Thursday, September 29, 2011

Mental and Emotional Health on The Decline

Is Mental and Emotional Health Improving?  I think not.  Judging by the explosive growth of the use of pharmaceuticals in treating mental health and emotional issues, reports from College campus counseling centers, the reported drain on services of Community Mental Health Centers and the rising numbers of severe mental health issues found in our incarceration facilities mental and emotional health is more than likely decreasing.

Given that as a society we are even more connected and more tuned in electronically, how could this be happening?  I believe the answer lies in some basic concepts and understandings gleaned generally from Behavioral Psychology and Clinical Behavioral Analysis in particular.

Lets start with a basic understanding of a few terms or principles.  The first is ratio strain (RS).  RS is a term that comes from researchers in the field of experimental analysis of behavior and refers to a phenomenon discovered while researching schedules of reinforcement.  In essence it was found that when animals were asked to produce too much behavior for too little reward, emotional responding appeared where the animals were observed to apparently be frustrated and angry based upon their levels of acting out and aggressive behavior.  The definition of ratio strain is now the “Disruption of operant responding when a ratio schedule is increased rapidly.”  Take my word for it, too much behavior being asked for in a context of too little reward.  Something you may have recognized in your life at some point?  A normal thought you may have had during that moment was that the people around you were taking you for granted; that you were doing more and being noticed for it less.

The second term important to understand is Behavioral Activation (BA).  BA refers to a third generation behavior therapy where the goal is to increase the amount of reward or reinforcement a person receives in their environment while simultaneously reducing the punishment they currently receive.  In other words the idea of BA is to help people get more of the things they want, desire or appreciate and to also reduce the amount of pain, struggle, stress, or frustration they experience.

Given an understanding of these two terms one can easily see how our current lifestyles, and the speed at which we live them, could naturally result in an over-all decrease in our mental and emotional health.  For those fortunate enough to benefit from the speed and who report a great deal of reward, good for you.  No one should begrudge anyone for having a fulfilling and rewarding life; that is something we all strive for. 

For those not so fortunate, morning eventually arrives and the struggle continues.  At some point many make successful choices and the context of their lives change for the better.  For others, over time, things pile up and mental and emotional health decreases even more.

No comments: