We have an unacceptability high rate of teens dying by suicide, more girls and women, and more older men. Something is seriously wrong with our beautiful Australia.
It is a complex issue that has many contributing factors – suicide can impact even the most loving families.
If we add to the mix that we have a significant increase in children’s anxiety, adolescent mental health issues, more aggression – road rage, cyclist hatred, online trolls – the sexualisation of childhood and the damage of easily accessible porn, more addictions and family violence, it is seriously time to question some of the trends that have been normalised in our consumer-driven, chaotic world.
Humans are biologically wired to live in relationships, in family networks within communities. We are quite simply social beings.
Unlike any other species we are capable of intimacy – but this capacity requires us to learn (preferably early in life) the codes of cooperative living. We need to develop emotional, social and spiritual competence so that we can form and sustain healthy relationships.
We need to have moments of pleasure and delight with people we care about, preferably around food, where we can share stories and laughter, as well as be able to ask: are you ok?
We spend so much of our waking hours striving and yet research shows that the true secret to life happiness is in relationships not in the things we spend time seeking – more wealth, bigger houses and more stuff.
So what’s changed?
Much! Our children now play less for many reasons and we need to realise that ‘play codes’ and emotional awareness are built with hours of real play, not virtual play.
Play that is autonomous and free of adult supervision helps to build creative thinking
Yet play is under threat in the early years. We simply must stop stealing childhood in the name of education and creating disconnection in our classrooms.
It is contributing to more anxious and stressed children who are susceptible to mental illness in adolescence and adulthood.
Human connectedness matters.
[Watch my blog on Digital Abandonment in Modern Families for more on that.]
Many families have been isolated in their own homes as multiple devices draw them away from each other.
The tsunami of technology has been a double-edged sword. Yes we have access to so much information and can be more connected with family and friends around the world. However we tend to communicate more briefly, via SMS, emails and quick messages on social media.
The negative impacts especially social media abuse, the ease of sharing sexualised images and porn, the perpetuated illusion of perfection, the scams and identity theft, the increasing sense of FOMO (fear of missing out) all create pain and separation.
Many families have been isolated in their own homes as multiple devices draw them away from each other. Less conversations over dinner tables, in the car and when out in coffee shops gradually build an inability to create warm linkages not only with families, but also between the generations.
The screen world is a virtual world and positive human connectedness needs real time and physical intimacy – safe touch!
The addiction to ‘busyness’ has also created an over scheduled and overloaded world of things to do and fit in. This increasing sense of FOMO or the more the better, often creates unnecessary stress in homes and schools.
The endless pursuit our society has for more growth, more wealth and more stuff may simply be making us sicker, less happy and endlessly pushing ourselves beyond what may be a healthier, happier way of living especially when you are parenting children.
Again, when we follow this style of life we see less of our friends, our children and our extended circle. We have less time to recreate, share joy and delight – to just be.
Gaining a level of financial security and a safe place to live are still worthy goals for us all however when is it enough to sustain a more enjoyable way of living and being that can enrich us and our families and communities?
We need to prioritise having hobbies, creative interests, time to enjoy the arts and being a part of community groups whether it be sporting clubs, service clubs or helping volunteer organisations that help others less fortunate.
These non-work activities not only connect us to others they are food for our starving souls and reduce stress and increase happiness.
Over years we have weakened the ‘village’ and the sense of belonging in community.
As Father Chris Riley of Youth off the Streets has written: “Never have so many people lived so far from extended family or outside traditional communities when adults served as collective parents for all a neighbourhood’s children – these relationships have reduced our social capital; the relationships that bind people together. We must find ways to deal with our profound loss of social connectedness.”
Connectedness can be built in many ways and the more ways of being connected we have the better for our wellbeing on all levels.
Community connectedness is also a way that can help find meaningful work and engagement for those who are struggling to find a sense of worth and value in their lives.
Rachael Kessler was a wise woman from Boulder, Colorado who explored the other ways we humans can be connected – and I feel her work can be a part of a call to action to reverse these tragic suicide statistics.
- Deep connection to self
- Deep connection to another (family, friends)
- Deep connection to community (school, sport, faith, local)
- Deep connection to lineage (ancestry, cultural)
- Deep connection to Nature and the environment
- Deep Connection to a Higher Power (the mysterious, the spiritual, the non-logical)
— Rachael Kessler The Soul Of Education (2000)
We cannot continue to expect our governments to fix our social problems with funding, programs and research. We need to start in our own lives and homes in our own communities.
First maybe we start with ourselves by being kinder to ourselves, stop comparing ourselves with others, stop beating ourselves up and making time to nurture ourselves.
Then we could make more time to connect in loving ways with our partners and sons and daughters – intimacy needs time to happen.
Then we can reconnect with family and friends who we haven’t seen in a while – make plans for BBQs and picnics or even better a holiday somewhere.
When sh#%# happens to those in our family or community we need to be there – for as long as it takes – and hope they return the favour if adversity comes a knocking on our door.
Then in our communities, let’s reach out and meet our neighbours and make time to volunteer in our schools and clubs to ensure we lift the sense of belonging that builds linkages and social capital. Everybody matters, no matter what.
If we start with the hopeful intention to be a part of the positive change needed to save lives and then follow this up with small actions of kindness and acts of compassion we can all help heal this profound wound of human disconnectedness.
We are all in this together. We can do this and we can start today.
A shorter version of this blog was published at EssentialKids.com