The news lately, well it hasn’t been overwhelmingly uplifting. Between the ongoing violence in the Middle East and recent murder of an American journalist by IS, to the death of Robin Williams, to the protests in Ferguson, it’s hard to stay positive about the future. The cynic in me would respond to the following tune: How is this different from any other time in history? People are always dying, there have always been wars, and injustice is nothing new.
But here’s the thing – we know about all of this because access to information (regardless of accuracy) is greater than it has ever been in all of modern history. We can, given the motivation and time, find the information we need to better understand what’s going on [as best we can from our individual perspectives] like never before.
And with this access, comes the opportunity to use this information to create some sort of positive change [if we choose to]. This may mean simply taking the opportunity to discuss something you’ve become interested in with your friends. For example, have you discussed the implications for mental health the deaths of Robin Williams and Philip Seymour Hoffman could have? Do these deaths mean more than others because they brought the struggles of so many into a common light? Or do we tend to only fixate for a moment, and then move on, quickly forgetting the lessons we should have learned before, until the next time something similar happens and we once again lie in anguish for a few days before returning to a more preferable ignorant bliss?
How do we take what we are fixating on right now and use it [without forgetting and moving on too quickly] to move something in the right direction? The power of the people seems to be growing around the world and countless revolutions (women’s suffrage, civil rights, and more recently LGBT rights) throughout history show how much change people can have when they unite behind an idea. And there are those today that strive to stand up for truths they think need to be heard. The people of Serbia and Egypt stood up successfully, the people of Ferguson are standing now, and the late journalist Jim Foley strove to tell the story of Syrians suffering in the most horrific civil war of this century despite risking and eventually losing his life to do so.
It would be easy to stand on the sidelines and watch the brave of today rise – but it would be a waste of our generation’s youth, intellect and motivation to do so. We are passionate people, living in a world where social movements can grow in the blink of an eye into something staggeringly beautiful.
Each of us have an issue that we might choose to stand up for. We might have many. As someone deeply engaged in public health in the United States, I find my heartstrings are pulled towards the issues we face in mental and behavioral health frustrating and sometimes hopeless. People with mental health problems are more likely to be in jail or prison, they die younger, and they are less able to make meaningful contributions to society because they do not receive the support they need. But do we talk about this? Not often enough.
We do not treat these diseases, like depression, anxiety, substance use, as something experienced across the population, something startlingly common and debilitating. Drug use (I would include alcohol here) is real and everywhere, used across the socioeconomic spectrum. And although many of us experience some struggle with our own mental health or drug use sometime in our lives, still we behave as it is something other, and we ostracize those who suffer more openly. This influences how we treat people through policy and government, how we interact with them on the street, and how we support our friends and family in their own time of need.
Without a grassroots movement oriented towards changing the way we behave as a population towards these issues, I don’t think change is possible. We need to fundamentally alter the way we perceive these issues and how we treat each other in order to move towards a place that is safer for all. We need policy change too – but I think that comes out of the fundamental behavior change. If we so readily ignore mental health issues and how absolutely incapacitating they can be, even for those who receive so much support from their loved ones, how can we possibly expect people to survive without hurting themselves or others?
What do you want to raise your voice for? Do you agree it’s time to start taking the positive out of the negative? Where could it take us? What issues make you feel like jumping in? Is it Israel and Palestine? Syria and Iraq? Ukraine? Ebola? Mental health? Poverty? The sky is the limit when it comes to things that we could feel disheartened about these days, but what if we actually decided in our own small way, to do something about it?
I believe the opportunity presented by social media and platforms like this one are the conversation starter. Can we use the information we now have to speak out and begin debates about how we can change things for the better? Can we combine our voices with those of similar stances to turn the tide? Can we turn all this bad news into something good? I think so. I think we can rise above it if we want to. If you listen for the opportunity in the depressing press [and keep listening despite how hard it is sometimes] and it turns out to be something you feel passionate about, perhaps it’s time to say something, yell it even.
Photo Source: Nextbillion.net