Poetry Changes Direction

by Barbara Van Dahlen, Ph.D.,

Founder & President, Give an Hour

In the spring of 2015, Give an Hour launched the Campaign to Change Direction — a collective impact effort that brings together corporations, nonprofit organizations, communities, influencers and government agencies — in an effort to change the culture of mental health.

For nearly two years, we have worked with our partner organizations — now over 390 of them — to encourage everyone to pay attention to their emotional well-being. And we have educated thousands of individuals and families about the Five Signs of emotional suffering: personality change, agitation, withdrawal, lack of personal care and hopelessness. The simple directive of the campaign — if we see someone who is suffering emotionally, it is up to us to reach out, connect, show compassion and offer help — seems to be resonating as this public health notion spreads across the country.

Image courtesy of Unsplash

Since launching Change Direction, we have had the pleasure of working with many talented and compassionate champions who have used their influence and their voices to support our efforts including former First Lady Michelle Obama, Dr. Jill Biden, Prince Harry, Richard Gere, Brian Wilson and Chris Stapleton. Each of these champions used their platforms to elevate the conversation about mental health, mental illness and emotional well-being. Each brought a unique perspective to the challenge of breaking through the cultural barriers that prevent so many from seeking and receiving care and support.

Culture change takes time. In order to be effective, movements must create a constant drum beat that delivers a compelling message — one that engages, educates and inspires. And it certainly helps to have a variety of mechanisms, opportunities and distribution channels that delivers that message.

One of our most passionate champions is an award-winning advocate who is using her creative gifts to reach a new audience with the important messages embedded in the Campaign to Change Direction. In addition to being an accomplished poet, Yashi Brown is a respected leader within the mental health community. A member of the immensely talented Jackson family, Yashi talks openly about the experience of living with Bipolar Disorder. She is refreshingly honest, impressively kind and ever hopeful. Yashi believes that we can change our culture and she is using poetry to move us closer to our shared goal.

Last fall Yashi partnered with Hookist, a social songwriting platform where music artists collaborate with fans to produce songs. Yashi had the idea to use the Hookist platform to create a collective poem highlighting the public health approach of the Campaign to Change Direction. Her plan was to use the platform to simultaneously entice fans to participate in a creative opportunity while raising awareness about the pain of mental health challenges — as well as the potential for healing.

Over the course of several weeks, Yashi received contributions from all over the world — each writer eager to add to the poem based on Yashi’s theme, “Reach Out & Touch Somebody”. Each week Yashi sifted through hundreds of submissions — carefully selecting new lines that fit and flowed. She posted videos twice a week thanking all who contributed — taking time in each video to read the collective work as each new line was added. The final result of this unique Hookist effort is a haunting and hopeful poem… one that captures the pain of emotional suffering as well as the potential we each have for compassion, healing and recovery http://www.changedirection.org/7779-2/

Not surprisingly to anyone who knows her, Yashi isn’t quite done with this particular work of art. She plans to invite renowned poets to add a few lines as finishing touches — she also plans to set the lines to music.

Art has the power to challenge us. It has the power to reflect our pain and our hopes back to us …. Art has the power to soothe and validate. It creates a safe space to share and explore — a space to reveal and a space to question. Yashi Brown is a gifted artist who is using her art to do all of this and more. She is using her art to Change Direction.

Photo: Yashi Brown