Mental health inseparable from spiritual health

Saturday October 18, 2014 Written by Published in Virtues in Paradise
Mental health inseparable from spiritual health

During a book tour in Spain for The Family Virtues Guide (Las Virtudes Familiares), a radio host asked me an interesting question.

I had just said that every person has a virtues profile –strength virtues and also growth virtues, those that need to be developed.
“What about countries?” he asked. “Oh, yes,” I answered. “All have their strengths and their opportunities for improvement.” 
I should have seen the next question coming, “What are Spain’s?” he asked with a wicked grin.  “Well, in my opinion, Spain has tremendous Appreciation for Beauty in art, music and architecture, and great Enthusiasm and Passion for life, for food, for enjoyment.” “And our growth virtue?” he asked.
“That’s simple – Orderliness!” I said, and cited an example of having waited in line for hours at the airport in Madrid, only to have utter chaos break loose as people who had just arrived swarmed forward once the agents appeared.
There were no lines, no sense that those who waited longest should be served first.”
“You got that right,” he said laughing, “We could use more orderliness!”
Here in Paradise there are exceptionally strong virtues and some that are sorely missing.
 My own experience is that Generosity, Friendliness, Faith, family Unity and Joyfulness are of such high standards that the rest of the world would do well to follow the Cook Islands example.
Just this morning, a friend brought a sweet, fragrant local pineapple to our door, and our favorite three year old neighbor came and swept our deck waiting for us to come out and play.
As we drive along the road here in Aitutaki, not a single vehicle passes without a wave or the customary upward head nod in greeting.
Recently as I entered the hospital clinic, I could hear the laughter of people chatting as they patiently awaited their turn with the doctor. Virtues that need to grow here are Wisdom and Service to provide resources that truly help the people.
At the top of the list is the need to create a mental health policy, plan and priorities. I was encouraged to see the recent promotion of World Mental Health Day here. According to a local physician, most health and relationship challenges relate to mental health.
The three leading public health issues are suicide, alcoholism, and family violence.  So many people need help but do not get it for a number of reasons.
One is the stigma around mental illness, often based on superstition – such as a belief that someone suffering from schizophrenia or depression “brought it on himself” or “let the devil in.”
No one would bring severe mental illness on themselves.
It is a chemical imbalance that must be corrected with proper medication.
Mental illness occurs in every culture and every family, and calls for treatment, not judgment. 
As a therapist, by necessity I had to focus on suicide prevention.
I found that every person who had attempted suicide was still at risk, lost in loneliness, needing someone to hear and understand their story, and help them to find a new path forward.
I remember Jean, a lovely woman referred to me from the emergency room after a failed suicide attempt.
She told me that our sessions took the chaos of her life and rewound it, like film on a spool, giving her new hope for the future. 
The failure of hope is a great danger in a country without sufficient mental health support. 
Mental health is inseparable from spiritual health, which I would define as the capacity to love, to serve, to have faith, to enjoy life and to have a strong sense of purpose.
Once they sort themselves out, this government needs to set spending priorities for wellbeing and health and at the very least establish a clear mental health policy. Let’s take an honest look at our virtues profile. Let us be open to the Teachable Moments before us, for the sake of our mental and our spiritual health.

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