Mental wellness may require more than positivity

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The number of adults across the United States affected by some degree of mental illness is staggering – 61.5 million excluding young people 13 to 18 years of age.  It is also startling news to learn that $193.2 billion in lost earnings are attributed to mental illness each year.

Massive efforts by thousands of mental wellness professionals are under way to help prevent and combat this illusive problem.

Mental health concerns and illnesses – and efforts to heal them – are not new. More than a century ago, Edward A. Kimball, a late nineteenth century Christian healer, in a letter to a friend said: “Ascend constantly to your highest altitude and plane of equanimity, self-reliance, and mental culture [happiness, forgiveness, gratitude, goodness, laughter]. … Maintain your peace and happiness by refusing to descend into the mud of cheap human rubbish [negativity of every kind – stress, worry, anger, fear hatred], and know that your composure cannot be upset by” those things that would tempt you to “wallow in the mud.”  (1)

Kimball did not have at his disposal these modern studies we have today, still, through his work with patients seeking better health, he knew the value of keeping thought happy, peaceful – stress free.

Today, many organizations are sending out advice – preventative and curative – to those who struggle with stress and mental health concerns

On the preventive side, International Insurance Professionals compiled a list of do’s and don’ts to help stave off the symptoms of mental stress which is a precursor to many mental health issues. 

Their list of “do’s” includes (among others) things such as: “Develop a positive attitude; avoid negative self-talk; view a crisis situation as an opportunity; get enough rest; laugh – humor is a great stress reducer.  Studies indicate laughter can make you healthier.

And, their “don’ts”: “Don’t use alcohol as a sleep aid and don’t over use caffeine, alcohol, cigarettes or food for emotional support.

Most of these recommendations have been around a long time and fall within the realm of staying positive; and, they simply make good sense. Yet, mental illness – and what many think is a precursor, overwhelming stress – are on the rise. Is there more we can do to prevent and to heal stress and mental illness? Is positivity enough?

Maybe not.

Kimball’s healing work was based on his ongoing investigation into the healings Jesus performed and his efforts to replicate that methodology. In that ancient approach, lifting thought beyond mere human positivity to a divine source of power and good was crucial to many of the healings. Jesus said: “I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me.” (John 5:30) And, in at least two recorded instances, his approach led to complete healing of mental illness.

A mother I know had suffered for several years from bouts of depression, feeling worthless and without purpose.  From looking at her or being in her presence one would never have thought this.  She seemed happy and in command of herself.  She said one day she was watching an Oprah show which was focused on mental illness – depression, bipolar, suicide.  After hearing stories from people on the show, she was afraid she might become irrational and do something stupid.  She wasn’t concerned about her own life but afraid she might inadvertently hurt someone else in the process.

This woman went to church on a regular basis, and at one service she heard the following words that put her on the path to complete healing.  “He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings.”  (Ps 40:2)  This pit of miry clay was how she was feeling, but then she realized that the verse pointed out that God would put her on a right path. The struggle was not hers. And, she remembered that God created her to be like Him, good, mentally sound. The mental struggle ended and she is now living a full, worthwhile life and loving it.

In the last couple decades, research into the role spirituality and religious practices have on mental well being has increased.

New research from MU found that any type of spirituality enhances a person’s heath – particularly mental health! “, according to Dan Cohen, an assistant professor of religious studies at the University of Missouri.

“Our prior research shows that the mental health of people recovering from different medical conditions, such as cancer, stroke, spinal cord injury and traumatic brain injury, appears to be related significantly to positive spiritual beliefs and especially congregational support and spiritual interventions,” said Cohen. “Spiritual beliefs may be a coping device to help individuals deal emotionally with stress.”

So, there’s good evidence that a spiritual practice can help a person ward off mental stressors and, thus, mental illness. Yet, there is a promise – in both historical and modern records – that such a practice is not only preventative, it can also be curative.

1)     Lectures and Articles on Christian Science by Edward A. Kimball; Letter on Poise page 486; compiled by Edna Kimball Wait.

Kate is interested in blogging about health, health care, spirituality, Christian Science, science, religion, the importance of prayer in maintaining a healthy mind and body.  She is a Christian Science practitioner and the media, legislative and public contact for Christian Science in the state of Maryland.