What Cosmology and the Utah Sky can Teach us about Mental Health

What Cosmology and the Utah Sky can Teach us about Mental Health

More so than most states, Utah is defined by the city and the wilderness. Despite all the positives that come with diverse neighborhoods and a thriving metropolitan area, many Salt Lake and Utah County residents love the occasional jaunt into the wilderness. Be it skiing, rock-climbing, camping, backpacking, or hiking, there are any number of mountains, canyons, and buttes that lure us from our population centers.

Whether it’s the brilliance of the night sky on the edges of the state or the Clark Planetarium in downtown Salt Lake City, many people in Utah have strong, if opposing, reactions when it comes to cosmology and star-gazing:

  1. Some have a profound sense of smallness and insignificance. All that distance and space compared to this little spec of place and time we inhabit.
  2. Others have a deep sense of meaning and connection. Across the expanse of so many years of light travel, photons shot from the ancient past reach our eye in this moment, in this place.
  3. And some people just see small dots of twinkling light and think: what’s the big deal?

In one sense, this is a good reminder that people may have wildly different reactions to the same stimulus and that we have a tendency to insert our self-perception into seemingly neutral stimuli. In fact, in some ways, it’s the neutral, or ambiguous, stimuli that most require us to insert ourselves. For each reaction is a truthful one, and each approach holds opportunity and limitations. By looking at the stars, a change in perspective can help lift our mood and give us insight to deal with future challenges, but when our sense of self becomes too deflated—or too inflated—our mental health can suffer.

Apart from personal faith, it can be difficult to provide an objective justification for the meaning of life. Yet, depression can lead to its own kind of beauty and creativity. There’s also a serious debate about what seems to be an increasingly fine line between acceptance and glorification of mental illness, especially in online communities.

Cosmology, Choice, and Consequences

It’s not just the really big and really far, either. What we know about very small particles is that individual particles can act in unexpected and unexplainable ways, but the behavior of large groups of particles create predictable results based on the laws of physics. Our complex brains and the complex world in which we inhabit means that it may be impossible to know why someone does or does not get better from a depressive episode. But by studying large populations of people who have been treated for depression, we can say you’re more likely to be better off if you talk to a therapist, while marshalling other resources at your disposal.

Moreover, we may have the freedom to choose individual behaviors, but a pattern of behavior will, over time, tend to create predictable results. I can go to the gym today or not. I can have a cigarette today or not. But if I don’t go to the gym for six months and start smoking on a regular basis, I can’t simply choose to wish away the nicotine cravings while also running a marathon. And while we may, indeed, have freedom of choice, our behaviors still have real-world consequences.

Getting Down-to-Earth Help for Your Mental Health

Feeling overwhelmed by an unshakeable sense that you don’t matter? Do you recognize that sometimes your ego gets so big it’s like you’re no longer in control of your own actions? Have you spent so much time traveling one path and making so many wrong choices that you can no longer find your way back? Do you react to ordinary things in such extremely odd ways that you think something must be wrong with you? Talk to someone in confidence about what you’re going through. Talk to someone who’s qualified to help you understand, get through, and prevent the things that threaten your mental health. Whether or not you find a link in your own life between cosmology and mental health, we can help you find the right professional to talk to.

Marcus Pickett

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