Fortunately, we live in an age where stigma is being lifted around mental health. However, conditions such as depression, anxiety and stress are on the rise in Ireland. Anti – depressants and therapy play an important role in helping people deal with and overcome these issues. While there are many causes of mental illness, in recent times more attention has been paid to the connection between a more sustainable lifestyle and positive mental health. Mícheál Callaghan discusses how the Transition to a low carbon future can be good for the planet and our mental health.
Many people today have to work long hours, sometimes at unsociable times of the day, in jobs they don’t find particularly fulfilling. Wages have been cut across sectors, people are being replaced by machines (e.g. self – service check outs), and the cost of accessing basic services such as health and child care are going up. People are under more pressure and stress. After work we might come home and spend the night in front of the TV. We’re as likely to spend time scrolling our social media feeds than talking to other people. We are less connected to our neighbours and communities than before. Small rural shops and post offices, which once were important meeting places, are closing down. Our fast paced world places more emphasis on individual identity than togetherness. Not only is this terribly sad, but it’s also bad for us. Loneliness is becoming a chronic condition among all ages, especially among the elderly. According to recent research, one in three adults over 65 suffers from loneliness and this doubles their risk of dying. Loneliness kills, and this cannot continue!
A sign for one of the walks on the Black Island, Lough Muckno, Castleblayney
We are also less connected with the natural world than ever before. More and more people are living in large towns and cities. Many young people from Co. Monaghan head off to cities for college and work. Nature is being destroyed. Even those of us living in the countryside, might not stop to appreciate the beauty of the natural world. Research has shown that our brains react differently to an image of the natural environment compared to the urban environment. It instantly recognises the natural environment, but has to exert more energy to ‘understand’ the unnatural urban world. Spending time in nature is proved to reduce stress and depression. Coming up to Christmas, as we move from Autumn to Winter, we can take a break from the pressure to shop by going for a walk in the woods (Rossmore Park, Lough Muckno or Dartry Forest are fantastic amenities!) and enjoying the crisp air and sound of crunching leaves. Sometimes only when we pause, can we reflect on the various pressures that are on us at this time of year.
RECONNECTING AS WE TRANSITION TO A LOW CARBON WORLD
Connecting with those around us and the natural world can really help us deal with the ups and downs of life. Our fast paced, economic growth obsessed world can fail to recognise the importance of these to our well – being. The transition to a low carbon society, must be one which reassesses how we measure progress. The transition town model, aims to strengthen our sense of community and build resilience as we move to a world which uses less fossil fuels.
If we are going to make this transition successfully we are going to have to collectively plan the future of our communities. It will offer more social interaction and increase our dependence on each other taking us out of our individual silos. Initiatives like community gardens, allotments, community energy projects and other community social enterprises will have a role in this transition. Leading sustainability economists recommend shorter working hours and more time spent with family, friends and community. This transition can build personal resilience by making us more connected with each other, and community resilience by once again emphasising our dependence on each other and the diverse skills that exist in our communities. We can open our eyes to the many talents that our neighbours have, and exchange our skills and knowledge. The transition will also offer opportunities to get closer to nature. It stresses the importance of protecting our biodiversity, creating community gardens and planting fruit and nut trees. Initiatives like Monaghan Allotment Society, Castleblayney Community Gardens and Monaghan Tidy Towns are already doing this. Why not join the community transition by in one of the initiatives above or a similar initiative in your area or get in touch with Transition Monaghan? Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Together we can protect our community ties, build social capital, and create healthier and happier communities. Not only will it be good for our planet, but good for our health too!