Worksite Wellness, Mental Health and Philosophy: Why Friedrich Nietzsche Should Be Taught

If REAL wellness were offered at worksite wellness functions, employees would learn life skills large and small, particularly in the areas of philosophy and human happiness. As it is, wellness is largely a medical endeavor focused on risk reduction and prevention, neither of which contributes much to the work setting as a learning environment. If philosophy were on the wellness agenda, workers would have continuous opportunities to increase their capacities for reason, exuberance and liberty toward higher quality of life. I’m often asked for practical examples of what employees might learn if skills taught included meaning and purpose, global awareness, personal responsibility, happiness, applied ethics and philosophy, to name just a few quality of life-type topics.

Here is one illustration from the rich field of practical philosophy.The example draws on a key concept of Friedrich Nietzsche.

Think of the last time you were upset, saddened, disappointed or otherwise discouraged by an event or circumstance. Was there anything positive you could do at the time you were feeling the unpleasant effects of the experience? Is there a method, a technique or an idea that might, next time, diminish the sorrowful emotional feelings associated with unhappiness? Is there a concept you might call into conscious awareness that could mitigate your perspective somewhat? In short, what could you think about that would lead you, almost immediately, back to a more serene state? Put one more way, how might you think your way back a few levels from near the bottom up toward the top of an imaginary but genuinely felt low to high emotional scale?

I think there might be a mental discipline applicable to this kind of often-occurring situation. It comes from one of the world’s most well-known philosophers. I’m not sure what to call it, but the concept concerns the ups and downs, cycles good and bad. In Faust’s imagery, it’s the notion that beauty is bound to its fragility, that dawn is unimaginable without the dusk.To grasp the idea, consider the tides, the peaks versus valley rhythms. In this way, guard against excessive or disproportionate reactions or alarms – behind the dips there are peaks. Difficulties of every sort can almost be welcomed, for they give depth and add fulfillment to more positive times when they arrive.

Alain de Botton, author of “The Consolations Of Philosophy,” cites Aristotle’s observation to this effect: The prudent man strives for freedom from pain, not pleasure. The priority for all those seeking contentment is to recognize the impossibility of uninterrupted fulfillment and so avoid the troubles and anxiety that we typically encounter in its wake.

Nietzsche believed it impossible to attain the satisfactions associated with a fulfilled life without feeling very miserable some of the time. He held the view that the most fulfilling human projects appeared inseparable from a degree of torment, the sources of our greatest joys lying awkwardly close to those of our greatest pains. Nietzsche continued:Examine the lives of the best and most fruitful people and peoples and ask yourselves whether a tree that is supposed to grow to a proud height can dispense with bad weather and storms; whether misfortune and external resistance, some kinds of hatred, jealousy, stubbornness, mistrust, hardness, avarice and violence do not belong among the FAVORABLE conditions without which any great growth, even of virtue is scarcely possible.

De Botton suggests that Nietzsche sought to correct the belief that fulfillment must be easy else it will not follow. To expect otherwise is a ruinous idea. Nietzsche perceived the interval between initial failure and subsequent success, the gap between who we wish one day to be and who we are at present to be occupied by pain, anxiety, envy and humiliation. The great danger of not expecting great hardship as part of experience on the way to fulfillment, thinking that success should come readily, without anguish, is that the challenges COULD have been overcome, IF we had been prepared for the savagery legitimately demanded by almost everything valuable.

You will not hear talk like that at worksite wellness sessions at any corporations I know about but, why not, I wonder? This is just a single example of provocative, important philosophical musings that could energize a discussion and stimulate invaluable reflections and reassessments.To quote Nietzsche once more, “We should not feel embarrassed by our difficulties; only by our failure to grow anything beautiful from them. Difficulties are a critical prerequisite of fulfillment. Not everything which makes us feel better is good for us; not everything which hurts may be bad.”

All good wishes.

To Our Mental Health – A Positive Outlook

At some stage in our life most of us will at times struggle with despondency or even depression. Or we may have a large dose of self-pity and have a major ‘pity party’. Most will get over it and get on with normal life. But sometimes the phase does not pass and more and more time is spent in these struggles. This article is not a study on depression but a few tips that have been know to be of great benefit when despondency sets in.

A basic measure is to check if a good nutricius diet is being consumed. Often the addition of some B vitamins are necessary, seek professional advice from your local health food store.

