Principles of Mental Hygiene

In Part I Doctor Shryock presented a definition of mental hygiene, the causes and early symptoms of mental ill-health. He discussed the Prevention of mental ill-health, showing the part the home and the school act. In this concluding portion of the article he continues with the adolescent period.

By HAROLD SHRYOCK, M. D., Acting Dean, Loma Linda Division, C. M. E.

In Part I Doctor Shryock presented a definition of mental hygiene, the causes and early symptoms of mental ill-health. He discussed the Prevention of mental ill-health, showing the part the home and the school act. In this concluding portion of the article he continues with the adolescent period.

Adolescent Period. In spite of the general impression that many adolescents are maladjusted, statistical studies indicate that 98.5 per cent of young men and young women pass through the adolescent period without se­rious trouble. During the adolescent period there is not only an awakening of the sex in­stincts, but a demand for an enlarging social sphere. It is natural for a youth of this age to meditate about the choice of a life partner and to think about his vocational future.

It is unwise for a parent to choose a vocation for the child and then urge the child to accept his choice regardless of the child's own inclinations. It is proper for the parent to guide and encourage the child in the choice of a proper lifework, but the actual choice should rest with the child. The child who deferentially accepts the parent's choice in this matter will find it difficult to maintain his own enthusiasm against hardships, whereas the child who has made his own choice will have a much better chance of eventual success. The parent should guard against imposing his own thwarted ambitions on even a submissive child.

The time of life when the choice of a vocation should be made will vary in individual cases. The child should not be prematurely urged to make a definite choice, but it is proper for par­ents and child to consider the problem frankly as early and as often as the child mentions the subject. The parent should guard against over­emphasizing the supposed advantages of a pro­fessional career. The child may not be physi­cally, mentally, or temperamentally suited for a profession, and he should, therefore, not be given the impression that a trade is dishonor­able. Many individuals would be much happier following a trade than forcing themselves into a profession for which they are poorly suited.

One of the dangers that confront adolescent youth is the tendency (much more marked in some individuals than in others) to indulge in meditation, daydreaming, and story reading, rather than to face bravely the realities of life. In extreme cases this unwholesome trend may lead to a psychosis, but even in average indi­viduals energy may be consumed which should be directed toward obtaining an adequate prep­aration for meeting life's realities. This tend­ency to withdraw from reality is most pro­nounced in those youth who encounter difficult adjustments to their surroundings. The cor­rection of such a tendency centers around the possibility of giving the individual a taste of success in some attractive enterprise (even though trivial) so that reality becomes more appealing than fantasy.

Relaxation, Sleep, and Recreation. Fa­tigue is the natural consequence of exertion and is a physiological safety signal by which the individual is made aware of the need for the restoration of bodily resources. To force one­self to continue activity in spite of genuine fatigue is only to lower efficiency to such a level that very little is accomplished. What is more, the individual who continually prods himself beyond the natural limits of endurance is court­ing ill-health, which may take the form of either a physical or a nervous breakdown. In re­sponse to fatigue many resort to the use of such agents as alcohol, caffeine, or coca leaves. These agents lessen the appreciation of fatigue but in no way restore the depleted bodily re­sources—to say nothing of their incidental poisonous effects.

For those individuals who find their work so strenuous that their usual supply of energy is depleted before the end of the day, a brief mid­day period of relaxation is indicated. The in­crease in efficiency which follows such a period is out of proportion to the short period of time consumed. In order to obtain full benefit from such a practice, the individual should rigidly discipline himself to relax absolutely (physically and mentally) by loosening his clothing and lying down in a comfortable position with the intention of sleeping for a period of not more than ten minutes. After a few days of follow­ing this routine, he will find it possible to fall asleep promptly and awaken spontaneously within the specified time limit. To sleep longer than ten minutes is undesirable, inasmuch as a longer sleep interferes with the processes of digestion. Cervantes once wrote:

"Now blessings light on him that first invented this same sleep: it covers a man all over, thoughts and all, like a cloak; it is meat for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, heat for the cold, and cold for the hot. It is the current coin that purchases all the pleasures of the world cheap.; and it is the balance that sets the king and the shepherd, the fool and the wise man." (Quoted in Medical Journal of Australia, July-December, 1940.)

