On Connecting To Strangers
The Sidewalk Talk Blog
40 seconds…every forty seconds someone dies by suicide around the world. They did not commit a crime. They were escaping what felt like inescapable pain. They were desperate for relief.
For this World Mental Health Day let’s do something together.
In a world where we increasingly value wealth accumulation, attention rather than connection, talking over listening, the need to be extraordinary over the beauty in our ordinariness we are creating the ingredients for mental illness. Add to this reality all the historical traumas, injustices, and degradation to our planet that live on in our world systems and in our hearts and minds the question we can ask is “What can I do today and every day to contribute to creating a mental health promoting community?”
Can we stop blaming people?
A few years ago, my youngest son was depressed. I didn’t know a second grader could talk about harming themselves. I approached the school counselor several times over the year about a bullying issue that terrified my kid. But he was a good looking, smart, privileged kid who liked to talk smack. Her exact words “Your son is fine.” Another mother implied he was struggling because my son was intense like me and I should ignore it. But he wasn’t fine. We intervened on our own and got the support we needed elsewhere. Meanwhile, my kid felt blamed, I felt blamed, I still blame the therapist (working on that one in my own heart still) but there wasn’t much investigation into the community causes of what was happening in our community.
Is mental illness someone’s fault? We don’t think so. We think we all have a part to play.
Since this incident, I have had parent after parent after parent share similar experiences they had in our school community but they left to find a better situation than try to change the system from the inside. But what if you don’t have the resources to get that support or change schools? Then what? We will have an upcoming podcast episode with a Middle School Teacher that is sure to have a lot of insights for us about kids and mental health and we welcome more experts to contact us. We want to hear you.
Connection creates mental health.
Sidewalk Talk is not a mental health project in the way some of our friends who do significant crisis intervention are doing. A deep bow for their work. But any project that creates more connection, be it a book club, a regular bowling night, or a hiking club is contributing to the kinds of mental health giving connections that we aim to provide at Sidewalk Talk.
Sidewalk Talk is hoping to create a global connection culture.
Sidewalk Talk is hoping to create a culture shift where we prioritize listening and connection and learn to develop brains that are more flexible to hear all different kinds of people and their feelings. By sitting on sidewalks we disrupt the busy, wealth-chasing, hyper-individualism that makes us sick and invite a wake up call that connection feels good and makes us healthy too.
What is even cooler, is that sidewalks are a place of equality so maybe, just maybe, we create spaces where power is removed from our connecting. Sidewalk Talk listeners don’t dictate what you share about or how you share. And all listeners come ready to do deep reflecting on the ways their bias might interrupt connection. Remember from my article last week I said we easily make assumptions about seniors? Those are biases in action and they get in the way of connection. We do this based on someone’s length of hair or what brand they are wearing, what they smell like, what color their skin is, or really anything.
What Freud had wrong.
In an upcoming podcast interview that will be released next week, I spoke with Drs. Harville Hendrix and Helen Hunt and they said something very interesting. They said “You know Freud had it wrong. He focused on analyzing what was happening inside his patients that caused their symptoms. We think that the problem of mental health is not an internal problem, it is a relational one. “
Harville went on to say “If we put relationships first in our lives we have the potential to create a mental health promoting culture. And that is what makes what you are doing at Sidewalk Talk so revolutionary.”
But guess what?
We aren’t putting relationships first.
Depression and anxiety for young people is on the rise. According to the World Happiness Report (read a synopsis here in UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science coverage), we are less happy and more angry than ever.
The definition of mental health and what we can do to create more of it.
The World Health Organization has my favorite definition of mental health because it takes into account the outside, not just the inside.
“Mental Health is defined as a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.” WHO Website
What can I do today, for Mental Health Awareness Day?
So today, October 10th, for World Mental Health Day, pick one of the above. Even a simple hello and a smile when you might otherwise walk past someone makes a difference in your mental health and the mental health of those around you. Consider joining Sidewalk Talk to develop your listening skills in community. Whatever you do, thank you. You matter. Your effort matters. We can change the mental health of our world together.
I am a woman, therapist, wife, mom, friend, listener, and founder/leader of Sidewalk Talk. You can subscribe to my couples therapy list here.