Posted on June 5, 2017
Mental ill-health: An issue too big for us to ignore
Last Thursday at the Hay Festival of Literature George Monbiot spoke about a scourge of our times, and took practical steps to help remedy it.
The scourge is disconnection: we have become disconnected from one another through living in isolation rather than in community. We now connect through devices rather than in person, and we have become disconnected from our natural environment through living in cities. Of course this is not true 100% of the time for 100% of people, but it is the trend, and there are signs of distress as a result.
Monbiot laments how the individual is glorified rather than the community: we are ‘individuals’ (rather than people); we shout out our ‘personal’ opinions; the model to follow is being a ‘winner’ (i.e. the goal being to crush every one else around you); and the worst outcome is to be a ‘loser’ (i.e. to be crushed by everyone else in the race towards personal supremacy).
He argues that human nature is actually the reverse of this; that compassion and living and working in community are our natural way of functioning. Our current society’s model is serving our true nature so badly that it is making us sick.
Monbiot identifies loneliness and the ensuing mental ill health as an epidemic. He points out that emotional pain follows the same neural pathways as physical pain, and causes similar physical symptoms, such as an increase in cortisol levels. He quotes studies showing that loneliness is twice as likely to kill us as obesity.
He observes that children suffer from attention deficit disorders in ways unknown to previous generations, and seems to suggest the situation is so bad that surveys of children’s mental health have not been carried out for fear of what the results may be. He notes that the last survey in the UK was in 2004, and the next one will not be until 2018.
He also observes a massive increase in children self-harming: when the emotional pain inside is so bad, causing a physical pain seems to many to be the only way to diffuse it. Yet, says Monbiot, parents are now more hands-on with their children than before, not less, so the issue lies elsewhere. And he believes connection to nature and community are the answer.
Fortunately people are rushing forward to remedy the imbalance. An initiative like The Eden Project’s The Big Lunch, taking place in the UK in June every year, is an occasion for everyone in a street or a neighbourhood to share a meal together. Deceased politican Jo Cox’s campaign against loneliness actively promotes simply getting together.
And last Thursday Monbiot stopped at Hay as part of his tour with singer/songwriter Ewan McLennan to talk about how bad loneliness is for some, and to bring people back together through song and food. Ewan’s music was soulful, and both he and Monbiot shared a meal with members of the public at the food court after the show. The album they've put together is called Breaking the Spell of Loneliness.
Of course, the punch line to this blog is that The Cart Shed charity knows all about the positive effects of reconnecting to others and to nature. This is how The Cart Shed’s participants slowly find purpose in their lives, and relief in times of distress – people affected with depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and more.
Every week these participants spend a whole day in the woods, either whittling, or going for a walk, or weaving baskets, or maybe just staring at the fire. With no pressure, just allowing themselves to feel safe.
And the Out Of Nature sculpture show, created to support The Cart Shed and illustrate how it works, is also an amazing occasion to experience community and the connection to nature. The show runs 1–22 October 2017 at Newport House in Herefordshire.
Read George Monbiot’s article in The Guardian: The age of loneliness is killing us.
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