Talking, writing, recording, filming. All of these acts put you directly into the brain of the people consuming your content. As you read this, I am making you speak in your head in your voice, the words and thoughts that have come out of my brain.
When you write, you become the inner dialogue in someone else’s head. When you speak, it goes in through the ears, directly to the brain. When you make a video, it’s a multi-sensory invasion of people’s consciousness, though the eyes and the ears, through multiple camera angles, music and dialogue.
When we discuss physical health, we are conscious of what we put into our bodies in order to maintain health. For our brains, it is much the same. Be careful what you put in there, careful what you keep in there and be careful about what other people put in there.
I believe mental health is more complex than just the digestive system. It is more like a combination of the digestive system and the immune system.
You need nourishment, you need to feed your mind with quality nutrients, variation, things that keep you operating in good health. What you allow your brain to take in is responsible for feeding your outlook on life, your happiness, your appreciation for things, your knowledge. Feeding your brain with quality can help your focus, and like a good diet, allow you to operate without cloudy judgement. Variety keeps your synapses fresh and your brain young, like a fresh diet keeps you in good physical health.
For your immune system to function properly however, you need to introduce pathogens from time to time. Your immune system needs to build up defence to pathogens the way that your brain needs a chance to build resilience. Like your body, you should start to develop your immunity early on. If you get to your teen years without having acquired any immunity to the negative thoughts that can affect your brain, you might find that you get affected very seriously.
If you build your immunity from a young age, then you can find yourself immune from community based infections. In a mental sense, you arrive to your teen and adult years with a strong sense of self, self-confidence, independence, compassion and empathy. If you are sheltered from any negative or contrary mental influence, and only experience it as a teen or young adult, you are ill-equipped to get through it without significant trauma that can leave lasting scars.
At the same time, there is a level of infection that no-one can beat off on their own. In those cases, we need antibiotics. For mental infection, the antibiotic substitute can come in the form of supportive friends, love, familial connection, purpose and feelings of belonging. Combined with your own internal immunity, generally we can get through these incidents…. Sometimes, tragically, people don’t.
The point being, we do need to experience negativity to build our immunity to it. You will come across it in the broader community, either at home, or when you travel or change work or school environments. It is unavoidable. We build immunity by small, regular, varied and relevant exposure to these elements, for as long as possible. We build our antidotes by building strong, aware, present, caring and empathetic communities together to support people in times of mental illness.
Being exposed to the measles vaccine is not the same as having measles, and in that way we can look at certain things we consider negative mentally. Being exposed to mild bullying, such as you might find among siblings, might actually make you more resilient later in life to the small (and even large) ribbings that you might get in school or in the workplace. If a child with no siblings is never exposed to these things, then the transition to kinder, school or work might be more traumatic.
Like a virus, or bacterial infection, no matter how strong the antibiotic, there is always an evolution, as we attack one form or incarnation of mental illness, another one will evolve. There will always be new ways for people to spread hate, self-loathing or bullying. As environmental factors change, different strains of stress, anxiety, depression, sadness, pressure will adapt to the new surroundings. Sometimes, rather than just seek stronger antibiotics, it is better to expose people to these factors earlier on, with regular antibiotics on hand and allow individual immunity to develop.
Be mindful of spreading poor mental health, be mindful of ingesting too much ‘fast food’ for your brain. A bit of course won’t hurt, in the same way the occasional burger and chips is fine. Don’t feed the bad mental food to those around you, or those in your care. Feed your mind with positivity and appreciation, work it out by using it, train it by making it work.
At the same time, don’t avoid every mental ‘germ’ in the hopes of avoiding illness. The only way to truly develop your mental immunity is to expose yourself and others to the real world, which is full of amazing wonder and also terrifying sadness. Gently, regularly and with great variation, you must expose yourself and overcome these small thoughts and build an immune system and mental health that will see you in good stead through every situation you might find yourself in for your whole life. Don’t spread mental disease by overloading people’s eyes, ears and brains with negativity, doubt and deprecation. Build the immunity of yourself and everyone you know by balancing the negative with the antibiotic properties of purpose, gratitude, love and support.
Be real, be healthy and of course, Just Be Nice.
Josh Reid Jones - Founder of The Just Be Nice Project and Odin Sports