Dictionary.com defines mental health as the psychological “well-being and satisfactory adjustment to society and to the ordinary demands of life”.
Satisfactory adjustment to society and the ordinary demands of life. The day after Trump was elected, I sat in my office and cried with a client who was particularly affected and at risk because of number 45’s agenda.
In the weeks that followed, as I experienced the collective grief, fear, anger, and trauma he was eliciting, I thought about what my work would look like in the next couple of years. What is my role, as a therapist, and what does mental health actually mean, when our republic has chosen a racist, xenophobic, climate change-denying misogynist whose battle cry is one of intolerance and lies?
I know my role is not to help people adjust to a maladjusted society, or respond adequately to the “normal demands” that capitalism has set in place as a way to keep us all asleep and under control.
What we need now are superheroes, people who can rise to the extraordinary demands our world is now facing, say ‘no’ to the evil that has assumed its seat of power and will fight tooth and nail to hold onto, and somehow come up with brilliant strategies to turn this whole thing around.
Psychiatrist Thomas Szasz wrote, “Insanity is the only sane reaction to an insane society.”
We are always in relationship and influenced by our environment, culture, our neighbors; our president and his cronies, and with the awareness of global affairs the internet brings, we are now more affected than ever by what is going on across the world.
We do not live in a vacuum, and as such, we cannot pursue general satisfaction and wellbeing in an insane society. It’s simply not good enough to settle into comfort, as others are being suppressed and brutalized for their skin color, sexuality, or birthplace of origin.
It also seems that the times are demanding we step beyond our ethnocentrism and into a more expansive view and global sense of family; now is the time to learn how to negotiate through the discord of our differences, so that we may actually appreciate the beauty in difference and diversity, and access a kind of strength not possible alone.
As I sit with my clients now, and linger in this question of what mental health actually is, the word resilience, or quick ability to recover, arises. I think of our evolutionary impulse to become more elegant and sophisticated as a result of conflict. Where we are going as a species, I do not know, but I do trust the movements that are beginning to gain traction and expression in a new and magnificent way.
From Time magazine’s editorial on the transgender global community, to major corporations producing commercials that support and honor the gift of diversity, mass culture seems to be beginning to respond to the shadow of intolerance and white nationalism our country was created in, and Trump has given permission and voice to.
What’s clear in the field of mental health is that we are so beyond being polite, well-adjusted members of society. Gone is the conventional definition of mental health; now, we need strength, and the ability to face into the ugliness and terror and not collapse; a kind of strength bigger than just the individual or nuclear family, and something we must grow and discover together.