If mental health is defined by a person’s mastery of a series of developmental tasks – the acquisition of the capacity to reflect, to relate deeply to others, and to regard others with empathy in the face of stress or change – we will insist on the importance of intimate interpersonal experiences and emotional growth.
Stanley Greenspan was a practicing child and adult psychiatrist at George Washington University Medical School until his death is 2010. He was most known for his work treating autism spectrum disorders and kids with developmental disabilities. But he also spent a lot of time thinking about what it means to be a mentally/emotionally healthy human being. The quote above comes from his classic: The quote above comes from his classic: The Growth of the Mind: And the Endangered Origins of Intelligence. In short, he saw optimal mental health as the outcome of acquiring specific developmental capacities that deepen our ability to thoughtfully and emotionally engage with each other and the world.
A few years before he died, he had a blog and wrote about a good friend he had known for years. This was a very bright man, who had been an academic with a skilled aptitude for understanding and discussing complex issues. The man was given an opportunity to enter politics and wound up in Washington. Months after taking the job, he and Stanley got together and talked. In the blog, Stanley says he began to notice a slight change. His friend was now pulled in many directions, rushed from meeting to meeting, and was responsible for keeping many constituents happy. The once thoughtful thinker now showed signs of skimming over important details. His views became more myopic and his depth of emotional response blunted.
As the years went on, Stanley wrote that his ability to process complex issues significantly withered. The political milieu had changed him and their talks were no longer the same. Their friendship was no longer the same.
Perhaps the most serious problem with our present democracy is that politicians work in an outdated political process that turns many relatively competent adults into one-sided bratty children. Watching politicians discuss climate change, Obamacare, or same-sex marriage often feels like some scripted reality television show. Sound bites replace thoughtful discourse, and the media live for moments when emotions boil over and shoes fly. Politics has sadly become a circus show.
Our future is too important to stand by and do nothing. Significant reform, starting with the money, needs to occur if we are to make any progress overcoming our most serious challenges.