“Being able to feel safe with other people is probably the single most important aspect of mental health; safe connections are fundamental to meaningful and satisfying lives… social support is the most powerful protection against becoming overwhelmed” – Bessel van der Kolk
Social connectedness, or community is likely the most important part of sustaining mental health. So often when we talk about mental health, we are actually talking about a lack of mental health. Instead of focusing on what makes community work, we focus on what is going wrong. We talk about the challenges of development in our children, we talk about what makes our intimate relationships break down, and we talk about the isolation we experience in depression. This is not to say this side of the conversation is not important. The primary importance is not in labelling and identifying the disorder or wrongness. Rather, the importance is found in identifying when it is that we need to seek help from others.
One of the very first things I do in session is a bit of a resource inventory with my clients. No, I’m not figuring out how much people are worth, what they own, nor am I particularly interested in the special skills (at least not at this part). Instead, What I am looking for is what this family, couple, or individuals support network looks like. Are there others in their lives who care deeply, compassionately for them? Maybe there is something blocking the compassion for and of others? Essentially, I am asking, how will community do its job, get together, to meet my clients with compassion, support, care, and encouragement.
This is true in both areas of my work: working with those experiencing homelessness and poverty with The Mustard Seed, and in my private practice work here at Approach. When community comes together, plays nice, and focuses on support and understanding through compassion, amazing things happen. Whether it means finding a safe place to live for the first time in decades. Possibly it’s connecting with neighbors who desire and take joy in helping you out through a particularly challenging time with meals, connection, and even laughter. Maybe it is that close friend who pushes past your statement of“I’m fine” to discover you are not fine, but instead need someone to connect with – face to face. This is how community insulates and protects us and encourages mental health.