It is generally recognized, but more readily admitted by some individuals than by others, that an adequate amount of sleep is essential to good health. A statistical study by Dr. Israel Bram ("Introduction to Mental Hygiene," Henry Holt, t93o) based on a questionnaire which was sent to one thousand prominent men and women indicated that 65.5 per cent found it desirable to spend eight hours out of the twenty-four in sleep and it per cent spent more than eight hours in sleep. As a general principle, it may be stated that the person who attempts to reduce the number of hours he spends in sleep also reduces his efficiency to such an ex­tent that he is able to accomplish less during his waking hours than he could accomplish if sleep had been adequate.

For an individual to deprive himself of the natural amount of sleep is unwise, and it is impossible for him to maintain a state of good health if he spends all his waking hours in the pursuit of a single line of endeavor. Brain work­ers require a certain amount of physical exer­cise each day—enough to render them mildly fatigued from a physical standpoint so that they can sleep soundly. And those whose principal effort is in physical work will profit by at least a short period of mental activity each day. Those periods of diversified activity should be of such a nature as to provide recreation; that is, they should appeal to the individual as being pleasant, as constituting a release and a diver­sion from his usual pursuits. A reasonable amount of recreation is necessary to the well­being of every individual. (See "Counsels to Teachers," p. 300.)

Of all the influences which in any way affect the personality, genuine Christianity has the greatest stabilizing influence. We read in the book "Fundamentals of Christian Education:"

"There is nothing more calculated to energize the mind, and strengthen the intellect, than the study of the word of God. No other book is so potent to elevate the thoughts, to give vigor to the faculties, as the broad, ennobling truths of the Bible."—Page 126. (See also pages ix, 129-131, and 136.)

"The entrance of Thy words giveth light ; it giveth understanding unto the simple." Ps. 119 113o. An active Christian provides time in his daily program for Bible study, meditation, and prayer. This not only furnishes an avenue by which the Spirit of God can mold the person­ality, but it develops a healthy sense of security by way of realization that God manifests an interest in each individual life to the intent that only those circumstances will overtake the in­dividual which are for his best good. The active Christian seeks and awaits divine guid­ance in the making of important decisions, such as the choice of a vocation or a life partner, or the advisability of a business venture. This eliminates the possibly detrimental influence on the personality of a state of indecision or anx­iety over the outcome of an unwise decision. Inasmuch as Christianity makes provision for forgiveness of sins and offers the moral stamina necessary to overcome tendencies to evil, it spares the active Christian from those emotional conflicts incident to a troubled conscience, which are so potent in the production of mental break­down.

Conclusion. In summarizing the principles of mental hygiene by which it is possible for an individual to maintain his mental health and thus react to his environment in an effective, consistent, and integrated manner, we feel that one can do no better than to recall three familiar texts of Scripture : "Every man shall bear his own burden" (Gal. 6:5) ; "Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ" (Gal. 6 :2) ; "Cast thy burden on the Lord, and He shall sustain thee" (Ps. 55:22). This triple concept of individual responsibility, obligation to fellow men, and security because of divine watchcare provides a three-ply cord which is not easily broken and which will enable the individual to reach the highest possible level of genuine achievement.

Additional References

Crane, George W., "Psychology Applied," North­western University Press.

Shaffer, L. F., "The Psychology of Adjustment," Houghton Mifflin Co., 1936.

White, E. G., "Counsels to Teachers," pp. 294­-301, 474.

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By HAROLD SHRYOCK, M. D., Acting Dean, Loma Linda Division, C. M. E.

November 1943

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