Using keys to unlock mental health like a doorway


Most of us have keys to doors. If a lock stops working, or when we do not have our keys, we have a problem because we lose the power and control to get where we belong. This recently happened to me.

At my home, the lock on a door started to fail and an old garage door opener stopped working. Then the other day I accidentally locked my keys in my office. We can solve problems like these on our own, ask for help from people we know, or turn to a professional.

Like many native yoopers, my Dad passed along a do-it-yourself trait, so at my home, I installed a new lock. To regain control of my garage door, I turned to a garage door professional who helped me choose and program a new opener. To get into my office, a co-worker was in the building and had a key to open the door. With a little help from others, and a bit of self-determination, I was able to recover my ability to re-open some doors in my life.

When the key or the lock fails on the door to our mental wellness, some might take a do-it-yourself approach, but to open that door again, many need family, friends, and professionals to help them regain entry.

The mental health treatment field has improved since the dark ages of institutionalizing everyone with a serious mental illness, but too many cannot open the door to their mental health. The median delay between symptom onset and starting treatment is ten years. The lag comes from barriers like stigma and cost. Imagine having a broken leg for ten years before getting help or being locked out of your home for that long. We must do better.

The key to mental health is having power and control to live one’s life aligned to personal core values. Many things can stop this key from working. Traumatic experiences and mental illness are big examples.

Professionals once held power and control in treatment but are learning to be more effective by helping a person recover their personal power and control. Instead of a top-down professional-knows-best model of care, the mental health field is practicing what we call person-centered treatment.

A person-centered approach first identifies an individual’s core values. Professional tools may include medication, psychotherapy, or counseling, which can help a person recover power and control needed to unlock the door to living more in alignment to their core values, hopes, and dreams. This approach may seem simplistic, but when followed is powerful and effective.

Professional help is sometimes necessary, but equally important is encouragement of friends and family to instill hope and love. To be mentally at our best, we also need the power and control, the keys, to enter where we each have a right to belong — a way of living life more closely aligned with our core values, where we find meaning and purpose.

Brian D. Rendel, MA, LLP, LPC, NCC is a nationally board certified licensed professional counselor and Training and Prevention Coordinator at Copper Country Mental Health Institute in Houghton, Michigan.