Our world is broken. Our climate is sliding out of control. We’re living through a mass extinction event. Our economy rewards the rich while the rest of us get less and less secure. Our politics is getting steadily more polarised and authoritarian amid a catastrophic loss of trust.
We’re broken too. We’re in the thick of an epidemic of depression and anxiety, obesity and opiate addiction. Suicide and self-harm are spiking, especially among the young. One in five of us is on medication for psychiatric problems.
These aren’t parallel trends: they’re two sides of the same coin. We used to think depression and anxiety were just about brain chemistry; now, we’re realising they’re a response to the world we live in. And we’re also realising that democracy can only work if enough of us can stay untriggered, feel empathy for each other, and share a sense of common identity and purpose.
Right now, we’re in a positive feedback loop in which internal and external crises reinforce and amplify each other. It’s a moment of acute instability with a risk of catastrophic breakdown – but also the possibility of a breath-taking breakthrough if we rise, together.
Healing the world means healing ourselves. So that we feel safe instead of threatened. Connected instead of alone. Appreciated instead of unworthy. Proud instead of shamed. Powerful instead of paralysed. Purposeful instead of empty.
Healing ourselves means healing the world. Only then can we untrigger our politics and take the heat and hate out of public life. Deepen our sense of empathy for each other’s experiences and see what’s precious in each other’s values. Build the sense of shared identity and common purpose we need to tackle the hardest issues we’ve ever faced.
Figuring out how we do this, together, in time, is the fight of our lives. We’ve lost our old stories and rituals, but we haven’t put new ones in their place. Psychology and self-help have some of the answers, but only if they can break out of being concerned with individuals alone and instead help all of us to heal. It’s time for psychology to go collective.