The Vital Importance of Community and Communication to Mental Health

  Imagery provided by Joanne Theaker

Imagery provided by Joanne Theaker

People have far more in common than we might believe. We all have the same basic physical and emotional needs. Deep down we all have the same needs for security, love and meaning. We are fundamentally social animals. Indeed parts of our brains called ‘mirror neurons’ only fire when in connection with others. Human beings naturally live in families and seek wider community groupings through friends and other social networks. This need for connection to other people is so important that the lack of it is a primary cause of mental illness. Often, due to the pressures of economics, people tend to place undue emphasis on work as a key way of obtaining their need for community (and indeed a lot of other needs too). This can be a dangerous strategy for, as we know, work can often be a precarious activity in the modern world. When work goes, for many, that can be the end of their community life. They can quickly start to become depressed and listless. Many people retiring are looking forward to the freedom and rest they believe retirement brings, and yet often find themselves terribly isolated. A far more self-determining attitude to building community is then desirable. With such an attitude we can ensure our need for community is spread over a wider number of arenas, helping feed our hearts and minds and stabilising our lives in the inevitable ups and downs of life. A primary skill in ensuring our needs for community are met is our ability to communicate well with other people. Confident and effective communication will change our whole life, opening up amazing new previously unseen opportunities for friendship, career and self-development.

The “dance of communication” that occurs when two people meet is something that is part of our genetic inheritance. Often we are oblivious to the myriad of non verbal and verbal signals that even in a few moments take place that facilitate this communication. Although we all have a very similar potential to communicate well, we do not all have a similar amount of experience and knowhow in using this genetic inheritance to its best effect. It is rather like having a sophisticated musical instrument that has the capacity to play Beethoven and yet only using it to play a simple nursery rhyme. It does not take more than one or two clumsy experiences or casual hurtful comments or glances from others to easily put us off and push us back in our protective shell. Such remarks from other’s may not even be out of compassion, but rather, be an indication of their own selfish interest to put other’s down in an insecure or aggressive attempt at self aggrandisement and oneupmanship. Nevertheless what ever the motive our ego’s are easily damaged and even a few troubling experiences can lead to an entire lifetime of hiding in the shadows.

Thankfully, however, due to the enormous inherent capability of our genetic communication resources, it is a relatively easy matter to identify and practise the component skills that make up effective communication. We can soon gain more positive experiences that increase our self-confidence and build a positive outwards movement in our lives. Even in a few months of concerted effort to practise and polish our non-verbal, verbal and aural skills can easily overturn the habits of a lifetime and enable us to quickly build rapport and communicate with a much wider variety of people. Even where some of us are inherently shy (which is a perfectly natural and acceptable place to be) we can manage this shyness and open ourselves up comfortably much more than we may have realised. Just because we are naturally extrovert (which is also a perfectly natural and acceptable place to be) does not make us great communicators automatically (which is a two way process). So all types of people can benefit enormously from giving themselves the opportunity to practise these skills and in so doing, more than any laws or rules, we can make the world a better place to live for everyone. As the famous scientist Stephen Hawking said, in order to create peace all we have to do is “keep on talking”.