Country music star Chris Stapleton might seem like an unusual agent of culture change but anyone who has listened to the Grammy Award winning album Traveller knows that this singer/song writer has an amazing gift. Through his evocative lyrics and poignant melodies, he captures the pain and suffering we all experience. With the support of his impressively talented wife, Morgane, Chris has released a heart-wrenching and powerful music video unlike anything that has come before. I am honored to know Chris and Morgane and so grateful for the gift they have given to our movement to change the culture of mental health in America.
Chris chose to set his first-ever music video to his haunting song "Fire Away," which he says is about loving someone through the worst of times. The video shares the story of a devoted husband who tries desperately to save his young wife from her unbearable emotional pain. By taking the issue of suicide head on through this exquisitely directed and acted film, Chris has created a cultural moment--one that challenges all of us to confront an issue we rarely talk about. More people in the U.S. will die by suicide this year than in car accidents, and our Department of Veterans Affairs reports that 22 veterans end their lives every day.
Mental health concerns affect one in five Americans--each one of us is either affected directly or we love someone who is. Depression, anxiety, trauma, and addiction are common experiences for people living in all regions of the country and among all ages, races, and socioeconomic groups. While certain conditions (poverty and war, to name two) place some of us at greater risk than others, no one is immune to the pain and suffering that accompanies these common elements of the human condition. And yet we continue to struggle with how to think about, talk about, and address the emotional well-being of our citizens.
Culture change takes time. Successful efforts encouraging change require sustained commitment by many people working to deliver and promote a new way of thinking--and a new way of behaving. Culture change happens more rapidly when high-profile champions and celebrities get involved in the conversation. Americans love to follow and emulate what our cultural heroes think and do. Through social media we can track each other instantly and seem to do so constantly. We know who is supporting what; which idea, concept or quote is trending; and who is breaking new ground or taking on a challenging issue. Perhaps we feel safer speaking out or stepping up if actors, artists, politicians, and athletes are out there first--taking a stand, showing their vulnerability.
The Campaign to Change Direction has been fortunate to have several impressive champions adding their voices to this critical effort. First Lady Michelle Obama was the first to take up this cause. She spoke at the launch of the Campaign in March of 2015 and has frequently used her powerful voice to amplify the effort. Brian and Melinda Wilson--along with the director, writer, and actors from the film Love & Mercy about Brian's life--joined the campaign last fall and have done much to help drop the movement into the cultural stream. And Richard Gere recently agreed to share his perspective, and his image, for a PSA promoting the importance of recognizing the Five Signs of emotional suffering--the hallmark of the campaign--as a critical step in preventing homelessness. We are honored by the support of all of these champions. Their time and their brands are in great demand, and they have chosen to lend both to help us change the culture of mental health in America. They recognize the need for change, and they are willing to do their part to make it happen.
While hard work and effective champions are important for facilitating culture change, sometimes the universe delivers an opportunity that would have been impossible to predict but, if recognized and properly leveraged, can dramatically propel a movement and significantly shift a national conversation.
Last fall the very talented, and very compassionate, actor Ben Foster attended an event that showcased the Campaign to Change Direction. He learned about our work to educate America about the Five Signs of emotional suffering and volunteered to help when and where he could. He also shared that he had been invited by Chris Stapleton to make an unusual music video and offered to connect the dots. As a result of Ben's introductions, I was invited to work with another fine actor who stars in the video, Margarita Levieva, as well as the talented director on the project, Tim Mattia. All of these artists wanted to ensure that they portrayed this sensitive topic accurately, and all believed that by making this video they could realize Chris's vision of using the film to help people who are suffering. The end result of their dedication to their craft and their commitment is stunning.Chris Stapleton's gift will allow us to reach and engage a huge number of people--some we might not have been able to reach otherwise. The video is artistically beautiful and emotionally painful. Some who see "Fire Away" will be reminded of their own struggles; some will most certainly be reminded of loved ones lost to suicide. All will be touched. Some will visit our website www.changedirection.org looking for help. Some will visit our site wanting to get involved. We have created a collection of resource materials and many ways to get involved. We welcome all comers. We hope that all who see the video will want to do their part--just as Chris has now done his--to help us change the culture of mental health in America.
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"Today's journey is about progress not perfection . . . and wherever you are in your journey is right where you're supposed to be." (Candayce Barnes)
"Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending." ~ Maria Robinson