During these low times we tend to be emotional and keep looking inward, maybe in self-criticism or self-pity, feeling like a victim and not like one who overcomes. We tend to take innocent statements of others and apply them to ourselves in a negative sense. We quickly take offence.

Like the old saying ‘take time to smell the roses.’ This is sound advice. Just start with a few minutes a day, looking outside of yourself, don’t think of your problems, banish any negative thoughts that pop up. This could be the first step in taking control of your mind. We may not have control over what comes into our mind, but we do have a choice of what we do with those thoughts. Look at a bird or a flower. Really look at it, see how the petals come together to form one beautiful unit. Look how gracefully the stamen comes out of the centre, how it attracts the bees. Look at the color,. Take note how different colors blend together. Allow yourself to be amazed at this beautiful creation. If you can find the strength, start a journal of the things in the creation that you spend time observing, note what you see, they are all around you just waiting for you to be in awe of them. Maybe you could end up writing a book of your journey.

Determine to spend this time of appreciating beauty every day, you will soon start looking forward to these times of studying creation and realise it is a much happier place than looking inward. I have never found lasting peace by delving inwards.

There is an article that has been around for many years called “Lessons from the Geese” Author unknown. I won’t quote the article but it reveals some facts about geese. For example, we have all seen geese fly over in the familiar V formation, there is a leader and two rows form out behind the front goose. It has been learnt that the reason for this is that as each bird flaps its wings it creates uplift for the bird immediately behind it.

Flying in this formation causes the whole flock to be able to increase its range by about 71% more than if the bird was flying alone. It saves about 50% of their energy. If a goose falls out of formation it feels the drag and resistance of trying to go it alone and quickly gets back into formation to take advantage of the power of the flock.

When a goose is sick or injured and falls out of formation, two other birds will follow to protect the sick bird. These two birds will stay with the weak one until it recovers or dies. Then they will seek to find another formation to join to get back to their group. This study of the geese gives us a beautiful picture of caring and the advantages of having a leader who gives help and direction. Who can be the wind beneath our wings. A shield in the times of trouble. A secure rock to protect us.

The One who programed the geese to be like this shows us another example in the Bible in the book of John, here using sheep as an example of being careful whom we follow.

“If a person climbs over or through the fence of a sheep pen instead of going through the gate, you know he’s up to no good – a sheep rustler! The shepherd walks right up to the gate. The gatekeeper opens the gate to him and the sheep recognize his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he gets them all out, he leads them and they follow because they are familiar with his voice.” Jesus further explained like this. “I am the Gate for the sheep. All those others are up to no good – sheep stealers, every one of them…Anyone who goes through me will be cared for – will freely go in and out, and find pasture. A thief is only there to steal and kill and destroy. I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of. I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd puts the sheep before himself, sacrifices himself if necessary. A hired man is not a real shepherd. The sheep mean nothing to him.”(Quote from The Message)

If you need leading out of your despondency and depression by all means seek professional help. But take care who it is leading you, choose the One who has your best interest at heart, who knows you better than you know yourself. The One with the power to create and heal. The choice is yours, to keep looking in at the turmoil or to look up and embrace the Good Shepherd.

Have you ever wished you could stand back and look at life and the world to see the big picture of what it is all about? I have a link below to a book that does just that, it gives everything purpose and perspective.

Insurance and Mental Health Coverage – A Guide for Parents

When parents first shop around for health insurance to cover their families, they seldom concern themselves with what is covered in terms of mental healthcare. As parents, we never expect to have a child with a mental health diagnosis, therefore we seldom assume the need for mental health coverage. Unfortunately, parents often realize too late how important factors such as exclusions, coverage limitations, and annual or lifetime benefit amounts are to their child’s mental healthcare. Often these areas are not even recognized as being important until after a child has received a mental health diagnosis.

Families participating in managed health insurance plans have the additional burden of reviewers and/or case managers who decide what treatments and other medical expenses are covered. For example, many managed care plans will require a psychiatrist to submit medical records and treatment plans for review before determining if and how much the insurance company will pay. This can be extremely frustrating for parents when their insurance and mental health coverage specifics do not match with a doctor’s proposed treatment plans. Such conflicts can often leave parents with a choice between foregoing a proposed treatment plan and paying out of pocket for medications, hospitalizations, therapy, or respite care.

