Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Soul Sustenance: Connectedness and Mental Health

How we are more connected digitally than ever before yet so disconnected and the importance of mental health awareness 

An event of seismic proportions occurred in 2012, yet nobody was aware of it. That was the year when something had entered our lives as a gift of great value, cherished and welcomed with open arms, yet it turned out to be a thief. 

That something was the smartphone. Although it had been released in 2007, in late 2012, according to a survey conducted in 2016 by the Pew Research Center, smartphone ownership in America had crossed the 50% threshold. And with it came the increased accessibility of social media! However, it was the twin rise of the smart phone and social media that upended our social behavior, affecting our relationships and mental states! The phenomenon crept up on us slowly and unbeknownst to us was changing our habits. When before we would have to gather, in person or by phone, in order to connect with one another, we can do so now from behind closed doors and with the tip of our fingers. We can instantly get updated to what others are doing, like it and share it all while sitting in isolation. Of course, we also post our own personal best, moments filled with fun and laughter, while we stay clear from the moments of quiet anguish. Mostly, we are the fake media, social media that is. Behind those walls, most people are crumbling inside, amplified by being alone and secluded. 

In the human reality, we need to gather and experience life in person. We eat, laugh, cry, love and share in togetherness but when we disconnect from one another, voluntarily or not, we stop the flow of energy. Not for nothing, but solitary confinement is one of the harshest sentences handed out to prisoners, yet we choose to place ourselves into such a state. The more time spent on our screens, especially on social media, the greater the likelihood of symptoms of unhappiness, loneliness, and depression as well as suicidal notions. Life is being experienced in absentia, witnessed through the illusion of split-second vignettes, shallow and empty at soul level. The magnetism of the likes and shares received from our posts feed or destroy our egos and pretend to fill the void of human interaction. Those pings and flashes are tugging at our attention, pulling us right back into our screens. They are addictive and have been so designed intentionally which is why it is so difficult to break that pattern.

When viewed from this perspective, it comes as no surprise that suicide rates have increased by more than 30% in half the states since 1999, as recorded by the CDC, with 54% of the people who died of suicide had no known mental conditions. Suicide is a leading cause of death with nearly 45,000 lives lost in 2016. It has seen increases in all ages, gender, race, ethnicity and social status. Before the meteoric rise of the smartphone though, it was the internet that saw incredible growth in usage. In 1995, there were only 16 million users worldwide compared to more than 4 billion by 2017, as recorded by Internet World Stats. It was to be the first step in our behavioral transformations leading to our altered mental states. 

In the past decade, we have seen the upsurge of mental health issues, especially depression which has reached almost epidemic levels as many studies have proven. Our teenagers, or the iGeneration specifically has been hardest hit. They get together less, thus date less and consequently have less sexual activities leading to an all-time low in teenage pregnancies in 2016 – down by 67% since its peak in 1991. They work less, possibly as a result of the effects of the economy, but their activity of choice is spending more time on their screens, which is why they are also seriously sleep-deprived. Less than 7 hours of sleep wreaks havoc on a developing brain leading to compromised thinking and reasoning, anxiety, irritability, poor concentration, lack of focus and depression which are also symptoms of too much screen time. Thus, they are in a perpetual state of double-dipping. It’s a vicious cycle. Their suicidal notions have spiked since 2013 and have not come down since. 

No matter who we are, we always seek to love and to be loved, which cannot be done alone in isolation and separation. We need the human community, the exchange of energy, thus giving and receiving life force in continuity. Instead, we lead lives of quiet despair, feeling abandoned, unloved and lonely when in reality that is a construct of the addictive nature of our devices. They have robbed us of our humanity, as we have replaced emotions for emojis, traded real events for relevant hashtags, and use search engines to answer life’s most profound existential questions. 

The first step towards change is awareness. Denial and resistance are normal, but they will only lead to greater persistence. To offset the darkness of the altered mind, we need to go out and touch someone, be with someone, do something in person and be who you really are. Tell and live your truth, and do not betray yourself. Learn to love yourself first and others will love you back. Know that you are always loved. Take control of your life and mind again, be in charge and have your devices serve you instead of being enslaved by them. It’s time to put our phones down and rejoin the human tribe, one small step at a time in real time. 

Marina Shakour Haber is an author and speaker whose life’s purpose is to open people’s minds to the untapped wealth and abundance waiting to be discovered when they break away from restricting beliefs. She wrote Dream A Better Dream to help people transform the negativity of our society into one of hope and great new potential.

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