At the same time that I do not personally like the use of the words either ‘mental’ or ‘behavioral’ health in regard to the well-being of humans, I cannot fight the world on this point, but I sure can examine what is meant by the words themselves. The human ‘mind’ is a nebulous, invisible, intangible nonexistent physical entity. It is not a THING we can detect through our ordinary senses. We are always forced to follow some magical ‘this is subjective but we’ll all pretend it isn’t” course in our thinking about the concept of MIND.
Dr. Daniel J. Siegel’s work and writings talk about how humans both develop a mind and the ability to have what he calls ‘Mind Sight’. Siegel serves as the Executive Director of the Mindsight Institute, an educational organization that focuses on how the development of insight, compassion and empathy in individuals, families and communities can be enhanced by examining the interface of human relationships and basic biological processes. His work accurately describes how the mind does not exist separately from the physiological body that comes to manifest it.
If we are going to continue to use the term ‘mental health’ it must be done within the context that Siegel presents. ‘Behavioral health’ must also be firmly anchored into an accurate understanding that behavior, just like ‘mind’, stems from physiological processes within a person’s body and is completely open for subjective interpretation.
By using either one of these terms on a grand scale, either ‘mental health’ or ‘behavioral health’, we are pretending that we are talking about a THING. A thing is an object. Humans are not objects. We are living beings who exist in relationship with our environment, within our own body and to everyone and everything around us. To try to define our well-being in the world in terms of our mind or our behavior as if they are separate THINGS that have nothing to do with our physiological body is STUPID!
We CAN talk about human well-being at every stage of our existence from conception until death. Before I would trust any individual national, state, regional, local or individual opinion on any topic of human health, I would want to know what our global ‘best of the best’ have to say about it.
The World Health Organization’s website has a page devoted to Mental Health, where they say:
“Mental health is not just the absence of mental disorder. It is defined as a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.”
The World Health Organization defines some specifics about “the early signs of mental disorders”:
“A mental or behavioural disorder is characterized by a disturbance in thinking, mood, or behaviour, which is out of keeping with cultural beliefs and norms. In most cases the symptoms are associated with distress and interference with personal functions.
Mental disorders produce symptoms that sufferers or those close to them notice. These may include:
- physical symptoms (e.g. aches and sleep disturbance)
- emotional symptoms (e.g. feeling sad, scared, or anxious)
- cognitive symptoms (e.g. difficulty thinking clearly, abnormal beliefs, memory disturbance)
- behavioural symptoms (e.g. behaving in an aggressive manner, inability to perform routine daily functions, excessive use of substances)
- perceptual symptoms (e.g. seeing or hearing things that others cannot)”
Well, I am getting nowhere here, so I am going back to look at the origins of the word ‘mind’ itself. Interestingly, I have to continue to search for the actual date this word came into our modern English language. My hard-copy dictionary gives the date as being before the 12th century.:
Main Entry: 1mind
Etymology: Middle English, from Old English gemynd; akin to Old High German gimunt memory, Latin ment-, mens mind, monEre to remind, warn, Greek menos spirit, mnasthai, mimnEskesthai to remember
1 : RECOLLECTION, MEMORY <keep that in mind> <time out of mind>
2 a : the element or complex of elements in an individual that feels, perceives, thinks, wills, and especially reasons b : the conscious mental events and capabilities in an organism c : the organized conscious and unconscious adaptive mental activity of an organism
3 : INTENTION, DESIRE <I changed my mind>
4 : the normal or healthy condition of the mental faculties
5 : OPINION, VIEW
6 : DISPOSITION, MOOD
7 a : a person or group embodying mental qualities <the public mind> b : intellectual ability
8 capitalized, Christian Science : GOD 1b
9 : a conscious substratum or factor in the universe
10 : ATTENTION <pay him no mind>
Very interesting origins! I looked up the word “mental” and found:
Main Entry: 1men·tal
Etymology: Middle English, from Late Latin mentalis, from Latin ment-, mens mind — more at mind
Date: 15th century
1 a : of or relating to the mind; specifically : of or relating to the total emotional and intellectual response of an individual to external reality <mental health> b : of or relating to intellectual as contrasted with emotional activity c : of, relating to, or being intellectual as contrasted with overt physical activity d : occurring or experienced in the mind : inner <mental anguish> e : relating to the mind, its activity, or its products as an object of study : ideological f : relating to spirit or idea as opposed to matter
2 a (1) : of, relating to, or affected by a psychiatric disorder <a mental patient> (2) : mentally disordered : mad, crazy b : intended for the care or treatment of persons affected by psychiatric disorders <mental hospitals>
3 : of or relating to telepathic or mind-reading powers
Ah! Here again, as with the word ‘symptom’ (see post on topic here) , we have a Renaissance-origin word: ‘Mental’ as an adjective.
