What is Mental Health? (Synopsis Only)

GrassHead4946Dan Siegel[1] has spoken to thousands of “mental health professionals” all over the world.  He often asks his audiences “How many of you are ‘mental health professionals’?”

Usually 95-99% of the audience raise their hand.  Then he asks “How many of you have had a class on ‘mental health’?” At most 5% of the audience raise their hand!

What’s wrong with this picture?

I think the general public would be (and should be) shocked to realize this.  Of all people, shouldn’t “mental health professionals” be the experts on the definition of “mental health”; shouldn’t they be trained in what is “optimal mental health”? “Mental health” is used here to include “emotional health” and “behavioral health.”  Unfortunately the term “mental health” is most often associated with “mental illness.”  The “mental health system” and “mental health professionals”  all deal with mental illness, rather than with “mental health.”

Also, if one thinks of school teachers as being in the “business” (profession) of training minds to work at their most optimally effective capacity, shouldn’t they also be trained in “mental health”?  The simplest definition of “mental health” would be “a mind that is healthy” or “a mind that is optimally functional” or “functional enough.”  How can a teacher effectively train minds if they don’t really know what a “healthy mind” looks like or how a “healthy brain” really functions?

One goal for this project could be to make it a textbook for “mental health professionals” (and maybe a second textbook aimed at “educators.”)  Another idea is to make it a series of “dialogues” or “interviews” with prominent psychologists, psychiatrists, sociologists, to either show the complete absence of any helpful definitions of “mental health” or to show where there is some level of consensus.

“The World Health Organization states that there is no one “official” definition of mental health. Cultural differences, subjective assessments, and competing professional theories all affect how “mental health” is defined.(From Wikipedia’s article on “Mental Health”).  [Possible series of titles: WHAT IS ‘MENTAL HEALTH’ IN DAILY LIFE?  WHAT IS ‘MENTAL HEALTH’ IN THE CLASS ROOM? WHAT IS ‘MENTAL HEALTH’ IN THE WORK PLACE? WHAT IS ‘MENTAL HEALTH’ IN THE BEDROOM?  WHAT IS ‘MENTAL HEALTH’ IN THE FAMILY? WHAT IS ‘MENTAL HEALTH’ ON THE PLAYING FIELD?  WHAT IS ‘MENTAL HEALTH’ IN CHURCH? (IN THE SYNAGOGUE? IN THE TEMPLE? IN MEDITATION? IN WORSHIP?)]

[1]    Daniel J. Siegel, M.D., an acclaimed psychiatrist and teacher/trainer of psychotherapists in Interpersonal Neurobiology and attachment processes in human brain development, is the author of The Developing Mind (New York: Guilford Press, 1999); Parenting from the Inside out (New York: Tarcher, 2003) with Mary Hartzell, M. Ed; and The Mindful Brain (New York: Norton & Co., 2007)