Mental illness is a fact of life. Every year about 18.2% of American (that’s 42.5 million!) experience mental illness. That’s a lot of people. And as that’s not going to be the same people every year, that means everybody is susceptible. For that reason, we have to be prepared for it and take steps to reduce the risk that we experience and – when we do – that we can deal with it and overcome it.
One great attribute to cultivate toward the prevention and the control of mental illness is open-mindedness. Sound crazy? Well, I hope you can keep an open mind as you read on and I’m sure I can convince you otherwise.
Open-mindedness makes you quicker to realize there might be a problem
The first step that’s necessary to deal with a mental illness (or the onset of one) is that you need to realize there’s a problem. If you can’t do that, then – like mold in a dark unwatched space – a mental illness can grow until it’s too late for you to control.
It can mushroom out of control.
Critical self-analysis is a vital aspect of staying in control of your mental faculties. And for that to take place, you need to remain open minded. What are your weaknesses? What kind of behavior are you susceptible to? What are the problems that other members in your family have (many mental illnesses have a genetic or familial component)? These are all questions that you need to be able to ask yourself and answer honestly if you want to catch the early warning signs of mental illness.
Open-mindedness allows for change
The next step towards controlling a mental illness is changing the underlying behavior that might be reinforcing it. For example, your abuse of alcohol or other drugs – even if they reduce the short-term symptoms of whatever problem you’re suffering from – can seriously aggravate mental illnesses in the long run.
Similarly, if you’re starting to suffer from anxiety issues, then tackling this early on by confronting and alleviating the cause of your fear, will allow you to control the problem before it becomes something that you can’t tackle without help.
Many mental illnesses – like phobias and obsessions – start off as ordinary reactions to environmental cues, but are then allowed to control out of control. A change in behavior might, for that reason, have completely changed the situation.
Open-mindedness can help stop the self-blame and start the self-healing
A lot of people feel responsible and guilty for their mental illnesses. Not only is it not true (do you feel guilty about having a cold or getting the flu?) it is also hugely unproductive. Guilt does not start the healing process.
Instead, it might actually hinder it.
Of course, you can greatly help this process along simply by accepting in your own mind that it’s not your fault and that you should focus your mind’s eye not on who is responsible, but on healing and how to stay happy. But still open-mindedness can help in that regard. It can help you switch gears and realize when what you’re doing isn’t actually advancing the healing process or changing the underlying behaviors that are reinforcing the illness.
Open-mindedness avoids compulsive behavior
OCD or obsessive compulsive disorder is the consistent repetition of actions to reduce anxiety. This includes cleaning, locking the door, avoiding the cracks in the pavement or checking if you’ve turned the stove off.
The brain, in these situations, has to repeat the action over and over again to make the person feel capable of dealing with the world outside their window.
The thing is, the more often the action is repeated, the less effective it becomes and the harder it becomes for the person that exhibits the behavior to fit into society.
Open-mindedness can help in this regard as well, for it allow the person – instead of repeating the same action over and over again – to find other ways to reduce the anxiety that is causing them to repeat the same actions over and over again.
In this way, they can vary their behavior and actually find something that seriously reduces the anxiety that they’re feeling. And that’s the first step towards actually defeating the OCD demons.
Open-mindedness means you’ll be quicker to find help
And sometimes we simply have to accept that you can’t do it on your own. Yes, there is something to be said for being self-reliant, but then there’s something to be said for not having to walk around with a mental illness as well.
And sometimes one has to be sacrificed at the altar of the other. Now, I know which I’d rather sacrifice. I’d rather deal with the demons of my mind and for a time surrender my complete self-reliance, than stay self-reliant and end up completely enthralled to the creatures of my mindscape.
Open-mindedness can help in that regard as well. It will allow us to realize we can’t deal with a problem on our own and get help. The best part? If you can do this early on enough, then the problem isn’t yet so big that it can’t be tackled with some simple measures.
In that way, the sacrifice of self-reliance and independence will only be momentary and then, in due course, you get to recover your self-reliance and your mental health.
As you can see, simply cultivating open-mindedness can be hugely advantageous when you want to deal with the symptoms and the underlying causes of mental illness. For that reason, always work to cultivate open-mindedness, self-acceptance and self-analyzes. This will let you see the problems before they become unmanageable (And get help when you can’t do things alone).
In this way, even though you might end up being one of those 42.5 million people per year that suffers from mental illness, it will only be a pothole upon the road of your existence, rather than a whole that takes out the entire undercarriage of your mental wellbeing.