October 10, 2014, 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 of their own mental health.
The youngest winner ever, at age 17, Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by the Taliban two years ago for promoting education for girls in Pakistan. Now living and attending school in England, she has become a leading worldwide spokesperson. While we don't know if she suffers from any PTSD symptoms from the shooting and its aftermath, but she already seems to have reached the top of Maslow's hierarchy of psychological needs: self-actualization.
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.
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 of the Nobel. Moreover, 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. 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 and the power to "Follow your bliss." They should provide inspiration to us all in behavioral healthcare.