|Luciana Berger MP, the new shadow minister for mental health.|
The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has appointed Luciana Berger MP to a new role in Government, 'shadow minister for mental health'.
While we don't yet know exactly what responsibilities the new post will involve, it is encouraging to see a political party seemingly taking emotional wellness as seriously as physical health. But what should the new shadow minister for mental health know about the subject to succeed in this new role?
For decades mental health provision has languished behind that of physical health, with hundreds of types of counselling, treatments and theories competing for attention and inclusion in the NICE guidelines. Approaches to psychotherapy are confused, myths about mental health abound and now one in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem in the next year. This is an issue that is not going away and it is crucial that the right steps are taken to deal with it.
Now is the right time for those in charge to go back to basics and try to answer the question: what makes a human being mentally healthy?
If we can agree on the answer to this question we can start to make changes and understand why mental illness is so rife in our society.
Fortunately, this isn't yet another thing that needs money ploughing into it to discover – the work has already been done.
Over 20 years ago, this very question was what the founders of the human givens approach, Joe Griffin and Ivan Tyrrell, set out to answer. They ignored the ideology and myths abounding in the field and, taking as their starting point what it means to be a human, they concentrated on scientific evidence, looking for what we know impacts on our mental health and what we need in order to live emotionally healthy and satisfying lives.
The result of their research is a truly holistic, bio-social-psychological framework for mental health and wellbeing. One which, when combined with the many new discoveries also deriving from their research, is dramatically improving outcomes and cutting costs wherever it is implemented. (Read more about the benefits of the approach here)
Through the research that went into the development of the human givens approach, we now know the universal law:
A human being cannot be mentally unwell if our emotional needs (we call them 'human givens') are met in balance.What are these needs and what resources do we have to meet them?
Our innate emotional needs are:
- A sense of security — safe territory and an environment which allows us to relax and develop fully
- Attention — a form of nutrition. To give and receive good quality attention fuels the healthy development of each individual, family and human group. It is also the means by which knowledge is passed on and cultures grow
- Sense of autonomy and control — having volition to make responsible choices (When we feel out of control, especially of important elements of our lives, we become increasingly anxious and even depressed.)
- Emotional intimacy — to know that at least one other person accepts us totally for who we are, “warts ‘n’ all”
- Feeling part of a wider community – a sense of ‘belonging’
- Sense of status within social groups – we need to feel valued by our peers
- Sense of competence and achievement (which comes from successful learning and effectively applying skills – the antidote to ‘low self-esteem’)
- Privacy — opportunity to reflect on life’s experiences and consolidate them
- A sense of meaning and purpose — which comes from both being ‘stretched’ in what we do and think, and being needed.
Our innate resources to meet needs are:
- The ability to develop complex long-term memory, which enables us to add to our innate knowledge and learn
- The ability to build rapport, empathise and connect with others
- Imagination, which enables us to focus our attention away from our emotions, use language and problem solve more creatively and objectively
- Emotions and instincts
- A conscious, rational mind that can check out our emotions, question, analyse and plan
- The ability to ‘know’ — that is, understand the world unconsciously through metaphorical pattern matching
- An observing self — that part of us that can step back, be more objective and be aware of itself as a unique centre of awareness, apart from intellect, emotion and conditioning
- A dreaming brain that de-stresses us every night and preserves the integrity of our genetic inheritance by metaphorically defusing emotional arousals (‘expectations’) still present in the autonomic arousal system (because they were not acted upon the previous day).
Why is this important?
At its core is a highly empowering idea – that human beings, like all organic beings, come into this world with a set of needs. If those needs are met appropriately, it is not possible to be mentally ill.
Perhaps no more powerful a statement could ever be made about the human condition: If human beings' needs are met, they won't get depressed; they cannot have psychosis; they cannot have bipolar disorder; they cannot be in the grip of addictions. It is just not possible.
To get our physical and emotional needs met, nature has gifted us our very own internal 'guidance programme' – this, together with our needs, makes up what we call the human givens.
We come into the world with an instinctive knowledge of what we need and with a set of inner resources that can help us get our needs met, provided we use them properly and are living in a healthy environment. And here is where a health minister comes in...
So what should a minister for mental health understand?
We have made available online a document that explains our vision for good government, the Human Givens Charter.
The Human Givens Charter derives from the universal law of all living organisms: That, to survive, each living thing must continually maintain and rebuild itself by taking in appropriate nourishment from the environment. The existence and survival of all life forms depend on this. The specific needs of each species’ are genetically programmed in to drive every member of it to fulfil its potential. When these innate needs are met well in the environment it flourishes.
None of us can escape this universal law while we are alive. It is the key to emotional health and clear thinking and, as such, we must take account of its truth in everything we do, including how we die. Every policy and plan should derive from being underpinned by this principle. It ensures fair and wholesome management of human affairs.
The prime purpose of government therefore is to ensure that the innate physical and emotional needs of the people it serves are met well.Since we elect people to take roles in government every citizen has a duty to consider how well we are governed and how our taxes are spent.
This means we all have a responsibility to ask the following questions of politicians and managers, and demand clear answers. Each question cuts to the core of the matter by taking account of the human givens.
- Is my government successfully ensuring that our basic physical needs can be reliably met — i.e. those for food, unpolluted water, pure air, space to exercise, freedom to move about the country unhindered, quiet time to sleep?
- Is it contributing to a social climate that takes account of the full range of each person’s emotional and physical needs?
- Is it effectively maintaining an environment where people feel secure and are free to go safely about their lives?
- Is it both encouraging and protecting environments and activities that enable children and adults to feel emotionally connected to others, to experience and enjoy friendship and intimacy (in the family and beyond), and demonstrate that each individual feels valued by the wider community?
- Is it providing the conditions (but not prescribing the method) for the cultivation of a culture where children and adults can easily be stretched in healthy ways both mentally and physically (as in education, work, play) so that they find meaning and purpose in life?
- Is it encouraging working practices which take into account the needs of all involved? (Does it, for example, consider the innate needs of teachers and nurses as being as equally important as the needs of children and patients?)
- Is it providing the facilities and services that cater, as best as is reasonably possible, for the sick and vulnerable?
- Is it building trust in public services and raising the morale of those who work in them?
- In any particular situation is it behaving wisely or foolishly with regard to innate needs?
- Is it maintaining good contacts and building co-operative relationships with other countries around the world in ways that consider the innate needs of the people of those countries too?
Likewise, the various different political approaches cannot be right. Traditional parties align themselves along a left to right dimension. Those on the left seek to protect the rights of the majority at the expense of the individual, whilst those on the right seek to protect the rights of the individual at the expense of the majority. Each party recognises some human needs, but by failing to recognise others, which also need to be met in balance, they only succeed in destabilising society further when they attain power. When everyone can see what needs to change, and how, we can set about doing it. The human givens needs audit gives us a benchmark against which to measure all plans and policies.
See the Human Givens Charter website to download the full PDF of the Human Givens Charter.
Watch a short video introduction on the human givens approach.
Find out more about where the human givens ideas came from.