Reducing Hopelessness


Here’s an idea that I’ve been chewing on lately: reducing hopelessness. What do I mean by this crazy, seemingly idealistic concept? Before I go into the details, a little detour into the topic of poverty reduction is in order.

Over the past several weeks, I’ve thought a lot about the thesis of Jeff Sach’s, The End of Poverty. He argues that although poverty still exists, through further effort, extreme poverty can be eliminated within our lifetime. Since reading his book, I’ve also read other aid-related books: Bill Easterly’s, The White Man’s Burden, and Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo’s, Poor Economics.

Although I feel like I’ve just scratched the surface of development economics, one emerging theme that I’m realizing is this: a lot has already been done to eliminate poverty. Until the Marshall Plan, the concept of aid did not exist. Today, thousands of professionals at a variety of institutions (IGOs, NGOs, nonprofits, agencies, etc.) are working daily towards ending poverty. Not to mention the academics who’ve studied and have raised countless perspectives on how to correctly end poverty.

Now, reducing hopelessness.

First, what do I mean by reducing hopelessness? By hopelessness, I’m referring specifically to two related things: depression and suicide. My concern is on how to address these two issues.

Second, where did this idea come from? Reading Kay Redfield Jameson’s Night Falls Fast made me realize that, in comparison to poverty reduction, there’s been much less discussion and action taken towards addressing mental illness and suicide prevention. Sure, the topic might be taboo, but why? Depression and suicide should not be simply swept under the rug.

Third, why does it matter? Though the magnitude might not be as huge as compared to extreme poverty, the facts concerning mental illness and suicide prevention are just as grave: every 17 minutes someone commits suicide. 1 in 10 Americans have experienced some form of mental illness. At the turn of the last century, poverty was a fact of life. Poverty was a huge problem, but given the global scope of the issue, addressing it seemed virtually impossible. Through advocacy and action, the world has taken significant steps to eliminating poverty.

If the world has done so much towards reducing poverty, why can’t the same be done with reducing hopelessness? It’s just as important of a problem, and affects many people, both in the developed and developing world.