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Mental illness affects positivity

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

As I approached this subject, I cringed at the memory of a dispute I once had with a CEO who in total frustration said to me, “You are too negative.”

Of course, in that instance of frustration (not mine) I was disagreeing with a decision and said CEO knew that I was right in my judgment.

When you argue with someone who hates being proven wrong, a cutting comment always seem the best way to win.

He won. Or I gave up. It’s vague now. I no longer care.

But I remember how terrible I felt following the summing up of my contribution to his work/organisation as a battle with negativity. At least that’s what my mind construed that he said when he made that statement.

I’m not unaware about the negative outlook of those who live with mental illness since it is one of the most difficult and debilitating effects present among high numbers of clients/patients. Cognitive distortions, where the mind convinces us of untruths or amplifies a thought to our detriment, is very present in those who live with mental illness – and not only in the critical conditions as schizophrenia, for example.

But negativity is not singularly in the domain of mental illness; any type of illness can bring on negative thoughts and attitudes.

“A flow of sad thoughts through your mind can be frustrating because you can’t be sure if depression is making you think negatively, or thinking negatively is making you depressed,” says

“A common cold, exhaustion, stress, hunger, sleep deprivation, even allergies can make you depressed, which leads to negative thoughts.”

There are those too, who believe that negativity is wholly the underlying factor for other physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental illnesses.

The role of your mind and emotions in and on your overall health is irrefutable. A 2005 Time magazine special showed that happiness, hopefulness, optimism and contentment, “Appear to reduce the risk or limit the severity of cardiovascular disease, pulmonary disease, diabetes, hypertension, colds and upper-respiratory infections; while depression–the extreme opposite of happiness–can worsen heart disease, diabetes and a host of other illnesses” (

Negative thinking, according to, “Refers to a pattern of thinking negatively about yourself and your surroundings…that seriously affects the way you think about yourself and the world and even interferes with work/study and everyday functioning (symptomatic) of a mental illness, including depression, anxiety disorders, personality disorders, and schizophrenia.

It has been estimated that 25,000 to 50,000 thoughts cross the brain each day and according to the website, where mental illness persists, “70 per cent of them are believed to be negative. The negative thinking is actually the depression speaking. It’s what depression sounds like. Depression in fact manifests in negative thinking before it creates negative affect.”

Two major points in the quest for a positive mental attitude must be made. First, most people living with mental illnesses (PMIs) are unaware of the negativity that they are experiencing and sometimes projecting into situations or relationships.

Secondly, others–family friends, peers, etc – who are in these interactions mostly do not know a sensitive way to point out to the person that he/she may need a “temperature” check on the negativity.

The lesson is twofold. First, for the PMIs to recognise or strive for consciousness of their emotional location. Know what your inner experience is as much as possible and fashion mechanisms for dealing with your emotions while interacting with others (and forgive yourself quickly when pessimism blindsides you).

Wherever possible, be open. There may be a friend, spouse, child/sibling, or professional with whom you can speak; do that.

Or you may choose to limit your interactions, restricting it to the essentials.

However, since the majority of PMIs have families and jobs, this may prove difficult.

Some people withdraw completely from social interactions.

The caution is to be cognisant that mental illnesses crave isolation, which can work against the essential healing pathway out of pervading negativity.

Secondly, and undoubtedly, the greater lesson would be to family members, peers, spouses, and friends who are in better health and who interact intimately with PMIs.

Such relationships are delicate. They require greater support and necessitate an understanding, appreciation, and sometimes acceptance of the fact that negative thinking is present in/with mental illness.

Beyond that awareness, one needs an individual sense of security that would allow for not taking personally the negativity of the individual who is ill.

It requires that those who are in the support circle not react or respond with corresponding negativity, scorn, anger, hatred, separation or other levels of maltreatment to someone who, possibly, is still unaware of where their mind is taking or has taken them.

Pay attention to your attitude to someone who isolates or limits interactions to regroup and reconcile.

There are sufficient media that will allow you to ask or suggest how you can be supportive.


• Caroline C Ravello is a strategic communications and media practitioner with over 30 years of proficiency. She holds an MA in Mass Communications and is pursuing the MSc in Public Health (MPH) from The UWI. Write to: [email protected].


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