Let’s Get Real For Mental Health Awareness Month

Michelle Boockoff-Bajdek
4 min readMay 22, 2023

I was listening to a podcast recently during which Steven Bartlett, the host, said something profound: “Our brains were not designed to look at a billion people through a piece of glass.” I had to pause for a moment as I let that sink in. And I thought,

How. Right. He. Is.

And yet, that is what most of us do every single day. So much so, that the names of video conferencing platforms such as Zoom and FaceTime are now commonly used as verbs. “Hey, I’ll Zoom you at 1pm” or “Let’s FaceTime Bubbie for her birthday.” (Guilty as charged, by the way.)

Of course, with the meteoric rise of remote and hybrid work during COVID, “zooming” is, well, just business-as-usual — and it’s not going anywhere soon. In fact, according to Statista, Zoom’s revenue in 2023 is expected to surpass $4.5 billion, as compared to $623 million in 2020.

Certainly, it’s a miraculous thing to have technology that brings people together in the same space, without having to be in the same place. And, during pandemic lockdowns, video calls were a lifeline for many of us. But, with ever more social media platforms, and ever smarter phones that many people describe as containing “their whole life,” our world has become one in which we seem to prioritize virtual connections over in-person ones.

And, that’s taking a big toll on our mental health.

I asked a friend to humor me the other day and show me her home screen. (Well, screens, to be precise. She had 4 pages of apps.) I saw Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, TikTok, as well as music, payment, news, travel, finance, and shopping apps. I asked her if she uses all of them.

She said, “Yes.” In fact, she said, (no surprise here) she had “her whole life” in that phone. I then asked her how many “followers” she had on Instagram. “Oh, about 3,000…” she answered. And then, because I know her well, I asked her if she ever feels lonely. “Of course,” she answered. “Who doesn’t?”

She hit the nail on the head.

According to The Surgeon General’s Advisory on the Healing Effects of Social Connection and Community, loneliness and isolation are an epidemic and a critical public health concern. And no amount of social media followers can change that.

Social connection is a fundamental human need, as essential to survival as food, water, and shelter … Our brains have adapted to expect proximity to others.”

The advisory goes on to emphasize how critical it is to build more connected lives and a more connected society.

“If we fail to do so, we will pay an ever-increasing price in the form of our individual and collective health and well-being. And we will continue to splinter and divide until we can no longer stand as a community or a country.”

Think about that. The technology that, ideally, should bring us closer, may actually be driving us apart. The trouble is that likes, follows, emojis, and other “affirming” data flooding our devices fall short in fulfilling our innate need for real connection. And, the heavily curated content we both post and see is often anything but real — and can contribute to depression and anxiety, especially in teens. Rather, true fulfillment, understanding, and happiness lie in the intimate, physical connections we build and foster in our lives — the meaningful relationships that truly matter; warts and all.

This Mental Health Awareness Month, let’s take a moment to reflect on the importance of our social connections and their impact on our personal and professional well-being:

• Prioritize Quality over Quantity. It’s not the number of friends or followers that truly nourishes our mental health. Studies have found that the quality of relationships, such as close friendships or supportive family connections, is more closely linked to happiness and overall well-being than the number of social media connections we have.

Cherish the Moments. Last week, my family came over to celebrate birthdays, Mother’s Day, and a 60th anniversary all in one night. It was a rare occasion that our multigenerational family were all together, and we had a blast — eating, drinking, and laughing. Loads and loads of laughing. We thoroughly enjoyed being together, sharing heartfelt gestures, and even engaging in the odd bit of family gossip. It was chicken soup for the soul, and I can tell you that we all ended the evening far happier than when we started our day.

Seek Support and Build Trust. This is a big one. Foster relationships with people who truly know and understand you. Here is my barometer: whom can you call at 3:00am when your car breaks down on the side of the highway an hour away from home? The people who jump up, get dressed, and hit the road to pick you up? Those are your people.

• Make the Effort. This can be difficult because we don’t always prioritize others when life gets busy. Try to reach out, check in, and engage with the people who matter most in your life. Take and use your lunch breaks to meet a friend, schedule catch-up dates, and take advantage of in-person work events to build closer bonds with your colleagues.

• Build a Culture of Continuous Connection. This is the most difficult, but perhaps the most important: establish the discipline. Whether you carve out a Friday afternoon to have a beverage with a colleague or use Sunday mornings to call your mom, build these rituals into your schedule. And then, show up.

During Mental Health Awareness Month, let’s remember that genuine connections are the real key to happiness. The more we can prioritize quality relationships, build meaningful bonds, and find (and be) those 3:00am forever friends, the more we can positively impact our mental well-being.

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