I am tired of political junk mail in my mailbox. I am tired of expensive smear campaigns by all parties for public offices at all levels. I am tired of the daily emails asking for money (I already contributed!).
However, as tired as I am, and as fed up as I am by grown women and men—leaders of our cities, counties, states, and country—campaigning like out-of-control, mean-spirited teenagers, I will still vote today. Indeed, I already filled out my absentee ballot and popped it in the mail.
Because it is my right and my duty as a citizen of the United States of America. And because I haven’t given up on social change through policy. I believe that if we get enough of the right people in public office—people who care more about their constituents than Big Money—we can make change happen.
We can raise the minimum wage. We can pass laws supporting parental leave. We can force Big Business to pay their share of taxes and take the burden off small business owners. We can overturn Citizens United and return to some resemblance of fair elections. We can prioritize student-centered public education, healthy school food, and preventative health care.
Why Politics Matter
I have an entire chapter in my forthcoming book that describes changes that must happen in politics in order to create a society optimized for mental health. The chapter is called “Establishing a Just Republic” (as opposed to our current unjust oligarchy).
Several of my beta readers struggled with this chapter. “What does politics have to do with mental health?” they wondered. So in the second draft, I added a few paragraphs to a section titled “Politics Affect Everything:”
But enough about the problems, we’re here to talk about solutions—how to optimize children’s mental health through policy changes.
“Wait, what?” you may be thinking. “What does policy changes have to do with mental health?”
Politics affect everything in our lives. And when I say politics, I don’t mean Republican vs. Democrat or gun rights vs. gun control. Let’s move beyond that and think about politics in a larger sense—how it affects everything from our children’s education to access to holistic health care to parents’ ability to put food on the table, factors that all play a role in children’s mental health outcomes. It is impossible to avoid the topic of politics and have an honest discussion about mental health. Indeed, any book that attempts to address mental health, but ignores the politics of it is a fairytale. So stay with me!
Politics Should Serve the Common Good
Between lobbying and campaign bashing, we have forgotten that politics is supposed to be about serving the common good—or to “promote the general welfare,” to quote the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution. What would constitute “common good” as it relates to children’s mental health? Guaranteeing parental leave for all new parents. Ensuring that no child has to go hungry or worry about where they’re going to sleep tonight. Pulling families out of poverty and creating safe neighborhoods. Providing student-centered, holistic education to all children. Creating and preserving natural spaces so all children can experience unstructured play. Restructuring the mental health system to take profits out of the equation. (The list goes on…)
As we continue our discussion, keep in mind this connection between policy and our ability to optimize children’s mental health. Mental health is a social concern as much as it is an individual concern. And currently, policy is dictated by a handful of wealthy, mostly white, mostly male owners of giant corporations pursuing their individual interests—more money and power. Unless we change this structure, our politicians cannot serve the common good.
Vote for Kids’ Future Happiness
We know there are many environmental factors that impact the future happiness and emotional wellness of our children. Mothers who have to return to work soon after their child’s birth are more likely to be depressed, thus risking passing on depression to their child. Living in a food insecure household is a form of trauma—and childhood trauma can result in a host of negative physical and mental health outcomes. Our one-size-fits-all, standardized testing-based education breeds anxiety and depression in our nation’s youth. (I could go on.)
Meanwhile, a powerful Big Pharma lobby ensures that pharmaceutical companies can keep pushing medication—designed for adults—to pediatricians and psychiatrists to medicate our children off-label for symptoms of being a creative, sensitive, rambunctious, critically thinking, or kinesthetically oriented child in a society that is not designed for their emotional well-being. Rather than adapt the environment to meet the needs of all children, we adapt these children to their environment.
There are certain politicians who support healthy families and communities and there are some politicians who are more concerned with getting re-elected with Big Money. Figure out who supports healthy families—of all shapes and sizes—and vote for them today—even if you’re tired.
Because what matters more than our kids’ health and happiness?