The Good Life Movement has been deep in the lab since December. We’ve been running focus groups and working with world-class leaders to create a GLM that will inspire millions. We’ve built and changed a lot. In two weeks, we’ll be announcing the details of our inaugural campaign which will lead into Mental Health Awareness Month and run through the summer.
Today, however, I’m pleased to share that in January we added our first official advisor, Dr. Tom Insel.
Tom is a psychiatrist, neuroscientist, author, and entrepreneur. From 2002-2015, he was the highest-ranking mental health official in the U.S. when he served as the Director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) under Bush and Obama. Since 2015, Tom has founded three organizations including MindSite News, Mindstrong Health, and Vanna Health.
Tom has been a tremendous inspiration to myself and The Good Life Movement. As Director of the NIMH, Tom saw and was a part of the system at the highest level. To his own admission, he saw how so many institutions (including NIMH under his era) have had their priorities wrong. In February 2022, Tom released a book titled Healing: Our Path from Mental Illness to Mental Health where he advocates for a radically different approach to taking on the mental health crisis.
This is where Tom and GLM align so much. We both recognize that if we are to truly end this crisis, we must also take on the world outside of healthcare. The treatments we prioritize must support the social determinants of mental health. As Tom argues, stable housing, a routine with good sleep, belonging and community, and purpose are essential pillars of prevention and recovery. All of which have been neglected for decades.
This type of vision is at the heart of what GLM is advocating for. The latest frame for our vision is structured around a house fire analogy.
1) We've Never Built the Fire Department
Due to the discrimination against our cause, our nation has neglected essential investment into crisis services. To put out the fires, we must act immediately to build a crisis system and a real care system that people can access affordably.
2) We've Never Asked: Why Is Everything on Fire?
We have a mental health crisis because we have created a society that fundamentally makes people sick. Fixing the care system and improving treatment is the essential first step, but we must begin to look at the world outside of health care.
We are sick because people are increasingly separated from the human essentials such as family, community, meaning, spirituality/faith, and nature. In replacement, we've been stuffed full of overly processed foods and information.
Our world is increasingly not serving us due to a three-tiered problem: The root cause, the symptoms, and a misplaced response to the crisis.
1) The Root Cause
Our fundamental problem is that we over-rely on GDP and economic measures to evaluate the well-being and direction of our society. We say a growing economy will lead to a world that makes us happy, yet happiness has flatlined for 50 years.
Happiness is woven into the Declaration of Independence, however as a nation we no formal measure of happiness and life satisfaction. As a result, no one in any office anywhere is making sure the world we create is one we'll be happy in. We can change this.
2) Symptoms of a Misaligned World
Given the GDP assumption, all throughout society people are squeezed in the name of economic growth. We are increasingly used as inputs to serve the machine, rather than the machine serving us.
You can see this playing out in society. Social media tears us apart for profits with little recognition of how we are doing. There has been a radical loss of meaning in the workplace as millions hyper-specialize in isolating careers. Last, advances in technology are zeroing millions of people out of the economy while the financial gains consolidate at the top. This list could go on.
3) Over-Individualizing a Societal Problem
We are being told to use meditation apps and self-help books to deal with the forces of economic injustice or a crumbling social fabric. It's like a garden hose against a forest fire.
To be clear, individual responsibility is 100% an essential piece to ending this crisis. I personally use and love both of the aforementioned tools for growth. The problem, however, is that so many people don't have a fighting chance. We misdiagnose the problem and forget that tackling trauma and depression is already some of the hardest work a person can do. In these straits, we only hinder progress.
At GLM, we often think about the single mother. Let’s hypothetically call her Martha. By the numbers, Martha’s lot is not in her favor.
As a new mother, Martha has an outsized risk of a debilitating mental health condition. Martha is person-of-color so that risk is even higher. At the median income, she makes $34,000 a year across two jobs that won’t let her work full-time to avoid giving her benefits. Martha has no paid leave and is forced back into work within weeks of giving birth despite her son not even having the muscles to hold his own head up. At a median rent for a 1-bedroom ($1,100), Martha has $21,000 to live on for the year before taxes, transportation, and child care. If Martha is like the majority of Americans, she’s also raising her son in a world that she is no longer optimistic about. If Martha finds herself depressed, few people would blame her. However, in America, pathologize her response.
If Martha wants help, her options are limited. If she has healthcare, there is a 55% chance there is no mental health provider in her county. Even if there is, her insurance may be intentionally denying benefits that she has a legal right to. Or her insurance is employing ghost networks with non-existent providers to exhaust her into giving up. If Martha can find care, on average, she will receive medication from a primary care doctor who will never check in with her.
The narrative of self-care and more access to the same old system will not suffice. The problem with our worldview of old is that we do not fully recognize that Martha's illness is not an accident. This is our world working as intended.
This is not to say Martha shouldn’t meditate or go to her family doctor. Both of these methods can help avert crisis or provide a sliver of resilience to get through. But if we are talking about ending a crisis and creating a world that doesn’t inherently make us sick, we must think bigger. We must create conditions that give people a fair shot at the pursuit of happiness.
This is what The Good Life Movement is all about. We have so much in store for you this year. We will make this real.
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