Updated: Jan 19
Mental health and human connection in a virtual networking world
From the early onset of the pandemic, everyone quickly made changes to their lives and schedules and took remote working to an entirely new level. Many embraced the change, and we collectively accepted that things would be different.
However, as Covid-19 has kept people in isolation, it has become more and more difficult to deal with mental issues that are affecting a large portion of the working class. This is why we saw fit that the November episode of Cadence focus on well-being and mental health.
Cadence is a monthly series hosted by ACE Virtual Events and beedance, where professionals in the events, communication, and marketing industries are invited to share their perspectives and expertise on relevant topics around cadence in business. For the Cadence: Mental Reboot episode, our panelists were Danny Shannon and Joel Ramirez.
Danny Shannon is the founder of Encapsulator, a secure web platform providing Digital Time Capsules. It allows people to record their future hopes and dreams, documenting family histories to be passed on to future generations into a time-locked vault to be discovered at a later date. Danny is very open about his journey of 12 years of recovery from addiction. As someone who has overcome alcoholism and addiction, he enjoys raising awareness through his personal stories and he empowers and educates others about the emotional and social impacts of alcoholism. He is also a Senior Case Manager at Glebe House, a treatment facility for men with addiction issues who are affected by the criminal justice system.
Joel Ramirez is an award-winning entrepreneur, social wellbeing expert and author of ‘Better Together - Why Loneliness is Killing us and what we can do about it’. As the CEO of Foundwell, he has coached businesses nationally, facilitated events and shared the stage with leaders from some of the leading brands in Australia including Woolworths, TAL, Microsoft, The Salvation Army, and RU OK?. Based in Sydney, Joel loves to spend time with his wife and two young children, followed by building community.
Danny and Joel spoke about the importance of mental health while working remotely, fostering meaningful connections in an online environment, and the significance of open and honest dialogue in a virtual work setting.
The catalyst behind mental health problems
Mental health encompasses the emotional, psychological, and social well-being of a person. It affects everything he or she does and every aspect of life, including work. For many, keeping their mental health in check while working from home is like walking on a tightrope. After an unprecedented year, the unique challenges of working remotely have taken a toll on the mental health of many.
Joel Ramirez made an interesting point about this. He said that as he was writing his book on mental health, he realized that it is actually the lack of meaningful relationships that causes a lot of the mental health issues and depression that people experience. He then decided to shift the focus of his book to loneliness, and admitted that a lot of people were quick to say that loneliness happens a lot to mainly the older generation. Joel said that couldn’t be further from the truth. Covid made the subject very relevant today, because everyone experienced what it’s like to be alone. Being in isolation due to the statutes in place led to many people feeling lonely.
Steve Boyce, our program moderator, agreed that loneliness and challenges to mental health are very important issues that have far-reaching implications. He recalls not hearing much about the topic of loneliness before the pandemic, and noticed that the pandemic at least gave us a chance to begin to explore some of these topics in a more serious fashion.
The effects of isolation and loneliness
Joel observed that oftentimes people don’t realize they’re lonely. He said that people will rarely admit the feeling. They perceive that something isn’t right, that they’re feeling off-center and a little depressed. They even become more defensive and unable to think clearly, but they don’t register that loneliness is weaved into those negative feelings.
It’s not until they start to comprehend the effects of loneliness that they begin to realize that they need to reconnect with family and loved ones and build new, meaningful connections and relationships. Joel explained that simply speaking to someone doesn’t translate to a meaningful, supportive or trusting relationship.
The key is in getting to know the other person and allowing yourself to be known as well. You can only achieve that if you’re willing to open up and tell them your secrets and feel safe doing so. He concluded that there was never really a talk about loneliness, but instead, loneliness is just a general topic encapsulating what is effectively a disconnection that needs to be addressed.
When Steve asked if these issues existed before the pandemic or if this is part of a human condition that we’re only recently experiencing in a different way, Danny argued that isolation is the biggest problem in a man’s life. However, he actually credits Covid for bringing people together, because the opposite of addiction is connection and, in that sense, he believes that Covid has done us a world of good.
Opportunities created by the pandemic
At the start of the pandemic, many businesses downsized or closed down. Others were able to quickly adapt and new businesses sprouted and thrived. This meant that a lot of people shifted to virtual working.
For Danny, Covid opened up the opportunity for him to meet with people globally whenever he wanted. While he admits that connecting with people through Zoom doesn’t feel the same as attending face-to-face events every week, he remains hopeful and takes advantage of any opportunity that arises.
