We interviewed three Members of our Community to share their insights about mental health. Khalid El Hatri is the founder and director of Young FENIX, a mental health and wellbeing organization. His work focuses on combining prevention and early intervention by addressing the mental wellbeing needs and issues of young people in an inclusive and diverse manner, especially those growing up in socially vulnerable circumstances. Alexandra Boogers is a neurologist with a PhD in neuroscience, specialized in the treatment of individuals with Parkinson’s disease. By working with people with neurological diseases, she understands the psychological aspects of patients dealing with anxiety, depression, and coping challenges as a secondary effect of their neurological issues. Kristel Van den Bergh works at the King Baudouin Foundation as a Managing Director of the Prince Albert Fund, a role in a leadership development program that further deepened her interest in strengthening mental resilience in young adults. In a fast-paced world, where expectations are high and stress omnipresent, it is easy to fall out of balance, and Kristel wants to create more awareness for mental wellbeing. Together, these three 40u40 Members bring complementary perspectives and expertise to the conversation surrounding mental health and societal wellbeing.
As noted in the discussion, prioritizing mental wellbeing is imperative to effectively address societal problems and achieve ambitious societal goals. Kristel highlights the interconnection between reaching major goals as a society and the wellbeing of the individual. In doing so, she introduces the notion of Inner Development Goals (IDGs), a parallel framework to the commonly known Sustainable Development Goals. The IDGs show “that we cannot reach these amazing outcomes on climate, migration and poverty, if we, as humans, do not develop our inner leader abilities, including our resilience.” The relationship we have to ourselves is important. The first pillar of the IDG puts importance on the aspect of “Being”, which incorporates the ability to cultivate our inner life, to have a realistic self-image, to develop our relationship to our thoughts and feelings, and helps us be present. For Kristel, the aspect of “Being” is an underrated leadership skill in a fast-paced world where there is often no time and space to slow down. Nurturing this quality allows for deeper self-reflection, for meaningful connections with others, and to fully recharge, all crucial drivers of mental wellbeing.
The “Being” part, which includes the process of letting the emotions flow in and allowing yourself to feel, is an important step to take care of your mental health. In addition, it is just as important to acknowledge these feelings. The three 40u40 interviewees agree on the importance of finding the right balance between recognizing someone’s struggles and providing encouragement. Kristel introduces the concept of toxic positivity, the societal pressure to maintain a positive outlook, invalidating negative emotions or experiences. When people facing mental struggles are pressured to hide their problems or told to disregard them, it can result in increased isolation and unhealthy coping mechanisms. “By doing so, the affected person now has two problems: the negative emotion and on top of that, the feeling that something is wrong with them”. Encouraging someone to look at the bright sides and to move on “denies the experience of the moment”, meaning it denies the healthy process of feeling and healing the negative emotions. Alexandra introduces here the act of deep listening, a strategy she learned in the 40u40 program, that makes your conversation partner feel truly heard. When her patients struggle with their mental health, she listens to them and acknowledges their pain: “I want to name the elephant in the room and let the elephant be there for a little bit”. Khalid emphasizes that in order to create a society of wellbeing, where mental health is a priority, it is important to find a “balance between positivity and empowerment, but also recognizing the person’s position and pain.” There is a need to “address what we see, talk about the pain” even if it is difficult to say it out loud.
The saying “It takes a village to raise a child” is something Kristel, Khalid and Alexandra all resonate with. Humans need a community, a place to feel supported, heard and inspired. Khalid believes that individualism contributes to the deterioration of mental health, “we live in a society where everyone is closed in their own bubble. Loneliness is something many people struggle with.” For him, we need to rediscover “how we can build communities where people can learn from each other, where people can talk with each other, where people can connect with each other.” Nowadays, we live behind “closed doors”, as Kristel explains. However, everyone needs a “safety net to fall back on.” It is important to feel connected and supported within a community because this sense of connection and support plays a crucial role in fostering emotional wellbeing and resilience. In addition, sharing your hardship with a community can serve as a beacon of inspiration by sharing experiences, both of success and challenges, representing and normalizing the mental health struggles.
We live in a society where we thrive for an image of perfection and expectations are high. Khalid, Kristel, and Alexandra observe how young adults often want to reach their full potential, they are ambitious and put themselves under a lot of pressure to excel professionally and privately. Not just young adults, the pressure is high for everyone, and people experience a set of high expectations: to be a good mother and have a successful career, to be a strong and independent man, to have the perfect body, relationship, house, or car. Alexandra adds that social media plays a big role in amplifying those images by showcasing only the positive sides of life, and never the hardship, thus setting unrealistic expectations. According to Kristel, the image of perfection is unhealthy: “Society is telling me to be this perfect thing, which is simply unattainable. It will drive up pressure, drive up disappointments. There is a persistent productivity narrative in our culture, where busyness is highly valued, and our self-worth is often measured by external achievements. This cultural narrative can be quite hard to break, and it frequently comes at the cost of relationships and personal wellbeing. Don’t get me wrong; there is nothing wrong with a healthy striving for excellence, but I suggest we paint a more balanced and reasonable picture.” While we all have an intrinsic desire for control, it is essential to learn how to deal with uncertainty and let go of the illusion of control and perfection.
At 40u40, we aim to bring together young talented leaders and give them a platform to develop their ideas, connect with one another, and create a positive impact on society. The initiative fosters individual and community wellbeing by providing a space for personal growth, support, and relationship building in a non-judgmental and expectation-free environment.
During the one year program, the Fellows are invited to participate in Conversation Circles where they can express themselves, share their vulnerabilities, and learn to acknowledge each other’s emotions. Belgium’s 40 under 40 puts great emphasis on building a community that encompasses multiple facets of society, encouraging members to look at the world in its plurality. It serves as a space for individuals to share, inspire and engage in meaningful conversations, as Peru Dharani, Cohort 2022 Alumni, shared during the Graduation Ceremony of the Cohort 2022. Belgium’s 40 under 40 hopes to empower its Members and promote wellbeing through open dialogue and individual and peer-to-peer support.
The program offers a transformative journey bringing together speakers from diverse backgrounds, among other Belgium’s 40 under 40 Community Members: