“For every child who takes his or her own life, 50 more will try.”

That disturbing sentence comes at the end of a BBC news article about how employers are failing employees and potential employees who suffer from mental ill-health, for example – depression.

Work and Pensions Minister Lord Hunt said: “Work is important and beneficial to our physical and mental well-being. Because of this, it is essential that we remove the barriers that prevent people starting, returning to, or remaining in work.” … “But employers, especially small firms, need more support and advice in helping employees with mental ill-health, so we welcome the Department of Health’s promise to listen to business’ needs and to develop commonsense guidance.”

Lord Hunt is absolutely right.

Having something to work towards and get up every morning for (from my own brief experience as a meandering jobless grad, I know how soul-destroying it can be to have absolutely nothing to do) is only one step in fulfilling our innate emotional needs (human givens) which must be met for mental ill-health to be banished.

These essential needs include:

  • Security — safe territory and an environment which allows us to develop fully
  • Attention (to give and receive it) — a form of nutrition
  • Sense of autonomy and control — having volition to make responsible choices
  • Being emotionally connected to others
  • Feeling part of a wider community
  • Friendship, intimacy — to know that at least one other person accepts us totally for who we are, “warts ‘n’ all”
  • Privacy — opportunity to reflect and consolidate experience
  • Sense of status within social groupings
  • Sense of competence and achievement
  • Meaning and purpose — which come from being stretched in what we do and think (and is often fulfilled through our work).

So a meaningful working life is a good way to get many of our needs met: connection with others, sense of purpose, status, sense of competence etc., but the others too need to be met in balance to ensure that we are living a mentally healthy and satisfying life.

Thankfully we are also born with a variety of resources which help us fufil these needs (and which make up the other half of what are known as the ‘human givens’), these include:

  • The ability to develop complex long term memory, which enables us to add to our innate knowledge and learn
  • The ability to build rapport, empathise and connect with others
  • Imagination, which enables us to focus our attention away from our emotions, use language and problem solve more creatively and objectively
  • A conscious, rational mind that can check out emotions, question, analyse and plan
  • The ability to ‘know’ — that is, understand the world unconsciously through metaphorical pattern matching
  • An observing self — that part of us that can step back, be more objective and be aware of itself as a unique centre of awareness, apart from intellect, emotion and conditioning
  • A dreaming brain that preserves the integrity of our genetic inheritance every night by metaphorically defusing expectations held in the autonomic arousal system because they were not acted out the previous day.

But it’s not just adults that need to have their essential emotional needs met, and to use their resources well (excessive worrying for example is, in effect, a misuse of our imagination), this is just as important for children too. They need to feel a sense of purpose and meaning to their lives, to feel connected to others, to feel that they have some element of control over at least some aspect of their life and so on.

Perhaps if this over-reaching framework (the human given approach) of what we all need to live healthy lives, along with a better understanding of what depression is and how best to treat it, was more widely understood there would be less young people taking, or attempting to take, their lives so tragically young.

This is what we are trying to do at MindFields College.
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Posted by: Eleanor & Jane

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