Forget about yourself and think about others

On behalf of HRF, I recently attended a round table on mental health as a Think Tank observer, at the invitation of the Spanish foundation “The Family Watch.” It is good that you always learn from those who know. And although I left the event a little disgruntled, I have been gradually putting my ideas in place. Let me explain why.

In the discussion on mental health families were criticised, particularly the parents. Although this is hard to hear, there is truth in this. With a cool head we must understand that, although babies do not come with an instruction manual, there are reliable resources available and established experience and wisdom to support us. We must not give in to discouragement or stop making the effort to be parents. We are aware that society is suffering from symptoms of sadness, insecurity and hopelessness. Many adults are worried about uncertainty but with education and prevention, this need not pass to the children. In what follows I am responding to these pressures and not to those suffering from severe psychiatric disorders.

Society is each and every one of us and it is on a one-to-one basis that we can make a difference. We know that what we call “society” does not make it easy, that the inputs our children receive are often contrary to what we think, that the school does not always accompany them when it should be an unconditional ally, that the Internet attracts many more resources than ours, stealing or replacing the figure of the parents… but nobody creates the same bond with a child as his or her parents. Let’s reinforce our advantages.

I heard again that, in mental health and life in general, we must strive for balance. Marc Masip proposed a balance between reason, emotions and will. Rafaela Santos suggested a balance between acceptance, adaptation and resilience as a mechanism for dealing with what happens to us. But there was one piece of advice that opened my eyes again because we always end up with the same message. It was the first “golden rule” that Dr López Ibor, remembered by his daughter, María Inés López-Ibor who is also a psychiatrist, gave his patients to take care of their mental health: “Forget about yourself and think about others“.

Depending on the situation, physical exercise, mindfulness, and medication may all have a role, but getting beyond yourself to give to others is key to mental and emotional well-being. We have ended many posts with this conclusion and it remains true. The other two rules are not to be missed either. Sense of humour: approaching life with real optimism, giving the right importance to problems and laughing a lot at oneself. And finally, transcendence, i.e. the meaning we give to life and how we choose to live it.

If you want to take care of your physical health, you will do sport; if you have cholesterol, you will control your diet. The same applies to maintaining mental health. Noticing there is a problem and seeking the right advice early is vital. The experts made it clear that, in medicine, prevention is always better than cure, and the more aware we are, the better.

And we cannot be alarmed by feeling sad or suffering because emotions, positive or negative, are part of the process of being alive, and we will all experience potentially traumatic events throughout our lives. The key will be prepared to deal together with the things that come our way.