We NEED to talk more about HOPE - Rachael Stevens

We NEED to talk more about HOPE

Suicide is the biggest killer of young people in Australia. I don’t know if you have heard this before, it is so confronting….haunting even.

Each and every time this cold statistic rings in my ears, it resounds in such an impersonal way. As if suddenly submerged under a shower of cold water this statistic is a shock to the system.

As a survivor of suicide, it is incredibly jolting to be reminded that this statistic refers to real people, with real lives, names, passions and families.

It’s not an empty, impersonal number. It’s real lives.

I meet hundreds of young people who battle this invisible and misunderstood internal war. It is real, not a desperate bid for attention or a fabrication that’s “…all in your head.”

Recently a Mental Health Youth Report showed Nearly 1 in 4 Australian teenagers meet the criteria for having a “probable serious mental illness”.
(You can read it here: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-04-19/teenage-mental-health-depression-abuse-black-dog-institute/8451736)

As Australians we are talking about this. Awareness campaigns flood facebook newsfeeds. Online you can complete quizzes and checklists about symptoms. There’s online forums, youtube videos, twitter, facebook groups…and while I openly acknowledge there is great value in discussing symptoms and advancing awareness. There is, however, something missing….


I believe we need to acknowledge the problem of mental illness, but also accentuate the positive. To talk more about hope and solutions.

Recently this quote woke me up:

“Young people are constantly hearing negative messages about their generation and their future.”
– Young person (Youth Coalition Report: Mental Health 2016).

I wonder if attempts to create awareness, funds and support…. have inadvertently developed an unhealthy preoccupation with problems instead of solutions?

Has this type of messaging aided in creating a disempowering image of people?
People portrayed as fragile, as unprepared and unable to cope and recover. Suffering seen as foreign. Discomfort and pain viewed as unexpected and unusual.

While there is truth embedded in this claim, it neglects something fundamental. Many, many people recover, improve, manage symptoms well and go on to live meaningful and healthy lives. People have the ability to rise from adversity, just as much as we are susceptible to being negatively affected by it.

Harvard Psychiatrist and Anthropologist Arthur Kleinman writes:
“Hope is what makes the human condition liveable”

We cannot deny that the human condition is a conflicting mix of love, rejection, hope, disappointment, strength, fragility, kindness, division, sadness and joy.

Suffering is an essential and inescapable aspect of being human. It is, however, becoming increasingly managed and medicalised.

“We tend to think of dangers and uncertainties as anomalies in the continuum of life, or irruptions of unpredictable forces into a largely predictable world. I suggest the contrary: that dangers and uncertainties are an inescapable dimension of life. In fact, as we shall come to understand, they make life matter. They define what it means to be human.”
-Arthur Kleinman

When messages about mental health exclude hope, they fatten human experience. They ignore the potential people have to endure suffering, rise from adversity and even benefit from enduring incredible struggle.

Hope is seen as elusive. It is not quantifiable and statistics fail to capture its nature.

Rick Warren writes,
“Hope is essential to you as air and water. You need hope to cope.”

Hope transforms the way we talk about mental health. When we exclude it, our minds are seen as the site of illness, interventions only acknowledge dysfunction and abnormality. Messages scream how depressingly bad things are…we desperately need to talk more about hope.

Hope provokes people to cling to life, when death calls their name.

Hope quiets our greatest fears.

Hope sustains us through each day.

There is a great and ever-intensifying need to talk about HOPE.
When you see a bleak statistic, or hear a negative message.
It’s not an empty, impersonal number. It’s real lives.
And we can choose how we respond.
Speak back, Speak up, Speak hope.

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