It used to be that your mental health didn’t matter much to most people. Your family probably cared, assuming they weren’t too screwed up to do so, as an unfortunate number of families are. Your immediate neighbors might have cared somewhat, if your particular mental problems caused you to do things that impacted them or their property values. But you couldn’t really hurt too many people; nuclear and biological weapons were out of reach to anything smaller than a major government, and obtaining more conventional military weaponry required more time, hassle, money, and contacts than most people could muster. Unless you had shady “street” friends, even the purchase of a handgun required paperwork, a background check, and a waiting period, and they’re tracked to make it a lot harder to get away with using them for nefarious ends. One of the biggest reasons for having a government and laws, and the only valid reason for having a military or police force, was to protect you from your relatives and neighbors.
That is changing. Science fiction is becoming science fact in so many areas now, and not all of them beneficial. It’s already possible to build an untraceable gun with mail-order parts and an inexpensive 3D printer. In the not-too-distant future, your local pharmacist will mix your prescriptions at your local drugstore, with a device that could be reprogrammed to create lethal poisons. Nuclear weapons might remain the provenance of governments (though increasingly smaller governments are already getting access to them), but it’s not outside the bounds of reason to believe that other presently-science-fiction technologies will be developed, such as tailored retroviruses to combat natural microbes — and if you can create a helpful retrovirus, you can just as easily create a harmful one, intentionally or through ignorance. Or even more easily re-create one from the past: as just one horrific example, the DNA sequence for the Black Plague was worked out just last year. Once such technologies have been developed, do you think they will remain beyond the reach of any well-funded organization for long, no matter what its goals might be?
At some point, the only way to protect your from your neighbors will be to ensure that both of you are sane. Society won’t be able to afford the luxury of ignoring everyone’s sanity anymore; a single person motivated by a strong anxiety, phobia, or obsession could do too much damage.
Fortunately, people are also discovering more about the human mind every day, and in the last thirty or forty years we have come up with many useful and effective techniques for dealing with its problems. Many of them are part of mainstream psychology, and can only be applied with the help of a trained psychologist or psychiatrist, but some of the most useful ones don’t need medical training:
The Lefkoe Belief Method deals with false beliefs held by the subconscious mind, directly at their source. It’s permanent, very fast, and apparently works for about 90% of people when used with a “facilitator” or with the aid of pre-recorded sessions, though an unknown percentage of people can use it on their own. I suspect it can be improved so that most people could be taught to use it on themselves easily, but at present it requires some effort to master. A beneficial side effect is that eliminating the underlying erroneous beliefs will instantly clear up a whole slew of problem behaviors and emotions caused by them, including ones that you didn’t realize they were responsible for. In my opinion it’s the most interesting, primarily for what it suggests about the subconscious mind.
The Sedona Method deals with unwanted emotions and reactions in a different way, letting you “let go” of the emotions themselves. It’s not as fast as the Lefkoe Method, because the emotions often come back later and must be dealt with again, but it’s easier to learn and use, and can be applied in a matter of seconds. Although it covers some of the same ground as the Lefkoe Method, it’s primarily a first-response approach, dealing with the symptoms rather than the cause; great when you have to deal with your emotions and reactions in real-time, but more of a band-aid than a cure.
I haven’t personally tried the Emotional Freedom Technique, but many people who’ve tried both say that it’s on par with the Sedona Method in speed, effectiveness, and ease of learning and use. It seems to be on the pseudoscience side of things, with “energy manipulation” and acupuncture meridians, but if it works I’m not going to dismiss it.
No one can say where this might go in the future, but if civilization survives the next couple centuries, I believe that people will demand that their governments enforce a minimum standard of mental health. We can only wonder what the world might look like after that… would a mentally healthy populace ever find enough insurmountable differences to go to war with their mentally healthy neighbors? Would they tolerate the kind of win-at-any-cost politics we’re seeing today? What would politics look like in a world where would-be politicians couldn’t play on the weaknesses and fears of their constituents? The only thing certain is that such a world would look very different from anything that’s come before.
When I started planning this article, I was strongly reminded of a passage from an early part of The Uplift War by science fiction author David Brin. To set the scene, a young man named Robert has been injured, and a similarly-aged humanoid alien called Athaclena is the only intelligent being around who can help him. Athaclena’s race is partially telepathic, so she tries to help him that way, and finds herself in a world of metaphor:
His metaphorical self took shape alongside her in the little boat, holding another oar. It seemed to be the way of things, at this level, that he did not even ask how he came to be there.
Together they cast off through the flood of pain, the torrent from his broken arm. They had to row through a swirling cloud of agones, which struck and bit at them like swarms of vampire bugs. There were obstacles, snags, and eddies where strange voices muttered sullenly out of dark depths.
Finally they came to a pool, the center of the problem. At its bottom lay the gestalt image of an iron grating set in a stony floor. Horrible debris obstructed the drain.
Robert quailed back in alarm. Athaclena knew that these had to be emotion-laden memories — their fearsomeness given shape in teeth and claws and bloated, awful faces. How could humans let such clutter accumulate? She was dazed and more than a little frightened by the ugly, animate wreckage.
“They’re called neuroses,” spoke Robert’s inner voice. He knew what they were “looking” at and was fighting a terror far worse than hers. “I’d forgotten so many of these things! I had no idea they were still here.”
Robert stared at his enemies below — and Athaclena saw that many of the faces below were warped, angry versions of his own.
“This is my job now, Clenny. We learned long before Contact that there is only one way to deal with a mess like this. Truth is the only weapon that works.”
The boat rocked as Robert’s metaphoric self turned and dove into the molten pool of pain.
Froth rose. The tiny craft began to buck and heave, forcing her to hold tightly to the rim of the strange usunltlan. Bright, awful hurt sprayed on all sides. And down near the grating a terrific struggle was taking place. […]
Contact narrowed, then broke. The metaphorical images ceased abruptly. Athacleana blinked rapidly, in a daze. She knelt on the soft ground. Robert held her hand, breathing through clenched teeth.
“Had to stop you, Clennie… That was dangerous for you…”
“But you are in such pain!”
He shook his head. “You showed me where the block was. I… I can take care of that neurotic garbage now that I know it’s there… at least well enough for now. […]
I really like the implication that in Brin’s imagined future, mental health practices are part of every schoolchild’s normal curriculum.