Life in the burbs

Statistically, there is a link between mental health problems and social class - the lower the class you are in the more likely you are to get ill. But there have always been diagnoses that are no respecter of class - like anorexia and social phobia. And life 'in the suburbs' can often be filled with emotional poverty. What can we do about this?

Shane Claiborne [google books link], author of the Irresistible Revolution and Jesus for President, lives in a very rough part of Philadelphia. His mum was asked if she was happy with him living such a risky lifestyle and she replied that she was fine with it as things were far more risky in the suburbs - at least in the rough places you can see your enemies because they come and hit you!

For the leafier parts of town, the enemies are more subtle but just as deadly - especially for our emotional and spiritual health. Loneliness - despite all the social scene. Debt - despite the seeming affluence. Anxiety - despite the insurance policies. Fear - despite the high gates and burglar alarms. Depression - despite all the masks we wear. The very things we put in place to protect ourselves become the things that trap us. As Jesus says, any man who seeks to save his life will lose it...

So, in the interests of freeing those who live in the suburbs, here are Robs five tips to breaking out of this lifestyle. I'm certainly trying them myself!

  1. Take a risk of some kind - maybe cancel that completely unnecessary tenth insurance policy and spend the money on having fun ;-)
  2. Have friends outside your own social class - it is really refreshing to meet people who don't wear masks and say it how it is.
  3. Commit to a couple of real friendships that go beyond social chit chat. Ask questions like: How do I annoy you? and Where are you struggling currently? And be prepared to have them asked back...
  4. Talk about topics like depression and eating disorders - you will be surprised how many people have had experience of these but never told a soul.
  5. Say 'No' to something and take the risk that you might hurt someone's feelings - but even better learn how to say no without hurting feelings and dropping balls.

Of course, Shane might say move away from the Burbs altogether, and this is one way to do it. But I think there is also a place for conquering the enemies that live there and setting others free as well.

Rob Waller, 24/04/2009