Why We Can’t Feel Better.

Why We Can’t Feel Better.

I have always loved the popular phrase, “It takes a village to raise a child”. As far as I can tell, this phrase is the product of African cultures, but the idea is universal. Not so long ago it literally took a village to survive. If farmers were not able to harvest their crops, people did not eat. When a threat entered the village, the villagers had to band together to take care of it. Everyone relied on each other. There are many beautiful ideas embedded in this concept such as, we are better off individually if we support one another, we all have a responsibility for the wellbeing of the children in the village, and we can count on others to lend a hand when we need them. This phrase also contains a warning, if we do not support one another, our children and families will suffer and as individuals we are then worse off.

What about those who are not able to integrate into a “village” or maybe don’t see the point in it? Sometimes I worry the meaning and importance of “it takes a village” is shrinking. In western cultures, including the U.S.A., there has been a long-held belief that independence is more valuable than all else. It is common to hear people say, “you need to figure out how to solve your problems on your own”. “What will you do when I am not around”? “Just take care of it”. “Don’t burden people with your emotions”. “I wish they would better control those kids”. And “there is nothing they can do to change it, so why talk about it”? I am sure some, if not all of you, have heard of said these sentences before. I know I have.
I do not want people to think working to develop your independence is harmful or even discouraged. Having a level of independence is wonderful, its healthy, and it can contribute to increased self-worth and a happier life. What I do want to point out is, the phrases listed above are all aimed at pushing us away from one another. When people feel isolated either physically or emotionally, they suffer. There are few things more painful than the feeling of loneliness while simultaneously being surrounded by people. Independence and isolation are not the same thing but when we put such a big emphasis on independence it is easy to see how one could move into isolation.

In honor of mental health awareness month, I am going to take the phrase and change it to, “It takes a village to treat depression”. For so long we have known that depression is a problem. Suicide is a pandemic that often gets ignored and too many times when we do work for change we focus on changing the individual. We do amazing things like, try and provide more resources for those who are depressed or work on creating drugs that can stabilize and heal the functioning of the brain. These are wonderful goals that we need to continue to pursue. I would argue though, as I am sure many of you would agree, we can do better!

I believe treating depression, and mental illness in general, takes a village. Changing the mentality of our communities and creating a new cultural paradigm where we all take responsibility for the mental wellness of our neighbors is more important now than it has ever been. The world keeps developing. So much of what is happening is fun and exciting. I love life and I think there is so much joy to be discovered in the world we have created. I have more opportunities than even my parents could have ever imagined at my age. I also believe that there are more mental health “traps” than there have ever been. Social media is the obvious one, but I cannot even drive on the freeway without seeing a billboard that wants me to become my “best” self by changing everything about me. What “it takes a village’ means is we should all be outraged when companies use marketing strategies that are so blatantly focused on making their customers feel less than, and we should be even more outraged that these strategies work. Everywhere we look there are messages convincing us that we are not enough unless…
“It takes a village” means we demand a course to be taught in schools about depression, anxiety, and any other mental health issue, and included in those courses are concrete instructions teaching how to talk with each other about our own depression. Can you imagine the impact we could make on our community if everyone were comfortable and confident talking about mental health? What better way to achieve this than training our kids to talk about mental health? “It takes a village” pushes us to help each other for how ever long it takes to get over a loss and it lets us be OK asking for help even though it has been years since we lost that loved one.

Some of you may be disagreeing with my ideas, which is good. I will never claim to have all the answers. What I do desperately hope for though, is that the reader will agree it does take a village. We can not afford to rely on the good things we already have to take care of the problem. Medication will not fix this, charity runs will not fix this, celebrities talking openly about their own struggles will not fix this and neither will the mental health workers working directly with people. All of these great things need our help, we as a society need more. So think about how you can become part of a village. Spend some time exploring what it means to support those who are experiencing depression. Come up with ways that you would like to receive support when you are struggling and share that information. It is easy to get intimidated by a problem like this because it feels so big. Do not feel intimidated. The size of the problem does not matter when you have the strength of a village to carry the weight.

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