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Community as a Core Nutrient to Health

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You may be enjoying the variable weather we’ve had in recent weeks – early spring rain followed by a heatwave and now a stint of more temperate weather. Whether we are keenly aware of it or not, the fact that our drought found some relief is a reality we all benefit from and depend upon. Our land needs rain; without it, there is no growth. All of life requires particular nutrients and conditions to thrive. Think of the “How to Care for…” card you receive when you buy a plant. The basic care instructions are right there telling you what the plant needs. 

What do we need to thrive? What are the particular nutrients and conditions that are most beneficial for our growth?

When we consider what protects people from depression, anxiety, and trauma, the answer is fairly simple – similar to the plant care instructions for water, soil, and light, we need basic core things in enough supply to thrive.

A core need is community. When we live in a truly interdependent community, we can rely upon and be responsible for others. When this occurs, we feel a deep sense of belonging and purpose. The need for belonging and purpose is our evolutionary inheritance. As society strays from the values that promote interdependence, our biology will keep demanding it. Like plants demand rain and sun in order to fruit and flower, we require communal connection to grow, change, and evolve.

What has our mental health system offered as a method to promote emotional health and prevent illness?

Despite the myth that we are better equipped to manage mental illness, there has been a steep rise in the rates of people who never recover alongside an increase in psychoactive medication usage since the 1980’s. In fact, from 1955 when the first psychoactive medication for depression was introduced, to 1987 when Prozac (the first modern antidepressant) came online, the number of Americans disabled from mental illness doubled.

With the expanded use of medicines such as Prozac, Paxil, etc, we now see 1 in every 76 Americans disabled from mental illness. That is 6 times the rate in the 1950’s and double the rate of disability in the last 2 decades.

These are numbers that tell a story that we need to be willing to reexamine. Somehow, we have been told that the cause of mental illness was found and a cure was available, and it was not true. A society should always seek to address things at their root cause because this leads to the creation of the most healthy and productive society as a whole. In the case of mental illness, we must ask specifically whether the lifestyle conditions of modern society best explain the enormous mental health disability we face. Specifically, we must wonder whether there are clear insufficiencies in the core nutrients we need to feel well mentally and emotionally. What does it say that a majority of Americans surveyed today don’t have a single person they feel they can rely on in a crisis?

As we settle further into Spring, the season of blossoming and awakening of energy, let us ask, what do we want to birth as a society today?

I feel hopeful that La Maida is part of a broader movement that is blossoming as well. We are creating a space for shared experiences and designing programs that promote deep, intimate connection between people. Think of how any community arises. It is the slow, organic growth of connection through interdependence, from the bottom up, out of need. We believe in this because it is based on what is natural and organic to human nature, and we are promoting this here at La Maida because we see the urgency in reexamining the values in our society through the lens of our basic health.

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  1. Post comment

    Dear Dr. Naim,
    Just wondering, to what extent can we compare statistics on diagnostics of mental illness from 1980th, or even from 1955 to statistics of mental illness diagnosis of today? Did not they have a huge number of people underdiagnosed in the past? Do not we have a different definition of mental illness today?

    Sincerely,
    Viktor Raskin

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  2. Post comment

    Hi Viktor – we do have different ways of diagnosing people, yes, far wider net we set now. But even if we were diagnosing better what was being missed before, and this was valid, would after 70 years of this model we not see the disability rates be better. If the approach was creating healthier people who were sick, diagnosed now and undiagnosed before, wouldn’t we see less disability? This is the question to ask I believe, because the rates of disability are what tells us if the system, the method of diagnosis and treatment is actually working, treating people successfully means they get better.

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