Go Ahead and Wave; It’s Mental Health Month!

Dr. Amos waving2So I almost forgot that May is Mental Health Month until I saw our waving man today. He works at the Hy-Vee grocery store stocking shelves, where my wife says he doesn’t attract any undue attention.

But we see him a lot while he’s walking either to or from the store. All along the street he waves to every passing car, and he wears the brightest smile on his face.

Each and every time a car passes, he turns and waves enthusiastically. And you know, we all wave back and smile.

We get the biggest kick out of him. We don’t even know his name, but we sort of look for him now. You wouldn’t be able to spot him in a crowd. He doesn’t stand out. Because I’m a psychiatrist, when I see him I generally think of Williams Syndrome, a genetic disorder caused by a micro-deletion on chromosome 7. They are often highly social and have beautiful smiles. Coincidentally, May is also Williams Syndrome Awareness Month.

But I don’t think our guy has Williams Syndrome. He doesn’t need to have a genetic syndrome to be happy. I think he’s just plain naturally happy and trying to spread it around. I think of all the bad news in the world like ISIS terrorists and bloggers getting hacked to death in Bangladesh, and the North Korean dictator who may be simply executing anyone who disagrees with him…and I marvel at our Hy-Vee Waving Man. I don’t know his name. I just wave back.

So I wondered if this is unique to our neighborhood. That’s right; I googled “the waving man,” and other similar search terms. And I was stunned. This phenomenon is more widespread than I thought…but not as much as it should be.

Wave, Gary!

Wave, George!

Wave, Moses-Peter!

Wave, Rickie!

So I wonder if this might be partly what Dilip Jeste et al meant by asserting that the time for positive psychiatry has come [1]? They define it thus: “Positive psychiatry is the science and practice of psychiatry that seeks to understand and promote well-being through assessment and interventions aimed at enhancing behavioral and mental wellness.” It’s partly about optimism and maybe there’s a role for wavers as well.

Waving isn’t a job for just anybody. It takes somebody special to take on this challenge of making the rest of the world a little happier as they pass by. The only thanks they get is if we wave and smile back.

And it looks like that’s enough.

Reference:

1. Jeste, D. e. a. (2015). Positive Psychiatry: Its Time Has Come. The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. Date Accessed May 12, 2015.
Traditionally, psychiatry has been defined and practiced as a branch of medicine focused on the diagnosis and treatment of mental illnesses. Based on growing empirical evidence, we believe that this definition warrants expansion to include the concept of positive psychiatry. In the present article, we provide a critical overview of this emerging field and a select review of relevant scientific literature. Positive psychiatry may be defined as the science and practice of psychiatry that seeks to understand and promote well-being through assessment and interventions involving positive psychosocial characteristics (PPCs) in people who suffer from or are at high risk of developing mental or physical illnesses. It can also benefit nonclinical populations. Positive psychiatry has 4 main components: (1) positive mental health outcomes (eg, well-being), (2) PPCs that comprise psychological traits (resilience, optimism, personal mastery and coping self-efficacy, social engagement, spirituality and religiosity, and wisdom—including compassion) and environmental factors (family dynamics, social support, and other environmental determinants of overall health), (3) biology of positive psychiatry constructs, and (4) positive psychiatry interventions including preventive ones. There are promising empirical data to suggest that positive traits may be improved through psychosocial and biological interventions. As a branch of medicine rooted in biology, psychiatry, especially with the proposed conceptualization of positive psychiatry, is well poised to provide major contributions to the positive mental health movement, thereby impacting the overall health care of the population.

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