Positive Psychology is a more recent branch of Psychology (and by recent I mean the last couple of decades). Psychology started out with the intention to study people and minds (brain, behaviors, motivations, etc.). Psychologists were trying to figure out what makes people tick. This of course went through many different stages of what Psychologists thought was the best way to go about it and what was popular.
Unfortunately, at some point Psychology turned into the study of disorders and what can go wrong with the human brain. It became about diagnosing unwanted disorders and symptoms and trying to ‘fix’ people. I would argue that at some point Psychology drifted off into the land of the negative and has put far too much focus on that for too many years.
When Martin Seligman joined the APA he took a point from the World Health Organization. Their motto is that ‘Health is more than just he absence of a disease.’ In the same way, Seligman argued that mental health is more than just the absence of a disease. Think of it this way: a lot of Psychological techniques in the past have focused on getting rid of issues like depression, anxiety, etc. This will get someone from a negative state to a neutral state where they are no longer depressed. Does this make them happy though? Are you by default happy, because you aren’t depressed? Perhaps not. Positive Psychology has the goal of going beyond this to bring people from that neutral state to that happy and thriving state. This branch does not like the DSM. While, I agree with some of their reasons (generalizations, problems with diagnosis, stigma, etc. ) I also still think the DSM has some value. Pos. Psych. does have a plan to offer a alternative for the DSM, though. They have this idea that therapy should focus on what negative symptoms, thought patters, behaviors and possible brain imbalances are contributing to you not thriving as a person. In this way there is no formal diagnosis of a specific disorder. Instead, you can take a good look at what in your life is leading to a negative reality. Can you thrive as a person and still meet a DSM diagnosis? Perhaps. I find it quite interesting.
Positive Psychology studies thriving and happiness. Yes, they did actually operationalize ‘happiness’. These psychologists decided they wanted to study what makes people thrive, what makes them resilient and what contributes to long term happiness. The branch of Pos. Psych. is complicated just like all of the branches. For now I will simplify the main aspects of long term happiness that have been studied.
There were three main things that help lead to long term happiness for a person.
FLOW: flow is an experience where you are fully entrenched in what you are doing. Time seems to slow down, stop, or go by so fast you didn’t even notice. Basically, whatever task you are working on is difficult enough to keep your brain fully involved, but just easy enough that you don’t loose interest. Many artists experience this as well as athletes. Anyone can experience Flow; you just need to find your thing. Studies found that included experiences of Flow regularly in your life will lead to increased happiness overall.
POSITIVE EMOTION: Experiences of positive emotion can come from many different things. There are ways to change your thought patterns so that you increase positive emotion. It is also a good idea to include activities that you know will help you reach this state. I am not talking about simple pleasure, such as eating ice cream or watching a movie. Consider activities that are difficult and take dedication. For example, a hike up a steep mountain. This can be difficult and not always pleasurable. You might be soar and tired when you reach the top. However, the feeling you get one you are there is above simple feelings of basic pleasure. Including difficult goals that ware worth the end result and reaching those goals can contribute to long term happiness via regular feelings of positive emotions.
ENGAGEMENT: By this I mean engagement of something bigger than oneself. Many people will instantly think of religion. This will work for many people, but not everyone is religious or even spiritual. Well consider what it is you are getting out of most religious group activities. It is community. Community involvement is a key aspect to long term happiness. We are social animals after all. So, if you are secular (like I am), it is important to get involved in some sort of community and be engaged in something that contributes positively to others.
Positive Psychology is still new and has a lot of potential for the future of humans. We can create an atmosphere that supports human and community thriving. Let’s do it!!
When I was in College I took a class called ‘Current Mental Health in the United States’. This class focused on the issue of Mental Health and how the United States views those who struggle with it. This class was a lot about perspective. It was a non-traditional class, in that our grade was based on participation rather than test scores, which I think really opened the students up to delving into the subject matter.
We watched some videos and had a variety of discussions about how in the U.S.A. at least, there is a lot of stigma related to being diagnosed with a mental disorder. The average person might not understand and they will have preconceived notions about such diagnoses. Most police officers are not trained to handle someone who might struggle with mental health issues and therefore they might get a little trigger happy out of fear. There are many people in jail that struggle with issues and if they have a ‘mental break’ of sorts, they will get sent to the local psych ward. However, as soon as they seem to be recovering and getting to a healthy place, they are sent right back into prison. This creates a terrible cycle.
Our project was to choose a subject and create a diagram showing how the stigma of diagnosis can affect a person throughout their life. Issues related to how the U.S. treats those struggling often leads to a cycle of homelessness. For example, say someone struggles with bi-polar disorder. Maybe they are going through a rough patch and they are transitioning medications with their doctor. If co-workers or a bosses don’t understand this person’s reactions they might complain or fire the person. Then how will this person be able to see their doctor or afford their medications? How will they pay rent? They might just end up homeless and not getting the help they need. This could turn into a cycle and sometimes all people need to be successful and stay healthy is for others to understand.
I chose an issue that has been going of for a while: over-diagnosis of bi-polar in children along with over medicating children. For one thing these medications are tested on adults and researchers don’t fully understand how these medications affect small children. To be clear I am not talking about teenagers, I am talking about children that are between the ages of 3-6. Can a diagnosis of bi-polar even be accurate in a child this age? Can you imagine the stigma that goes along with this diagnosis at a young age? What kind of identity will form for this child growing up with stigma. This presents multiple problems. One is that we are labeling people with these diagnoses. They are considering themselves as being the same as the disorder, rather than as a whole person who struggles with certain issues of brain function. This is also a problem of our society in general. The way we perceive mental health can be damaging to individuals and the society at large.
This class opened my eyes to a completely different way of considering the subject at hand. This is partly why I refer to mental disorders as mental health issues. Let us start to frame things in a more positive manner and have some understanding for what people go through. Do other medical diagnoses have such stigma? Why not? This is partly because, we view mental health as an individual problem with the mind and many people have trouble with viewing this in a medical fashion. It is actually a multifaceted issue that involves a mixture of therapy and medicine depending on what the issue is. We are allowed to think about these issues in complicated ways instead of using blanket statements and reacting with fear based assumptions.
So, tell me what you think? What do you think about mental health? Has the way our society views things affected you?