I have this weird, almost masochistic tendency to ponder what I call “Mind F*cks.” (One sentence into this blog and I’ve already dropped the F-bomb. Whoops.)
Unfortunately, there is really no other term for these topics. I’m talking things like:
“Does the universe ever end?”
“When I see the color ‘blue,’ is it really the same ‘blue’ that others see? Or do other people call ‘blue’ what I think is really ‘green’?”
And the biggest Mind F*ck of all: “What would my life be like if I hadn’t won the birth lottery?”
And with that, I shall mount my soapbox and share a gripe I have about the “privileged” humans of the world (those of us who were born into economically secure families in developed countries – and I am totally including myself in that group): we rarely stop to think about how things could have been. We take for granted the fact that we were born into families where things like safety, comfort and nourishment were in constant supply. Sure, privileged families have their share of dysfunction, but the thought of an armed militia storming our house or rocket fire interfering with our daily commute rarely crosses our minds.
Sadly, millions of people across the developing world caught the other side of the coin when they were born. To those of us who were born into “privilege,” the reality of a refugee is almost as unfathomable as the size of the universe. The UNHCR reported that at the end of 2013, there were 16.7 million refugees worldwide. Throughout 2013, “conflict and persecution forced an average of 32,200 persons per day to leave their homes and seek protection elsewhere, either within the borders of their countries or in other countries.” Imagine leaving everything that was familiar in a struggle to simply survive. Imagine what that kind of trauma would do to your mind.
Here’s the real irony: those of us who spend more time worrying about whether we should get cheese on our Chipotle burrito bowl than where our next meal is coming from (again, guilty) have significantly greater access to mental healthcare than refugees and other members of the developing world. The estimated mental health “treatment gap” in low- and middle-income countries is approximately 76-85%, meaning that at least 3 out of every 4 people who need mental health treatment are not receiving it. This does not just encompass refugees who have experienced severe trauma. There are millions of people in the developing world suffering from psychological disorders that include depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and a long list of other issues that can make life without the help of a trained therapist unbearable.
One point of clarification: I don’t mean to make light of the psychological issues that affect members of the developed world. There are plenty of people who won the “birth lottery” and still face a daily struggle with very serious disorders. In fact, the mental health treatment gap in high-income countries is reportedly 35-50%, meaning we still have a long way to go. I am simply stating that every member of the global population should have access to mental health services, regardless of their income level or social standing.
So, why am I sharing this with you? Because it’s my motivation for going out into the world to assess the mental health landscape, and for working on a better way to provide psychological treatment for those who were not lucky enough to win the birth lottery. Instead of pondering my own life and how things could have been, I’m going to start thinking about how they could be for us all. I hope you’ll follow along with me while I do it.