Mar. 22, 2019 - Thanks to several awesome colleagues, I was invited to present at the 2019 South x Southwest (SXSW) Festival in Austin, Texas last week. SXSW, which brings together creative people from music, film and interactive media, launched a new programming track this year related to health disparities, including the challenge of making sure mental health is addressed at all levels in healthcare and in communities.
I presented on two panels: one held on International Women’s Day (March 8) called “Breaking the Rules: The Badass Women of Mental Health,” and another panel called “Killing Ourselves Faster: The Mental Health Abyss.” The first highlighted the stories of three female mental health professionals and why we have dedicated our careers to mental health- in my case, suicide prevention. The second panel discussed the frightening fact that for two years running, the average American lifespan has decreased, with mortality on the rise, mainly due to mental health problems including suicide, addiction, and alcohol related liver disease.
You might wonder why these topics were included at a pop culture themed conference like SXSW. But as we are finding in every sector of society, mental health and suicide prevention are extremely relevant. As stigma around mental health is diminishing, we are all learning about the myriad of ways mental health impacts our society: at home, at work, in our relationships, and our own sense of our very existence.
Science continues to shed light on not only the many factors that comprise our dynamic mental health, but the strategies and treatment that can be practiced to achieve optimal mental health, whether someone has a mental health condition or not. I discussed these factors during the two panel discussions. I also spoke about the need for all of us to become more attuned to the struggles our loved ones and colleagues may be having, since we all tend to hide those internal experiences. Shame is still instinctual for many people when psychological suffering sets in; we must therefore go out of our way to draw others into a safe, compassionate safety net of support.
The future holds incredible promise for creating this safety net through the collaboration that’s already beginning to occur between formerly distant fields, such as big data machine learning and neuroscience. We partnered with some of our friends who are leading such innovation in healthcare using technology, at Energizing Health (Eddie Gonzalez-Novoa @egnovoa), Solera Health (@Andrey Ostrovsky), SAP and SDG Media Group, and Harris Logic (Hudson Harris @mentalstrategy).
By elevating the dialogue around this important topic, and encouraging this type of collaboration, we can create a culture that’s smart about mental health and suicide prevention.