Navigating Mental Health in an increasing Disconnected World

 

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The advent of May brought us 'Mental Health Awareness' month, which saw PAUSE hosting an esteemed panel of experts at our PAUSE Salon discusson panel. The panelist includes: Yen Lu Chow (Co Founder of Over The Rainbow & Wholetree Foundation), Dr Veronique Elefant-Yanni (Clinical Psychologist & Psychotherapist at Psychology Experts) and Dawn Sim (Counsellor & Founder of The Open Centre).

The panel got together to examine the notions of identity, individuality, the power of the mind and consequences of us not being as in tuned with our own mind, as we should. In relation to the broad topic of discussion, we explored how to maintain a robust and sound mental well-being, and what tools are out there for us to learn in order to help ourselves cope.

Since we try to make sure that every one of our PAUSE Salons has a unique touch to it, we’re proud to report that one lucky member of the audience won a gift from our event sponsor, Muse - one of the world’s leading brain-sensing devices that assists meditation practice via the charting of real-time brainwave readings. The winner was Alfred Chung, who so happened to have a strong meditation practice going already. As a result, he announced that he wanted to pay it forward, and gifted the prize to a member of the audience who needed it more than he did. Surely this is a small testament to kindness and the the ripple effects of small gestures.


MISSION TO HELP AT-RISK YOUTH

The salon started with a keynote address by Yen-Lu Chow, Founder of mental wellness initiative, Over The Rainbow. Yen-Lu shared a significant and life-altering personal story about how him and his wife lost their only son, when he took his own life at the age of 23. Since then, Mr and Mrs Chow have worked tirelessly to raise awareness about depression and its impact on an individual’s psyche, reaching out to at-risk youth as well as organising community programmes that help to being youth and their community, together. Through their work at Over the Rainbow, they hope to be able to help at-risk youth discover coping methods for depression, anxiety and other related mental ailments. Most importantly, they hope that more people will be cognisant of the fact that one’s overall mental well-being is key to leading a healthy, well-rounded life.

DISCONNECTION: A REALITY & BURDEN TO BEAR

The focused on the disconnection that we are all experiencing – amongst each other, between people we are supposed to be closest with and most of all: with ourselves. Spurred on by ‘distracting’ smart devices like our phones, tablets and laptops, which are bottomless windows to apps and games that can keep us entertained forever, the experts collectively pointed out that it is this heightened disconnection that somehow has a hand in fueling the rise of mental health issues in society today.

Collectively, we have become oblivious to our inherent human connectivity – instead we live our lives influx, between the reality that exists before us, and the construct that we engage with online, while we are ‘connected’ to our devices. While technology gave us the opportunity to connect with the world, it has also put us on a highway that brings us away from true connection with ourselves. We think we are connecting actively with one another – we ‘like’ our photos and share our stories online, but in truth, we’ve all just been in front of a screen. While a bit of this is no harm, how much is too much?

Do we know when to curb the habit of engaging in silo on our devices? When does a person know when they have retreated too far away from true human-to-human interaction?


ON NAVIGATING THE MIND

With over 15 years of clinical experience, Dr. Elefant Yanni works with patients of all ages (mainly children) and cultures and has developed an approach to well-being, avoiding labeling and medicalization. For her segment, she covered a core part of her research, summarised by the acronym, ‘AFFECT’, which stands for: afflicting feeling that we may feel at any time. A simple way to understand this concept is to think of it as what our mind and bodies are ‘receiving’ from both what’s going on inside us as well as what is happening around us, externally. In turn, these occurrences are affected by all ongoing situations. The rate at which our mind and body ‘receives’ and ‘perceives’ these stimuli is approximately every 250 milliseconds.

According to Dr Elefant-Yanni’s research, all the aforementioned forms the fabric of your life, from a psychological point of view. Based on what you ‘receive’ and ‘perceive’, you construct your own reality. We naturally project ourselves into a world of our own imagination, based on our interpretations, memories, innate desires and fears.

