The theme for this year’s awareness week is connections and relationships – the powerful external forces that often impact upon our mental health.
Biology and chemistry have, rightly or wrongly, been the dominant sciences in the mental health field for many years, but when it comes to assessing the impact of human interactions, perhaps physics might be a more suitable science?
It is not such a contentious thesis. Physics is, after all, the study of invisible forces, of cause and effect and of energy dispersal.
Each of us is composed of energy and we use this vital essence all the time. We even borrow the language of energy to describe our actions and interactions. We speak of relationships that are ‘volatile’, of the ‘electricity’ that is evident between two people, of someone having a ‘magnetic’ personality, or of the ‘gravity’ of a given situation.
We also deploy energy on a daily basis, though sometimes in damaging ways. We forget that our words and deeds have consequences; that they reverberate through the minds and lives of others long after any contact has taken place.
The can be seen in the traumatising experiences – such as violence, bullying, deprivation and abuse – that often play a significant part in the development of the acute psychological and emotional distress we call mental illness.
These painful experiences rarely recede into distant memory. It takes very little effort for victims to recall them. They are always prominent, painful and present. That is why we now speak less of historic abuse and more of non-recent abuse. The change of emphasis is merited. Traumatising experiences can leave such an indelible impression, and inflict such deep psychological wounds, that they alter the very nature of time itself, until it no long obeys the laws of chronology.
Of course, people do not always become distressed because of what they have experienced, but sometimes as a result of what they haven’t. The unfelt emotion, the thwarted ambition and the unfulfilled need are as much a source of psychological and emotional anguish as something actually experienced. A lack of fulfilment creates a vacuum in a person’s life. This is often filled by self-destructive thoughts and deeds.
Impacts, energy, time and vacuums – these matters are not the province of chemistry or biology, but physics.
It is arguable then that the true father of mental health is Sir Isaac Newton, rather than, say, Sigmund Freud. Newton’s story is an archetypal case study – a prime example of how external forces impact on an individual’s mental health.
Newton had a wretched childhood, losing his father and being abandoned by his mother. He became misanthropic, melancholic and occasionally paranoid as a result. It is not too much of a stretch to suggest that his mother’s neglectful behaviour caused Newton to reject the outside world and turn inward for solace. There he discovered the imperishable laws of gravity and motion that provided him with the certainty that he could never find in his mother’s intermittent love, the obscure laws of which defied even his powers of comprehension.
The importance of the external forces that impact upon our mental health – such as insecure employment, inadequate housing, social isolation and unhealthy relationships – is increasingly being recognised. That is why, in our mental health services, we are more likely to ask what has happened to a person rather than what is wrong with them. The people who use our services are the sum of their experiences – good and, all too often, bad.
Newton’s most famous maxim is known as the Third Law of Motion: every action has an equal and opposite reaction. This doesn’t just apply to objects; it applies to human relationships too. Ultimately human beings are matter. Matter is made of energy. All energy is connected. All people are therefore connected. We are, in scientific terms, one.
Let’s recognise this fundamental truth and make our connections positive ones. Then a different energy will reverberate through our brief lives down the distant ages to come.
See the attached list of events that are happening in Bath & North East Somerset.
Events Bath North East Somerset
• Sirona care & health is a not-for-profit social enterprise providing special community health and social care services in the West. To find out more visit www.sirona-cic.org.uk