This page contains the current draft of the full text of Chapter 2 of RAFT 2035. All content is subject to change.
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2. Mental wellbeing
Goal 2 of RAFT 2035 is that at least 99% of people in the UK will experience their mental health as “good” or “excellent”.
Far too many people nowadays suffer from deep depression, crippling anxiety, biting loneliness, distressing mood swings, and suicidal tendencies.
The proportion of people with mental health problems is estimated every seven years by the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey. The most recent survey was in 2014, and was conducted on behalf of NHS Digital by NatCen Social Research.
Results from the most recent Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey include the following:
- Each year, approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK experience a mental health problem
- In any given week, 1 in 6 people report experiencing a common mental health problem (such as anxiety and depression)
- 5.9% of people experience generalised anxiety disorder
- 4.4% experience PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder)
- 3.3% experience antisocial personality disorder
- 2.4% experience phobias
- 2.0% experience bipolar disorder
- 1.3% experience OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder).
Harms caused by poor mental health
It may be argued that there are positive aspects to some of these psychological states – in other words, that it is wrong to classify so many people as having mental health problems. For example, some degree of stress and inner mental turmoil can be productive, in leading to positive personal transformation. However, in far too many cases, what people experience is stress that destroys character rather than builds it up.
Indeed, for men in England and Wales between the ages of 20 and 49, suicide is now the leading cause of death. The WHO has predicted that depression will be the single largest cause of disease burden worldwide by 2030. This is just the start of how poor mental health reduces the quality of human experiences.
Even when people don’t report themselves as being mentally ill, they often fall victim to herd mentality, wilful deception by others, and self-deception, as well as manipulation by commercial factors or other social pressures. We are too prone to what are known, in polite language, as “cognitive biases” – and in plain language, as collective stupidity. We are misled by fake news, by clever flattery, and by carefully targeted individualised communications that prey on hopes and fears of which we ourselves are only dimly aware. Despite having clever brains with access to huge amounts of information, we frequently use our intelligence unwisely, finding arguments that appear to justify us staying in our current mental ruts, and clinging to these arguments through thick and thin.
Poor mental health has consequences not only for individuals but for society as a whole. Ill-judged actions arising from disturbed mental processing worsen social strains. Indeed, mental ill-health often leads to behaviour that is fanatical, fundamentalist, criminal, or socially divisive, as well as self-harming. With people having easier access to various sorts of “weapons of mass destruction”, the consequences of poor mental health become ever more serious.
It doesn’t have to be like this. Twenty first century understanding of the brain and mind suggests a number of steps that can be pursued.
Beyond normal mental wellbeing
Bringing many more people up to what might be called “normal mental wellbeing” is only the beginning of what could be achieved. As a comparison, that outcome would be similar to a programme of better physical health, that allowed more people to live to the age of 80 years. That would be a very laudable outcome, but it’s far short of what’s actually possible. As covered in the previous chapter, rejuvenation biotechnology has the potential to enable much greater physical health for all, well beyond the age of 80. This is sometimes summarised as living “better than well”.
As for physical health, so also for mental health. New technology has the potential to enable many more people to regularly reach levels of consciousness that previously were only occasionally reached, by a very small subset of the human population. These levels of consciousness involve deeper levels of calmness, compassion, connectedness, creativity, and much more.
Steps towards increased mental wellbeing
Steps towards increased mental wellbeing include:
- Greater access to mindfulness training, such as methods promoted by the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute
- Guided hypnosis, guided lucid dreaming, and guided meditations
- An improved understanding of the impact on mental health of diet, exercise, sleep, and interactions with nature, such as gardens and “forest bathing” (Shinrin Yoku)
- Increased access to therapists who practice an evidence-based therapy technique such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy; this can happen via face-to-face interactions, online sessions, and/or by suitable applications
- Education on mental health issues, in order to alleviate stigma
- Education about harmful effects of social media, and how to counter these effects
- Education about the evolutionary background of our cognitive biases and “wilful irrationality”, and about how to rise above these self-sabotaging traits
- Potentially, wise use of selected psychedelics, as is being investigated by the Centre for Psychedelics Research at Imperial College, and by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS)
- Monitoring of mental state, via biofeedback and other measurement systems
- The use of so-called “smart helmets” to deliver tDCS (transcranial direct current stimulation), or other electromagnetic stimulation
- Personalised “intelligent assistants” which can coach people regarding actions likely to affect their mental health
- Other “transformational technology” solutions being investigated and developed by the community of companies and organisations that are connected by Transtech Labs (this community focuses on solutions designed to “reduce psychological suffering” and/or “accelerate progress towards psychological wellbeing”)
Moreover, these science-based tools and techniques that work on the individual level will be supported by a greater awareness of how mental wellbeing is deeply impacted by two sets of context.
