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The Importance of Discovery

Healthy, well or happy?

Mental health has overtaken 'psychiatry' as the most popular way of talking about ....what?

The answer is none too clear. Some people use 'mental health' to refer to some abstract notion of 'cognitive' or 'emotional well being'. Presumably, this means that people are able to 'think straight' or are experiencing some 'feel good factor'. Some would even argue that 'happiness' is essential for 'mental health' or 'wellbeing'.

Others use the term mental health to refer to the absence of a 'mental disorder'. If there is such a thing as a 'mental disorder' then perhaps people without such a thing should be called 'mentally ordered'.

For many, perhaps, the use of the term 'mental health' is an attempt to escape from the outmoded notion of 'mental illness'; efforts to see people in some more 'holistic' light.  

Even distinguished groups like the World Health Organisation have concluded that there can be no single "official" definition of mental health. Cultural differences, subjective assessments, and competing professional theories will all affect how "mental health" is understood and consequently defined.

This seems sensible. We can talk about physical 'health', however relatively, with some certainty, since there is a body which is either in good shape, or otherwise. However, what does it mean to say that we are 'mentally' healthy?

People can obviously be in good physical shape but still have problems in their life. By the same token, people may be relatively comfortable in their lives, but riddled with all manner of physical ailments.  Some people even manage to face death with a degree of equanimity, which suggests that dying has ceased to be a problem for them. It would be and irrelevance, and an impertinence, to suggest that such people were 'mentally healthy'.

The Discovery of Mental Health

Given such uncertainties it seems foolhardy to try to define 'mental health' - however broadly. In our view, if we want to find out what people understand by the term, we should ask them! At the level of a general concept there may be some agreement as to what mental health might be, but if we want to help people experience such a state, we need to help them discover - for themselves - what they are looking for, what they need, or what is missing from their lives.

The idea of discovery is closely linked to the notion of recovery. If we want to find out what recovery means for people we need to help them discover this meaning for themselves - not give them some general definition, or pre-set formula.

Tidal Discovery

In the Tidal Model every emphasis is given to helping the person learn directly from experience. Tidal rejects the traditional psychiatric idea that professionals can know more about the person, and the person's life, than the person her or himself. The person is always the expert! We need to help the person use this expert status to make discoveries in life about life, and to use these discoveries as part of living a meaningful and fulfilling life.

One of the key groups in the Tidal Model is the Discovery Group. Originally named the 'recovery group', this group focuses on helping people to become more aware of themselves - the various preferences, challenges, successes and a myriad other 'personal' features, which make up their unique lives. We changed the name of the group in 2002 from 'recovery' to 'Discovery' after being influenced by the experience of colleagues in Porirua Hospital in New Zealand. In the Rangipapa forensic unit, the residents and staff felt that they discovered much about themselves and others through the experience of this group. We agreed with them that Discovery was a much more appropriate title and tell everyone we visit, that this idea stemmed from the people at Rangipapa.

This made a strong connection for us. Across the Tay estuary from where we live in Fife, is moored Captain Robert Falcon Scott's research ship, Discovery. It was built in Dundee at the beginning of the 20th century and Scott sailed to the Antarctic on Discovery on his first research mission in 1901. Now it has returned to Dundee as a floating museum, to commemorate the discoveries made by Scott and his colleagues.  From our window at home we can see Scott's ship. This reminds us of the importance of discovery in our lives; and reminds us too of our the remarkable people at Rangipapa in New Zealand, who re-named this Tidal group. It is a small world.

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