Recently, I’ve been noticing that the more people are willing to talk about mental health issues, the more they begin to search for a cause. In theory, this makes perfect sense. It’s important to understand the root cause of a problem in order to effectively solve it. What I’m starting to hear more and more now, though, is less of a solution-focused inquiry, and more of a search for blame. Everyone wants to believe that, in the grand scheme of mental illness, there is something, someone, or somewhere to place the blame.
Blame is a scary thing. Blame is so official, so negative, so final. Why do we find it so satisfying, then? And why has it become so important to know who or what to blame when it comes to mental health issues? I’m not sure, to be honest. But I think we should talk about it.
Let’s take it back to elementary school science class and our good friend Isaac Newton. In his law about force, we learned that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Simply put, when I push on a wall, there is an equal force that pushes back into my hand and keeps the wall in place. Although it is a tiny element of what we have learned along the way (and I’m sure most people have forgotten it), I think this tiny nugget has morphed into a much larger common understanding in society. I think that for every action or moment that we experience, we expect something to come back… we expect an opposite force.
When we send an email, we expect a response. When have feelings for someone, we expect them to reciprocate and feel the same way. Again, in theory, this all makes sense. But what happens when it doesn’t work? What happens when we don’t experience the equal and opposite force? Just as we were taught in grade school, we look for the “why”. We look for something to blame for the imbalance. Back in class we would look for gravity, centrifugal force, resistance, etc. And now, in life, when we experience imbalance, it triggers this innate instinct to look for the “why”. The problem is that it isn’t so straightforward anymore. There are too many variables. There are too many “why”s.
I think this ingrained understanding of the world has done a number on us when it comes to mental health. I’m having trouble expressing it as cleanly as I had hoped… but I guess that’s the point. I expect it to be neat and tidy, but it just isn’t that way. Working through mental health issues is not working through a physics problem. It is complex with infinite variables, and its main subject isn’t a made up kid with a basket of apples or a train traveling to Philadelphia, it’s a real human.
What I’m trying to get at is this: is there any value in blaming mental illness on someone or something? Do we find peace in uncovering the cause that impeded the equal and opposite force? For example, I’ve heard many parents obsess over the hereditary nature of mental illness, and how they can find out which side of the family it came from. Those questions always used to perplex me. I always used to think, “What difference does it make? It’s here, so let’s help make it better.” But now that I think about elementary school science, maybe it’s just their way of trying to solve the problem.
I don’t have the answers, that’s for sure. What I do know is that blaming mental health issues on something or someone has never worked for me. It has always led me down a path of resentment, sadness and frustration when the problem didn’t work out as neatly as I had hoped. Mental health just isn’t like that. When it comes to mental health, 2 times 3 does not equal 6.
So, this week, I encourage you to pay attention to the times when you start searching for blame. Think about it objectively. Think about why you are looking for it, and what will happen if you find your answer. Will it bring things back to equilibrium and keep the wall in place, or will it tip the scales even more?
About Kathryn Christie
As an HR Consultant with a deep passion for Mental Health, Kathryn spends her days pushing paper and her nights volunteering with the Canadian Mental Health Association as a co-facilitator of the Family and Caregiver Education program. Her passion extends beyond the realm of her volunteer work which has brought her to Healthy Minds Canada to share stories, support and inspiration with her community.