Can you take your "mental health" too far?
Updated: Oct 30
As a psychologist, I am encouraged that mental health has become mainstream. The shift from "mental illness" to "mental health" has been good to de-stigmatize and bring awareness that we all have a mental health to take care of. Mental health is not just for those experiencing symptoms to meet the criteria for a mental illness diagnosis. That said, I have concerns that we may be taking our mental health too far. Instead of addressing specific problems with our psychological functioning, mental health is being used to explain how we should live. Using mental health as the reason for the way you live is taking mental health too far. Put another way, mental health is not the only important thing to direct your life.
I would limit the definition of mental health as: your psychological and emotional well-being. Since we are relational, I would include your social support system as a part of your mental health. Your mental health is how you cope with the stressors of life. Your mental health is your ability to think rationally, express your emotions productively, and connect with one another. These are some of the ways that I would explain mental health.
Taking our emotions too far
One of the ways you can take your mental health too far is by over-emphasizing your emotions. Yes, you need to be aware of your emotions. You need to monitor it. You need to grow in your emotional maturity. You do this by acknowledging your feelings, understanding how it affects your thoughts and behaviors, validating it by understanding your core desires and core beliefs, and by developing productive ways to express your emotions. While your emotional life is a part of your mental health, it is not the most important thing.
You can take your emotions too far when you use your emotions solely to justify your decision making. Emotions should not override logic. Emotions and logic are two different things. We need to consider both and learn to hold them in tension. Just because you feel a certain way, does not mean that you are right, especially when you are logically wrong. Emotions are often irrational. Emotions are simply a reaction. Feelings are our interpretations of our emotions. That's it. We cannot live our lives based solely on how we feel because our emotions are constantly changing. We are always reacting to things. Just because you do not feel happy, doesn't mean that what you are doing is wrong or bad.
Taking our desires too far
We are desire driven creatures and it makes sense to pursue what you want. We have motivations, drives, impulses, passions, and desires that direct our lives. But the reality is that we cannot have everything want. To deny this reality breeds an attitude of privilege and entitlement. Expecting to get everything you want will cause you to feel angst, unfulfilled, dissatisfied, and disgruntled.
We take our desires too far when we relentlessly demand that life to give us what we want. Can you learn from your mistakes and failures? Can you reflect on your disappointments? Can you move on from your losses? Can you re-prioritize your life when a desire is no longer attainable? Can you re-direct your focus when a door closes? Can you be flexible? Can you readjust your goals to live productively elsewhere, when you don't get what you want? Developing these skills of reflection, self-awareness, flexibility, and resiliency would be helpful for your mental health. We take mental health too far when we only say, "It has to be this way because this is what I want."
Taking our person-centeredness too far
One of the reasons why counseling is effective is because of the focus the counselee receives. It is healing to be loved, cared for, listened to, seen, validated and understood. In a world where people are abused, neglected, yelled at, rejected, insulted, disrespected, belittled, dehumanized, traumatized, and invalidated, we benefit from a safe place to be listened to well. We need a place to heal, we need a place to learn and grow. We need to build a healthy ego and identity. There is much to be gained from focusing on our personal growth and building a trusted community.
But we take being person-centered to far when we believe that the world should revolve around us. We live in a current cultural climate that encourages us to define our own truths and reality. We are encouraged to think for ourselves and to deconstruct institutions and traditions. We can take this postmodern worldview of a relativistic, person-centered, subjective reality too far, when we begin to judge those who believe in something greater than themselves.
Mental health is not the ultimate purpose of life
There are things in life that are worth doing and living for in spite of our mental health. It may cost us time and money to help others. It may take sacrifice to make the world a better place. It is a risk to let down your guard to deepen a relationship. It's hard to address conflicts. It may be frustrating to engage with people who are different from you. There are moral, social, cultural, ethical, spiritual and philosophical realities that come into play when navigating the realities of life. Our mental health is not the end all be all.
All this said, I do not want to throw out the baby with the bath water. Just because we may be taking mental health too far, it doesn't mean that we should reject mental health all together. I want to hold mental health in tension with all the other areas of our lives: such as our physical, social, and spiritual lives. It would be helpful to acknowledge and address our mental health in the context of all the other aspects of reality living in this world.
What are some examples of how we have taken our mental health too far?
How have you taking your emotions too far?
How have you taken your desires too far?
How have you taken your person-centeredness too far?
What is more important in your life than your mental health? What are the ultimate things in your life? How does your mental health relate to these ultimate things in your life?