Our society and our churches often get caught up in managing symptoms. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but when we don’t address the causes, managing symptoms only does so much good.
The causes of mental health issues are many. Trauma, genetics, and social environment to name a few. Some of these we have control over and some we don’t.
One of the issues that I’d consider a cause of mental health issues in America is city design. We don’t live in proximity to each other. Our cities/towns are so spread out. We’ve significantly reduced the amount of natural, unplanned human interaction we experience. If we lived closer together and spent more time in public spaces, we’d have a lot more human interaction. But as it is, we have to plan everything out just to spend time with others. This reduces the amount of time we get with others.
Think about it. If you have to drive everywhere, you must take driving time into consideration. With everything else in our schedules, this driving time reduces the amount of time we can spend with others. We get less time with others, we stress out more about our schedules, and meeting others can quickly become an inconvenience. It takes considerable effort to spend time with other people, which discourages us from doing it. Especially for introverts, this makes a difficult task (meeting with others) even more difficult.
Some people may want to stay home and never see anyone. That’s fine. But for those who do want to see others, there’s generally not a natural, easy way to interact with others. I’m pretty introverted, but through the years I’ve often found myself wanting to hang out with friends, only to realize the time and effort it would take for both parties. So, I ended up feeling lonely. And if you google American loneliness statistics, you’ll find I’m not alone.
Something absolutely has to change. We have to redesign our cities (and our lives) so that human interaction happens more naturally. We can’t continue to live in our spread out bubbles.
We continue to build spread out developments that do little to foster human interaction. These developments have streets and sidewalks and maybe a small jogging path. But we have to do more. We need lively public places with music and art and outdoor recreation. We need restaurants with outdoor seating. We need main street style shops. We need it to be possible to just step out our doors and walk to social interaction.
We need development patterns designed to bring people together, not isolate them. This includes creating neighborhoods in which one can walk to all (or almost all) their daily needs in 15 minutes or less. This includes housing that focuses more on the front porch than on the back porch. This includes making it easier for people to create ADU’s (Accessory Dwelling Unit). This includes–yes, I’m suggesting this–setting aside money to create more bike lanes.
You may disagree with me, and that’s fine. But I am absolutely convinced that America must have a complete paradigm shift in the way we think about our cities/towns. If we don’t do anything about it, loneliness will continue to rise (just look at the loneliness numbers for the youngest generation, Gen Z–they are higher than any other generation). And along with that, mental health issues will continue to climb too.