It becomes immediately clear to me as soon as I try to discover the roots of human thinking behind a term like ‘mental health’ that we are evidently not willing to talk about what we are really talking about!
When the invisible unreal entity of MIND is considered independently from the human body that both HAS a mind and experiences life WITH this mind, what we are really talking about – as we can see from our consideration of the meaning of ‘mind’ and ‘mental’ in relationship to their origins — is HOW A PERSON’S SPIRIT REMEMBERS ITSELF in the world.
(If the treatment a developing infant receives from its mother is unsafe and insecure, that treatment is a warning to the infant that adjustments need to be made in order to survive within a malevolent world. A mother’s treatment of her offspring ‘reminds’ it of the conditions of the environment. All human ‘remembering’ (including how our DNA manifests itself) happens from conception within this framework. Because we are a social species, all our ‘remembering’ happens through the body-brain we developed primarily before the age of one.)
No matter what the Renaissance thinkers intended as they began to talk about ‘mind’ and ‘mental’ the reality is that no consideration of mind is actually remotely scientific! Just by making up a meaning and attaching it to a made-up word DOES NOT MAKE SOMETHING into a real, tangible THING.
Are we really talking about something no less tangible than what one of my favorite words describes?
Main Entry: al·che·my
Etymology: Middle English alkamie, alquemie, from Middle French or Medieval Latin; Middle French alkimie, from Medieval Latin alchymia, from Arabic al-kīmiyā’, from al the + kīmiyā’ alchemy, from Late Greek chēmeia
Date: 14th century
1 : a medieval chemical science and speculative philosophy aiming to achieve the transmutation of the base metals into gold, the discovery of a universal cure for disease, and the discovery of a means of indefinitely prolonging life
2 : a power or process of transforming something common into something special
3 : an inexplicable or mysterious transmuting
— al·chem·i·cal \-mi-kəl\ also al·chem·ic \al-ˈke-mik\ adjective
— al·chem·i·cal·ly \-mi-k(ə-)lē\ adverb
There it is: “an inexplicable or mysterious transmuting.” We have transmuted the invisible process of how and who a human being is in the world into a tangible THING, giving the words ‘mind’ and ‘mental’ meaning AS IF we are talking about something REAL and tangible rather than something UNREAL and intangible.
What happens if I turn my considerations toward ‘behavioral health’ instead of ‘mental health’? Hummmmm – this search also is leading me toward the obvious – yet another Renaissance word:
Main Entry: be·have
Inflected Form(s): be·haved; be·hav·ing
Etymology: Middle English behaven, from be- + haven to have, hold
Date: 15th century
transitive verb 1 : to manage the actions of (oneself) in a particular way
2 : to conduct (oneself) in a proper mannerintransitive verb 1 : to act, function, or react in a particular way
2 : to conduct oneself properly
If I make a gigantic leap and connect “to conduct oneself properly” in relationship to ‘behavioral health’ back through ‘mind’ as being a ‘remembering of the spirit’, and return full circle to the beginning of the post, I find in the World Health Organization’s discussion about the ‘symptoms’ of ‘mental illness’ and ‘mental disorders’ that they clearly present this qualifying statement:
“A mental or behavioural disorder is characterized by a disturbance in thinking, mood, or behaviour, which is out of keeping with cultural beliefs and norms”
In other words, it is impossible to even begin to think even about ‘disorder’ itself, in relation to either a so-called ‘mental’ or a ‘behavioral’ one without first defining what any particular culture’s ‘beliefs and norms’ are.
