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Fri, Oct. 18

Barnes: Thoughts on mental health

Many moons ago in the land of wheat and hills (Kansas), I served on the staff of The Menninger Foundation, a psychiatric facility in Topeka.

While the primary thrust of the large campus-like institution was assisting individuals to overcome challenges to their mental health, of equal concern was to help them achieve mentally healthy approaches to life.

In developing these positive approaches, two psychologists asked 14 of their colleagues to describe five people whom they considered to be mentally/emotionally healthy men and women. Approximately 80 individuals were identified. The two researchers then sought to find common qualities within these individuals. They discovered five characteristics that, they concluded, identified mentally/emotionally healthy persons.

First, these people were able to treat others as individuals. They didn’t categorize people. They were able to see the uniqueness of each person and could open themselves to the rich variety that different people offer.

Second, the individuals had a variety of sources of gratification. All of their psychological needs were not in one basket. They had a number of ways of enjoying themselves, of having fun and getting personal satisfaction.

Third, these people were flexible under stress. They could cope with problems in a number of different ways. When one method of solving a problem didn’t work, they would try another tack. They could adapt strategies that enabled them to find alternative solutions to problems.

Fourth, the individuals were able to identify their strengths and accept their limitations. They did not depreciate their abilities and talents nor overvalue themselves.

And last, mentally healthy people were active and productive in a quality manner. They were active because they enjoyed what they were doing while their productive activities afforded them pleasure.

It’s important to understand that being a mentally healthy person is never a static condition. Each of us is always in the process of becoming mentally healthy as opposed to having arrived.

Need a little help in becoming a mentally healthy person? Dr. Karl Menninger, the late psychiatrist and author, gave us several guidelines that should be helpful:

• Set up as an ideal the facing of reality as honestly and as cheerfully as possible.

• Cultivate social contacts and culture developments.

• Recognize neurotic evasions as such and substitute hobbies for habits when needed.

• Learn to recognize the symptoms of your mental problems and how best to deal with them.

• Assume that the unhappy are always (at least partly) wrong.

I have a suggestion that I would add to the above list: Develop an active sense of humor. It has bailed me out of numerous challenging – and potentially negative – situations.

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