What the drivers of civilised society, our private schools and corporate organisations, are doing to our mental health.
There is a mental health crisis in Australia, no doubt there is one across the globe.
There is a shortage of psychologists and other mental health workers.
There is a constant increase in the number of people, from the very young to the very old, experiencing mental illness or psychological distress.
Why aren’t we talking about why?
Each of us is a product of our genetics and our environment; of both nature and nurture. Our behaviours are a product of us, as conscious, agentic beings, showing up in this moment and interacting with the environment. Our environment includes other people, culture, the physical environment, political environment and even things we are influenced by but are not conscious or otherwise aware of.
Each of us is both an individual and an inseparable part of a collective, a whole. And right now, as a whole, humanity is sick. I believe this sickness arises from many factors including the lack of emotional intelligence in our essential cultural diet; in our classrooms and our workplaces. As a society, we are collectively deficient in both empathy and self regulation. Culturally, we lack self awareness, and have not had the motivation or skills to create environments in which authenticity, integrity and diversity thrive.
To understand a complex problem in an open system, it is necessary to be aware of the parts, the players and influences, the networks and dynamics. And in seeking to understand a cause, you must also perceive these factors as effects. Every effect has a cause, a collection of contributing factors, and every factor contributing to a cause itself arises as an effect. The rabbit hole is deep, so let’s just start with two factors: nature and nurture.
Picking one, ‘nature’, my starting question for this line of inquiry is: What are we doing to our ‘nature’ that might be contributing to the mental health crisis, in Australia and around the world? That is, if we assume that our nature is one cause of our psychological suffering, what are the contributing factors that give rise to this cause?
Let’s start with the nature of what we are, what we are made of, food and the things we add to our bodies. What do we consume that might be making us sick? Are we talking about how additives in processed food, chemicals in body care products, and pollutants in our air, our water, our vegetables and our meat are affecting our bodies and our minds? Our moods and our energy levels? Are we talking about how this lifestyle of convenience has enabled mass voluntary enslavement by millions of otherwise intelligent people? Too busy at work to grow veggies at home, now dependent on the system for sustenance. Do we know how these toxins and disconnections, these sources of inflammation and insecurity, might be affecting our collective mental health?
Children are too tired, too restless, too irritable, too overwhelmed to sit in classrooms, disrupting those who are pushing through the brain fog and the crippling anxiety to apply themselves to their studies. Tweens and teenagers are immersed in the drama of growing up 24/7, drowning in the complexity of human emotion and identity.
Adults are too tired, too restless, too irritable, too overwhelmed to sit in offices, frustrating those who are pushing through the brain fog and the crippling anxiety to prove themselves to their leaders. Parents and non-parents alike, immersed in the trauma loops they have carried with them through life, collapsing under the guilt, fear and shame.
When you think about it, it is little wonder why collectively, as a people, we have lost our zest and our vitality. When so many deny their own trauma and feelings and just ‘get on with it’. Our lack of self awareness is taking its toll.
And still I wonder, why don’t they stop and ask why? These are not lazy people.
And it is not just our selves we are abandoning. Our lack of empathy is taking its toll.
Consider how first world passivity and privilege has enabled and sustained third world poverty…how each one of us in mainstream ‘western society’ contributes to perpetuating a system that has abandoned millions of humans across the globe, leaving them starving, terrorised, alone.
So many are scared.
We all feel abandoned.
Like there is nowhere safe to be and no-one safe to be with.
It is in our nature to seek belonging and affiliation.
We are social animals by nature.
Fear is surfacing among us.
A dominant theme is the fear of losing privilege. A fear often accompanied by a tantrum. Imagine thousands, millions, of privileged people, people who believe in material success, people who aspire to financial independence and the sense of personal power this bestows upon them. People fuelled by anxiety and caffeine, by mortgage stress and private school fees. Imagine all of them, tired and scared at the same time.
People still scared of their father’s disapproval and their mother’s disappointment. People reactive to triggers and trauma, rather than responding with wisdom and insight.
Fear is surfacing among us.
The fear of change, of having to give something up for the benefit of another. The well justified fear of losing control is building to a war. An inclusive, fair society necessarily negates the privilege of class. And the elite classes are scared. So scared they are chipping their manicured nails to hang on to power. A war of culture, the struggle of social revolution. Where the rage and frustration among the change makers finally takes on the defensive aggression of those protecting the established status quo.
But there is no time for war.
The evidence is clear.
We are all suffering.
We are all responsible.
We all need time to heal.
We need to be talking about our increasing awareness about the changes we each need to make and how difficult this transformation is going to be for us all.
We need to be talking about how tired and scared we all really are of what’s happening and what we’ve done to our selves and our planet.
We need to be talking about how we are going to look after each other through this transition.
But for now, let’s turn from nature to nurture to understand more of what we are experiencing. If we assume that our ways of nurturing are a cause of our psychological suffering, what are the contributing factors that give rise to this cause? What is it about how we nurture and care for each other that is contributing to widespread experiences of neurosis and psychosis? What is it about the places in which we spend so much time that is contributing to our suffering? Education and civil society, government and corporate citizens, the pillars of our society, the source of so much trauma. Are we questioning the system and the assumptions it is based on? Are we wondering about the pressure on kids in school and questioning the norm that it is necessary,? The school curriculum is just a made up notion, we invented it. We can let it go. Kids actually thrive and learn more if we give them time and space. We just don’t give them the chance.
As a society, we need to create spaces for our children to experience love and growth.
And no doubt you or someone you love is worried about a ‘career’, thinking that somehow having a good and successful career makes one a better person. But then you wake up one day and realise it doesn’t and you know now why you feel so bad, and then, for while you feel worse…. But are we talking about the contrived nature of the brainlessly busy, over-committed lifestyles we have adopted and how we are clearly not adapting to these ways physically or psychologically? And about all the ways we use the busyness to justify the avoidance, denial, complacency and compliance? Having a career is just a made up notion, we invented it. We can let it go. Adults are insightful and creative if we give them time and space. We just don’t give them the chance.
As a society, we need to create spaces for our adults to experience love and growth.
And if we are going to address our psychological health and well-being we are going to have to talk about the trauma we all carry. The trauma we are still collecting. As individuals. As families. As communities and societies. We are going to have to talk about the cycles of pain and suffering, the generational paths of destruction, and the centuries of denial and blame.
We need to have the difficult conversations.
We are beginning to manifest the courage, but the conversation has only just begun.
The overwhelm just adds to the burden.
Pause to breathe.
Om shanti. Peace begins with me.
At least this is what it means to me. Om or Aum, the sacred sound of the beginning, the origin, the source. And shanti, peace, inner peace and peace among all beings.
The only thing we can do, is what we are able to do.
Start with your own well-being, start with healing your self.
Start by pausing.
Listen to your body.
Notice the people and places that help you feel safe.
The times you feel at peace.
Kiss The Earth
Walk and touch peace every moment.
Walk and touch happiness every moment.
Each step brings a fresh breeze.
Each step makes a flower bloom.
Kiss the Earth with your feet.
Bring the Earth your love and happiness.
The Earth will be safe
when we feel safe in ourselves.
~ by Thich Nhat Hanh
Peace begins with me.
May I share it with you.
May it spread out into the world around us.
Peace is the transformation we need.
images by Simone B’Free.