The Helicopter Analogy of Mental Health

I have decided that helicopter controls make the perfect analogy for mental health.

  • When descending (settling) under power, a thing called a vortex ring state can occur where you’re basically sucking yourself down along with all the air around you. If you don’t escape, you crash and die. Paradoxically, struggling against it by applying more power, which should theoretically pull you upward, just makes the problem worse, and you fall faster! The only way out is a lateral move.
    • This feels a lot like spiraling out of control! In such times, all you can do is step out of your own downwash, distract yourself, or seek help. If you’ve got coping mechanisms lined up ahead of time, these can help a lot!
  • If you go up too fast, the rotors over you—which are designed to flex!—will actually bend down enough to strike your own tail, which will of course cause you to crash and die. To counteract this, you can ascend more slowly or move laterally while you ascend to direct the acceleration in multiple directions.
    • It’s not only okay but recommended to make gradual and measured progress toward a goal. This also means that taking an indirect path there may also be the safest!
  • Hovering is the hardest part of learning to fly a helicopter. Aerodynamic forces are constantly moving the helicopter in every axis, and moving any one control has implications in the other axes which entail touching the other controls too.
    • Our mental health tends not to remain in a steady state either, I’ve found. We naturally fluctuate between highs and lows. But as with flight, we do learn to maintain some control over time and not to veer too far into either extreme, as these can be dangerous or lead to overcorrection.

I have probably stretched the analogy too far already, so I’m not even going to mention the rad one-step-forward-one-step-back analogy I have for retreating blade stall.