Inspirational Insights: My interview with psychologist and author Dr. Bob Rich

The goal of Queendom has always been to help people learn more about themselves and gain insight into their emotions, attitudes, behaviors, and life purpose. It’s only through self-knowledge and introspection that we can live life to the fullest and become the best version of ourselves. Years of researching human behavior has taught me that no matter what a person has been through, there is always an inherent desire to survive, thrive, improve, and achieve one’s full potential.

We have an advice section on Queendom with a vast collection of emails from visitors seeking insight into various problems. Our most dedicated volunteer counselor, Dr. Bob Rich, who has been part of the Queendom family since 1999, was gracious enough to allow me to pick his brain on issues related to mental health. Here’s our interview:

Me: What is biggest/most concerning mental health problem facing young people?

Dr. Bob: For a start, I’d like to note that it’s important not to pathologize people – of any age. Most young people are fine. They are no more and no less than apprentice adults, although of course they don’t know that.

I live within walking distance of a local high school (secondary school to Americans). One of the delightful aspects is to see and hear bunches of teenagers of various sizes ambling, or hurrying, or rolling on small wheels past my front door.

Kids, like all people, vary in every conceivable way. We could make up a suffering index. They vary on that. As with most things, about two-thirds can be expected to be in the middle: some angst from time to time, but mostly fine.

There are rare ones who have lived without suffering. This could be because of strong religious conviction: God is on my side, so everything is OK. It could be because of an overprotective environment. I feel apprehensive for these: emerging into the real world will be a shock! It could be because of being less intelligent and perceptive than others, and there is nothing wrong with that. Intelligence is overvalued. Simply being is fine. If you visit my psychology site http://anxietyanddepression-help.com you will be greeted with a poem about exactly that.

Then there is the other extreme: kids who are chronically overwhelmed by their circumstances. This is an interaction of what their world throws at them, and their resilience at that particular time. Any person will break if the level of stress is too high, for now. The result can be chronic sadness, lack of energy and motivation, and other behaviors summarized by the label “depression.” It can be ongoing anxiety, manifested in one or more ways; or aggressive thoughts and behaviors; or hiding from pain through addiction (including substance abuse, gambling, risk taking, food, focus on body image, “needing” lots of stuff, etc.). Many people react with a combination of several such patterns.

I don’t like diagnostic categories, because they are merely lists of symptoms that are then used as if they explained something.

So, finally to answer your question, research indicates that anxiety disorders in total are the most frequent, with major depression second, but rising. Combining all ages, not only youngsters, depression is now second only to heart disease as a major health problem, and may soon overtake that.

My recent fiction writing has two heroes relevant to your question.

One is a 14 year old boy who hates himself, hates everyone. If he could, he’d blow up Earth. So, he steals a car in order to kill someone, anyone, and drives over 6 little kids and the crossing supervisor. The story then shows his transformation into a decent human being. You can inspect this book, Hit and Run, at http://bobswriting.com/hitandrun.html It IS fiction, but informed by my knowledge of the research evidence. Quite a few of my past Queendom clients have followed a similar journey. For example, a boy once posted a cry for help at Queendom, asking why he shouldn’t kill everyone in his school. I replied, and invited him to contact me. We exchanged many emails. Last I heard, he had a steady girlfriend, didn’t hate anyone, and was well into a Dentistry course at university.

My other hero died at 14, but by then had managed to transform the lives of many people. She was born in 1850, the result of a white man raping her Australian Aboriginal mother. So, she was a child of the land, the fruit of an evil deed, but an instrument of Love. Whatever people did to her or around her, her automatic reaction was one of love and caring.

Again, there are real people like that. They are enlightened spirits, who are here with us in order to guide us to be better people. I know several. The story is historical fiction, very close to what I’ve learned about the second half of the 19th century, and is full of action. It casts a light on the universal nature of young people. My reading fans have let me know that this book, Guardian Angel, is my best so far. You can read two extracts from it at http://bobswriting.com/guardian.html and judge for yourself.

Me: What is the most distorted belief that people these days seem to have developed?

Dr. Bob: If you ask most people what is the reason for living, you’ll get some version of “to be happy, I suppose.” This is relatively modern. Other societies have different myths, as did ours in the past.

People have been in this life for religion, to serve God. I’m afraid right now, suicide bombers die and kill in the name of religion.

People have been here for nationalism. Think of all the heroes on every side of every war. Chances are, there are men in your family, who willingly suffered incredible hardship, for their Country.

People have died or undergone torture, for an Ideal. Right now, there are writers and journalists in a dozen countries, locked in jail because they refused to shut up. Think of Nelson Mandela, and others who suffered for the greater good.

When the Depression of the 1930s struck, many stockbrokers felt so ashamed of having let their clients down that they shot themselves. Their descendants now would instead ensure that all their money was safely offshore.

The chase after happiness is the greatest source of unhappiness there is. Happiness is a byproduct of doing something. I am happy when I read a good book, or improve my sporting performance, or eat a delicious meal…it is a temporary reaction to a good thing in my life.

The consumer myth is built on the happiness myth: in order to be happy, you NEED to buy our stuff or service. How can you be happy without going on our cruise, or wearing the latest fashion, or if your phone is one model out of date?

But if buying were to permanently make people happy, they’d buy once, then stop. So, consumer society is based on necessary dissatisfaction. My response was to choose voluntary poverty in 1978. My wife and I did this together, and found a life of contentment.

One step further, the romantic myth is the consumer myth applied to people. It says, somewhere, there is the perfect love for me. When I find that person, we’ll live happily ever after. Only, real relationships are not like that. So, when problems arise, obviously I need to change partners. You can read how to have a good relationship, and how to wreck one, at http://bobswriting.com/psych/relationships.html

You can also read the transcript of a speech I gave some years ago, “Saving Money — and Saving the Future,” at http://mudsmith.net/yarravalley.html There, I set all this out in greater detail, and reveal the secret of happiness.

Stay tuned for part 2 of my interview with Dr. Bob. He also added a generous offering to the visitors of the Queendom  blog:

“For anyone who leaves a comment: I’ll do my best to answer every one of them. At the end of two weeks, I’ll randomly select three commentators, who can then claim a free electronic book. The ones on offer are listed at http://bobswriting.com/bookbuy.html

Dr. Bob Rich has 31 years of experience as a psychologist and is registered with the Australian Psychological Society. Although Dr. Bob is now retired from clinical practice, he still volunteers his expertise and free time to people who email us at Queendom and is an award-winning author. You can check out his site here and vote for his new book, Guardian Angel.

Insightfully yours,

Queen D

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