Even when a parent’s health insurance and mental health coverage pays for most treatments and other associated expenses, the issue of annual and lifetime benefit limits can once again leave parents with limited choices. For those without the financial resources to pay for non-covered mental healthcare, treatment plans may be abandoned or parents may have to seek financial assistance from federal or state medical programs. For those with financial resources, paying out of pocket for ongoing mental healthcare after plan limits have been maxed can drain family finances to the breaking point.

The best advice for any parent with a newly diagnosed child or family member in need of mental healthcare is to immediately review their health insurance policy. Understanding the specifics of their health insurance and mental health coverage will help parents prepare for later expenses. For example, if only limited doctor visits are allowed, parents will have time to appeal policy limitations or talk with case managers before coverage ends. Likewise, if there are annual or lifetime benefit limitations, parents can plan ahead to prepare for the end of their child’s coverage. This may mean applying for medical assistance or altering family budget plans to save for later treatments. If you need assistance in locating particular coverages at a pre-determined price, we can help you save up to 40% on your health insurance premium.

5 Ways to Improve Your Mental Health in 2017

1. Limit Negative Self Talk – We all have those moments when we hear the chatter in our minds telling us that we’re not good enough or that we won’t be able to accomplish our goals. I like to call it the “itty bitty shitty committee.” Some days the shitty committee is quiet and we are full of confidence and roaring like a lion and then two days later the shitty committee is screaming loudly and we feel like we can’t do anything right. Here’s what you need to know about your negative self talk… It’s all a lie, don’t believe the hype! The key is awareness. When you catch yourself thinking those negative thoughts, tell the committee you’re not having it! Look at yourself in the mirror and say “I’m good enough to have peace, success and all my dreams.” Replace those negative thoughts with positive ones and you’ll soon find that the committee gets more and more quiet.

2. Practice Mindfulness – In our fast moving world, it’s becoming critical that we have the ability to quiet our minds, get still and connect with our inner being. Finding just 5 minutes a day to practice meditation or some other form of mindfulness can make dramatic shifts in your level of happiness and overall mental health. People who are depressed are usually spending too much time living in the past and people who constantly worry are spending too much time thinking about the future. Mindfulness allows you to just be in the present moment and develop an awareness and appreciation for what’s happening right now. This year I gave myself the challenge to meditate for 365 consecutive days… #meditate365. I’m on day 18 and I can already see the difference. Join me and develop your daily meditation practice.

3. Let Go and Forgive – The start of a new is a great time to address any old thoughts, feelings or emotions that we are holding on to that don’t serve us in a positive way. Hurt from past a relationship, resentment from not getting a job or promotion, or bitterness from a negative interaction with a family member can fester inside us and negatively impact our mental health. One of my favorite quotes says “Hating someone is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” Learning to let go and forgive is for us, not for the person that harmed us. Forgiveness is a process but a journey well worth the travel. Spend some time reflecting on whether you are holding on to any grudges or ill feelings towards anyone or any situation and start the process of releasing it.

4. Practice Gratitude – We often take the power of gratitude for granted. We all understand the concept of being grateful but practicing gratitude is a little more than saying I’m thankful for all that I have. Being deliberate and intentional about expressing your gratitude for what you have and the little things that happen in your life every day can make dramatic shifts in your emotional state. Your practice could be verbally expressing gratitude every morning when you wake up or after you meditate. It could be keeping a gratitude journal or gratitude jar and writing down what you are grateful for each day. Or you could join an online gratitude group and share what you are grateful for by posting daily in the group. I am a member of a gratitude group on Insight Timer and I enjoy making my daily posts as well as reading what others are grateful for.

5. Practice Self Care – Taking some “me time” every week can boost your positive mental health in ways you can’t imagine. We are so busy doing things for everyone else that we often forget about ourselves. I always tell my clients that you can’t serve from an empty vessel. You can’t be the best parent, spouse or friend if you are overworked, tired and emotionally drained. Make a commitment to designate at least one day a week that you will do something to show self love. This year I am working on this by designating Sundays as Self Care Sunday. It’s the one day a week that I am not allowed to do any work and must do something just for me. For those of you who fall in the workaholic category this can be challenging but the benefits far out weigh the challenge. Give it a try, you’ll be glad you did.

