“Mental Health is a state of well-being in which every individual realises 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.” – World Health Organisation
How are you doing with that definition? Do you feel as though that’s you and your life? You may be able to tick off most of that but perhaps not as much of the community part as you might like. As an Indian, we are very much about community. Growing up, it was a given you would help others in your community without even thinking about it, it was just what you did. Growing up British however, was a little different. As I got older, there was less and less emphasis on the importance of community and of course on reflection I can now see the harmful affects this has had on my mental health.
This is not to say, I am the problem or indeed to point the finger at you and say you are the problem but the challenge really lies in the ridiculous amount of ‘red tape’ surrounding anything that comes for free. I understand that working with children is sensitive, I understand that some members of society don’t fancy speaking to strangers, I also understand that someone has to report to someone at some point if you help your community BUT there are things we can all do or do more of.
In the same way ‘a dog is not just for Christmas’ why do we only feed the homeless at Christmas and only donate clothes and toys to kids at Christmas? Why is there such an emphasis on donating money rather than things people actually need throughout the year? Why can’t we help to pull out weeds or pick up litter from the local park? Why can’t we just help the community how we can literally help them? Why must there be so much red tape?!
I have a very real example here which brings up a host of challenging questions and theories but in my work as a Coach (and of course a human being), it’s imperative that I also give back. I always wanted to work with young people because so much harm is done to them in their early years, I wanted to be able to help with the modern pressures of life and times by providing them with coaching/mentoring support. To be that trusted person they could turn to about their dreams and problems and I be able to help them either through working with them directly or by referring them to other therapists. I knew early on in my career that I couldn’t work with young people full time because I would be too emotional. So I thought, I could still do it, but through schools instead and offer my services for free. I have offered my services for free to a number of schools including one, literally outside my home and all have rejected me. I have qualifications and I do not have a criminal record. All I want to do is help my community through something I believe would be very helpful – the same way youth centres were great for us in the 80’s-90’s – a place to commune for young people and confide in the centre managers. A safe place. A trustworthy space. A space where the priority was the welfare of the kids.
So then I tried a different route, I signed up for mentoring young entrepreneurs with an enterprise organisation who interviewed me twice, asked for a copy of my CV and then still took over two months to ‘match’ me to a mentee. In my opinion, I was ready to go, I had everything already stored in my brain, there is a clear reference path for them to pursue if they didn’t believe I’d done what I had said on my CV – so let me just get cracking and bloody well HELP! Anyway, it’s not working. I’m sure it’s all for a number of reasons including people being busy, or being busy, or being busy but whilst all these people are busy being busy, the children of our future are missing out on the support that could potentially have life-changing affects to them. I see that this blog has turned into more of a rant but perhaps you can understand why.
I also wanted to donate all my kid’s clothes to women’s shelters. But I wanted to go there myself to be able to empathise. I don’t know what it’s like to be in a shelter, I didn’t want it hidden from me. I wanted to talk to the women – just as a friend – and understand their battles so that perhaps I could learn how best to support them. But no, not allowed to do that – some random man came to my house, collected the clothes and went on his way. There was no way for me to track whether the clothes actually went to those in need and to be honest, I didn’t feel good about it.
But hey, maybe I don’t know what I’m doing, or don’t know how to really help people. I also wanted to give away my kids’ toys to locals last year and was told I needed a license, public liability insurance and blah blah blah – f-ing ridiculous!
I guess just do what you can. The importance of community for your mental well-being is paramount. It helps you gain perspective on your own life and struggles, it helps you feel good to do good which in turn reduces stress and anxiety and ultimately, continued consistent efforts to support your community all contribute to keeping more serious mental health issues at bay.
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