A decade or more ago, a band called The Frey produced a song called How to Save a Life. The line in the chorus spoke of an inadequate intervention due to the writer's inability to know "how to save a life." This brought a lot of attention to the population who struggles with depression and anxiety, and the sometimes resulting suicidal ideation.
Not too long ago, a faith-based film with somewhat the same title portrayed a young man's response to "a childhood friend's death, Jake Taylor, an all-star athlete must change his life - and sacrifice his dreams to save the lives of others." (To Save a Life). This begs the question, "What is the value of a life?"
When it comes to mental health, the influence of the surrounding culture weighs heavily on the quality of that health. In other words, how our culture values "life" will directly influence how we define "life" and its level of quality.
For example, an Alabama congressman recently said "Some kids are unwanted, so you kill them now or you kill them later. You bring them in the world unwanted, unloved, you send them to the electric chair. So, you kill them now or you kill them later," (Alabama State Rep. John Rogers (D) on abortion). Now, this is only a portion of his full comments. However, those who are proponents of abortion have to, by default, choose at which time the "fetus" the mother is carrying in her womb earns the valuation of "baby." A mother who is a proponent of abortion retains all the rights of the baby being born. The "fetus" has no rights until the mother deems it does due to the choice of carrying it to term and giving birth--then it becomes her "baby."
On the other hand, opponents to abortion consider the "baby" a person with rights, pretty much at the time of conception. They believe the baby has value and deserves the same treatment as any human. No matter how the baby was conceived, this person (who will need as much care and nourishment from his/her mother outside the womb as inside the womb) deserves to be treated with dignity and health.
Now, this is just one example of values and life. No matter how you view the subject of abortion, the overall belief of the culture on the value of life will directly effect the definition of life and health, as well as mental health. So, if you are considering mental health care, or you are recommending a friend or loved one to seek mental health care; how will you or your loved one define success? Is success just an absence of symptoms, or is it a sense of wholeness?
It seems that our younger generations seek out mental health care to address stressful relationships, anxiety, depression, and so forth only to end treatment when they begin to feel better and exprience little to no symptoms. However, they seem to return within a few months when their symptoms return. Older generations tend to attend treatment until there seems to be an experience of wholeness--where symptoms have dissipated or go into full remission; they rarely have to return. This could be due to a cultural shift. But, is the shift a genuinely healthy one?
Like state senator Rogers said, "...you kill them now or you kill them later." This is addressing the symptom of unwanted pregnancies--unwanted children. What about addressing the greater pathology: chronic poverty, addiction, and sex trafficing? Would there not be a great reduction, mabye even an end to unwanted pregnancies should we heal the parents who conceive? Whether you see the child as a person with rights or a mass of living tissue that has no value until it is able to inhale atomosphere, he/she only exists because a male and female who have fully developed sexual organs conceived that child.
As I said earlier, how do we save a life? Well, it depends on how you define life. How do we generate success when it comes to mental health treatment? It depends on how you define success.
Have you ever met someone who hardly ever, if ever, does anything wrong? In fact, have you ever witnessed that person saying, "Sorry, I was wrong."
Recently, I met with a person trying to relate to a spouse who seems to struggle with a chronic symptom of what some call "external blame." This is a description of a person who seems to blame everyone and/or everything else for his/her misfortunes. This symptom, although referenced by other names, is common in personality disorders, especially anti-social personalities; as well as in other mental disorders. However, if we are all honest, most of us struggle with external blame at some point each week of our lives.
In the instance with this person I met with recently, the spouse in question vascilated between describing their relationship as healthy and improving--to wanting to get a divorce. This back-n-forth was giving my client emotional whiplash. To make matters more troubling, the spouse frequently played the role of a victim. The spouse would accuse the client of infidelity, playing hookey from work, and other unprovable accusations. The client was confused, hurt, and emotionally drained from trying to help the spouse see the truth of the client's fidelity, accomplishments at work, and so forth. The spouse seemed unwilling or unable to believe the client.
In the book, Stop Walking on Eggshells, Mason and Kreger provide some reasons why some people choose to play the victim and blame others:
To make matters more complex, this victim may turn around in the same moment and quickly become the caretaker of the one they blamed. I've actually seen this in session. The client acquiesces and apologizes to the spouse for a perceived wrong; then, the spouse immediately forgives and begins to comfort and console and take care of the client. Of course, never once did the spouse admit to any wrongdoing.
Living with someone who struggles with external blame is very taxing and unwanted. However, there are those who believe they have made a lifetime commitment, or better yet, a covenant and must honor their marriage/relationship. I have nothing but admiration for those that honor that covenant. May God reward them richly for their sacrifice and bring healing to their spouses.
Fortunately, there are effective treatments for spouses who recognize there is a problem. Dialectical Behavioral Therapy seems to be a number one choice. There is also Mentalization Based Therapy and Schema Therapy. I must admit I do not know much about these models. Lastly, STEPPS (Systems training for emotional perdictability and problem solving) Group Treatment Program is a treatment to be used in conjunction with traditional therapy. Regardless, external blame and the disorders it is aligned with does not have to be a lifetime orderal. There is hope for healing.