Date:        Monday 19th March 2018, 7.30pm
Venue:    the back room of the Tiger Inn, Lairgate, Beverley, East Yorkshire, HU17 8JG

Our speaker for our March 2018 meeting was  Dr Phil Bielby of the University of Hull School of Law and Politics. Phil had provided the following overview of his talk:

In this talk, I will consider how a secular, humanistic understanding of ‘compassion as thriving’ can inform our understanding of mental health and human rights to improve public mental health policy and law. My focus is specifically on public mental health measures to promote good mental health and to intervene early in ‘common mental health problems’, like anxiety and depression. This is topical, as it meshes with recent public mental health policy discussion in UK and Europe on mental health promotion and mental ill health prevention initiatives.

I will begin by outlining an understanding of compassion as thriving which expands the domain of compassion from a more narrowly defined idea of suffering alleviation to a broader conception of suffering prevention and personal growth. This draws on insights from Martha Nussbaum, Paul Gilbert, Conor Gearty and Paul Bloom (whose recent book was the subject of Tim Stephenson’s talk to the Group last year) as well as from humanistic psychology. This understanding highlights compassion’s proactive and anticipatory quality that seeks positive transformation in the sufferer’s position. I will argue it offers the conceptual basis for a compassionate vision for public mental health which is concerned with helping people avoid reaching severe mental distress rather than being triggered by them.

I then consider the difference that a compassion as thriving approach makes to understanding the concepts of mental health and human rights. I will explain how compassion can support a ‘psychosocial’ (or ‘biopsychosocial’) approach toward mental health which emphasises the primacy of social and psychological influences on good mental health as well as mental health problems. I also claim that compassion is compatible with an understanding of human rights that goes beyond enforcing “minimal standards” (as James Nickel puts it) to one which embraces the value of psychological well-being in order that human beings are helped not only to maintain psychological well-being but also to thrive.

Lastly, I consider the prospects for an understanding of compassion as thriving in shaping and strengthening mental health promotion and early intervention strategies. To this end, I will discuss some current policy initiatives both in England and the European Union to assess to what extent they converge with a compassion as thriving approach and briefly consider two related ways in which a compassion as thriving approach might be applied in public mental health service provision.  The first is expanding the use of compassion-orientated psychotherapy.  The second is the use of such therapies to promote self-compassion. In doing so, I will consider the tension between the humanistic goals of personal growth and instrumental economic outcomes that commonly lie behind the justification of public health initiatives as well as the critical resources that compassion as thriving has to counter this.