Mental disorders appear to be bedeviled with distortions of the cause, course, and manifestations of the various forms of their presentations. Despite the advances made in evidence-based interventions for these disorders, lots of people still find it difficult to relate to individuals who are suffering from mental illness. In my experience, there are lots of breaks in the ideal flow of human interactions that are directly or indirectly related to major or minor mental health challenges. Some authors have tried to ascribe absoluteness to mental illness i.e. an individual is either “ill” or “not ill”. It’s like an “all” or “none” thing. Others have described matters of sanity in relative terms.
The relativity of the abnormal phenomenon is viewed in terms of associated factors to the perceived abnormal experience. For instance, if you are presented with the video of a 50-year-old white man who is jumping up and down and shouting “Ole! Ole!! Ole!!!”, and you are asked to comment on how sane he is; you will need to clarify the nature of the circumstance that necessitated his action was. If you are given the information that the man was watching a Spanish bullfight, then you will conclude that he is very normal. It is quite normal for Spanish middle-aged men to get excited and shout Ole! while watching bullfights. However, if you are given the additional information that he just lost his only son the previous day, your opinion about his level of sanity will change!! Whether in relative or absolute terms, you will need to always ask yourself this simple question “How sane am I?” If there is a way of quantifying the level of our sanity, how sane are we really and how can we improve (or rather increase) our level of sanity?
In describing what the ideal state of being mentally healthy is, we need to look out for the individuals’ level of functioning. For there to be agreeable optimal mental well being, there must be commensurate optimal functioning. Clinically demonstrable limitations or restrictions in an individual’s ability to fulfill expected personal, family, occupational and other social goals or responsibilities are necessary to conclude that an individual has a mental disorder! Classifications of mental disorders recognize the presence of an impairment in functioning for the diagnosis of specific illnesses to be made. This connotes that one could infer that when we come across individuals who for one reason or the other seem to be having problems with having a harmonious and mutually acceptable relationship with others in the context of challenges in living a productive life while attempting to contribute their quota to overall community growth and development, such individuals might not be as sane as others.
An individual’s level of sanity is a measure of how mentally balanced the person is. Most of the time attempts at conceptualizing the mental state of individuals appear to be restrictive. We tend to narrow the scope of mental wellbeing to basic interpretations of the rationality or the reasonableness of an individual’s action, speech or emotional responses. However, the world health organization wants us to see the concept of “Health” as not just the absence of disease by clinical definition; but complete physical, mental and social well-being. By extension, mental health is described as “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her potential, can cope with normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make contributions to his or her community”. This implies that to determine if someone has an optimal or ideal mental stability, we need to explore if he/she can realize his/her potentials, cope with normal stresses of life, work productively and fruitfully and contribute his/her quota to the community. We can also infer that anyone who is not able to say categorically that he/she is satisfied with the level of attainment of these goals cannot be said to have an optimal mental state!!
I believe that the number of people within the general population who have suboptimal levels of sanity is much higher than is documented. I look around me and see lots of people with unfulfilled goals, truncated dreams, career limitations, economic castrations, etc. I see lots of people who are well dressed but in distress, struggling to just remain for as long as possible on the brink of generally acceptable rationality without crossing over to the other side. Many can walk this tightrope without falling but some don’t succeed. They start by crossing the line once in a while (the so-called 5 minutes of insanity phenomenon) and gradually, they start crossing the line more often until they somehow end up staying longer on the other side of acceptable rationality. By this time, they will need to be guided back to accept reality; our “collective ideal”.
The boundary between sanity and insanity is not as clearly demarcated as we are made to believe. Our acceptance of absolute “Yes or No” categorization of the absence or the presence of mental disorders tend to influence our decision either to begin intervention or not. It allows individuals who are still mildly disordered to be left out of standard care because persons close to them are waiting for their cup of irrationality to be full before reluctantly seeking professional help. Even when they come to the hospital, mental health professionals have to spend much of the time trying to convince them to adhere to a care plan. The boundary between sanity and insanity is much blurry than we think. The prevailing economic and security challenges in the country have negatively impacted our wellbeing to the extent that it is currently difficult to find anyone who is fully sane in relative terms! All unfavorable circumstances including natural disasters, government policies, interpersonal conflicts, etc. that adversely affect people’s psyche are all factors that reduce levels of sanity. We all need to ask ourselves (Truthfully!!) from time to time the question “How Sane am I?”
Stay safe and sane; help others do the same by sharing this!!!