Health and personal development have an emotional component, often called mental health, or emotional health. “Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood through adulthood.” “Mental and physical health are equally important components of overall health. Mental illness, especially depression, increases the risk for many types of physical health problems, particularly long-lasting conditions like stroke, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.” Six models of mental health have been developed.
Mental health aids in coping with stresses in life, being physically healthy, having good relationships, making meaningful contributions to our communities, working productively and realizing our full potential. Among the factors that can affect mental health are biological factors like genes and brain chemistry, life experiences, family history and lifestyle.
Mental illness has long been stigmatized, in children and adolescents, and in adults. Studies have focused on this phenomenon in Japan, Ghana, sub-Saharan Africa, Netherlands, and elsewhere. Stigmatization includes a structural component. This stigma has adversely affected public health overall.
A growing awareness of mental health as an aspect of overall health is occurring in many parts of the world. For individuals, professionals are available in the fields of psychiatry, psychology, social work and other fields, to assist people in cultivating and maintaining good mental health.
Technical and Analytical Readings
- Theresa L. Scheid and Tony N. Brown, eds., A Handbook for the Study of Mental Health: Social Contexts, Theories, and Systems (Cambridge University Press, 2009).
- Graham Thornicroft, George Szmukler and Kim T. Mueser, Oxford Textbook of Community Mental Health (Oxford University Press, 2011).
Positive true narratives on mental health:
- Katie Arnold, Running Home: A Memoir (Random House, 2019): “ . . . she writes a story exploring how her growing preoccupation with running has been intertwined with loving and losing her father. She takes the risk of being ordinary, and therefore human.”
- Sarah Ruhl, Smile: The Story of a Face (Simon & Schuster, 2021): “. . . a rumination about faces and specifically smiles, including what they mean across cultures, and for her particularly”.
From the dark side:
- Susan Sheehan, Is There No Place on Earth for Me? (Houghton Mifflin, 1982): an account of a schizophrenic young woman’s life in a psychiatric hospital
- Marin Sardy, The Edge of Every Day: Sketches of Schizophrenia (Pantheon, 2019): “According to her mother, Sardy’s father was swept away in a tsunami in Hawaii in the mid-80s. He drowned and a stranger took his place. This man was very helpful and began taking care of the family, and after a while nobody noticed anymore that he wasn’t their real dad. Sardy’s mother knew the truth, though. He was a replacement. She called him Mr. Ree.”
- David Peace, Patient X: The Case-Book of Ryunosuke Akutagawa (Knopf, 2018): a biography of the troubled man whose short story inspired the film Rashomon
- Susannah Cahalan, The Great Pretender: The Undercover Mission That Changed Our Understanding of Madness (Grand Central Press, 2019): “It’s the kind of story that has levels to it, only instead of a townhouse it’s more like an Escher print. On one level: A profile of Rosenhan and his study. On another: Cahalan’s own experience of researching the book. And on a third: The fraught history of psychiatry and the pursuit of scientific knowledge.”
- Anthony David, Into the Abyss: A Neuropsychiatrist’s Notes On Troubled Minds (Oneworld Publications, 2020): “. . . a short-story-style collection of curious case studies from David’s long career as a neuropsychiatrist”
- Jason Adam Katzenstein, Everything Is an Emergency: An O.C.D. Story in Words and Pictures (HarperPerennial/HarperCollins, 2020): “Katzenstein’s hand-drawn medical memoir reaches back to his early childhood. He recalls his first fears . . . and a world that starts to crack when his parents divorce. A therapist encourages him to start creating stories, giving him a temporary sense of focus and, ultimately, a career.”
- Catherine Cho, Inferno: A Memoir of Motherhood and Madness (Holt, 2020): an inquiry “about the factors (biological, cultural and environmental) that make some women vulnerable to episodes of acute, severe mental illness in the period after they become mothers.”
- Esmé Weijung Wang, The Collected Schizophrenias: Essays (Graywolf Press, 2019): “Exploring Her Own Experience of Psychosis”.
- Donald Antrim, One Friday in April: A Story of Suicide and Survival (W.W. Norton & Company, 2021): “A Survivor of a Suicide Attempt Writes of His State of ‘Eternal Dying’”.
- Rachel Aviv, Strangers to Ourselves: Unsettled Minds and the Stories that Make Us Up (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2022), “delicately balances two truths that prove remarkably difficult to hold in tandem. We all have our own minds, our own experiences, our own suffering; we are also social creatures who live among others, and social forces have at least some bearing on how we understand who we are.”
- Tanya Frank, Zig-Zag Boy: A Memoir of Madness and Motherhood (W.W. Norton and Company, 2023): “. . . Tanya Frank looks back on her son’s epic struggle with schizoaffective disorder.”
