For many, talk of working towards a bigger mental health dialogue seems a bit strange. After all, haven’t researchers already converged upon and confirmed most of the basic truths about mental health (and illness)? If so, what would be the use of making (more) space for an exploration of (various) perspectives on the matter?
From this vantage point, most essential mental health realities have already been revealed by a research literature that confirms some pretty obvious and well-accepted realities.
The truth, in other words, is already here – and already well established. Our primary goal then needs to be simply taking this truth about mental health and proclaiming it to the world (and the sooner the better – given the stigma that exists).
Since mental health dialogue might understandably be seen as an unwelcome distraction from this educational effort, no wonder an interest in (more) dialogue can seem strange, at best – and counter-productive, at worst!
What happens, however, if that so-called well-accepted, established research consensus doesn’t actually exist? What happens if that research literature in question involves scientific teams who have, in fact, reached fundamentally different conclusions about what mental health conditions actually are, where they come from and what to do about them?
Why then, maybe we invest a lot (more) time talking about these different perspectives before trying to proclaim one of them to the world?!
Why we’re crazy about dialogue. At All of Life, we believe this kind of a broadened conversation about mental health is crucial to any substantial progress moving forward.
It’s true that there are many exciting discoveries about mental health that are worth sharing. But to suggest that we’ve somehow uncovered an uncontested, undisputed “truth about mental health” that makes additional conversation unnecessary – well, that conclusion is baffling to anyone close to the research, especially given how quickly and dramatically the scientific landscape has changed in the last 15-20 years. This includes paradigm-breaking discoveries of brain changeability (neuroplasticity), the fluid genome (epigenetics) and the advent of mindfulness-based treatment approaches.
Taking in a full view of this research literature, it would be more accurate to say (a) we are in the middle of a dramatic period of expansion in mental health understanding and (b) thoughtful, smart researchers and professionals (and patients) currently hold remarkably different views of the nature of mental illness, and what to do about it. All this, one could argue, is expected – and even inevitable – in a period of such rapidly shifting paradigms within mental health and medical science.
Rather than declaring one perspective as unshakeable truth, we have partnered with various scholars and researchers in recent years to try a different approach. We have begun publishing careful explorations of key mental health questions in peer-reviewed journals and then creating additional materials that help promote thoughtful public conversation around the same issues.
What we’ve found is that people are often relieved to have the space to explore for themselves different perspectives and options in this regard. Rather than being pressed in one direction or another, individuals and families who have a chance to explore their sense of what is best often find not only a pathway of healing more authentically chosen – but also one that is literally more effective for them. No matter their choice, our goal as mental health collaborators has been providing better support to assist in people’s genuine exploration of different legitimate mental health options.
That’s the kind of dialogue we’re seeking to promote. Within that space, people can then craft a wellness plan that is right for them, incorporating all the elements that they and their loved ones decide is best (yes, in consultation with any professionals they trust).
Sounds like a win-win to us…anyone else ready to talk?
Notes: Another way to phrase the question explored above is: How clear is the truth about mental health? While we believe there are thoughtful, good-hearted people who are reaching different conclusions, we acknowledge that others really do believe there is a consensus worth sharing.
 Three examples: “Narrating the Brain: Investigating Contrasting Portrayals of the Embodiment of Mental Disorder” (Hess, Gantt & Lacasse, 2015); “Is There a Getting Better From This, or Not?” Examining the Meaning and Possibility of Recovery from Mental Disorder (Hess, Lacasse, Harmon, Williams and Vierling-Claassen, 2014) “What Does It Mean for an Intervention to ‘Work’? Making Sense of Conflicting Treatment Outcomes for Youth Facing Emotional Problems” (Hess & Lacasse, 2011)
 Over the last couple of years, a small team of volunteers at All of Life interviewed experts and patients around the country – creating a 15 lesson class freely available to the public (see Mindweather 101: Working Creatively with Intense Emotion).