Is it Time to Change the Way We View and Heal Mental Illness?
As an occupational therapist working in an acute mental health unit I feel I am learning so much about mental illness from a holistic perspective. This learning also comes from personal experiences of dealing with my own emotional issues. Coming from a place of mindfulness I am realizing how in western medicine we label so many things as good versus bad, including mental illness!
For instance even the word “mental illness” implies that anxiety, depression, borderline personality disorder, schizophrenia and so forth are illnesses – viewed in our society as “bad”, something that needs to be controlled and fixed. And yes, they need to be “fixed” however from a place where we reach the root cause of mental illness rather than band-aid fixes – which only hide the symptoms. Symptoms of an illness is our body’s way of telling us something. I truly feel there can be a combination of western and eastern medicines in our health care system that can allow optimal health and wellness for clients.
Now please don’t get me wrong – the above conditions definitely affect the day to day function of clients resulting in acts such as violence or suicide. Moreover medications do help clients manage these conditions. However there are additional ways to allow clients to heal including mindfulness, relaxation methods, diet, integrative medicine, body and movement therapies (massage, yoga, tai chi and so forth).
Personally, I can say that integrative and holistic methods such as energy medicine, mindfulness, meditation and movement have enabled me to work through long held emotions and beliefs. I have been raised in a culture that (unfortunately) condones emotional expression particularly when it is not “positive” emotions such as joy and happiness. However, I now feel I am finally letting go of emotions such as sadness – all of which have affected my function today even though they are often from many (I mean many!) years ago.
And it’s not just my culture or upbringing – think of yourself – when you feel sad or want to cry? Do you allow yourself to feel this? Do you allow yourself to cry? Generally most of us don’t because we are taught, we are conditioned to believe that it is bad to cry, to feel sad. So what do many of us do – stuff it back into our bodies and put on a happy face. We judge those feeling as “bad” which only makes us feel worse. And what does that create in our bodies – it creates “dis-ease”. A feeling of discomfort which eventually may lead to actual disease.
What about when your children, your family member or friend comes to you upset, crying, angry – how do you react? Do you feel uncomfortable with their emotions? When your child cries or gets upset – do you allow them to, or do you try to quiet them and tell them nothing’s wrong. Or do you listen with openness and non-judgement?
Many of us are not comfortable with our own emotions, let alone with that of others.
Consider animals – that have been seen to shake their bodies as if “shaking off” fear after an attack from another animal. They deal with their emotions in that moment. And then move on. Peter Levine writes about trauma and how animals in fact do not experience things such as post-traumatic stress syndrome because they deal with the trauma at the time and let it go. However many of us do not utilize our innate fight or flight response effectively and instead become “frozen” in times of trauma. And then continue to re-live the past in the present day.
This is where integrative and holistic methods in combination with western medicine can be of benefit. I can definitely say it has been integral in my healing journey! Integretive methods allow clients to be present with physical sensations, thoughts and emotions. But more importantly without judgment and instead with a simple curiosity. They also reminds us to be kind to ourselves and accept what we do experience.
And from this place we can let go and feel more at peace.
I truly feel that with a combination of western and eastern medicines we would see more mental “illnesses” being healed. Isn’t it time our health care system started supporting this?
Please ensure you consult your medical doctor in conjunction with mindfulness, integrative and holistic modalities.
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