Any consideration of ‘disorder’ has to be done within a consideration of the established social-cultural patterns of what’s considered to be ‘order’. Disorder is itself another Renaissance word:
Main Entry: 1dis·or·der
Function: transitive verb
Date: 15th century
1 : to disturb the order of
2 : to disturb the regular or normal functions of
Even if I try to place the IDEA of disorder within the larger context of what ORDER might mean, I find myself looking at an English word that is connected not in our history of Renaissance-period thinking, but to our Medieval-period, or Middle Age Millennium of thinking:
Main Entry: 1or·der
Inflected Form(s): or·dered; or·der·ing \ˈȯr-d(ə-)riŋ\
Etymology: Middle English, from ordre, noun
Date: 13th century
transitive verb 1 : to put in order : arrange
2 a : to give an order to : command b : destine, ordain <so ordered by the gods> c : to command to go or come to a specified place <ordered back to the base> d : to give an order for <order a meal>intransitive verb 1 : to bring about order : regulate
2 a : to issue orders : command b : to give or place an order
OR AS A NOUN:
Main Entry: 2order
Etymology: Middle English, from Anglo-French ordre, from Medieval Latin & Latin; Medieval Latin ordin-, ordo ecclesiastical order, from Latin, arrangement, group, class; akin to Latin ordiri to lay the warp, begin
Date: 14th century
1 a : a group of people united in a formal way: as (1) : a fraternal society <the Masonic Order> (2) : a community under a religious rule; especially : one requiring members to take solemn vows b : a badge or medal of such a society; also : a military decoration
2 a : any of the several grades of the Christian ministry b plural : the office of a person in the Christian ministry c plural : ordination
3 a : a rank, class, or special group in a community or society b : a class of persons or things grouped according to quality, value, or natural characteristics: as (1) : a category of taxonomic classification ranking above the family and below the class (2) : the broadest category in soil classification
As a weaver, I find “akin to Latin ordiri to lay the warp, begin” fascinating! That is exactly what a mother does for her infant — she lays the warp as her infant begins its life as a social being, and with that warp a person’s life is created.
We cannot consider ‘mental’ or ‘behavioral’ ‘disorders’ outside of the context that gave birth not only to the words themselves, but to the cultural ideas and concepts that contain them.
It is clear to me that all of these words originated within a Christian mindset and cultural world view. We continue to use these words AS IF (think alchemy again) we could transmute the concepts, values, beliefs, understandings and religious underpinnings beneath and behind them into something magically SCIENTIFIC.
Main Entry: sci·ence
Etymology: Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin scientia, from scient-, sciens having knowledge, from present participle of scire to know; perhaps akin to Sanskrit chyati he cuts off, Latin scindere to split — more at shed
Date: 14th century
1 : the state of knowing : knowledge as distinguished from ignorance or misunderstanding
2 a : a department of systematized knowledge as an object of study <the science of theology> b : something (as a sport or technique) that may be studied or learned like systematized knowledge <have it down to a science>
3 a : knowledge or a system of knowledge covering general truths or the operation of general laws especially as obtained and tested through scientific method b : such knowledge or such a system of knowledge concerned with the physical world and its phenomena : natural science
4 : a system or method reconciling practical ends with scientific laws <cooking is both a science and an art>
“Scientific’ is supposedly “the state of knowing : knowledge as distinguished from ignorance or misunderstanding.” We are all familiar in our culture with the other end of the ‘nonscientific’ spectrum, and the conflict that often arises between them:
Main Entry: re·li·gion
Etymology: Middle English religioun, from Anglo-French religiun, Latin religion-, religio supernatural constraint, sanction, religious practice, perhaps from religare to restrain, tie back — more at rely
Date: 13th century
1 a : the state of a religious <a nun in her 20th year of religion> b (1) : the service and worship of God or the supernatural (2) : commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance
2 : a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices
3 archaic : scrupulous conformity : conscientiousness
4 : a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith
Yet if we are honest with ourselves as a species, this entire discussion and any consideration of what the terms ‘mental health’ and ‘behavioral health’, as well as ‘mental disorder’ and ‘behavioral disorder’ is really describing is how comfortably –or not — an individual fits into the social system of which they are a member.
At the point that so-called ‘science’ wanted to begin to establish itself separately from ‘religion’ words began to be used in our language that were supposed to take ‘how spirit remembers itself’ and transmute them magically into something else – something tangible, literal, measurable and real.
As we accept these terms and use them to describe ourselves and/or others, we are continuing only to consider human beings in the context of the social environment they live within. We are not REALLY concerning ourselves with the actual conditions of well-being or lack of well-being that a person experiences from within their own skin. We are a social species, so it is not at all surprising that the formulas we use in our thinking about how we fit into the larger social context are all reducible down to social relationships.
