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.