Music: Composers, artists, and major works
How might we deal with illness and the certainty of death? Franz Schubert faced that question after he became ill as a young man. His String Quartet No. 14 in D Minor, Op. posth., D. 810, “Death and the Maiden” (Der Tod und das Mädchen) (1824), “is one of the pillars of the chamber music repertoire.” All four movements are set in a minor key. “In 1774 the poet Matthias Claudius (1740-1815) published a short poem titled ‘Death and the Maiden.’ The poem is designed as a dialogue, contrasting a young woman’s fear with the reassurance of death. Claudius creates opposites and connections between the two figures.” Having set the poem to music in 1817, Schubert composed this string quartet seven years later. “The quartet was written in 1824 when his health was a cause for concern. He wrote to a friend, 'Imagine a man whose health will never be right again, and who, in sheer despair over this, even makes things worse instead of better. Imagine a man, I say, whose most brilliant hopes have perished…’ This music, then, is a reflection of Schubert’s state of mind. It’s filled with that resignation he spoke off, as well as an all-pervading anguish and yearning. Not only was his body sick – so was his soul.” Top performances are by Busch Quartet in 1936, Quartetto Italiano in 1965, Takács Quartet in 1993, Jerusalem Quartet in 2008, Belcea Quartet in 2009, Artemis Quartet in 2009, Pavel Haas Quartet in 2013, Chiaroscuro Quartet in 2018, and The Ruysdael Quartet in 2021.
Edward Elgar, Symphony No. 2 in E-flat major, Op. 63 (1911), is the composer’s musical exhortation to remain cheerful in the face of difficult world conditions. “Elgar described his second symphony as 'the passionate pilgrimage of a soul'. The score is headed by a quotation from a poem by Shelley: 'Rarely, rarely comest thou spirit of delight!'” Top performances are conducted by Elgar in 1927, Boult in 1944, Barbirolli in 1964, Solti in 1975, Sinopoli in 1987, Slatkin in 1989, Davis in 1992, Colin Davis in 2006, and Oramo in 2013.
Music of Luigi Nono (1924-1990) is full of anxiety, expressing the dark side of mental health:
- Variazioni canoniche sulla serie dell’ 41 (1950)
- Varianti (1957)
- No hoy cominas, hoy que cominar (1987)
- Incontri per 24 strumenti (1955)
- Michael Hersch, Images from a Closed Ward (2010): pieces for string quartet, based on a visit to a Rhode Island asylum.
- Morton Gould, Jekyll and Hyde Variations (1956): “The Jekyll and Hyde alludes to the duality and ambivalence of the human character . . .”
- Pink Floyd, “The Wall” (1979) (81’), is a rock-music narrative about overcoming alienation.
- The Touré-Raichel Collective, “The Tel Aviv Session” (2012) (64'): employing easy-driving rhythms with the reassuring voice of the kora, this album is joyful, lively and embracing
- Steven Halpern, “Radiant Health and Well-Being” (1993) (56')
- HBH Trio & Julian Priester, “Signals from the Mind” (2018) (57')
From the dark side:
- Akwaeki Emezi, Freshwater: A Novel (Grove Atlantic, 2018): “Emezi draws in part from her own life to tell the story of Ada, a young Igbo and Tamil woman haunted by the — the ‘godly parasite with many heads, roaring inside the marble room of her mind.’ The story is narrated by Ada’s multiple personalities, and occasionally by Ada herself.”
- Noah Hawley, Anthem: A Novel (Grand Central Publishing, 2022): “How do we bring children up in today’s increasingly dangerous and divided world? Will they rise? Or will they fall? With the recent rash of articles about the fragility of adolescent mental health and America’s uptick in teenage suicide rates, these questions are urgent.”
- Julie Otsuka, The Swimmers: A Novel (Alfred A. Knopf, 2022): “'You wake up one day and you can’t even remember your own name (It’s Alice). But until that day comes you keep your eyes focused on that painted black line on the bottom of your lane and you do what you must: You swim on.'”
- Barbara Molinard, Panics: Stories (1969): “Molinard’s characters are haunted, confused, wandering as if in a fog, forgetting who they are and where they are meant to be.”
- Cormac McCarthy, Stella Maris: A Novel (Knopf, 2022): “. . . 20-year-old Alicia Western, a doctoral candidate in mathematics at the University of Chicago, has checked herself in because she’s been hallucinating. Central among her visions is a shambolic dwarf with flippers and a bent sense of humor known as the Thalidomide Kid. Alicia is also carrying a plastic bag stuffed with $40,000, which she tries to give away to the receptionist.”
Out of a cell into this darkened space—
The end at twenty-five!
My tongue could not speak what stirred within me,
And the village thought me a fool.
Yet at the start there was a clear vision,
A high and urgent purpose in my soul
Which drove me on trying to memorize
The Encyclopedia Britannica!
[Edgar Lee Masters, “Frank Drummer”]