Almost everybody suffers from occasional emotional stress. Fears, neuroses, anxieties, insecurity, worries, compulsions are all commonplace today. WHY? What's the CAUSE? What is the secret of sound emotional control?
LIFE should be worth living. Yet the feeling that life is not worth living "is the most challenging problem that confronts the modern physician," said Dr. Frank J. Ayd, Jr., chief of psychiatry at the Franklin Square Hospital in Baltimore. Of all the ills to which man often succumbs, depression is one of the most common.
Are you or members of your family bothered by neuroses, fears, anxieties, continual depression? How emotionally balanced and healthy is your family? If you live in a modern city, then take note: A study checking on the mental health of city folks discovered that only 18.5 percent of them are completely well mentally! The findings are part of a community health study in a midtown area of New York Hospital and Cornell University Medical College. Psychiatrists classified 23.4 percent of those studied as being mentally impaired to the extent their illness interfered with life functions. Another 21.8 percent had moderate symptoms of mental illness. The largest percentage — 36.3 percent — had mild symptoms of mental disorder. If you live in a noisy, crowded, tension-paced city environment, then — according to this study — your statistical chances of being emotionally and mentally sound are only about one in five! People in the country, however, have been found to experience the same symptoms of mental illness as city dwellers — and in the same proportion. The worst areas in the country were the economically depressed "country slums." This study was also conducted by Cornell University researchers.
Perhaps the most serious mental illness problem today involves children. A Senate study a few years ago reported that four and a half million American children need psychiatric treatment. The report asserted that one American child out of 10, from 5 to 17 years old, showed signs of odd behavior. Said Senator Thomas J. Dodd, many of our juvenile delinquents come from this disturbed group. Compared with a decade ago, THREE TIMES as many children 14 and under are being admitted to mental hospitals annually. And the suicide rate among teenagers is up sharply. In the past decade, the suicide rate in the United States has risen, especially among the 15 to 19-year-old group where it has increased nearly 50 percent! These figures are indeed tragic. They reveal a story of what is happening to our youth — our nation's number one resource! Said Dr. Edwin Shneidman of Los Angeles, special consultant to the National Institute of Mental Health: "We are tormented because we say, 'Here is a person who is about to enter the external potential of life and yet because of internal conflict takes his. own life.' " A recent study conducted by Dr. Thomas S. Langner revealed that twelve percent of Manhattan's children are seriously mentally disturbed, "the kind of kids that Lee Harvey Oswald and Sirhan Sirhan were." The 5 year study sampled 1,034 of the city's children between ages 6 and 8. Only twelve percent of the children were found to be mentally healthy, or as the study pointed out, minimally impaired. Are college students also affected? Indeed they are. An estimated 10 percent of all college students already are seeking psychiatric help, said a Harvard psychiatrist. Declared Dr. Dana Farnsworth: "There is something happening at our institutions increasing emotional conflict and psychosis among college students." But why are so many of us emotionally handicapped or mentally ill today? What are the causes of mental illness? What can be done about this terrible scourge of emotional problems that afflicts over 20,000,000 Americans and between 15-20 percent of the world population?
What Is Mental Illness?
Mental illness may briefly be defined as impairment of the proper functioning of a person's mind and emotions. Such a person in some way does not function normally in society. His illness causes him to behave somewhat oddly and erratically. It may cause him to have physical symptoms of some organic disease. It may cause him to become erratic in judgment — unable to properly handle problems, meet crises, and make decisions. It results in lack of confidence, security, faith and ability to make a decision and stick with it. It may lead to a life of crime, drug addiction — or even to suicide! What are the signs of emotional or mental stress? One is the inability to function at one's job. Another is a marked personality change, brooding, irritability, unreasonable outbursts, or bizarre behavior or hallucinations. Also, if a person has headaches, insomnia, pains when there is nothing physically wrong, then the trouble may well be psychosomatic. But what are the causes of mental illness? There are many suspected causes, among them the frustrating tensions of modem life, poor interpersonal relations, improper or lack of discipline, lack of positive instruction and training in childhood. Even nutritional factors may be responsible for contributing to mental illness. Some psychologists claim that mental illness results when some basic human need is not fulfilled. Read what one basic psychiatric text has to say: "Perhaps there is no phase of psychiatry which has given rise to so much discussion and dispute as has the one concerning the causes and even the nature of mental disorders..." (Noyes and Kolb, Modern Clinical Psychiatry, 1963, p. 93). The authors then list some of the multi-various causes of mental illness: heredity, metabolic abnormalities, cerebral diseases, hormonal imbalances, injuries, alcoholism, lack of the basic bodily needs (oxygen, nutrition, fluids, vitamins, sleep), social and cultural factors, anxiety-inducing situations on the job, interpersonal pressures within the family group, and so on.
