’s pretty damned hard to be a perfect specimen of physical health,but then who needs to be perfect? Just like our physical health, our mental health is a work in progress and always will be.

      In years gone by, many people with physical illnesses were treated cruelly because of ignorance and shame. I recall when cancer was spoken in hushed whispers as the Big C. Nowadays mental ill-health is the ‘elephant in the room’ which we need to be looking at long and hard, exposing to practical common sense and intelligent discussion.

      May is National Mental Health Month It’s a timely reminder that good mental health really is something we can aspire to for everyone. Let’s make it so!

      Carolyn Barber, Bsc (Hons), CQSW, is the founder of Wayfinder Associates, a social care training and
      consultancy business specialising in team development, in
      dependent supervision and staff wellbeing. As a
      serial social entrepreneur, Carolyn has developed comm
      unity based programmes to promote understanding
      of mental wellbeing using positive solution focused approaches
      Carolyn has over 30 years experience in social care as practitioner, trainer, researcher and manager,working across public, voluntary and independent sectors. GSCC registration no: 1074227
      LinkedIn profile:
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      This article is being shared with LC Information and Resource Center with permission from Cassandra Herbert, Just Bee Wellness. Thank you, Cassandra Herbert, Just Bee Wellness for permitting us to share it with our readers.

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Infinite Ache: My First Mother’s Day Without Her Saeed Jones

As Saeed Jones braces for the one-year-anniversary of his mom’s passing–The day before Mother’s Day– he shares a soul stirring lesson about coping with grief.

I was still sitting in the front row, staring at the sunflowers I had picked out for my mother’s coffin, when a man patted my shoulder and said “Ten months.”

I nodded because it was all I was capable of at the moment and he walked off. He had known my mother since she first started practicing Nichiren Buddhism in Memphis in her twenties. He had helped her learn how to chant “nam-myoho-renge-kyo” and was one of the many people who supported her when she first started practicing. Because I, by nature, grasp at signs, it means everything to me that this man was one of the people chanting beside my mother’s hospital bed when a doctor took me into a private room and explained that she was brain dead.

What he meant by “ten months,” is that according to Nichiren Buddhist teachings after our death, we are reincarnated within ten months. My mother would be in this world again, but I had a feeling I wouldn’t be able to find her.

Here are the facts: My mother, Carol Sweet-Jones, has been dead for almost a year now. She checked herself into the Emergency Room hours before Mother’s Day after having dinner with my grandmother. She was declared dead on May 12, 2011. Mother’s Day this year falls on May 13.

At some point, each of us – if we haven’t already – will learn how grief can turn holidays against us. The very occasions we once looked forward to become barbed and treacherous. It feels like a betrayal. By now, I’ve made it through the first cycle of my mother’s birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s.

I went to Memphis in August for her birthday, intending to visit her grave for the first time. I spent most of the trip in my cousin’s bed, sleeping with my eyes open. When I finally visited the grave, all I could think about was how ugly the grass looked. For Thanksgiving, I hosted a grand feast with friends in my apartment in Harlem because the thought of being with my family, but not my mother, was something I refused to make peace with. At Christmas, I watched movies with my friend Syreeta, then went with her to a Trinidadian party in Brooklyn. For New Year’s, I partied all night and cried the morning after. I know, now more than ever, there is no such thing as getting a holiday right. I’m forever grateful to friends and family who have helped me understand that I have the right to assert my need to cope with and honor my mother however I see fit.


Each of these occasions has been a dance partner requiring a unique set of moves and accompanying music. I’ve waltzed, moonwalked, and done the electric slide with grief much more adeptly than I would have expected. But how do you dance with your dead mother on Mother’s Day?

Even before her funeral was over, the thought of Mother’s Day – and all the Mother’s Days to come – was enough knock me to the floor. In fact, many a nights in the first few months of her passing did just that. I would stand up and cry until there was nothing to do but lay down and cry. I would wake up with tear streaks on my face and the moment I remembered why, I’d start crying again.

But here is the peace: grief is vast. I thought it would be like a river, powerful but with a clear direction. Instead, though, I’ve found that grief is an ocean. There is hell in grief, to be sure, but there is joy too. Now, though I sometimes cry, I more often feel a sense of awe at the depth of my connection to my mother. Perhaps this wonder is how I know that ten months and more have passed and that my mother, in some form, is back in the world. Awe at the undeniable fact that I will forever be the son of a fiercely beautiful woman. Awe at knowing just how exquisitely she prepared me to live and write my way into this world. And yes, her absence hurts, but her presence – and I feel it more and more each day – her presence moves me forward. Perhaps awe is the best word to describe this aspect of grief given its relation to the word awful.

Queen Elizabeth II has been quoted as saying “Grief is the price we pay for love.” Love, mother love in particular, is not free. In the fifth grade while on a camping trip, I got a letter from my mother that ended by saying “I love you more than the air I breathe. Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.” A love like that is worth an infinite ache.

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