This last post, in 7 Habits of Hope Based Self-Leadership series, is dedicated to the most important aspect of our humanity: Connection.
The drive to connection is based on a basic human need: it is a need that is the foundation of both good physical and mental health. While we know that social isolation and loneliness is a risk factor closely associated with poor mental health we often ignore that it is also a factor that creates a high risk of developing chronic diseases in later life just as much as eating a high in saturated fats and sugar. What is important here are not only our personal habits in relation to relationship building but our collective responsibility as social beings for personal and social wellbeing.
What a sad and alarming headline: Thousands of children seeking help for ‘loneliness’!
On April 17th, this year the NSPCC reported that a growing number of young people under the age of 18 are reporting a growing sense of isolation that, for some is bring them the point of suicidal despair.
I cannot help feeling, as a result of reading this article, that as a society we are failing our young people. Because undoubtedly those who rise to the top and contact services like Lifeline are but the tip of the iceberg. And we are failing them not because we are not putting enough money into mental health services for the young (which we clearly are not) but because we are failing to provide the many things we know as a society are conducive to good mental health and welling being. We are depriving our young of the basic, protective conditions that would help them to become resilient, happy, human beings. We are failing to do so because as adults we are allowing the very fabric of what it means to be human to become frayed and dissected with neglect.
If our young people are suffering from loneliness we need to make them feel connected. And this is not really that hard. This comes down to the quality of a relationship. Parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents; teachers, social workers, the police etc. etc. we are all accountable. Quality relationships do not cost money. But we have to be prepared to fight for the right material conditions that support our capacity to be human. Freedom from grinding poverty; access to basic means of life including a safe place to live, places to play safely and meet together. Not just physically safe places but psychologically safe places. Where we are greeted with a smile, without judgement, with respect and where people know our names.
“I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.” ~ Brené Brown
Putting mental health lessons on the school curriculum will solve nothing if these basic conditions cannot be met. Adults and the young alike are affected by toxic levels of stress but there is much that is within our sphere of influence and control. However, it requires courage, imagination, and resistance to the atomisation of our concept of social responsibility.
What are we doing, in our families, schools, places of work and communities to support our young; to support each other and break down behaviours that isolate and dehumanise us?
“What is clear is that the world is becoming an increasingly complex place to grow up in with children and teenagers’ facing daily pressures to achieve what society defines as a successful life – grades, relationships, physical appearance,” said, Peter Wanless, NSPCC executive director. He continued, “It is, therefore, vital that children and teenagers have people around them, in particular, parents, who they can really open up to about how they are feeling.”
We can’t blame technology and social media for this epidemic- we need to take responsibility instead and exercise boundaries based on what we know in our guts, and as a result of scientific research, to be true. Talk to our young, introduce them to and help them nurture face to face as well as online connections, create safe spaces to that enable them to grow into their full potential.
Building relationships for wellbeing
Here is the official NHS advice; it’s so simple really!
Building relationships for wellbeing means:
- strengthening your relationships with people who are close to you, such as family and friends and colleagues
- broadening your relationships in your community and the wider world
There are lots of ways to build stronger and closer relationships:
- If possible, take time each day to be with your family. This could include a fixed “family time” each day.
- Arrange a day out with friends you haven’t seen for a while.
- Switch off the TV and play a game with the children, or just talk (see some tips on talking to children about feelings and talking to teenagers).
- Make the effort to phone people sometimes – it’s all too easy to get into the habit of only ever texting, messaging or emailing people.
- Speak to someone new today.
- Have lunch with a friend or colleague.
- Visit a friend or family member who needs support or company
- Volunteer at a local school, hospital or community group.
- Make the most of the technology – video chat apps like Skype and FaceTime are a great way of staying in touch with friends and family, particularly if you live far apart.
The celebration of human connection needs to a be a daily habit. Share how you practice it, and how it contributes to your wellbeing and the wellbeing of those you are connected to.
Let me know if you have enjoyed or been stimulated by this series.