I heard a story about a polar bear on Prozac.

“I heard a story about a polar bear on Prozac. It isn’t true is it? It can’t be.

The bear was depressed, but even the youngest child dripping ice cream onto the cage bars, could tell you why. The child may also go on to explain what a medicated bear tells us about Psychology’s response to situational depression. This is a scary thought, given the almost mystical prestige of the profession.

They say the bear seems happier now. Maybe she is just less aware, although I suppose in her situation, either one would be a blessing.

I can’t get rid of the mental image of this poor bear subjected to Prozac, tricyclics, grief counseling, the primal scream, the inner child, dream analysis, shock therapy and anything else that will fill the time until…

She finally takes a high dive off her concrete iceberg.” (VM graduate) 1995

The above thoughts were created in one of the brightest minds I have met, with personal experience of mental health challenges which have impacted choices and perspectives over many years. Perhaps Mental Health Week is not the time to be cynical … but one of the positives about cynical is that it reminds us of our personal power to think, analyze and make choices out of our own wisdom and processing.

Often cynical offers us a push back: to take time to consider what is in our best interest and in the process gives time to look for indicators of what is right for us. The DSM list is no longer held with esteem among thoughtful researchers as we learn more and more about the brain and about ourselves as human responders.

The history of mental ‘health’ is dark and moves through strategies that play out as isolation, incarceration, institutionalization, and most dangerous of all, defined as outside of the ‘normal’ social interactions we all need to participate and belong in our shared humanity.

The Sociologist Michel Foucault in writing about the history of how society has spoken of and responded to this issue pointed out that “…modern man no longer communicates with the madman … There is no common language: or rather, it no longer exists; the constitution of madness as mental illness, at the end of the eighteenth century, bears witness to a rupture in a dialogue, gives the separation as already enacted, and expels from the memory all those imperfect words, of no fixed syntax, spoken falteringly, in which the exchange between madness and reason was carried out. The language of psychiatry, which is a monologue by reason about madness, could only have come into existence in such a silence. It must concern us all that we inherited this ‘silence’ and are just now beginning to understand how wrong it was and how we can change what has been. Psychology is just a perspective, not an ‘unchallengable answer’.

One of the gifts of the book ‘The Glass Castle’ by Jeanette Walls for me is understanding a difference in the characters without ever naming that difference in the story with any descriptives of mental observation or assessment. They are people.

‘Mental Health’ really is the right language. Our discourse is moving beyond the silence to this new language which describes what we are all seeking. We are also learning that the factors of mental health are present in all of us and that awareness is a first giant step in understanding our normalcy and our safety in seeking personal participation in our wellness in whatever optional measures are suggested to us.

Fear is dissipating as we learn more about ourselves and as the stereotypes of traditional thinking and assumptions are replaced by enlightened and encouraging information-based understanding.

The final sentence for the polar bear illustrates the hopelessness we are replacing. Our personhood becomes part of our healing and the personhood of others becomes our community support to persist in hope.

M.D

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