The fear I have about healing is that we will never learn to evolve, in terms of the way we treat each other.
The solution may be that we must simply devolve to a basic set of core societal principles that promotes the healing powers of community, individual presence, and the empathic connection of one human being to another.
In the current epidemics of suicide, from farm workers to millennials, medical providers to the elderly, I fear that we will rest of the principles we have constructed to define this problem while only searching for artificial checkbox solutions.
The narrowmindedness of the box is part of the larger problem. There is a cultural assault ongoing, requiring dramatic cultural shift solutions. A simple checkbox solution only pacifies the guilt of the individual(s) writing the list. A deep breath exhalation allowing for a single head to hit a pillow softer at night, in the gratification of a checkbox task completed. This approach does not solve any problems, it may only create more.
Here is the real life example.
I know two colleagues, each one struggling with their own journey of mental health over the past few months.
The first colleague smiles every day at work, puts on a brave face and grinds through the day. A work colleague developed a sense of worry and concern over the last few weeks after a string of difficult encounters. The colleague urged the individual to seek out some medical attention for their ongoing medical condition, in a tone of offering medical advice. A directive from a lofty, soapbox position. The colleague refused.
The urgency escalated and the colleague continued to push for the individual to seek out assistance. Another colleague requested a mandatory mental health screening be done. The colleague shut down, retreated and no longer confided in close work colleagues. The concern escalated to a workplace leader and the individual was given a week off of work to seek out some form of medical assistance. The checkbox solution of attempting to check in, require screening, mandate time off work while forcing an individual into a treatment pathway pacified the system, yet failed the struggling individual. The individual felt targeted, singled out, disciplined into seeking treatment for a medical condition. Albeit, necessary at times, this process does not have to be doomed before it even starts.
The second colleague suffered a handful of tragic personal losses over a short amount of time. Drowning in a sea of personal pain, guilt and grief. Her colleagues surrounded her with compassion and a listening ear. They created a personal, intimate and non-intimidating space. They shared in their own personal stories, their own struggles, and offered up a solution that was outside of the checkbox list. They created a cultural moment that willingly embraced their own insecurities, and their own flaws. More harm can be done by demanding to someone that "it is okay to not be okay". It must come from authentic people willing to live and share in the truth that is really is okay not to be okay. They didn’t mandate, discipline or dictate that her suffering was abnormal or maladaptive. These colleagues built a culture that allowed them to recommend a counselor, coupled with the statement “because I have been to counseling too”. The individual openly sought treatment, confided in workplace associates and continued an open dialogue along the way.
The first colleague still struggles after feeling relegated into a box, pigeonholed into a disciplinary pathway of sympathetic, shame based distancing from any understanding of the complexities of the individual struggles.
The second colleague went to counseling with an open-mind, in the acceptance that friends and colleagues have been there too. Acknowledging that they may not have personal experience with any specific type of loss, but that they were willing to share their own truth, in order to ease the moment and balance the scales of vulnerability into a space willing to produce more of it.
We can’t promote ourselves out of a mental health crisis or a suicide epidemic. We can’t think in terms of simple minded, checkbox logistical solutions. We must attract individuals to safekeeping by the messages of individuals willing to share in their own experiences. Less vinegar when more honey is needed. The intertwined honeycomb of building something greater together – person to person.
Culture change will never be about checklists, boxes, mandates or pathways. Culture change is about human connection, spreading widely into the smallest of silos that will reach individuals in their greatest times of need.
It is never too late to devolve back to the roots of human to human storytelling. Listening with compassion, and evolving the ways we think about healing each other. Every single, individual success story relies upon it.