And, again, it is the earliest mothering caregiver interactions we experience during our infant brain developmental stages that entirely build the foundation of our social brain that will regulate our interactions within our own self and within our social environment for the rest of our lives. These experiences ‘order’ our brain. It is at this level that we have to look for what happens to us the rest of our lives.
It is at this very real level of interaction between our social environment (our mothering experiences) and our growing and forming social brain’s foundation that we can NOW understand the science of social interaction. It has nothing to do with ‘religion’ as we usually understand it as lying at the foundation of our culture, our social order, or the words, concepts and terms we use to consider our ‘invisible’ ideas.
The Latin conception of ‘religio’ as tying and binding together is, in its largest sense, what mothering an infant adequately is all about. Social interaction is the way humans, as members of a social species, find themselves in the world from the building of our early-forming social-brain on up. Neurons tie themselves together and form circuits, pathways, patterns in our early-forming brain that are SUPPOSED to link us harmoniously to our own SELF and to other selves in the world around us – beginning with our mothering early caregiver. How our brain is ‘ordered’ and organized happens through social attachment.
Looking at the roots of our word ‘social’ I find it related in its origins to ‘man, companion, ally’ (and also, interestingly, as it relates to ‘sue’). We are a social species, and therefore the issue of companionship – companionship with our mother, companionship with our developing self, and companionship with other members of our species – forms the foundation of who we are through the social brain we built.
Our word ‘companion’ is fundamentally connected in its origins to FOOD, and for all the words I have considered today, it is only in this simple word – food – that I find an origin in our language that goes back before the 12th century.
Etymology: Middle English fode, from Old English fōda; akin to Old High German fuotar food, fodder, Latin panis bread, pascere to feed
NOW THIS IS TAKING US BACK TO WHAT MATTERS. THIS WORD TAKES US BACK TO OUR HUMAN ROOTS. THIS WORD IS ABOUT OUR ORIGINS. With our mothers, beginning our human journey, we transition into the social ordering of our very foundational social brain through all the kinds and qualities of FEEDING that our earliest caregiver, our mother, gives to us.
This is the natural order of making a human being. This is where our attachments in the world begin. This is where all our feel-good physiological processes originate.
If you are still reading this post, and have followed along this far, you will appreciate what a search through words in our language now gives us. Mothering is about something both so simple and so profound that it lies at the basis of our species. Mothers can either provide the best possible nourishment for her offspring or she cannot.
Main Entry: nour·ish
Pronunciation: \ˈnər-ish, ˈnə-rish\
Etymology: Middle English nurishen, from Anglo-French nuriss-, stem of nurrir, norrir, from Latin nutrire to suckle, nourish; akin to Greek nan to flow, noteros damp, Sanskrit snauti it drips
Date: 14th century
1 : nurture, rear
2 : to promote the growth of
3 a : to furnish or sustain with nutriment : feed b : maintain, support
— nour·ish·er noun
All of my thoughts, in fact all of anyone’s thoughts, always return in their origins to the mother who brought us into the world and who was then responsible for forming the foundations of our earliest social-emotional brain. We find in one single word the essence of all that matters in our beginnings.
Main Entry: 1suck
Etymology: Middle English suken, from Old English sūcan; akin to Old High German sūgan to suck, Latin sugere
Date: before 12th century
transitive verb 1 a : to draw (as liquid) into the mouth through a suction force produced by movements of the lips and tongue <sucked milk from his mother’s breast> b : to draw something from or consume by such movements c : to apply the mouth to in order to or as if to suck out a liquid
2 a : to draw by or as if by suction b : to take in and consume by or as if by suction
We draw the world into ourselves in our beginnings through our interactions with our earliest caregiver, our earliest representation of humanity in our world – our mother. We take in and consume what she provides for us and build a brain out of it, build a nervous system, an immune system, and entire body that has at its basis of operation in the world the signals her treatment of us communicates to us about the condition of the world: Is it a safe and secure benevolent world or is it an unsafe, insecure malevolent one?
The resiliency factors available in our own DNA memory or our species allow us to adapt to and adjust within the quality of the world our mother presents to us from our conception. How our developing body-brain is ordered is dependent upon the interactions we have with ALL of our earliest caregivers, but most centrally upon the interactions with the mother that suckles us – by feeding us information about the condition of the world that we adapt ourselves to in our earliest development.
