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Don't tell me to just breathe

As the world changes and we move from crisis to crisis it isn’t surprising we face another pandemic, our mental health.


I went on a mindfulness retreat a few weekends ago in the beautiful surroundings of Burmiestoun Steading, led by my good friend Susan Grandfield. If you’d said to me even as recently as a year ago this is how I would spend a weekend, I would have dismissed it out of hand – not for me! However, I know more and more people who advocate regular mindful practices and I’ve grown increasingly curious, enough to give it a try.

I’m still processing my experience, but I know something has shifted for me.

As the world changes and we move from crisis to crisis it isn’t surprising we face another pandemic, our mental health.

I came across some startling numbers the other day:

  • 300 million people worldwide suffer from depression (WHO), and the numbers are increasing;
  • In Scotland, NHS expenditure on mental health services is over £1.2 billion per annum and rising; and
  • One in four 4 adults and one in 10 children experience mental illness (NHS), and many more of us know and care for people who do.

This is a huge problem.

Our mental health is shaped by our experiences and environment.

Economic pressures and concerns about the environment weigh heavily on us. The pandemic has had a huge impact on our mental health, and the cost of living crisis only adds to the pressures we face.

There’s no one, simple answer.

I’m an advocate for the Wellbeing Economy, precisely because it puts people and the planet at the heart of economic systems design. It seeks to address the causes of problems such as poor mental health, rather than the symptoms.

There’s compelling evidence that economic inequality has psychological consequences for issues such as anxiety and depression, and that policy decisions such as austerity measures make this worse.

Whilst those who have experienced deep personal trauma need specific support and care, there’s more we can all do to help with the challenges thrown at us by the state of the world.

Two things piqued my interest in this area recently.

Growth dependency and climate breakdown

‘Don’t tell me to just breathe’ is a short-film animation about mental health in the context of growth-dependency and climate breakdown.

'Don't tell me to just breathe', Swarm Dynamics in collaboration with CUSP and the Wellbeing Economy Alliance

The pursuit of growth has been the single most important policy goal across the world for the past sixty years. This short film highlights the spiralling levels of anxiety and depression so many in the UK and other rich nations are experiencing, and the link between these mental health crises and the current economic system – including increasing pressures upon people’s basic needs, and our capitalist society that allows climate breakdown to gather pace.

Mental health issues in a fragmented world are often not an illness, but a response. We urgently need to regain a richer, more satisfying understanding of ourselves, and our place in the world."

Don't tell me to just breathe, Swarm Dynamics

The film ends by introducing the Wellbeing Economy as a system that would function within social and environmental boundaries.

Transformational skills for sustainable development

Secondly, I’ve discovered the Inner Development Goals (IDG’s) recently. These ‘Inner Development Goals’ show the fundamental inner shifts or ‘human growth’ we need to increase our chance of reaching the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).The IDGs force us to question why we’re not delivering the SDGs, and highlight that WE are the problem. The framework sets out the characteristics and behaviours we need to reconnect with and embody in delivery of a fairer, more sustainable world.

I used to think the top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change.....But I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy."
Gus Speth

I’m not a mental health expert, but I see rising anxiety in many around me – myself included! – as we try to cope with everything being thrown at us. I can see it too in my work where more businesses are talking about resilience, either because they’re going through significant change, recovering from the impact of the pandemic or are on the front line helping those most affected by the cost of living crisis.

This leaves me with some questions;

  • Can mindfulness help us become more resilient, both personally and in our businesses?
  • Do the IDGs give us the platform to properly deliver the SDGs?
  • How can we better design an economic system to work for us?

This is a big topic, and traditionally mental health has been hard to talk about. But, like the climate crisis, we must keep having these big conversations as that's how we see the links, join the dots and determine what we need to do. You know where to find me!


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