As a user of several products in their 10th incarnation or more, I felt the marketing and peer pressure recently to upgrade to more proficient models. Like most people, I can get quite excited at the prospect of a new toy to play with and yet I find the upgrading propaganda at times to be a simple ploy with a subtle message at its core suggesting that what I have is not good or adequate enough.
People are not phones or cameras. Whilst we can work to improve ourselves and to heal ourselves, we cannot simply upgrade in the same way. We are who we are, created in the image of God, a product of both nature and nurture, of DNA and life‘s many rich experiences.
However, there is an ever-existent opportunity before us to upgrade our thinking. I write this in the middle of Mental Health Awareness week; in my view a very important week that connects us to themes of resilience, self-care alongside encouraging people to reach out when life is difficult to cope with and for us to reach out to those we know of to be struggling. At its core, this year is the powerful message to simply chat, to talk things through with trusted friends and healthcare professionals.
As a school, a huge amount of work is done by staff and students around the theme of resilience. We constantly reach out to our students and families providing avenues to find that much-needed assistance when life is difficult to cope with. Mental health issues are commonplace as many of us at some point in our lives will have to address problems around anxiety and depression. We are constantly tuning into our young people as these issues are all too prolific. There has been some interesting research done on the rise of anxiety and depression and the use of smartphones in young people. Sleep becomes deprived, all aspects of our lives bleed in together and the ever-constant need to check that notification is in itself an anxiety-producing mechanism.
Many of us are very familiar with this issue and struggle to find adequate solutions. However, I don’t believe that blaming our young people for the use of this technology is necessarily fair. A generation before them created it, marketed it and we all provided it for them. Yet, as a parent of three teenagers myself, it is very difficult at times to feel strong enough to restrict their use or even to take their phones away and check what they are looking at without WW3 erupting! But we must do it, it’s hard but I will take a device that I’m paying for and providing especially if it’s as dangerous as the experts claim; as Mr Robson called it at a recent assembly: “digital cocaine”.
So don’t be afraid of your teenagers! They need parents, not friends. Again, have a little chat, the Mental Health Awareness Week 2021 theme. It’s not just about having a friendly supportive chat either, it might mean having to have a very awkward uncomfortable challenging conversation with someone you care about and love. It might mean having to say the hard things in order to address the issue. The cultivation of resilience is not just about having to find systems to cope with life, it’s also about having the resilience to challenge what needs amendment or correction.
As I reflect on this important week, I am mindful of the time many of us spend in quiet spaces helping and caring for those who don’t feel very strong. In addition, there are many who go unnoticed and pass under the radar because we often try to hide away ourselves when we are not feeling strong. Reaching out for help is often seen as a sign of weakness, and generates embarrassment. Knowing when we need help is a sign of great human strength and self-awareness. We are weakened when we are paralysed to reach out for help because we feel a sense of shame in needing it. Again that important message: take time to have that chat if you need one and offer that chat if we perceive someone in need. We wouldn’t ignore the sharp pain in the body or an illness, we would go to the doctors and get some medication or help, our mental health needs to be approached with the same urgency. Reach out, if you need to, and if help is hard to find for whatever reason then don’t forget the time-honoured techniques. Be it meditation, mindfulness or positive psychology. It has many new names but there is one name that it has had for thousands of years: prayer, the communication with the Divine. Spend some time alone with the Creator.
Prayer puts God in the centre of our lives rather than ourselves and I believe that is a huge step in creating strong and positive mental health. When I focus on myself, if I’m in the centre of the universe then all will circulate around my own sense of ego and if I’m struggling then those struggles become the centre of my life. When I focus on God, suddenly I’m aware of the whole of time, from start to finish, aware of the whole of creation, aware of every human life, aware of every struggle that people are facing and suddenly whatever I’m challenged with enables me to know that I’m not alone in this. I pray therefore because prayer changes me.
Spend time with God’s word too: “People who read Bibles that are falling apart usually live lives that aren’t”.
And finally, well done if you have read all of this, remember the value of service in all its many forms. Be aware of the plight and suffering of others, engage with that suffering and taking action to alleviate it is good for us; “serving people are happy people.” In this respect thank you all for your amazing support of the recent Afghan refugee and the Community Foodbank appeals.
Kia Kaha - “A little chat can go a long way”
Mā te Atua e manaaki
Ngā mihi nui
Revd Peter Rickman