This is because, essentially, we live between the balance of three ‘dimensions’ within our mind and body:

  • The activation of our body (i.e. the fight or flight system of the body, and whether it is triggered or not)
  • The tension you are feeling at the moment (i.e. are you relaxed, or not?)
  • Balance (i.e. a ‘proto’ representation – generally speaking, do you feel good or bad at the moment? Are you suffering or are you feeling all right?)

Your world is a projection of your mind
— Dr. Elefant-Yanni

Dr Elefant-Yanni recommends that while you cannot physically ‘control’ the mind, one needs to take care of it because it is what keeps us ‘safe’ as we navigate the world we inhabit. Without a sound mind that is healthy and well-nourished, the reality that we project and construct can very easily be ‘corrupted’ and ‘skewed’ in a myriad of non-beneficial ways. How can one go about doing this? Well, without delving too deep into philosophy, Dr Elefant-Yanni shared that, first, you need to be aware of the need to achieve self-mastery – and here the aim is not the end goal of self-mastery, but the journey in that direction.

We are all not born having ‘found’ ourselves or our true purpose in this world – many of us will spend our entire lives ‘finding’ ourselves and what gives us meaning. In order to embark on a meaningful journey towards self-actualisation, we must learn to ‘let go’ of the idea that we can ‘control’ our mind – because we never really are. We can only take good care of it, so that it may be sound and guide on on a path of contentment and happiness.

While it would be great to be able to ‘will’ ourselves to this state, we are not computers to be programmed. Instead, long-revered methods like frequent meditation and quieting down the chatter in the mind (if possible, at least once daily for a period of time between 10 mins to an hour), will help significantly with managing the 3 dimensions we mentioned earlier. Being able to ‘be in touch’ with these dimensions that affect our mind and body allows us then to manage how we construct our personal realities, and in so doing, affects how we conduct ourselves and interact with the world. 


HOW DIFFERENT IS COUNSELING & PSYCHOTHERAPY?

As Dawn offers both counselling and psychotherapy at The Open Centre, we asked her to explain the difference between them. She explained that counselling is more solution-focused and helps individuals find solutions to their issues, within a shorter period of time. Psychotherapy, on the other hand, looks at the psychological history of an individual, his or her longstanding attitudes, beliefs and thinking that affects their quality of life today. We also look into their coping mechanisms and evaluate over a longer-period, how best to grapple with the issues that they are facing.”


We are all the descendants of tribal people – doesn’t matter where you are from or what you do. Go far back enough and your ancestors lived in tribes and relied on one another for survival. We started for many generations before urbanization took over, before industrial revolution changed things irrevocably. Instead of ‘kampong style’ open doors, the sharing of food and genuine camaraderie, we have instead lost the feeling of joy, gratitude and the joy of meaningful connection. Think about it: Some of us have over 1,000 friends on a social media platform like Facebook, but still I bet, feels lonely.
— Chow Yen-Lu

RECLAIMING THE HUMAN TOUCH
Chow Yen-Lu shared that if there was something he wanted us to know, it is that everything in the body is interconnected. And the worst part about digitalization and technological advances is that we have been distancing ourselves from this almost sacred reality, that lies within each of us.  Mental health issues can affect us individually, at any time in our lives. It does not discriminate. We may all play different roles in this interconnected world we live in today. But one thing is for sure: we all need to put more ‘heart’ into how to relate to others; have a bit more compassion, listen and understand others, more. And in doing so, we banish feelings of loss and loneliness, and lay the foundation for a society that truly supports one another.

PAUSE Salon attendee, Alfred Chung, added "This is what I love about the panel brought together by PAUSE - It wasn't just skimming the surface like other talks or panel discussion. Neither was it promotional nor rah-rah like some charismatic seminars out there. The audience size wasn't too big either, allowing quality interaction and connection among one another."


 

Words: PAUSE Editors
Photo: Cassidy Kelley