Being Rich Doesn’t Make You Safe or Happy

Two of the social issues that as an agency we’re engaged with are Injury Prevention and Mental Health. For us, this is a big change from working on girls in the developing world or global poverty, which are still near and dear to our hearts. But we had an instinct that both of the former issues would become major topics for public discussion during this decade. And it only makes sense that in Canada, we would turn our attention to these problems. Here’s a simple theory as to why.

In affluent, post-industrial societies, the things that could kill or harm our ancestors or poorer neighbours overseas, are generally no longer present. Deadly infectious diseases have largely been managed out of day to day life. We’re no longer dropping dead of smallpox, measles, dysentery, bubonic plague, cholera, polio – the list goes on. On this continent, we don’t have wars raging and society is, for the most part, civil. We’re living longer and leading healthier lives, so long as we lay off the trans fats and fast food.

What we do have is infrastructure and technology, among other advantages. We have paved streets and highways, powerful automobiles, smart phones and tablets, personal music devices. We have endless entertainments and oceans of information we can play with. And these very things pose their own hazards.

As the traditional “deadly things” fall by the wayside, new issues emerge, that are in many ways correlated to the very features of our modern society. Social disconnection, for one, which cannot be remedied by computing machines, the internet or video games. Overemphasis on technical skills and little emphasis on emotional intelligence, a skill that is vital to mental health and success in life. And, quite literally, safety hazards posed by our preoccupation with our devices, such as the epidemic of injuries and deaths related to texting while driving, or walking across a busy street with your earbuds in. Or riding your bicycle or Harley without a helmet. Or drinking a few beers and then driving, which Canadians do at an alarming rate.

It turns out that preventable injury is the leading cause of death in Canada for children, youth, and young adults. Period. And mental illness drains over $50 billion a year from the Canadian economy. That’s why we’re working with the organization Parachute to create public awareness of preventable injury. We need to replace the term “tragic accident” with “preventable injury” – and then do the work to prevent them. And we must, once and for all, put mental health on the same level as physical health, and ensure that it’s funded properly. Statistics may tell one story, but listen to someone who has lost a loved one due to an entirely preventable injury, or from an unaddressed mental illness, and it will tear your heart out.

We may be rich, but that doesn’t make us safe or happy. Unless we do something about it.