Experiments with rats and studies of wildlife populations suggest that much neurosis can also be caused by over-crowding. Few will quarrel with the idea that overcrowding has profound effects on human behavior. But studies of rats have shown that they, too, are profoundly affected — some become "dropouts," some become violent "criminals," homosexual, bisexual, and frequently cannibalistic. One such study was conducted by Dr. John Calhoun in 1958 at Washington's National Institute of Mental Health. Another suspected agent contributing to the increase in mental illness is our chemical environment. Dr. George S. Freuenberger, a pediatrician noted for research into mental retardation, points out that food impurities may lead to mental handicaps. He mentioned certain foods, food additives, insecticides or fertilizers used on growing crops. Obviously, there is no single cause of mental illness. Most of the identified causes, however, have to do with our MODERN WAY OF LIFE! All are dependent on the individual reactions of people toward their environment — healthy or unhealthy. But what is the solution to this tragic health problem? If you have troubles with your emotions — fear, phobias, anxieties, neuroses, depression, lack of confidence, hostility, anger — what can you do about it? Experts have sought the answers to these problems throughout man's history. But they have been unable to solve and eradicate people's mental problems. The reason is clear. Too often experts have sought the answers in the wrong places. Consider one "grasping-for-straws" attempt — the use of drugs.
Are Drugs the Answer?
Many people, young and old, today believe that drugs may provide the answer to emotional stress or mental illness. But consider these facts from an expert: "New drugs, alas, often turn out to be less valuable than early assessments promised. Pharmacological history teaches us how often a particular drug is thought of as a magical panacea. Then with experience of its practical use, the 'great' drug becomes 'a great drug but', later still, it is thought of as a 'useful' drug, and finally, as its miracle effects occur with diminishing frequency and the catalog of alarming side effects is compiled, its true value is recognized and the revolution, once heralded with such optimism, becomes aborted" (Abse, Medicine on Trial, 1969, pp. 88, 90). One widely heralded drug for the mentally ill was the tranquilizer meprobamate. Later scientists found that it caused frequent allergic reactions, some people became addicted to it, and at any rate the drug was finally discovered to be no more effective than a placebo! But if drugs are not the answer, what about psychotherapy?
Is Psychotherapy the Solution?
Before concluding that the solution must be found here, consider the state of modern psychiatry. Says Dr. Abse, a Dutch authority: "Psychiatrists are DIVIDED AMONG THEMSELVES about the problem of how to treat the psychologically ill. On one extreme wing, there are those who resort to physical methods; on the other, there are those who believe in psychoanalysis or its derivative methods and delve into the mind in order to cure the mind. The latter often provoke much hostility" (ibid. p. 91). The field of psychiatry, today, is a confused, disordered free-for-all — an arena filled with conflicting ideas, methods, theories. Many psychiatrists today attack Freud's theories and construct their own pet postulates. Says Abse: "They cry 'balderdash' and then present their own half-baked postulates..." (ibid). Consider the results of one tool of modern psychotherapy, called "insight therapy." Admits psychologist Perry London of the University of Southern California, this form of therapy "tends either to radically alter people's life styles or to leave them unaffected. A person is much more likely to change his career as a result of insight therapy than to lose a nervous tic, more likely to move away from home, shift his political position, or alter his religious convictions as a result of psychoanalysis than to give up phobias, smoking, homosexuality, or compulsive hand wringing" (London, Behavior Control, p. 54). Dr. London gives the example of one patient who entered therapy because he was afraid to drive on Los Angeles freeways. After one year of treatment he divorced his wife, changed careers, and radically altered some social relationships. But he still could not drive on Los Angeles freeways! The solutions, plainly, are not to be found in the field of psychoanalysis or psychiatry, today. You might wonder, then, how much progress is being made in prevention of mental illness? Not much. At a recent Mental Health Conference in Los Angeles, which I attended, two scientists researching into mental illness discussed the fact that little — if any — progress in preventing mental illness has been made in the past 5,000 years! Certainly, said one, there has been no progress in the past 200 years — in fact, he added, we may have gone backwards! Scientists are still groping in the dark. What are they overlooking, so that the solution to mental problems is eluding them? The answer is simple. The key to mental health lies not only in changing a stressful environment, but more importantly, in changing you — changing your attitude toward life, your approach to life and your feelings toward other people. Bringing about a fundamental change in your own mind.
