Being a Keeper of My Brother's Mental Health
I hadn’t thought to look it up using a Google Books Ngram before, but the concept of “mental health” is relatively new. Check out this chart - it plots instances of different words in the Google Books archive over time.
The way I’ve heard the term used is personal. It’s something that’s “owned” by an individual. My mental health is mine, and yours is yours. I might influence your mental health and you might influence mine, but my mental health is still a property of me as an individual. Our mental states are independent, even if they may affect each other.
But maybe that’s not quite right. After all, “mental health” is a relatively new concept. Maybe we don’t understand it fully yet.
I’m starting to see mental health as interdependent. Because speaking personally, it’s really hard for me to have a stable mental state without the love, encouragement, support, and honest feedback from others. It’s possible, perhaps, but just much harder. To a degree, I can’t help but have my mental state be affected by others.
At the same time, I have the same impact on others. My wife, my son, my best friends, my parents, my colleagues - I have a tremendous impact on their mental state. That impact I make, for them, is basically unavoidable. If other people can’t help but have their mental state be impacted by me, I ought to bear some responsibility to have that impact be positive.
I have some responsibility to be loving, encouraging, supportive, and honest. I have some responsibility not to inflict trauma or make threats. I have a responsibility not to make them dependent on my praise or feel like my love is conditional. And those close to me have the same responsibility toward me.
The more I think about it, mental health isn’t a personal health problem, where it’s solely our own responsibility to make healthy choices and “get fixed” if our mental state is unhealthy. it’s something for which we have a reciprocal responsibility with others. When it comes to mental health, maybe it’s better - and more accurate - to think about it as something for which we are our brother’s keeper.