Mental health system needs to be challenged

By Shepparton News

“Ambulances waiting at the bottom the cliff" seemed to be the most apt way of describing a recent mental health expo in Shepparton.

That, of course, is an unfair judgement upon all the committed souls and organisations who set up and staffed the collection of stalls, information booths and displays at the recent expo.

Australia’s mental health plague, which sadly can be pointedly illustrated by the rash of suicides throughout the country, is, mostly, the product of the prevailing, and dysfunctional, economic system - stay with me on this.

Humans, despite the rhetoric of those who champion our profit orientated world, are herd animals meaning our strengths, in this case our mental strength, is boosted, reinforced and healed when we are together, rather than acting as an individual.

And it is the latter who is the hero of the modern interpretation of the capitalist system - the loner has been lionised, particular in movies, he, or rarely she, is frequently devoid of the warm qualities the complete a person.

Much of what is good about being alive is reciprocal, the compassion, friendliness, warmth, honesty, and the simple joy of sharing offered by one is mostly returned by others with interest.

The loner, or the individual, my exhibit some of those honourable human traits and occasionally apply them, but almost without fail withdraws them as he or she returns to character, retreating to their hermetically sealed world of doing their own thing.

Community, or society, is the loser as the loner retreats to their insular and isolated way of living.

And so here we are embedded in a society that celebrates the individual; a society that measures success in almost every sense, in terms of your ability to measure up economically.

Not only are we expected to meet certain economic goals, we are lured into the aspirational world; a world in which personal happiness and a certain contentment will come to all those who fulfil those goals.

That’s the promise; the reality is a little different as to realise what’s promised there is a demand, spelt out in the very small print, that you must surrender your being to a broken economic system that unquestionably favours a few, particularly the individual, and disenfranchises the rest.

The system obviously has winners and losers and it is the latter that is growing, evidenced by inequality in all parts of the world.

However, the winners and losers are not only physical as one’s inability to emotionally and intellectually measure up to those societal promises has a significant mental cost that at its extreme can be suicide or to a lesser extent some sort of mental difficulty that can derail a person’s life.

The relentless pressure of our industrial-like economic system allows for none of the softer aspects of human nature in that it breeds a human hardness that is foreign to what it is that people really need to survive physically and mentally.

The world that should really be about people, but is increasingly becoming about things.

Thinking about what I saw at Shepparton’s mental health expo, echoing in my head was the quote from Philo of Alexandria who said: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.”

Kindness, it seemed, was the essence of all those displays and the profit and growth myths of the existing industrial system need to be challenged with counter-stories about why we should be kind to our fellows and beyond that our home, Earth.

- Rob McLean is a former News editor.