Issue XIV: Communities

Issue XIV: Communities

With European Mental Health Week fast approaching [22/05-28/05] we at DIS-ORDER have spent some time going back to the basics and pondering what the components of good mental health are. The theme for EMHW ‘23 is “mentally healthy communities”. As an ode to mental health awareness and an homage to the week itself, we decided to create a limited edition drop, available only for the week. I would like to take the space in this issue of Dis-Course to discuss the intentions behind the design - to which you get an exclusive first look as readers of the newsletter ;) - and to share some thoughts on community. The communities we partake in are deeply integral to our experience of the world. But what constitutes a mentally healthy one is a topic in and of itself. 

The design for EMHW outlines the building blocks behind these mentally healthy communities. Encouraging us to check in on our mind, body, family, friends, community, and environment; it serves as a to-do list of utmost importance. In many ways, our communities are the backbone of our mental wellbeing. They are the people we share the best of ourselves with and the people we rely on when times get tough. The design is a reminder to “create what you want to be a part of” in the communities we build. 

The checklist of the design includes mind and body as part of community as, even though they may seem like matters of individual concern -which to some extent they are- a community is only as healthy as its members. You cannot separate the health -in both mind and body- of one from the health of the collective. Furthermore, as briefly discussed in the self-reliance issue, the self is a micro-community in a way. You need to be able to depend on yourself to be able to build up -or lean on- others. The mention of family and friends may seem intuitive in the context of community, but we can slip into the trap of taking those around us for granted. The encouragement to check in on loved ones is there to prompt communication in the times we might miss signs that they are not doing well. Finally, our environment is what surrounds us. Take the word in either definition you feel fits your needs at this moment. Your environment or the environment: your current surroundings or the natural world. Both mould the way you navigate and perceive life; is it serving you, are you serving it? Do you have balance? Consider your cohabitation as a means for stability.

To build community is an act of self care. To isolate, to deny one’s self from the comforts of a support network is to deny one’s self of an essential scaffolding in keeping them upright. Something I learned from living alone in a different continent from my family since I was 18 is that community is freedom. You can’t go on adventures without having people to rely on. Sure, there are plenty of people who solo-travel the world. But they meet people along the way. They make small communities that may not last in proximity or longevity but often last in memory. In the last six years I have relied on my scaffolding in times that I felt unable to keep myself upright, or in times that external events shook my foundation. Together we have gone to weddings, funerals, spent nights in emergency rooms, attended massive milestones in careers and personal lives. We have relied on each other in times where facing the music alone would have been out of the question. 

I’ve come to find that community is not owed to you. It is reciprocal. You must invest your time, energy, vulnerability, and care in order to receive it from others. In a dynamic where there isn’t somewhat equal reciprocation you may benefit from asking yourself what the currency that keeps you [or them] in the situation is. There is only so much social capital someone can bring into a relationship before the lopsided investment becomes burdensome. This is not to say that you should write people off at the first unanswered call or cancelled coffee date. People - I’ve found out, much to my dismay- have lives outside of us. Devastating, I know. The reciprocation of your relationships should become a matter of concern when it becomes a chronic problem, not when it is a temporary shift of balance. However, a lack of reciprocation should not be taken as an indicator of the character of the other person. Lopsided relationships are not always a byproduct of malicious intent or negligence. Sometimes our needs and values simply do not align.

A mentally healthy community encourages growth. Take a group in which the only binding ingredient is the promise of shielding one and other from loneliness, by whatever means. Say it lacks encouragement, support, or reassurance. Communities are often built on mutual habits. If the habits the community is based around are unhealthy, and it actively perpetuates the further practice of said unhealthy habits, the structure itself is based on a rotten foundation. It would require active effort from its members to shift the tide and pull each other up and out; to collectively pursue growth. If the community causes the individual to become stuck in a harmful cycle, it is inherently unhealthy. The movement required to counteract this negative communal inertia starts with the individual.

Though a mentally healthy community is non-judgemental in nature but it is constructively critical, it will call you out when necessary. There will be points when we all need someone external to our inner workings to realign our path. No one is immune from the odd slump. I’ve found that people who care will demonstrate concern when they see you struggling. It is vital to have the people who are willing to give you truth over comfort when needed. One can be confronted by their inability to fulfil their own wellbeing without being judged or berated. Tough love is not cruel, it is honest. Two things that are often misused interchangeably.

Overall, our people influence our behaviour in ways that fundamentally shift our lives for better or worse. The proverb goes “show me your friends and I will tell you who you are ''. I would like to take it a step further and say “show me the friends you choose and I will tell you who you will become”. Building communities that are supportive, reciprocal, and encouraging -creating what we want to be a part- of is essential to our mental health and to our quality of life. Much like a tampon or a condom, you feel the value of community most when faced with its absence. Build something -internally and externally- that you can rely on, that encourages growth, that is reciprocal and non-judgemental in order to cultivate resilient mental health. 

Reading next

Issue XIII: Climate Anxiety & Apathy
Issue XV: Nostalgia

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