Co-ops are good for our mental health and our community

Meitheal members at The Organic College, Dromcollogher, Co Limerick: John Mc Breen, Sinead Neiland, Sinead O’Shaughnesy, Maggie Hanley, Ger Matthews, Dan Fitzgibbon, Catherine Caulwell, and Chris Enright.

What is a co-op really? Bestselling author Johann Hari’s book Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression — and the Unexpected Solutions is ground-breaking.

According to Hari, some of the reasons we are experiencing a tsunami of mental health issues is not because of a sudden drop in serotonin production.

Hari writes that the real reasons many of us are depressed are because our needs are not being met and we are also responding to trauma in our lives.

People are not meant to live in isolation but nowadays we are more cut off than ever and live our lives through the lens, literally, of our phones.

Observe, we take a picture of our dinner, which we have styled to look amazing (I’m guilty of this and have been at it for years), we post it online.

Others see it and like it and give us smiley faces and thumbs-up, we get a buzz and do it more; they feel envious, looking at their pot of instant noodles and feel temporarily bad.

Our kids take a picture of their new tackies (that’s trainers in Limerick-ese) and post that on Instagram; their peers approve and they fit in.

Teenage girls are caught in a web of fakery and pressure, the levels of which we have never seen before.

We have less contact with nature and we drive to the gym to work out hard and drive home, maybe posting a hot and sweaty selfie.

Healthy outlook

People need people. Hari’s research has shown that a staggering 87% of people in the UK are unhappy in their jobs.

That’s millions of people waking up every day and going to a place to do a thing they feel bad about.

But he also found that it’s not just the job that creates the feelings, it’s how much workers feel they are in control that affects their state of health.

He talks about re-framing, changing how we choose to see what it is we are being paid to do; the very fact that we are being paid to do something can be enough to help some people.

He cites an example of a group of workers leaving their jobs to set up the same kind of business yet to do it as a co-operative where workers share the profits equally and can offer their services at a lower price to make it easier on the customer.

This is the basis of a co-op. Co-ops are good for your health.

I’ve written extensively in the past about The Urban Co-op in Limerick.

This social enterprise was born out of the needs of a group of people who wanted the right to have access to unadulterated food without having to go and meet farmers illicitly in car-parks and alleyways to get raw milk and fresh lamb among other things.

To make our lives easier, we set up The Urban Co-op in 2014 and it has recently once again moved premises due to demand for more products and services.

The co-op now offers classes in yoga and other self-care endeavours, as well as being a place to just get an affordable cup of organic coffee (€1.50) and sit down and read a magazine or have a chat.

The meitheal is something Irish people have always engaged in.

It simply means getting people together to help with a big task like building a shed or ploughing and planting a field, aka helping each other out.

When I lived in Germany the meitheal was alive and well and when someone was moving flat or painting their home it was common to invite and get help from friends, all you needed was a crate of beer and a big pot of chilli to say thank you.


Economic gains

The meitheal is a co-op and the United Nations estimated in 1994 that the livelihood of nearly three billion people, or half of the world’s population, was made secure by co-operative enterprise.

These enterprises continue to play significant economic and social roles in their communities.

Co-operatives contribute to resilient employment, a sustainable economy and the wellbeing of people at work, making up almost 12% of the entire employed population of the G20 countries.

Co-operative enterprises generate partial or full-time employment involving at least 250 million individuals worldwide, either in or within the scope of co-operatives.

In France, 21,000 co-operatives provide over one million jobs, representing 3.5% of the active working population while In Kenya, 63% of the population derive their livelihoods from co-operatives.

In Indonesia, co-operatives provide jobs to 288,589 individuals and in the United States, 30,000 co-operatives provide more than two million jobs.

To celebrate the co-operative movement, and the meitheal in particular, The Organic College in Dromcollogher, Co Limerick, is hosting an open day where co-op starters will give talks about the movement and visitors can enjoy a day of talks on organic growing, gardening for mental health, demonstrations and some delicious, organic food with few air miles.

Walks around the gardens and information about courses are available at the college and plenty of attractions will ensure a fun and food-filled day in a glorious setting full of possibility for community and co-operation.

Meitheal Grand Day Out takes place on May 26, 2pm-5pm, at The Organic College, Dromcollogher, Co Limerick; www.organiccollege.com

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