Mental health warning to day with plenty of upside

10-Oct-2018

Senior Lecturer in Psychology Dr Simon Moss

Senior Lecturer in Psychology Dr Simon Moss


There is plenty of upside to Mental Health Week, but it can be a double-edged sword for some people experiencing a mental health episode, a Charles Darwin University psychology academic has warned.

Associate Professor Simon Moss said that the advent of Mental Health Week, which is celebrated in Australia each year in the second week of October, was largely beneficial.

“When people first contemplate this day, they are more likely to prioritise their emotions and become especially motivated to feel happier,” Dr Moss said.

“But research indicates that as individuals strive harder to feel happier, their happiness tends to decline. The pursuit of happiness tends to impair happiness.”

Dr Moss said that Mental Health Week could be a mixed blessing for some people who were particularly uncomfortable about the stigma associated with the illness but who were hopeful that their issues would soon dissipate. 

“Because of this hope, they often feel more sensitive to challenging issues or circumstances during the following weeks. In simple terms, their hopes may be dashed.”

Dr Moss said some people demonstrated inconsistent behaviour with individuals with a mental health issue.

“They will often treat them better on Mental Health Day but worse in ensuing weeks.

“We explain this with a notion called moral credentials. As a consequence of having treated someone well, they feel their need to show compassion has been fulfilled.

“This tendency, together with the greater sensitivity of people after this day, is a potentially dangerous combination.”

Dr Moss said he applauded the aims of Mental Health Week to raise community awareness and improve societal wellbeing, particularly in a highly stressful lifestyle environment.

“We need to be vigilant to the needs of people not just on Mental Health Day but on an on-going basis,” he said.

“The practise of sharing stories to mitigate the effects of isolation can often be very helpful.”