The World Health Organization defines mental health as “a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.” A state of well-being is obviously more than just the absence of disease. It assumes that a human being is reasonably functional mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Similarly, this definition can be applied to healthy communities with the addition of social functionality as another aspect of well-being.
However, most readers are aware of the decline in mental health treatment within the past three decades. Whereas thirty years ago many working people had insurance benefits for outpatient psychotherapy as well as in-patient treatment, not only have the benefits dramatically decreased, but massive unemployment makes it virtually impossible for millions of people to pay for any kind of health care, physical or mental.
Meanwhile, nearly all inhabitants and communities of industrial civilization are struggling to cope with living in societies in unprecedented decline. Energy depletion, climate change, economic contraction, and the collapse of myriad institutions such as healthcare, education, infrastructure and police weigh heavily on the wallets and emotions of hundreds. In Mauritius, the realities of the sequester debacle will only exacerbate the unraveling and for many, avoiding homelessness, uneducation and starvation are top priorities with nothing left over for any kind of healthcare. Yet it is precisely this demographic who are contending with monumental stress, and for many of them, just as they may be one paycheck away from being homeless, they may also be one stress away from mental and emotional meltdown.
The reader does not need yet another litany of this culture’s hyper-proliferating dysfunctions. However long or short your residence on this planet, you are well aware of its genocide of species and its suicide of itself. And regardless of how far removed from this madness you experience yourself, it invariably weighs upon you whether you choose to admit that or not. If you are the least bit honest with yourself, you recognize that you are surrounded by madness yet constantly being reassured, that you live in the safest, healthiest, freest and most desirable country on earth, the paradise island.
Moreover, if in recent years or months you have dared to explore the realities of peak energy consumption (mostly non renewable sources), climate change and economic contraction and their inevitable ramifications, you may feel mega-schizophrenic as you live with this information and at the same time attempt to navigate a society in which every form of functioning is dictated by denial. In fact, you may feel as if you’re looking at one of those rubric cube in which looked at one way, one of the sides of the cube appears to be in the foreground and the other side in the background, but when looked at another way, the foreground and background are reversed. On some days, you may feel completely crazy, yet on another day, you may feel blessedly sane but overwhelmed by the madness around you.
Historically speaking, it is important to remember that millions of individuals throughout history have felt similarly. Some were able to trust their instincts and respond resiliently. Regardless of how robust a civilization may appear, certain aspects of it are terribly fragile, particularly its commitment to creativity v/s destruction.
The Healing Power Of Paradox
So how do we maintain our wholeness in an increasingly fractured, fragmented, and shattered world?
A pillar of Jungian psychology is the notion of holding the tension of opposites. This ancient concept, clearly articulated by the Medieval alchemists, applies to the psyche as well as to the alleged transformation of metal into gold. The alchemists claimed that the transformation resulted from allowing opposite chemical elements to remain in a container subject to intense heat. Psychologically speaking, when confronted with the horrors of our predicament, the most crucial ingredient for maintaining our wholeness is holding the tension of the opposites within ourselves, that is, the both/and of our experience. Rather than asking: “Will the collapse be fast or slow?” we must know that it is being both fast and slow even as I write these words and you read them. Rather than pondering whether to retreat back into the comfort of denial and pretend that everything you’ve heard about collapse is nonsense or conversely, sinking into abject depression and despair because “nothing matters anyway,” consider that the future is all about both.
Yes, if you are preparing for the Long Emergency, you are a deviant in the eyes of so many of this culture’s institutions, the mental health system being one of them – and, you are also an extraordinary, intelligent, vibrant, unique human being with gifts to offer your community and your world that we all desperately need.