opinion

Stop glorifying “The Work”: A very unpopular opinion about mental health.

Meditate. Exercise. Eat a Mediterranean diet. 

Practise mindfulness. Dabble in Buddhism. Take ice cold showers. Float in a sensory deprivation tank. Try a week long silent retreat.

Read Eckhart Tolle and Brene Brown and Deepak Chopra while journalling and reciting positive affirmations in tree pose. Breathe. Set boundaries and think your way out of every negative thought but feel everything fully and download the Calm app but PUT YOUR F**KING PHONE DOWN. 

Sweat and stretch because distress lives in the body, but also drink more water and detox and eat more leafy greens because distress starts in the gut, but also focus on nothingness which is impossible to do which is why you should do it because you control every thought and distress starts in the mind. 

Everything needs healing because all of it is broken. 

Breathe. 

Examine your trauma bonds. Recognise your patterns. Meet your inner child and unpack your ego stories. 

Say the unsaid. Write letters to the people you love. Uncover the unconscious. Breathe. Speaking of, book into that breathing workshop. Try acupuncture and reiki and bodywork and see a naturopath.   

Go to bed early and sleep.

Then wake up to the sound of your pounding alarm, tired in your bones from all The Work. The Work that doesn't stop. The Work designed to free you.

And when you still feel like shit - which you might - you'll hear the faintest whisper. 

Maybe, the voice says, before the sun has even risen, you just have to work a little harder. 

One of the best-selling books in the world right now is by Dr Nicole LePera, creator of "the holistic psychologist". Her book, which you'll find in just about every bookshop window in the country, is called How To Do The Work. 

Then you've got author Glennon Doyle's brand new podcast climbing the charts. It's called We Can Do Hard Things. 

Brene Brown likes The Work. So does podcaster and entrepreneur Tim Ferriss, and psychologist and author Jordan Peterson. Dr Phil was always a big proponent of The Work. 


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And the theory sticks because within it lies something true. Sure, prioritise your mental health. Sometimes, getting better means doing the harder thing. All the evidence says eating well and exercising does wonders for your head. That's a decent message. And for some people, it's exactly the right course of action. 

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But I can't help but speculate that in 20 years we'll look back at the narrative we're currently telling ourselves about mental health and think: We were putting people through a very unique kind of torture. And for a whole heap of them, it wasn't working. 

People are driving themselves mad trying to do The Work. Not long ago, I was one of them.

Then, one day, I went to the GP. I told them I was sick. And they provided me with personalised care. For me, that included medication and seeing a clinical psychologist whose version of The Work wasn't necessarily the same as what we see in popular culture. 

While being proactive about our mental health is encouraged, the idea that one size fits all is a myth. 

We will not all get better by doing the same work because we are not all starting from the same place.

Once I received some direction from a professional, I wasn't Sisyphus pushing a boulder up a hill every day, only for it to roll down every time it neared the top. I could sleep. The sick feeling in my stomach disappeared. 

I do not pretend for a moment this is the solution for everyone. But in glorifying The Work we are only telling one side of the story. 

If we truly believe mental illness to be a health condition like any other, then why do we think the treatment can be administered by the one suffering? That a patient can be their own doctor? 

We love The Work because it's familiar. In a capitalist, neo-liberal society, that values labour above all else, we're socialised to believe that all good things sit on the other side of hard work. 

Listen to today's episode of Mamamia Out Loud. Post continues below. 

But isn't The Work a covert way of telling us that if we're unhappy, we're just not working hard enough? 

Medication is being set up in opposition to The Work. As though it's the 'easy' solution or a way to 'cheat'. To refuse the medication and instead cure your illness with ice baths and mantras is framed as more noble. More courageous. You ran the marathon. The others caught a bus and met you at the finish line. 

So perhaps it's time to stop idealising the struggle. 

Mental illness can be lethal. It must be treated seriously. For some of us, The Work will never be enough.

What we want is for people to get better. 

That might mean medication. Or sitting across from your GP, saying you need help. 

And neither means you didn't work hard enough. 

If you think you may be experiencing depression or another mental health problem, please contact your general practitioner or in Australia, contact Lifeline 13 11 14 for support or beyondblue 1300 22 4636.