Mental Health affects our entire world. Let’s explore it together!

Facing East on Allen St.

Have you ever been in a room that just didn’t add up? Like the decor was odd or the trim wasn’t level. Maybe the paint was out of date or very poorly chosen. It probably didn’t have to do with the navigational/compass orientation of the room, but it might have. That was the oddity of the room I want to tell you about.

I’m fairly certain this building used to belong to a Catholic congregation; judging by the gold trim and vaulted ceiling. Like all the buildings on this segment of Allen, it is in desperate need of remodeling. Still, the costs far outweigh the benefits for now. Today it is the local of The Masid of All Islam. Which is a small, Muslim congregation in the heart of South Fort Worth.

The A/C in the room is furnished by two window units, neither of which are less than 20 years old. The paint is peeling and the ceiling is giving way to rusty patches. The atmosphere could be gloomy if it weren’t for the 10-by-4ft windows spaced along the East and West walls. Actually, the atmosphere is hopeful. Among the 20 to 30 adherents of this local Mosque, there is an unmistakable camaraderie and mutual purpose. 

They are here because they believe with all their hearts that the knowledge they find within the Koran will bring hope to their broken community. The median age is 55, the men are in the majority, and most are African American. Hope is present, but there is also an active air of frustration. Why does society condemn their religion? Why are politicians worsening their community environment? Why can’t they plug into and speak to the younger generation?

Dogmatics are a norm in this circle. They are stalwart in their beliefs, and they will give you a proper education if you are only willing to listen. The Imam raises his voice into a microphone as he passionately proclaims the teachings of the Koran. Though he could just as easily talk in a normal tone to the small group without anyone straining to hear.

Here they gather faithfully every Friday afternoon for Jumu’ah (a time of prayer and teaching). Here they share the Koran and many books expounding on its teaching. Here they pray facing East in a North facing room. Here I hope that their pursuit of knowledge will bring a positive difference in their wounded community. 

Lunch with the Local Monk

I ate two lunches today. I don’t know about you, but it seems to me most folks can get by just fine on one lunch. Still, if someone offers you free food – especially a Buddhist Monk – how do you say no?

So, here’s the backstory: In my role as Cultural Architect with Mind Above Matter, I’ve been asked to conduct some research about different communities in the greater Fort Worth area. Just your basic demographic stuff (religions, ethnicity’s, and economic strati). This research process has taken me to hundreds of Churches, a handful of Doctor’s Offices, dozens of Schools, a few Police Stations, 10 or so Community Networking Groups, a Mosque, and a Buddhist Meditation Center.

Getting back on track; today I visited the Buddhist Meditation Center. There I was greeted by three curious monks from Sri Lanka – one of which looked like he could have been Gandhi’s twin. The youngest of the three (whose name I can barely pronounce and couldn’t possibly spell) – who had a working knowledge of English – gave me a tour of the Meditation Center.

As the tour came to a close he offered me lunch. We sat in a dining room adjacent to the library; eating curry and exchanging background info. In the course of the conversation I learned that he had become a monk at the age of 14 (much to the chagrin of his parents) and is currently serving as an intern for 2 years at this center. He told me that Buddhist monks are not allowed to marry (which I more or less expected), but he had some difficulty understanding why I as a licensed Christian minister have a wife.

After lunch I said goodbye to a new friend, but only after promising to return soon. A couple thoughts on my experience –

  1. I had no idea that there is a Sri Lankan community in Fort Worth.
  2. I discovered that in their religious tradition, meditation is the path to strong mental health.
  3. I found that if I’m persistent enough, I can make new friends in different cultural/religious communities.

Note: While this type of generosity/hospitality is truly exceptional, it’s definitely not exclusive to the Sri Lankan Buddhist community. I’ve had pastors buy me coffee, business leaders take me to lunch, and some of my visits to new places have resulted in 3-hour-long conversations. At the end of the day, relationships take time and effort. While some see research as data on a spreadsheet, I like to think that research and relationship are closely related.

