When the External Becomes Internal: Community Stress and Our Mental Health

Many San Diegans find these to be challenging times. The political climate is charged, social media is full of rumors and disturbing events, and the news seems to reveal more trauma each day. Mentally raise your hand if you have experienced any of these: a harrowing commute, being stuck in a high demand/low control work situation, unaffordable housing, economic hardship, or concern of losing health care coverage. Now, in the spirit of walking in someone else’s shoes, add limited access to jobs, services, and community; intimidation; bullying; and fear of being arrested or deported to the list. Imagine the additional stress added for people who might be discriminated against for multiple reasons—their sexual orientation, skin color, religion, mental health status, and/or disability. And when a person must live in a state of prolonged adversity marked with fear and uncertainty it can deeply impact that person’s health, both mentally and physically.

There is no easy solution to these complex problems, but a starting point is to strengthen human connections. When the community is severely stressed, all of us are affected. In times of elevated stress, we often withdraw—just when we need more connection. Social capital is the bond that builds trust, connection, and participation throughout a community. It gives people emotional, mental, and physical substance to engage in growing through good and bad times. Without social connections—whether in the form of a game of hoops at the local community center, a coffee-break with a neighbor, after-school programs for kids, day programs for seniors, or volunteering efforts throughout one’s life—humans will isolate. If we reach out to our neighbors with a smile, it can be the first step in changing the course of someone’s life and your own. Empathy and compassion from others are what comfort our neighbors and bridge communities and cultures. As we help each other, we help lessen the stressors in our communities and help local neighborhoods and their residents.

Tips and Resources:

  • Visit Up2SD.org for information about mental health, volunteer opportunities, and other ways to get involved.
  • Enroll in a free Mental Health First Aid training at http://MHASD.org/First-Aid/Programs.
  • Foster an atmosphere of tolerance and respect with a yard sign or other public display.
  • Seek out sites and organizations that foster tolerance and dialogue. Traditionally these include schools and universities, public libraries, bookstores, faith communities, and interfaith groups, and many of them offer activities open to the public.