Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Healing social norms to forestall death

I am working on 3 “projects” that seem to have percolated to the top of my “to do” listings. That “3” includes our Suicide Prevention Task Force (birthed out of our office and currently driven from there), Underage Drinking Prevention (after one speaking engagement I seem to be being “clamored after” for others, that is someone else’s characterization), and CeaseFire (a developing project in our area, I serve on the Advisory Board).

It was listening to an outreach worker for the CeaseFire program, and thinking about it afterward, when a certain realization came to me. These initiatives have much in common. They are at their root public health and community healing initiatives. In addition all 3 will require, in addition to healing components, changes in social norms.

To stop community violence we need to change what has become a social norm (violence and violence breading violence) and inculcate that “violence isn’t OK and isn’t the only option”. To “stop” underage drinking we need to change the social norms that say that “drinking is OK for underage individuals, it is a right of passage, that they will do it anyway so parents should allow it in “controlled” settings”. To prevent suicide we need to impact the social norm that stigmatizes suicide so that we can not address it openly, that stigmatizes underlying depression and mental illness, that suicide must be hidden so as not to “breed” more suicide and that prevention leads to exacerbation.

I’ll write more on this as I mentally dissect and ruminate on what seems like a fascinating relationship/linkage. Also, I see “community healing work” as a promising “umbrella” under which to bring together what might otherwise seem to be divergent issues and solutions or efforts. I’ll write on that, as well, as it gels in my mind.

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