Why Mental Health Matters More

Do you feel like you’ve been hearing the phrase mental health more often? Odds are you have, because the world at large is waking up to the reality that good mental health is integral to a strong, smart, safe, and productive society. Matter of fact, there’s a good chance that you’ve encountered special initiatives promoting mental health. Whether a government entity (police department, state legislature, etc.), a local school or university, or even the company you work for are talking about it – mental health has become a real buzzword. Here’s why:

  1. Statistics like rising suicide rates are alerting our society that something is not right. In the last decade, suicide rates nationwide have gone up 30% with some areas reaching 60%. Tarrant county saw a 58% increase in suicide since 2010, and it’s not looking better.
  2. Society at large is beginning to normalize seeking mental health treatment. Not long ago, anyone who sought counseling or psychiatric help was viewed as “out there” or “crazy”. Today there is a higher level of acceptance towards folks who are reaching out for help. In short, stigma is dropping (albeit slowly in some circles).
  3. Resources in the mental health field are multiplying. Once upon a time, you needed to live in or travel to a large city to receive professional mental help. Now private practices run by psychiatrists, psychologists, and counselors are popping up everywhere, and small to mid-sized companies are launching standardized methods of treatment.

Yes, the world is changing, but it’s still changing slowly. Even with the increased emphasis on mental health, it’s noteworthy that the resources and initiatives growing to meet the need are still way out of their league. Mental health is too big of an issue for the government, education, or well-meaning companies to tackle. It’s going to take all of us.

We’ve got to leave the stigma behind, stand up for those crippled by issues like anxiety or depression, and realize we need space and time to improve our individual mental health. We can achieve a mentally healthy society, but we need to do it together!

Living at Death’s Doorstep

It’s scary looking into someone’s eyes and wondering how much longer they will be alive. Before stepping into the world of mental health, that feeling was isolated to visiting terminally ill friends or family in the hospital. It was obvious from their appearance that they were at death’s door.

However, mental issues can be much more subtle than physical problems. Someone who is young and physically healthy can still have serious mental health problems. We just might not have the framework for realizing the seriousness of those problems.

Problems with mental health surface in different ways. Symptoms look more like isolation, disinterest in activities once enjoyed, or side remarks about wishing they weren’t alive. On the surface, these don’t seem as serious as an irregular heartbeat, breathing problems, or uncontrolled bleeding, but they can be just as serious.

A few weeks ago, I was having a conversation with one of our clients, and I noticed something I hadn’t seen before. Here was this lovely teenage girl who had a bright future ahead of her. She was athletic and talented, she could make friends with anyone, and yet it was like the spark had gone out of her eyes.

At thirteen, she already wanted to end it all. Several failed attempts had landed her in the hospital, and now self harm and subsequent psychiatric treatment had become a part of life. Looking into her eyes it was apparent that she had run out of hope.

Like physical illnesses, mental illnesses require a level of determination from the individual. Doctors tell us that some patients fail to recover from serious illnesses like cancer because they had already given up. From the other perspective, any cancer survivor you meet will tell you they had to fight to stay alive. Mental health experts will tell you the same thing – recovery depends on individual’s willingness to fight through it.

Aside from each person’s determination to get well, the most important factor is the support that they have around them. In our social life the responses and attitudes of others can lift us up or tear us down. So in a real sense, your actions and words can impact someone’s chance of survival.

Death is a part of life, but unnecessary death doesn’t have to be. If you know someone who is struggling, then do your absolute best to ensure they get professional health. You don’t need to fear offending them because genuine concern isn’t rude or hurtful. Your words and actions could save their life.

All of It Matters

Have you ever heard someone say, “Oh, that doesn’t matter.” when it deeply mattered to you? I doubt you haven’t. Because in life we are always around people, and not a single one of them thinks like you do. So of course it didn’t matter – to them.

Meyer’s Briggs tells us there are 16 personalities. Gallup tells us there are 34 strengths. Don’t even get me started on the Enneagram. Each assessment alone guarantees to describe you to a tee. Still, it’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the unique authenticity of each person. Add them all together or multiply them by each other, and you’ll be getting closer to the truth. Each person is unique. Period.

