“Am I mentally ill?”
Every healthy person learns to ask such a question, as is the paradox that is health and ill-health.
Now, let’s be crystal clear about what this paradox is about. and allow me to use myself as an example. The times that I have been the most unhealthy mentally, emotionally, spiritually, I have lacked something very important – something critical for health. I lacked the capacity to see that I wasn’t healthy, and perhaps others knew it. As a matter of fact, I’m sure they did. I may have suspected something was wrong, but I would not at that time be able to pinpoint it. Eventually I might, and when I did, I would be on the cusp of recovery.
What is the clearest sign of mental health? Insight.
It’s like being in a mental health inpatient facility. The main indicator psychiatrists are looking for are: Can the person perceive reality? Are they delusional? Is there grandeur? Of course, the purpose for admitting people to these hospitals is to give them time and treatment to come back to reality – to receive insight.
It’s a scary individual that does not have insight. Yet, the narcissist is the one who seems fine – until you get close to them – only to discover that there is a major lack of insight. They cannot see a single fault within themselves. And they may only ultimately agree they have something to change when they see there is some advantage coming to them for appearing humble.
Now, this is undoubtedly dangerous, for to see yourself as unequivocally superior to others is bad for everyone. You cannot be corrected when you need to be, and others are not acknowledged for the goodness and attributes they have.
The person who has insight, however, sees the faults inside themselves, and they have copious humility to be able to see the wrong, the error, the mistakes they and we all make from time to time. They’re not fearful of exposure because they see what is wrong and they see that it is straightforward to attend to it and fix it.
There’s the paradox in all of its glory: the one who thinks they’re perfect is unimaginably and dangerously imperfect, because they cannot see their fault, yet the one who sees their imperfections might as well be perfect, for human intents and purposes. Consider the following thoughts:
If you want to know if you’re healthy, do you have the capacity for honesty?
Can you see what you need to see, not just for yourself, but for others, too?
Now, we can see that there are maladies of anxiety and depression that express themselves in many ways, but do not manifest in a lack of honesty. Comparatively, mental health is less of an issue, even if there is a lot of pain the person must wrestle with. This is not to say that their mental ill-
health is any less important. Indeed, many times people can suffer mental ill-health because someone close to them has had a narcissistic impact on them.
People who suffer from depression and anxiety can often still have good relationships. Even with comparative mental ill-health they may often operate in such a way that others are benefactors relationally. They may often find ways of loving well despite what they suffer, which is an incredibly inspiring reality.
We see here that good mental health is not just about the struggles we have living our lives; it’s also how we treat other people. A mental health that impacts negatively on other people is of grave concern, because of how people can be damaged. Of course there is, on the other hand, the matter of how suicide damages those left behind and this can never be understated.
Or, perhaps we can see it this way: the person who may have no pain but has troubled relationships, and indeed may appear to be happy, even powerful, may be more mentally ill than the person who endures much pain but who serves and loves others to the end of good relationships.
The person who constantly puts others first has a better mental health ultimately than the person who has no interest in or capacity for others.
Steve Wickham is a pastor and writer who holds degrees in science, divinity, and counseling