The first context is our social circumstances, including relentless bombardment by advertising, a reminder of the apparent stark inequalities within society, fear of falling behind or missing out, and worries related to money, relationships, and work. Our emotions are being stirred raw by problems within society. Addressing this context involves improvements in social wellbeing. These are covered in later parts of RAFT (Goals 3 through 6).
Mental wellbeing and personal narratives
The second context for our mental wellbeing is our personal philosophies, including the mental stories we tell ourselves, consciously and unconsciously – stories that are often pernicious and unhelpful.
Related to this is:
- A decline in the influence of the grand religious stories that we used to tell ourselves with confidence, but which can no longer provide the same kind of conviction
- A corresponding decline in the social activities of many churches, and a decline (as detailed by Robert Putnam in Bowling Alone) in civic institutions
- A feeling (as expressed by Douglas Murray in The Strange Death of Europe) of “existential tiredness” and “that the future has run out”.
Renowned US general James Mattis – who is sometimes described as “warrior monk” – was asked on taking up the role of US Secretary of Defence about what worried him most in his new role. He answered as follows:
The lack of a fundamental friendliness. It seems like an awful lot of people in America and around the world feel spiritually and personally alienated, whether it be from organized religion or from local community school districts or from their governments… Go back to Ben Franklin — his descriptions about how the Iroquois Nations lived and worked together. Compare that to America today. I think that, when you look at veterans coming out of the wars, they’re more and more just slapped in the face by that isolation, and they’re used to something better. They think it’s P.T.S.D. — which it can be — but it’s really about alienation. If you lose any sense of being part of something bigger, then why should you care about your fellow-man?”
Accordingly, a key factor in overcoming adverse mental patterns will be the rediscovery of a “sense of being part of something bigger”, that is, a better self-vision for people to keep in their minds.
Step forward the positive RAFT vision of harnessing technological innovations to build a society with an abundance of human flourishing. Via the grand narrative, excitement, and sense of purpose that this vision provides, all of us can be helped to transcend and overcome self-destructive mental tendencies.
As Alex Evans of the Collective Psychology Project writes in his book The Myth Gap,
In this time of global crisis and transition– mass migration, inequality, resource scarcity, and climate change – it is stories, rather than facts and pie-charts, that will animate us and bring us together. It is by finding new [narratives], those that speak to us of renewal and restoration, that we will navigate our way to a better future.
To accelerate progress towards Goal 2, two interim targets for 2025 are proposed:
- A demonstration of long-lasting effectiveness of some of the proposed new “transformational technology” solutions for improved mental wellbeing. These demonstrations will change the public mood concerning the development and wider application of such treatments.
- Update the legislation which unnecessarily constrains the wise use of some of “transformation technology” solutions – especially legislation covering psychedelic drugs and other psychoactive substances.
As mentioned above, mental health can be adversely impacted by problems at the societal level. It is time to turn, in the next chapter, to the possibilities for much improved social flourishing.
For more information
- The Transtech Labs support network
- The Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute
- The Centre for Psychedelics Research at Imperial College
- The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS)
- The Consciousness Hacking community
- The Collective Psychology Project
- The Happier Lives Institute
- The 2013 book by Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion
- The 2017 book by Alex Evans, The Myth Gap
- The 2017 book by Steven Kottler, Stealing Fire
- The 2017 book by Matthew Walker, Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams
- The 2018 book by Michael Pollan, How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence