I was recently asked to write my definition of mental health.
After some thought, I composed the following: “The ability to effectively function, recover, relate and contribute to your family, other close interpersonal relationships, society and work and feel hope and happiness in a productive and healthy manner while obtaining your own life goals.”
What caused me to create this definition is that I treat patients in my office who have lost the desire to accomplish some or all of these actions. Mood disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, loss and the like, hinder one’s actual craving to live life.
Patients can lose desire or capability to relate or contribute to work, family, or society. They may have lost pleasure and hope to achieve things they have been working on in their own lives or careers.
I use the term “desire” because most often, people do not lose the physical ability — it is the desire that leaves. Then a cycle ensues. Without desire, people do not go out and do things they used to do, they lose connection with others, they lose purpose and their symptoms increase, sometimes immobilizing them.
If I can encourage someone to go to work, get involved in a cause or get back into contributing to society, they invariably almost always feel better that day. We were created to give to, and receive from, others. One of the most effective symptom-reducers is to go out and be among people.
Even if one is just lonely, this is the treatment necessary to live in hope, happiness, productivity and purpose. We literally need community for psychological health. Emotional survival is based on giving to others.
Having gone into private practice, I found myself isolated from community. I needed to be around others outside the office. So I attended the Community Clergy Counsel meeting at the sheriff’s station. This is a program in which local clergy volunteer their services for ride-alongs with police officers to get to the community and make themselves available for crisis situations.
It was wonderful to hear from the officers, to be a small part of helping when the need arises. I also volunteer at my son’s school to be with him and help in a simple way in that smaller school community.
Then I found myself on the receiving end of community at another local school at my child’s individualized educational program.
The reciprocation in life continues. I am supporting a friend who is running for city council in her city — just being present for her at her kick off. Things like this can take only a couple of hours out of your day. But you are giving to others — and giving back to yourself, believe it or not.
Attending a Healthy Kids meeting in your community, volunteering at church, being a teacher’s assistant for a class you have taken, starting a support group, taking your neighbor dinner and having coffee with her — these are all activities that you can do to get out of your own bubble.
Do not put too much thought into it. I tell depressed patients, do not think about it, just get up, take a shower, and go.
I have never had a patient who took this advice tell me it did not work. Quite the contrary.
In doing these activities, I had a family member in my own time of need offer to help me carry a burden just when I thought I could not do much more. A local Realtor whose church I am helping offered to lend a hand to me if I ever need it. This is what reciprocal relationships are all about — being able to live, contribute, have hope, experience pleasure.
This does not just magically come by staying home or being isolated. It comes by doing. Then you meet people and they support you in turn. This is a model of mental health and what our faith instructs us to do. And this is what this column is all about: integrating psychology and theology to encourage this community. I hope it has done so today for even a few.
The Rev. KIMBERLIE ZAKARIAN holds a marriage and family degree and can be reached by email at Kimberlie@kimberliezakariantherapy.com, or by mail at Kimberlie Zakarian Therapy, Inc. 2233 Honolulu Ave. Ste 310, Montrose, CA 91020.