An Alternative to Mental Health Alarmism

July 6, 2021 Updated: July 6, 2021

Commentary

A skyrocketing of depression and anxiety has been widely reported in recent times. We are warned of steep increases in addiction, domestic violence, and even suicide. The solution to this “mental health crisis,” we hear, is “getting help,” for which the government must provide access.

This message is hard to question without getting labeled as “uncaring” and “anti-science.” But when you look beneath the statistical packaging, the message is curiously similar to Marxism.

Marxism aims to persuade people that they are unhappy in order to promote revolution.

Marxism suggests that happiness is impossible in a capitalist society.

Marxism trains you to seek happiness from the government.

No one openly invokes Marxism in public discourse on mental health. But the “experts” at the heart of the discourse are trained in universities with fundamental beliefs about the failure of capitalism and the necessity for socialism. University training in psychology is the common core of the “experts” who define mental health for us all, through roles in healthcare, school counseling, and corporate human resource departments.

The presumptions of academic psychology are so thoroughly embedded in our lives that it’s hard to question the premise that more “help” from these “experts” is the solution to every problem.

When “help” doesn’t help, we are told to blame barriers to “help,” such as people who allegedly stigmatize getting help, and people who question funding for public programs.

Instead of being for or against help, let’s distinguish between good help and bad help. The difference is simple: Help is good when it helps you manage your emotions; help is not good when it supports the belief that you are not responsible for your emotions.

Thus, the value of help depends on beliefs about personal responsibility held by the giver as well as the receiver. When both believe that an individual is responsible for managing his or her brain, mental health grows.

Unfortunately, the message that we are not responsible for our own brains is widespread. This belief takes many forms.

One is that genes control your emotions, so it’s not your fault when you act on your impulses.

Another is that the flaws of “the system” cause your emotions, so until we change the system, nothing is your fault.

Finally, you can get a mental health diagnosis, which makes a disease responsible for your actions, and thus offers an official protected status.

“Help” does not help if it trains you to believe that you are not responsible for your own brain. This kind of “help” is a step backward, because the skill of managing your brain is the core of human civilization.

We humans are not born with the capacity to manage our own brains. It’s a skill we must learn the way we learn our native language. Humans have struggled to learn emotion regulation since our species began. It’s the core skill that makes our other skills possible.

But managing your emotions is so hard that it’s tempting to hope an “expert” can do a better job than you can. This makes it easy for the therapy-industrial complex to recruit believers in the dream that happiness will come from a government program. And it’s easy to hide behind the notion that you are not responsible for your choices because the lack of such programs is responsible.

On the surface, it’s surprising that people are so willing to believe in their own powerlessness. But there’s a good reason for this. Human emotions are caused by brain chemicals that are controlled by brain structures that all mammals have in common. The animal part of your brain (the limbic system) cannot tell you why it turns an emotion on or off because it cannot process language.

So we all struggle to make sense of our emotional ups and downs. Managing your emotional brain is the challenge that comes with the gift of life.

When you struggle to manage this brain, it’s tempting to believe those who tell you that you are not responsible for it. It’s tempting to accept the special status you get by handing them the reins.

But in the long run, our individual and societal wellbeing depends on our emotional self-management skills. We are all better off when we invest ourselves in building emotion regulation skills. We are all worse off when we believe that we cannot, or need not, build these skills.

It’s hard to take responsibility for your brain, so it’s nice to have help that actually helps.

Loretta G. Breuning, Ph.D., is founder of the Inner Mammal Institute and Professor Emerita of Management at California State University, East Bay. She is the author of many personal development books, including “Habits of a Happy Brain: Retrain Your Brain to Boost Your Serotonin, Dopamine, Oxytocin, & Endorphin Levels.” Dr. Breuning’s work has been translated into eight languages and is cited in major media. Before teaching, she worked for the United Nations in Africa. She gives zoo tours on animal behavior after serving as a docent at the Oakland Zoo. She is a graduate of Cornell University and Tufts. Her website is InnerMammalInstitute.org.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Loretta Breuning
Loretta Breuning
Loretta G. Breuning, Ph.D., is founder of the Inner Mammal Institute and Professor Emerita of Management at California State University, East Bay. She is the author of many personal development books, including “Habits of a Happy Brain: Retrain Your Brain to Boost Your Serotonin, Dopamine, Oxytocin, & Endorphin Levels" and "How I Escaped Political Correctness, And You Can Too.” Dr. Breuning’s work has been translated into eight languages and is cited in major media. Before teaching, she worked for the United Nations in Africa. She is a graduate of Cornell University and Tufts. Her website is InnerMammalInstitute.org.