From the Editors
It took me a long time to write an article for this mental health themed issue. I wanted to do justice to the topic, and Nam’s scepticism made me realise how easy it is to not quite hit the mark when talking about mental health. It also took me such a long time because I realised I didn’t quite know my own thoughts around the topic. I wanted to untangle my mixed up brain but I was also scared of saying the wrong thing or risking offending, or being tone-deaf to the sensitivity that is required.
There has been lots of talk over this lockdown about the importance of mental health, looking after one’s emotional wellbeing. The solutions put out there include getting out into nature, talking to others, looking after your body through exercise, and eating well. Of course, those are all completely true. Nature has this amazing grounding ability, and I always feel better when I go on a walk or a bike ride or just sit outside and breathe in the air. These helpful “tips” are just the tip of the iceberg however. Mental health is influenced by a myriad of factors, from upbringing, genetics, schooling, trauma, poverty, drug use, and culture. These factors intersect in complicated ways, and due to the variation in humans, they manifest and show up differently. For some, lockdown will be bearable if you are in a secure living situation, if you have a good support system around you, and if you aren’t prone to isolation or depression. It also is dependent on what you were going through before lockdown as well, whether you have unresolved pain within you which is asking to be addressed.
I think one of the most important things we can do collectively to improve overall wellbeing is to make vulnerability less taboo. Though vulnerability is of strong importance to me, I still struggle with it. The thought of being vulnerable with those who aren’t family or close friends scares me, more than I would like to accept. I’m scared of judgement, rejection, or being dismissed and ignored. But when you’re vulnerable, you are opening up space for connection, and connection is one of the best antidotes against emotional pain. Having someone say “me too”, when you are expressing your own sorrow or suffering is probably one of the best feelings in the world. It is risky though, because the way someone responds depends on their own vulnerability tolerance level. Distress and suffering only gets worse with shame, when you are hiding it, when you refuse to accept it as part of your story. Life is texture. We need beauty and lightheartedness, and as humans we need to accept that darkness is also part of the same story.
When brainstorming themes for future issues, mental health quickly emerged as a potential topic. I wasn’t opposed, but I was resistant. The mental health conversation is one I always have time for, however, it’s something I’ve grown somewhat sceptical of. I say sceptical, rather than pessimistic or cynical, because I do believe better things are possible – just not in the direction we’re going.
The theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is taking time to kōrero, that a little chat goes a long way. I’m here for it. I like to think this issue of Debate reflects the theme a little and maybe gets some of your own conversations going.It’s worth noting that the theme isn’t just having a chat, but taking the time to. Time is interesting. In its modern, Greenwich Mean Time-sense, Derek Thompson in The Atlantic unpacks its historical origins. In one respect, down to the seconds and minutes, its purpose was to make the British Empire run efficiently. When it comes to the days of the week, it gradually came to be understood and organised for the purpose of generating capital. Today, we have a weekday and a weekend. This wasn’t always the case.
These histories may seem irrelevant to the mental health conversation, but I can’t help but think there’s more work to be done in reclaiming our time from work. Consider how you're often expected to answer your emails outside of work hours or even when on holiday. Not to mention the reality that people often complete their tasks but have to stick around anyway to meet an arbitrary working day. When it comes to mental health, I don’t think it’s possible to think too big-picture. Everything plays a part, and maybe if we had more time on our hands we could take the time to process the grief, stress, and anxieties that employed life – and the threat of unemployed life! – exacerbates.
PS I was going to write a lil review of Mike Leigh’s Happy-Go-Lucky starring Sally Hawkins as a comfort watch but I ran out of time (whoops) and space. A movie about someone who’s a chronically-cheerful ray of light may seem like a misguided movie to prescribe, but I’m going to need you to trust me on this one. It’s live, love, laugh without the toxic positivity or the white, middle class naivety, and in a climate where we preach kindness, Happy-Go-Lucky is a much needed portrait of what kindness really is.
PPS My pic isn’t my own handiwork, it’s a filter called -CatSad- by _onnebaka_ on Instagram :^)