No wonder we find ourselves churning through weeks, months, or years worth of frustrations when simply trying to live life with the people around us. Is there a clear cut answer? Or a 12 step program for dealing with people? Can anyone find a way to exactly describe a person on paper?

This is an issue that spans all relationships – whether family, romantic, work related, or acquaintances. Yet, some relationships work, and some don’t. Sure, read this article and 10 more. You could even go to the Library and check out a stack of books. Go to a conference, watch 20 TED Talks, or call your Mom. Still, you’ll probably end up more upset and confused than when you started your quest for clarity.

Truth is, all relationships require work. The more important the relationship…you know. The kicker is when we don’t know how to work on them. What can you do after you’ve tried everything you know? I can tell you, but you’re not going to like it.

Seek professional help. There’s a reason why these people get paid to do what they do. I believe in therapy. I went weekly for 2 years during college, and I would gladly go again. Do they have all the answers? Nope. Can they fix my relationship issues? Nope. Will they prescribe me medication that will transform my reality? Wrong place.

Why do we avoid counseling? I’ve heard the usual…it costs too much, my schedule is too full, I don’t like talking about my feelings, I wouldn’t want my friends or family to judge me, and on, and on. Why are you avoiding counseling?

My PE teacher used to tell me, “If you don’t have time to exercise, then you won’t have time to live.” Scary stuff, but also true. I would say this to you, “If you don’t make time to get help, then you are risking more than you know.” Trust me.

A Room Full of Healers

Have you ever been in a room where something important is happening? Like, the atmosphere is filled with a solemn energy that is just powerful? I have.

Since stepping into the world of Mental Health I’ve had the honor of sitting at the table with therapists, coaches, psychiatrists, and psychologists more times than I can count. Yet every time, I can’t help but think, “Wow, I’m sitting in a room full of healers.”

These people are unique in many ways. They genuinely care about what they do and the people they serve. They are in the role they are in for a reason, and that reason is to bring healing.

Also, they all seem to have an outstanding level of emotional buy-in. Not only are they invested in the people, but they are invested in their role. These are the types who live and breathe their vocation. At home or in the office; in public or private.

But don’t take my word for it, come see for yourself…

Step into the room with me. Walk up to their table and get to know the healers. The atmosphere is solemn, but that doesn’t necessitate a lack of joy. There are smiles, and the smiles are hard won. It’s hard to imagine a smile on the face of someone who spends their time listening to painful life stories, but the smiles are there nonetheless.

Notice the way they share what is on their hearts. The emotion and passion is evident in their words as they recount the stories of people whose lives they have touched. Their words are measured and full of meaning. The tone is hopeful, even when discussing a story that lacks a happy ending.

See how they listen. To each word. Processing the emotions conveyed, and carefully grasping the intent of the speaker. They are humble. Each choosing to value the opinion of others above their own. Still, they have a quiet confidence. The type of self-assurance which is hard to come by.

Watch the way they greet you. Each face expressing gratitude for your company as they invite you to join the conversation. As they get to know you, you notice the questions they ask are different than the questions you’d expect from a new acquaintance. They ask to learn and listen – to understand your journey.

As we leave the table there is an air of thankfulness and sorrow. Each member of the group being grateful for the time, yet each wishing it wasn’t at an end. The conversation has shifted from questions and stories to encouragement and goodbyes. They will meet again, and hopefully soon.

The first time I walked into that room I was in awe. Grateful for the chance to not only sit and listen, but to also engage in the conversation. Today, I have the opportunity to walk into many rooms like the one I described to you, and I readily make openings in my calendar to attend these gatherings.

More than that, in my role at Mind Above Matter I have the opportunity to work shoulder-to-shoulder with therapists and psychiatric nurses every day. While these people aren’t perfect – they are good, and they do good, and they bring healing. Often healing takes time, and to the casual observer a long time. Still, they change lives, often save lives, and always bring hope. I’m honored to serve on a team that is passionate about people.

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