October 10th turned out to be a red-letter day for mental health. It was the day that the annual Nobel Peace Prize winners were announced as well as the annual World Mental Health Day.
Besides what the prize winners have done to foster peace, they've also done a great deal for mental health. And they've done it at risk for their own mental health.
Sixty years old and from India, Kailash Satyarthi has courageously headed peaceful demonstrations protesting the exploitation of children for financial gain. In 1980, he gave up a career as an electrical engineer to do his advocacy work in becoming self-actualized.
World Mental Health Day was established by the Mental Health Foundation and the World Health Organization. In an elaboration of Freud's definition of being able to love and work, they define mental health as a state of well-being in which people can reach their potential, cope with the usual stress of life, work productively and make a contribution to society. All of these criteria can be checked off for the co-winners. Moreover, besides their own mental health, their work is helping children all over the world to be mentally healthy.
Their selections also have implications for all leaders who try to foster mental health, whether in mental healthcare institutions, families or countries. The best work leadership situation I ever was involved in was being co-leader of a community mental health center with an female African-American social worker. Though the Nobel Peace Prize winners don't literally work together, they figuratively work together for education and against extremism.
Together, they connect many other important differences:
- A Hindu and a Muslim;
- An Indian and a Pakastani;
- A man and a woman; and
- A youth and an elder.
Clearly, they are real life examples of making the mythical heroic journey that the late Joseph Campbell wrote about. They should provide inspiration to us all in behavioral healthcare.