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Since the month of May, and specifically the week of May 18, is Mental Health Awareness Month, it’s time for the general public to learn about the alternative narrative to mental health: It’s the one Big Pharma does not want you to know.

Most of you know that I follow the legendary work of world-renowned psychiatrist Dr. William Glasser. He was a board-certified psychiatrist who stood tall for his beliefs and what he knew was right; this meant going against the huge, corrupt system called the medical model—or disease model—of psychiatry. He knew that medical-model psychiatry was designed to keep people sick, creating lifelong clients—a disservice to them that serves psychiatry and Big Pharma.

For more information, you can read Dr. Terry Lynch’s book, The Depression Delusion, any book by psychiatrist Dr. Peter Breggin, or Anatomy of an Epidemic and Mad in America by investigative journalist Robert Whitaker, as well as his website by the same name. I am not a doctor, nor am I giving medical advice. I am simply providing a synthesis of the work of Dr. Glasser and some other medical people I have studied. Please check it out for yourself.

Ever since the 1960s, psychiatrists have been trying to prove there are brain chemical imbalances that cause many psychiatric problems. Dr. Lynch writes that psychiatry has been trying to discover this imbalance for more than three decades; it has been unable to find it because it doesn’t exist. And yet, Big Pharma, in their direct to consumer advertising, continues to taut these chemical imbalances as the reason people have mental health symptoms. Evidence shows this is a lie.

Mental health is a lot like physical health, according to Dr. William Glasser. Mental and physical health both exist as a continuum; each human occupies a position on that continuum depending on factors like genetics, environment, their perceptions and life events.

We have labelled aberrant mental, cognitive and emotional symptoms as mental health with a negative connotation, hence the stigma of mental health. However, if everyone’s mental health resides along a continuum, your state of mental health is much like your state of physical health. The main difference is that, when it comes to mental health, we are not as clear about what constitutes mental health and what is mental illness or disease.

Physical health makes itself clear; it is so much more than the absence of disease. We have charts and graphs, height and weight measurements, that determine physical health—but what constitutes mental health? Dr. William Glasser posits a long, but reliable definition:

You are mentally healthy if you enjoy being with most of the people you know, especially with the important people in your life such as family, sexual partners and friends. Generally, you are happy and are more than willing to help an unhappy family member, friend, or colleague to feel better.

You lead a mostly tension-free life, laugh a lot and rarely suffer from the aches and pains that so many people accept as an unavoidable part of living. You enjoy life and have no trouble accepting other people who think and act differently from you. It rarely occurs to you to criticize or try to change anyone. If you have differences with someone else, you will try to work out the problem; if you can’t, you will walk away before you argue and increase the difficulty. You are creative in what you attempt and may enjoy more of your potential than you ever thought possible. Finally, even in very difficult situations, when you are unhappy (no one can be happy all the time) you’ll know why you are unhappy and attempt to do something about it.

A shorthand definition for positive mental health is a person who uses an internal control psychology to manage their emotional and cognitive life for contentment, peace and happiness.

Any conditions that create a structural, not chemical, problem with the brain will be at the “mental disease” end of the continuum; this is anything that a C-scan, not a PT-scan, would pick up. Some examples might be Parkinson’s Disease, Alzheimer’s, dementia, epilepsy, Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome or any condition that compromises the structure of the brain. Of course, none of this includes any “mental conditions” in the DSM 5. Those diagnoses would be somewhere in the middle of the continuum with perhaps the severity of the disruption to one’s life as the deciding factor for where exactly a person fits on the continuum.

What actually happens is that every person has a place of their own creation called the Quality World. The Quality World represents the way each person envisions the world according to them—it’s perfect there. The main problem is that we don’t get to live there. We must live in the real world, which often does not match what is in our Quality World. When we experience a big disappointment or chronic dissatisfaction, we may create mental health symptoms as our best response to manage our frustration. This is not a conscious process, however, the person usually doesn’t realize the behavior they choose is their best response for managing the situation they find themselves in.

Think about one of the most dysfunctional diagnoses I know, Dissociative Identity Disorder. In the histories of people with this “disorder” is predictable chronic ritualistic sexual abuse by an adult who was supposed to protect them. In this traumatic, inescapable situation, the child develops the amazing ability to dissociate. It’s a compensatory behavior to manage the trauma of their life and it becomes a habit. Later in life, after the trauma is over, the person is still left with the habit of dissociating whenever they experience stress or fear. This is completely normal, not a disorder. The same is true of other mental health diagnosis. There is no chemical imbalance; in fact, there is nothing wrong with the person at all. They have created a compensatory response to what is happening in their lives.

I think of emotional distress—or what the medical/disease model calls mental illness—as the condition of disconnection. People are disconnected from the important people in their lives, from success with their hopes and dreams, and from themselves. What’s needed isn’t medication or a reprocessing of the trauma over and over. People need to understand how their behavior is, or has, served them in the past and then, make a decision about whether they want to learn more effective behaviors or hold onto the behaviors of the past because they work and are safer for them.

If you have questions about the Choice Theory model of mental health, you can read more about it in Glasser’s book, Warning: Psychiatry Can be Hazardous to Your Mental Health.

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