This week I had the opportunity to sit down with one of my mentors, Derek Cook, from the Poverty Institute at Ambrose University. He has deeply impacted my resilience work and has connected the dots between poverty and mental health. The following article was taken from an interview I did with Derek. These are his words.
We think of poverty in terms of money, homelessness or lack of money, and it is, but that’s not the essence of poverty. Money is merely a symptom of poverty, it’s not what defines poverty. Poverty has a material dimension, but there is also a social dimension to it. Poverty involves isolation and being “cut off” from people and society. It’s not having meaning or purpose in life.
Scarcity speaks to the material side, vulnerability speaks to the isolation. There’a a fear in poverty – fear of not knowing my place in the world, not understanding who I am.
This poverty described here is something every single person can relate to. It’s a lack of connection: connection from people, meaning, and purpose. When thinking of it in these teams, ALL of us experience poverty.
We think of poverty as a line: who’s on top and who is below the “poverty line”. The problem with this line is that it sets up this “us” and “them”. The “poor” and the “unpoor”. It’s not about poor people, it’s about us as a community. The “us” and “them” conversation only contributes to poverty. This is how we get cut off from one another and from community.
It’s the same with mental health: there’s no us and them. If affects us all regardless. It’s everyone, it’s US. We are all vulnerable to mental health issues. There is a deep connection between mental health and poverty for those reasons. Mental health challenges can lead someone to poverty. Poverty also contributes enormously to your mental health because of the stigma, shame, lack of support, and being cut off.
Think of poverty being at the root of disconnection: from meaning, from others. What’s the opposite?
It begins with trust
When we have “us and them” relationships, trust is broken. We need to rebuild trust, then we gain resilience. We have this myth of the “self-made” person who pulls themselves up by their bootstraps. No man is an island. When we have trust we can build resilience as a community. And when we find that resilience, which is the opposite of negative vulnerability, scarcity tends to disappear.
The opposite of scarcity is abundance. When we build trust that leads to resilience we find abundance. None of this is a part from community.
is an ART.
We talk about “fixing” poverty, but what we really need to do with poverty is heal it. That is an ART. It engages our whole person.
This is why we want people to come together to the Let’s Talk Hope conference. Right now in Alberta there is much scarcity and the mindset of, “I have to bunker down. I need to focus on myself”, but this mindset will only hinder not help. This is the opposite of what we need to do in crisis.
In the face of crisis we have three responses:
Paul Born from the Tamarak Institute says in his book, Deepening Community, “In the face of crisis we have 3 responses:
Withdraw: bunker down, take care of ourselves, don’t worry about others, look after yourself. Aggression: where we turn against one another and blame others creating more “us and them”.
History tells us in times of crisis it is not our ability to compete that allows us to survive, but our ability to cooperate. In times of scarcity and crisis, we must come together because that’s what gets us through.
Come out of the silo to the table with us this Bell Let’s Talk Day in Calgary, Edmonton, and Vancouver and let’s thrive TOGETHER.
You can find Derek Cook here.
Our Youtube interview here.
A video we did on poverty here.