Why Care is the Next Social Revolution
From the moment we’re born, through every natural inflection point in our lives, care shapes our well-being. But rather than being enveloped in support, we’re now experiencing a care deficit like never before — one that impacts each of us in a profound way.
Maybe you feel the impact most at the doctor’s office, when your physician warns you about your chronic stress levels. It might hit home at the dinner table as you listen to your child share her dreams and wonder how your wages will ever be able to support them. It could surface as you struggle to save for retirement, or when you wonder why your future looks so much less secure than the one your grandparents and parents had. Or maybe you feel the impact in a much more solitary place — one where a lack of connection leads to loneliness and social isolation.
When care services are present in our lives, we feel safe, loved, connected and healthy. But when this support isn’t available to us, the void manifests itself as pain, causing our well-being to feel out of reach. We have less and less care in our lives, and it’s fundamentally threatening our way of life.
But frustration alone won’t restore the safety net we need for a better quality of life. To take charge of our future, it will require a complete shift in our society: a social revolution that restores care across every area of our lives.
A systematic shift away from ‘care’
The first signs of change came in the 1980s. Seemingly overnight, good blue collar jobs disappeared, threatening the livelihood of countless hardworking families across America. I watched my Ohio hometown, once known for steel and paper, transform before my eyes.
Changes in our mental health system only compounded the impact of this sudden unemployment, leaving broken families in its wake. When my brother was diagnosed with a mental illness at age 20, I was shocked by our care system’s shortcomings. As I saw my family and my community left without a sense of security, our nation’s care deficit became suddenly, and painfully, clear to me.
Although this disappearing safety net is our reality, it hasn’t always been that way. In the 1940s, America was home to one of the healthiest populations in the world. But by the 1980s, when social services began to disappear, our nation’s health started its downward spiral. Flash forward to today, and the United States’ lack of care is endangering our quality of life at every level, across all our natural inflection points.
Modern technology is empowering us to analyze every calorie burned and chewed, every sleep pattern and every bacteria in our crowded gut biomes. Fortune 500s and startups alike are devoting time and resources to wellness, which is now poised to become the next trillion-dollar industry. The idea of wellness is everywhere, but that alone cannot fill the deeper, fundamental gap in care that permeates our lives.
Despite our growing desire for a better quality of life, care has somehow fallen by the wayside — leaving us without the support we need to live our full potential.
Many dimensions, little support
Over the last 50 years, America has been shaped by numerous social revolutions, driven by a combination of technology, globalization and shifting cultural norms. But as our nation evolves, we have neglected the most vital component of a healthy, supported society: care for ourselves, our families and our communities. Our safety net is gone, and the implications touch each of us.
When most of us hear the word “care,” what immediately comes to mind is health care. Health care is being systematically denied to many Americans, and millions more are at risk of losing this basic human right. Too many of us live in fear of illness, worried that a serious diagnosis will shatter our lives both physically and financially. Yet the care crisis is much bigger than the health care system alone.
Gaps in economic care have triggered stagnant wages and growing income inequality. We’re experiencing less job security, and those of us who do have steady employment are watching the benefits, pensions and savings that once safeguarded our futures disappear. But the ramifications of this shift are much more than financial. If the U.S. welfare state was merely “average” when compared with the social support of the other 17 OECD countries, our life expectancy would be 3.77 years higher. Between 1980 and 2014, mortality rates in the U.S. soared, driven by a spike in diabetes, neurological disorders, respiratory diseases and substance-related deaths.
The absence of complete mental care intersects with economic shortcomings, often leading to medical conditions like obesity, chronic stress and depression. Nearly 1 in 3 Americans have sought counseling for mood disorders, relationship issues and other mental health challenges. But after overcoming the tremendous stigma of seeking counseling, more than half of us are met with yet another roadblock: financial obstacles that make mental health a perpetual uphill climb.
Meanwhile, our communities aren’t offering us the support system that they once did. A lack of community care, crucial to providing a sense of unity and belonging, has spurred poverty, loneliness, social isolation, gun violence and rising suicide rates. Compared with people in other developed nations, Americans are dying at a younger age and quicker rate. Studies indicate that “despair deaths,” or deaths related to alcohol, drug and suicide, are a root cause. Our lack of community is killing us. Yet in a nation with less and less care, issues such as isolation are a mere drop in the bucket, quickly lost in the sea of social shortcomings vying for our attention.
A lack of care in one area of our lives quickly impacts, and is impacted by, all the others. When our economic, community and mental health care all fall short, it leads to chronic illnesses in body, mind and spirit.
Spurring the next social revolution
As Millennials come to terms with our nation’s lack of care, they aren’t sitting idle. The social force of this generation, coupled with the use of technology and services, is spurring the next social revolution: one that promises to restore our security, well being and health through care that cuts across every aspect of our lives.
Through new tools and technology, today’s young people are building stronger communities and redefining how we engage with our care. In the system of yesterday, support services came at the hands of hospitals and labs, not you and I. In our new human-centered care system, we can leverage video counseling sessions, financial planning tools and other resources designed to close critical gaps. With each innovation, the definition of care is expanded to reflect its many dimensions: mental, nutritional, social, community, economic, health, knowledge, trauma, environmental and cultural wellbeing.
We all experience the moment when the care deficit hits home. As our society wakes up to this reality, we’re on the verge of a far more powerful moment — one that replaces pain with security and isolation with unity.
This is the first in a series of articles exploring the many dimensions of care in America and the innovation fueling progress in this crucial space.