How can we stay sane in our frantic world?

Despite an increase in government funding being allocated to mental health, and huge investments in drug treatments, rates of mental illness continue to rise. Ever increasing numbers fall prey to stress related illnesses: depression, anxiety disorders and addictions.

You are almost bound to know someone who is suffering.

Much of our workforce risks burn-out from stress and more people are depressed than ever before. Our children and university students suffer anxiety borne of the media-led pressures of perfectionist expectation and a lack of life skills, and increasingly resort to self-harm. Suicide rates among our young – especially young men – are rising alarmingly.

We face a huge mental health crisis – and it’s getting personal. It has become unavoidably obvious that something is not right. But what? What’s going on?

Are we finding it hard to keep up with our own innovations in our fast-paced and ever-changing world? Have we somehow lost the flexibility and resilience required to stay in tune with our surroundings? Or is our cohesion as a species, our instinctive drive to care for each other, being eroded in the rush for individual gain?

What do we need in order to survive and thrive?

To answer these rather big questions, let’s get back to the basics of what it means to be human. What does every single one of us need in order to survive and thrive?

The fundamental imperative for all organisms, including human beings is, of course, to survive. To do this we must take nourishment from whatever environment we find ourselves in, in order to continually maintain, grow and rebuild ourselves.

Like all animals we need air to breathe, water to drink, nutritious food and sufficient amounts of the right quality of sleep. These physical needs are obvious because, if they are not met, we quickly die – as many people sadly do in those parts of the world where clean water is scarce and food in short supply.

We also seek, or create, shelter where we can protect ourselves from the elements and surrounding dangers, so that we can grow, reproduce ourselves and bring up our young.

We all understand these basic and vital physical needs and take it as a ‘given’ that we must get them met in order to survive.

But that isn’t the whole story. Psychologists throughout the ages have also determined that there are other nutritional needs – emotional rather than physical – which are equally crucial for our wellbeing, and sometimes vital for our very survival.

The human givens model identifies nine specific psychological needs as core drivers of our behaviour – read on.

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