Looking for Light in the Mental Health Care Wilderness

Paul Raeburn writes poignantly of his experiences as a father helping raise three children, two of whom suffer from mental illness-a son with bipolar disorder and a daughter with depression. His account will elicit a shudder of recognition from clinicians with institutional or agency experience and will resonate with the many parents struggling to get help for distressed children from managed care and the medical profession.

Raeburn’s son Alex, a fifth grader, “detonated” one day upon learning that his art lesson had been cancelled. Screaming in fury, he ran through the halls at school, smashing the glass on a clock with his fist, barreling through the front door, and leading the school staff and police officers on a chase through the neighborhood. The cops wrestled him down, yelling, punching, and kicking, packed him into a squad car, and drove away.

The accounts of this incident and of the many that follow are replete with details familiar to those who work with bipolar children:

  • seizurelike rages that give way to exhaustion, sleep, and a subsequent total lack of recall
  • agitated or rambunctious behavior in class
  • oppositionality and reckless defiance
  • risky and rebellious impulsivity
  • threats to kill
  • a mysterious decline in academic abilities despite superior intelligence
  • dark, brooding malevolence interspersed with creativity, brilliance, and sweetness

With the skepticism of a veteran observer, Raeburn traces the family’s journey through a maze of hospitals, physicians, therapists, and medication cocktails. Just as age, maturity, and possibly blind luck seem finally to be allowing Alex to regroup, the Raeburns’ daughter, Alicia, then in sixth grade, becomes symptomatic and is found to be swallowing handfuls of pills and cutting herself. Once again the family is driven back to the hospitals and practitioners who worked with Alex.

Through the years the Raeburns continue to find the results of treatment frustrating and at best mixed-a pharmacological cornucopia, substance abuse, involvement with the juvenile justice system, and therapists who blame parenting skills, intramarital conflict, and, in Alicia’s case, the trauma of rape rather than brain chemistry. Perhaps inevitably, given the severity of the stressors, the Raeburns’ marriage dissolves. The parents go their separate ways. Raeburn writes unflinchingly about the loss of his marriage and his own experience of psychotherapy.

Formerly a senior writer and editor at Business Week with years of experience covering science and medicine, Raeburn is no stranger to research. He has mined his family’s medical records and has interviewed-and quotes-not only Alex and Alicia but also their brother, Matt, and other parents and children. He writes:

As I began the research for this book, I became increasingly aware of the scandalous disregard with which we treat our mentally ill children. Children and adolescents with psychiatric disorders are among the most neglected and mistreated members of our society. Of the millions of American children with emotional problems, only one in five receives any medical care… But the problems with mental health care cut across the economic spectrum… Treatment of children’s psychiatric disorders is often abysmal. The diagnosis is missed. The children are given the wrong drugs, or the right drugs in the wrong doses. They are offered little or nothing in the way of counseling and psychotherapy. They are admitted to psychiatric hospitals repeatedly, and discharged under the orders of insurance companies after only a few days or a week, long before a diagnosis can be made or an effective treatment established. Many of the few children receiving care lose it abruptly when their insurance runs out, which happens much sooner for mental illness than it does for diabetes, heart disease, or any other ailment. Some parents are forced to give up their jobs to become full-time care managers for their children. Some lose their jobs, because they can’t get their work done while they are being called away to emergency rooms, school classrooms, police stations, hospitals, and juvenile detention centers to attend to their children.

Convulsed by the torment of their children’s illnesses, many parents attempt to conceal their struggle and out of shame or embarrassment. But as Raeburn so accurately observes, the medical system and the nation are failing us all. The suffering of sick children amounts to a public health crisis that demands attention: “The longer the epidemic remains hidden, the longer it will continue.”

This wise and informed account of the horrors of medical care for mental illness among some of our youngest citizens and their families is must reading for mental health professionals and parents with troubled children. “What we found,” Raeburn says, “was a splintered, chaotic mental health system that seemed to do more harm than good.” Many therapists will readily agree. Now is the time for us social workers, parents, and ordinary Americans to take action. By failing to respond to the needs of the nation’s children, after all, we jeopardize our collective future. In the process, we disrespect the children we once were.

Reviewed in this article: Paul Raeburn’s Acquainted with the Night: A Parent’s Quest to Understand Depression and Bipolar Disorder in His Children (New York: Broadway, 2004).