Some Beginning to See the Light
Amazing as it may sound, a number of modern psychologists are waking up to the fact that the Bible stresses this important principle and is an excellent textbook on psychology. They are beginning to see that the moral instruction in the Bible is very important to mental health. One such man is Henry C. Link. After examining 15,321 unemployed men and women in New York City, he came to see that the major problems of his patients were lack of values and objectives in life. He found the Bible was helpful in teaching people how to be happier and more successful! Another famous psychiatrist who has turned away from the older orthodox theories is Dr. William Glasser. Toward the end of his psychiatric training, he found himself doubting much of what he had been taught. Glasser came to see that people who need psychiatric treatment have never learned the difference between right and wrong behavior. He found that the basic problem of patients was their inability to understand or apply moral principles to their daily lives. Dr. Lawrence LeShan, former chief of psychology at the Institute of Applied Biology, New York City, also sees a trend away from the non-moral approach to psychiatric therapy and a trend toward recognizing a positive relationship between moral values and mental health. Applying this "new" concept in practical situations, psychiatrists have been AMAZED at the results! Less than 10 percent of inmates of the Leavenworth prison who were taught moral responsibility returned after being released from prison, whereas the normal rate was about 80 percent! Psychologists working with criminals in Georgia prisons have attempted to rehabilitate criminals by helping them adopt a moral code — actually based on the Bible — which includes "love of neighbor." Prisoners were taught the precise meaning of words such as love, law, neighbor, self, give, spirit, attitude, etc. Results of the program were impressive. Careful psychological testing showed that about 80 percent of the participants benefitted significantly from the training program! The re-arrest of probationers dropped from 22.5 percent to 9 percent for the year involved (Goble, The Third Force, p. 144). The program was based on the belief that there are moral LAWS that govern human behavior, just as there are physical laws pertaining to the material universe. Understanding and obeying these laws leads to mental health and sound behavior. Thus contrary to the old psychology, and its strong opposition to fixed moral values, some psychologists today are beginning to see spiritual and moral values as being very important in the establishment of mental health! More and more psychologists are beginning to see that it is the ATTITUDE of the individual which determines his behavior and his mental health, and not his environment (except as it affects his attitude). What does actual clinical evidence indicate is the solution, then, to mental illness? The answer should be obvious. There needs to be a new emphasis in society on moral values — instruction in the moral, spiritual laws which govern human relationships. And the foremost of these laws, psychologists are beginning to see, is love. Remarkable, isn't it, that the Bible said this 1900 years ago!
The Need for Love
Clinical experiments have demonstrated that children need love — without it, babies have died. Experiments with babies have demonstrated that deprivation of love and affection early in life can lead to serious problems, even to the death of the infant. In many cases serious neuroses can be traced back to a lack of love in the early life of the individual" (Goble, The Third Force, p. 82). Today, psychologists are beginning to see that love is not only a basic human need, but they are beginning to see it is the fundamental key to mental health. Psychologist Erich Fromm writes: "In the most general way, the active character of love can be described by stating that love is primarily giving, not receiving" (The Art of Loving, p. 22). Says he: "Not he who has much is rich, but he who gives much. The hoarder who is anxiously worried about losing something is, psychologically speaking, the poor, impoverished man, regardless of how much he has" (p. 24). The opposite of the giving, loving person is the selfish person. Says Fromm: "The selfish person is interested only in himself, wants everything for himself, feels no pleasure in giving, but only in taking. The world outside is looked at only from the standpoint of what he can get out of it..." (p. 60). But what the selfish person does not realize is that his own selfishness is the root of his troubles. It "leaves him empty and frustrated. He is necessarily unhappy and anxiously concerned to snatch from life the satisfactions which he blocks himself from attaining" (pp. 60-61).
The Secret of Mental Health
The basic problem with many people suffering mental illness is not that they are "ill" but that they are too preoccupied with themselves. Such people tend to be self-centered, self-seeking, overly self-conscious. The greater their preoccupation with SELF or "Number One," the greater their suffering. When they don't get what they want, they begin to retreat into their own dream world where everything goes their way and they are the center of attention! This attitude is the basic cause of mental illness.
Learn to GIVE
Most people are concerned about what other people are going to do for them. Many people grow up thinking the world owes them a living. They see the world is a competitive jungle, and so they join in, clawing and grasping for success, status, and security. But sooner or later they find out that success, status, and security do not come from seizing, grasping, acquiring, taking, or getting. The only way to achieve mental health is to develop an outgoing, positive, helping, sharing, GIVING approach to life and other people! You can choose to develop this approach to life! In other words, rather than wait for other people to love you and serve you, you need to initiate the first step. You need to start showing love and concern for others, helping them, serving them, sharing with them, giving to them. Instead of being concerned about self, and "what's in it for me," you need to become concerned for others, and ask, "What can I do for them?" Nineteen hundred years ago Jesus declared: "It is more blessed to give than to receive." He taught a way of life that is concerned with giving, sharing, helping others. He taught a way which leads to mental health and happiness! Many moderns have ridiculed the way of life taught in the Scriptures. The whole world has rejected that way — that philosophy — of life. Result? Look at the headaches, hangovers, and horrors facing this world today! Look where the world has gotten by following the way of greed, selfishness, lust, competition, putting self first and being unconcerned about others! Look at the FRUITS — the RESULTS! This does not mean it is wrong to be concerned about yourself, but that you should not be overly concerned about yourself! We should love others as we love ourselves — we should do to others as we would have them do to us (see Matt. 7:12, 22:39). Then you will truly enjoy peace of mind and stability — mental health!