Is It Time To Redefine Mental Health?

Sep 04, 2017

Every time I, as a psychologist, have to talk about mental health, I literally cringe...There is so much to be said about 'normal' that I know struggle with what society has defined as success and health.

Fifteen years ago I had to do one of the most difficult things in my life: I had to press charges on my brother. 

He had been struggling with psychotic episodes for 6 years at that time and he had gone off medication when a social worker said to him that maybe he was not schizophrenic at all… because he was ‘doing SO well’.

He, of course ecstatic because of this news, dumped his meds and a year later I had a knife on my throat.

I stayed calm, trusted that he didn’t really want to hurt me, and managed to run to my car, lock myself in and call the police.

(Choking up already as Iam writing this. No matter how often I talk or write about this, it still hurts. I am talking about my little brother here. I love him deeply. This was breaking my heart to say the least.)

He knew what I was doing. I am positive of it. He stayed by the door and waited for the police. When they came, he looked back and went without a struggle. Together with my older sister, who had witnessed what was happening, we went to the police station and did what was necessary. It was the only way he would get the help he needed.

I went home and wept. 

And raged. 

And grieved the life he would never had. The life as society had defined as ‘the succesfull life’. I saw the relationships he would never have and the children he would never father. The jobs that would never be his. 

I knew this was the right thing to do, but still, I was the one that had my brother 'put away'. The guilt was excruciating.

He got admitted into a psychiatric institution where he would live for 4 years. A day after his arrest and admission he called me: he apologized and thanked me. I wept some more.

I knew it. I knew he had attacked ME because he knew I would take action and get him help. He had been threatening and hurting my parents for months and they couldn’t, just couldn’t press charges against their son.

After 4 years he went to live in a home where he could have some type of help once a week. Since then it has not been a smooth ride to say the least; he has been admitted a few more times. Live and learn. For him and for us as his family.

But, I want to say this once and for all….My brother, the schizophrenic, has taught me MORE about life than any self help book has ever managed to.

I am ‘succesfull’ by all of societies norm. I am married to the love of my life, live in a beautiful home, have 3 gorgeous healthy children, earn my money by following my passions and seem to ‘have it all’.



For years, I have been living life from burnout to burnout. Managing pain and sleep deprivation on a daily basis. Surviving. Searching for that one thing that will fix me. Barely holding on.

And once a month, I meet with my brother, and he teaches me what life really is. Accept. Feel. Reflect. Let go....

He says things like:

”Karin, I worry about you. When do you take time to think about life? To connect to God and pray?”

“I’ve accepted that my life is about facing my demons and not letting them win. Twice a week, the demons in my head take over my brain and there is nothing I can do than retreat, fight them, knowing that I will come out stronger and that tomorrow I will have a good day, because I once again, won. Have you looked at yours and reclaimed your power?”

“I have no idea how you can go through life so rushed and fully planned? Space is the biggest gift life has given me."

"We all have negative voices in our head...Mine have just driven me so crazy that I HAD to tackle them early on."

And don’t got me started on how this man knows how to set boundaries! If you ever want to learn how to set boundaries and not even budge a centimeter, let me know, I will set up a session for you with my brother! He is so clear about what he can handle and what he can’t, what he enjoys and what he doesn’t AND he doesn’t give a crap about what you have to say about it! Me: “Bro, we are having a huge get together for Christmas, wanna come? “ Brother: “No”.

No further explanation or excuse. Try to negotiate with that!

So you tell me. Who is the healthy one?

The one with the life that is so full that being successfull is even scary OR the one that has a beautiful routine of daily reflection and prayer and is grateful for all that he has and has accepted all that is not possible for him?

The one who has needed years to realize that ‘No’ is a full sentence and that boundaries are essential for a balanced life OR the one who knows himself and has no problem with acting in accordance to this knowing?

The World Health Organization states the following: "Mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community."

Come on! Who defines what my full potential is? Can cope with the normal stresses of life? Can work productively and fruitfully and is able to contribute to his or her community?

The pressure is on people! Is this mental health? I think this definition is very much in alignment with society ‘success norm’ and that it does not support mental health at all.  

Look around? Who, according to this mentally healthy? I challenge you to interview your whole neighbour and one of these criteria will not be on their list.

Which basically makes my case. Society's norms do NOT support mental health. Implying that we should all be handling everything IS the reason that people do not dare to drop a ball here in there. That they do not dare make choices that support THEIR wellbeing. As defined by them!

My brother is a happy person! He does not cope well with the normal stresses of life and has learned to create his life in a way that works for him. He does not work and does not contribute to his community in the sense that this definition expects…

But, he  DOES contribute to this world. By being fully him. By being my brother. By touching my heart and soul with all his lessons.

And maybe now, also contributing to yours. Thank you little brother. You matter. You are valuable.

So think about it….is it time to redefine mental health?


I believe so. Mental health is yours to have, when you dare look at society and decide that it is time for you to define your own success. Your ‘having it all’. That is mental health.

Also published on Thrive Global


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