We have reached the heart of the matter. We cannot separate either our mind or our behavior from the body we live within, this same body that was guided in its development by the suckling we received from our mothering caregiver that built us.
What we are actually talking about is our degree of SOCIAL HEALTH. This is, in my opinion, the most accurate term we can use to talk about how we are in the world as members of a social species.
The problem with adopting Social Health as an accurate term related to our degrees of well-being is that it simply does not allow us to continue using stigma against one another. Social Health and well-being is about ALL OF US. It is about our entire body, not only individually, but about the health of the culture we live within and on the largest scale, of the entire quality of health for every single one of the members of our species on our planet.
Main Entry: stig·ma
Inflected Form(s): plural stig·ma·ta
\stig-ˈmä-tə, ˈstig-mə-tə\ or stig·mas
Etymology: Latin stigmat-, stigma mark, brand, from Greek, from stizein to tattoo — more at stick
Date: circa 1593
1 a archaic : a scar left by a hot iron : brand b : a mark of shame or discredit : stain <bore the stigma of cowardice> c : an identifying mark or characteristic; specifically : a specific diagnostic sign of a disease
2 a stigmata plural : bodily marks or pains resembling the wounds of the crucified Jesus and sometimes accompanying religious ecstasy
Once we are given a ‘diagnosis’, we are then the recipient of a ‘brand’ or a ‘mark’ that sticks to us and separates us from ‘the others’.
Main Entry: 1stickFunction: noun
Etymology: Middle English stik, from Old English sticca; akin to Old Norse stik stick, Old English stician to stick
Date: before 12th century
1 : a woody piece or part of a tree or shrub: as a : a usually dry or dead severed shoot, twig, or slender branch b : a cut or broken branch or piece of wood gathered for fuel or construction material
2 a : a long slender piece of wood or metal: as (1) : a club or staff used as a weapon (2) : walking stick b : an implement used for striking or propelling an object in a game c : something used to force compliance d : a baton symbolizing an office or dignity; also : a person entitled to bear such a baton
We are cast aside, as if we are cut off as a branch would be broken from the main tree of human life. We are both ‘stuck’ with the stigma and ‘struck’ by it because stigmas hurt people.
Social Health is an inclusive rather than an exclusive term. Using it would stop stigmatization dead in its tracks. Everyone would then be included; nobody would be marked, cast off, stigmatized, judged, condemned or punished as being different from anybody else. Everyone has some degree of social health.
Oh, but in the U.S.A. we are such big fans of uniqueness and individuality. Social Health smacks of ‘socialism’ and unwanted oppression over the rights of the individual! We want to be ‘free’ to be ‘different’ from everyone else. We do not want to accept that after all, we are human beings just like everyone else is.
When we are ‘free’ to be ‘unique individuals’ and ‘different’ from everyone else, we can feel superior or inferior, better-than or less-than other people. We can keep our stigmas, our prejudices, our arrogance and our ignorance. We do not want to admit or accept that these aspects to our ‘social ordering’ within our culture are fooling no one but ourselves.
We continue to keep our illusions intact, and believe in ‘manifest destiny’ and ‘the right of imminent domain’. After all, in America anyone and everyone can ‘pull themselves up by their bootstraps’ if they only want to. After all, we are all born ‘all men are equal before the law’.
Never mind that laws are not enforced equally. Never mind that infant-children can be neglected, battered, abused and maltreated within our national boundaries, forcing these victim-survivors to grow a completely evolutionarily altered body and brain that will change how they are in the world for the rest of their lives. What is happening to The Great Society?
Our primary concern is with health – every kind of health related to the conditions of being human. Because we are a species of social beings, all of our health concerns boil down to social ones. The adjective we use to talk about how we are as social beings in the world, in relationship with our own self and with one another needs to be accurate. Social Health uses the right adjective.
Main Entry: health
Usage: often attributive
Etymology: Middle English helthe, from Old English hǣlth, from hāl
Date: before 12th century
1 a : the condition of being sound in body, mind, or spirit; especially : freedom from physical disease or pain b : the general condition of the body <in poor health> <enjoys good health>
2 a : flourishing condition : well-being b : general condition or state <poor economic health>
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