What does mental health mean to me? A Mental Health Awareness Month Reflection

Reflection in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month by: Jim Shackelford, PhD, LCP, LMFT, CADC

Sigmund Freud is often quoted for saying “work and love, love and work...that’s all there is.” 

To have a meaningful and productive vocation is critical for everyone’s mental health.

I feel lucky and blessed to have found my calling. I have retired twice from jobs I have loved, and I am still working. I look forward each day to counseling and talking with clients.

Yet many people struggle with this part of mental health. Some do not work, cannot find a job, or struggle to find meaning and passion in their work. Others return to work after raising a family. Still others feel uncertain about their future, worrying about their job becoming obsolete or how things could change. All of this contributes to feeling hopeless, lost, or trapped. And many people work simply to survive. It is not always easy, but most of us try to find an ideal place that fits our unique gifts and abilities, compensates fairly, and stimulates our individual interests. Without a doubt, work is key to good mental health.

After the first element of work, the second essential from Freud’s perspective is experiencing meaningful attachments, relationships, and loves. These attachments may be family and children. But many do not have or have lost those. These attachments may be friends. But many do not have or have lost those. Many people experience isolation, loneliness, sadness, and depression when they lack these meaningful relationships. The challenge is to find people to connect with and to care about, and to maintain the connection that we create with each other. Part of counseling is related to finding realistic ways to connect and nourishing our loving attachments. Relationships are a second key to good mental health. 

In addition to work and love, I add a third ingredient—feeling spiritually grounded. Any faith that appeals to an individual can be a resource for mental health. Paul Tillich, a Protestant theologian in the 1960s, described God as the Ground of Being. I believe that finding a Higher Power, a Ground of Being, or just a sense of spiritual connection to something greater than ourselves, helps make it easier to face everything that life throws at us.

My favorite singer, Tina Turner, converted from Baptist to Buddhist. In a recent HBO biography of Tina, she relates how daily chanting and meditations helped her face difficulties. Tina overcame challenges including domestic violence and health problems such as an organ transplant. In addition, her spiritually focused chants and meditations helped her find joy in relationships and in her career. Towards the end of her life, Tina produced six CDs with Buddhist chants. Quite a change from Proud Mary and Private Dancer. I know that no faith works for everyone. But I believe a faith practiced daily makes for good mental health.

Work, Love, Faith. I invite you to think on these things.