It speaks volumes that in 2018 there is a chart-topping song that is both a literal and figurative lifeline. The first time I heard it playing on the radio I looked over to check its title on the dashboard and was completely dumbfounded by the 1-800 number staring back at me! Perfectly conjuring the angst and confusion of an emerging psychological disorder, Logic confesses:
“I feel like I’m outta my mind, I feel like my life ain’t mine, who can relate?”
So many can relate, and the song does a wonderful job companioning the many listeners in the same turmoil. Opening up to the most vulnerable place of humanity, the ‘To be or not to be’ moment that so many of us face at some sensitive point in our lives, he pleads:
“I don’t wanna be alive/ I don’t wanna be alive/ I just wanna die today/ I just wanna die.”
After chronicling the many ways he feels alienated, ashamed, and alone, we watch his progression back, and the support that helps him get there. I love how this song speaks so well to and for a generation and how it acts as a witness, the most powerful tool we have for healing and creative growth.
It is phenomenal that we are at a point where people, especially our most vulnerable youth, can talk about mental health issues without the feeling that a Scarlet letter will emerge. And yet, if you’ll humor me for a moment, it’s not enough!
I believe that we will benefit even more from not just focusing on disorders and waiting until they become true emergencies, but on understanding and teaching how our basic psychological operating system works in the first place! Just as when you got your first i-phone, it took some time to figure out how to use all of the functions, troubleshoot glitches, and optimize your navigation of it. It’s no different when we engage the psyche, and yet most of us in this culture, don’t have even a basic training in how it is that our psyche works.
The culture’s rediscovery of meditation and mindfulness has gone a long way in reintroducing ourselves to, well, ourselves! And yet we can go even further by teaching ourselves about the complexity of our multiple selves, of the many competing and unruly narratives that are toggling back and forth amidst an ever changing and dynamic inner and outer landscape. We can teach people about the ways in which we are all split and dissociate–from the basic biological premise that we all have divided minds (left and right) that operate with contrasting rules and goals to the psychological premise that we all compartmentalize in order to maintain a sense of self-continuity.
We would all do well to see the benefits and limits of our DSM, as one supervisor of mine playfully called it: “the Damn Stupid Manual.” While it provides a useful taxonomy and starting point for our many psychological ills, it doesn’t go far enough in explaining the how and why of these disorders, nor does it account for the infinite variety and complexity that makes us all so interesting and individual.
When we learn to understand the way the operating system itself works, it is easy to see how many different inputs and contributions there are to psychological issues, and how much more it is affected by a host of factors that can be creatively reengaged. Included in this is a fundamentally more nuanced vision of how we can integrate nature and nurture, environment and culture.
I am so excited about the ways in which we are revolutionizing our understanding of mental health and about the newfound openness to talk, and yes, even sing, about what it means to suffer and struggle to find ways of being fully human. My hope and wish is that this is just the beginning of a fundamentally new way of approaching the greatest technology we have: our connection to our interior world and its infinite possibilities for growth and expansion!
Michael Alcee, PhD. is a clinical psychologist who specializes in college counseling and in educating the public about the transformative power of psychotherapy. He has a keen interest in revolutionizing the way we think of and approach mental health treatment in America and how we can use this to empower, heal, and repair individuals, groups, and the culture itself. For more on his work, check out his other articles and his website at drmichaelalcee.com.