EXPERTS AND MENTAL HEALTH
Every week or so, the media will publicise the need for more money and legislation to ensure better mental health in the community. Recently we were subjected to a report followed by a series of experts claiming that smacking children left them with lifelong mental health issues. The facts are that bashing is already outlawed (as it should be), and as the incidence of corporal discipline has gone down, the level of violence, especially youth violence, has gone up. To add to our concerns, the Victorian government now aims to install a Mental Health and Wellbeing Leader in very school by 2026. None of these solutions – and any number of other efforts – gives much cause for comfort, but underneath all of them are fundamental flaws. Put simply, we have done our best to entice the next generation into embracing a series of falsehoods. Let us mention four.
We need to believe we are good
Unless we believe this, we are thought to be unable to love our fellow creatures on the earth. The truth is, if we believe this, we can only maintain it by closing our eyes to reality. Every person, every society, every body of people, even other living things, and, for that matter, even the inanimate creation itself, shouts at us that there is something radically wrong with the world. The Bible’s answer is that sin has led to misery and death. ‘None is righteous, no not one’ is written over us all (Rom.3:10).
On 11 September 2001 al-Qaeda attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and the world was horrified. The US president, George Bush, tried to make sense of it, but failed: ‘Like most Americans, I just can’t believe it because I know how good we are.’ Such naivety is not reassuring.
Loving yourself is a virtue
This too is often dressed up as a necessary prelude to loving one’s neighbour. The idea is that we cannot love our neighbour as ourselves unless we first love ourselves. On other occasions one simply hears the testimony of a recuperating addict, for example, who says that he has learnt to love himself – as if that was self-evidently a good thing. In dealing with husband-wife relationships, Paul does say that a husband who loves his wife loves himself, adding that ‘no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it’ (Eph.5:28-29). This reads more like an acknowledgment of reality rather than a command. Paul assumes that husbands will look after their own bodies; he commands them to love their wives.
Trust your heart
The good detective is now the one who trusts his heart, or his instinct; a successful relationship is the result of the same trust in self. So it is said. There is nothing new in this. In the eighteenth century, Jean-Jacques Rousseau declared: ‘Whatever I feel to be right is right. Whatever I feel to be wrong is wrong.’ But our hearts, like our minds and wills, are subject to the Fall. Therefore, God’s Word tells us that ‘The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?’ (Jer.17:9) Even professing Christians are told to take heed for we may well fall (1 Cor.10:12).
The main thing is to be happy
Finally, we are told that the important thing is to be happy. So it shocks us when C. S. Lewis entitles one of his last essays: ‘We have no right to happiness’. It is not that God is opposed to our happiness. Surely, blessedness is happiness in its perfected form, infused with divine favour. Blessedness, however, is frequently connected with suffering and discipline, for God considers our holiness more vital than what we think of as our happiness (Heb.12:10-11).
Given that these platitudes are commonplace in modern society, and that they are alien from the Christian gospel, it appears that those who rest on them to promote mental health are only likely to make matters worse. Something of a tradition has emerged in the world of consultants and experts – first exacerbate a problem, then purport to alleviate it. A better starting point would be to ask what God says on any issue.