Apparently, if you chuck a frog into a pan of boiling water, it will hop straight out again. But if you put him in cold water and slowly heat it up, he will sit there until well and truly poached.
Problems due to missing ‘basics’ in people’s lives tend to develop over time, and so can be easily missed. Then, when the problem arises – be it anxiety, depression, addiction or some other nasty – they can’t for the life of them fathom out why!
It’s therefore a great idea to know what your own garden needs in order to grow well, so when you see something starting to wither, you can check your list and apply the necessary nutrients.
So here’s the list. (At least, our list. If you think we’ve missed any, do let us know!)
1. The need to give and receive attention.
“No Man Is An Island”
Without regular quality contact with other people, mental condition, emotional state and behaviour can suffer quite drastically. This is often particularly obvious in elderly people who have become isolated. After days alone, their first contact may be their GP, who sees them for 10 minutes.
They are highly likely during this short period to appear ‘strange’ as their thwarted need for attention asserts itself in an outpouring of communication. If the GP takes this as representative of the patient’s general mental condition, they may prescribe drugs, where really a few hours of being listened to would suffice.
You may also have noticed this in evening-class attendees who command the teacher’s attention all the time, asking seemingly daft questions and not really listening to the answers!
2. Taking heed of the mind body connection.
This is so important, and so often neglected. Without correct and regular nutrition, sleep and exercise, your psychological state can suffer considerably. It is often seen that young people, on leaving home and the structure that provides, succumb to one mental illness or another. Their mealtimes, sleep patterns and other regular habits become disrupted, with predictable consequences.
It seems that people are increasingly treating themselves as machines!
3. The need for purpose, goals and meaning.
“The devil will make work for idle hands to do.”
Perhaps the overriding element that sets human beings apart from other animals is the ability to identify, analyse and solve problems. This is what enabled us to develop to where we have.
If this ability is under-used, the imagination can start to create problems of its own – perhaps in an attempt to give you something to do because it is not occupied doing anything else.
Regardless, if a person is deprived of the outward focus and satisfaction created by achieving goals, mental illness is often close behind.
The need for meaning is perhaps even more profound. Viktor Frankl’s book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ documents the impact of lack of meaning on concentration camp prisoners, of which he was one. He says in it that “What is the meaning of life?” is a question that is asked of you, not one that you yourself ask. It is a hugely powerful and important read when considering mental health.
4. A sense of community and making a contribution.
Tying in with the need for meaning, this basic need provides a context for a person. It gives them a reason for being, over and above their own personal needs, that has been shown to benefit the immune system, mental health and happiness.
One obvious fulfiller of this need is religion, but can also be an idea shared with others, a club, charity or community work. In fact, anything that takes the focus off the self.