In Joel’s case, he started writing his book before the pandemic. It came as a shock that while he was writing about social well-being, Covid basically provided the biggest social experiment that we’ve ever had to face. He then reanalyzed each chapter he had written and began to weave the topic of Coronavirus and lockdowns into his book.
One of the difficulties he faced when writing about loneliness is the lack of data. He stated that oftentimes, mental health is seen as the issue, but if the social element behind it is solved, then a lot of mental health problems would be solved as well. He observed that a lot of times when someone who is depressed speaks to a psychologist or contacts a lifeline, it’s really just to have a chat with someone, because in reality, those people don’t have someone they can speak to.
Joel explained that we are social creatures, so loneliness is not dependent on the pandemic, but on something that’s been happening for a very long time that we’re only beginning to talk about. In that sense, he is thankful that Covid was able to open up the conversation around mental health and its connection to social well-being and loneliness.
Open and honest dialogue
Joel mentioned that someone going through depression will never outrightly acknowledge that they’re feeling lonely. When they reach out to someone, they will usually invite the other person to hang out and catch up over a beer or a coffee. That’s what deepens our social bonds, so there’s no need to complicate things. We don’t have to try to solve that person’s problem; we just need to be human and be good listeners.
He also argued that loneliness can be a good thing, because it’s our brain’s way of telling us that we need to reconnect and reach out to people. He recounted an occasion when a friend phoned him to see how he was doing. At first, he suspected something was wrong or that the friend needed something from him, but when he noticed that he was just calling to check up on him, Joel’s loneliness diminished, and he decided to start doing the same for others.
Based on that experience, Joel now calls people regularly to check up on them. He spends a lot of time during the pandemic on Zoom catching up with friends.
He said that even before the pandemic, he would host coffee groups for his friends who were married men, and they were very grateful for it.
Danny commended Joel, but he stated that deep connections are not formed easily. He finds it easier to keep up with small talk and to just be a good listener.
Fostering meaningful connections
It’s important to reconnect with friends and loved ones, but it’s equally important to establish new connections that are meaningful. Joel’s advice on how to do this is to show vulnerability.
He mentioned that when we meet someone for the first time, whether it’s face-to-face or online, it takes us 15 seconds to decide if that person is a friend or foe. The mistake we most often make is trying to show people that we’re well put together, when in reality, we all have anxieties and things that frighten us. Until we show that vulnerability, we cannot have a deep connection with someone else. Joel’s book discusses how shared pain brings people together, because human beings connect at an emotional level if they have similar struggles.
Joel also brought up an excellent point relating to the connection between employers and employees. He noted that most online work sessions have the sole objective of talking about company goals, and it becomes very transactional. A lot of employers ask how they can retain their employees, and Joel argues that it has less to do with salary and titles, and more to do with better relationships.
Employees are craving better relationships with their employers and with other colleagues. That’s what makes them stay, and it doesn’t have to involve deep conversations for employees to be productive. Surprisingly, one hour a week of just spending time with them will increase productivity; it doesn’t need to be complicated.
Danny observed that people actually love to be able to help. In his opinion, another way of building connections is to have the courage to reach out and ask for help. This opens the door to hearing people’s experiences and it forms the beginning of any relationship.
The importance of reaching out
Ultimately, both speakers agreed that if everyone reached out to another person, it would eliminate the problem of loneliness.
Danny said that he has to be brave and honest in order to help people, and that he does his best to reach out to his connections. He always leaves his doors open and never ignores anyone’s messages; he always responds.
Joel explained that when you meet someone face-to-face, the ‘feel good’ hormone, oxytocin, is released. Although he loves that we can stay connected online, he relayed the importance of seeing people face-to-face and inviting people who aren’t in your network, especially if we’re in a better position to reach out.
Cadence in business
Many of the themes in our Cadence series revolve around human connection and engagement. This episode, which focused on mental health in a virtual world, came at a timely manner, since it encouraged audience members to reconnect with loved ones and to build new connections, especially now that most will take a break from work to enjoy the holidays. The audience walked away with deep insight and a feeling of commitment to reconnect.
If you’d like to attend our upcoming Cadence programs, please follow us on LinkedIn for updates, or if you want to learn more about hosting similar events, get in touch with someone from our team and we’ll gladly set up a meeting with you.