Not too many social programs embrace, foster and promote the less tangible of dignity, empowerment and hope. If you’re hungry, your stomach wants food. If you are cold, you need proper clothing and shelter. If you are sick you need medicine. If you lack dignity and hope, your soul longs for wholeness. Marginalized people need to be fed in their mind and spirit, not just their stomachs.
Mother Teresa said “We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty.”
There is just cause to suggest that social justice will only be delivered by empowering people to fulfill their potential. This begins with providing care and nurturing to those who are marginalized or disadvantaged in any way, to improve the quality of life for those least cared for in the community; those lacking family support, or suffering from the effects of poverty, abuse, addiction, trauma, loneliness, and mental or physical illness. Some of these people haven’t been touched in years, have not had their hand held, been given a hug, been listened to for their ideas or opinions, asked what their dreams are, given something to giggle about, been recognized for their talents, or even been looked in the eye. They are profoundly depressed and feel worthless.
Imagine if a poor person had access to life skills coaching, massage, acupuncture, meditation, yoga, recreation, music, esthetics, therapy, mentoring, pets and animals, reflexology, reiki, dental care, and courses like pottery, cooking or crafts. This sounds a lot better than a night at a shelter, a welfare check that doesn’t pay for rent and food, or a detox that just sends you back to the same thing over and over again.
According to a study by Tiffany Field, chair of the Touch Research Institute, infants of depressed mothers show brain-wave patterns different from those of other infants. These altered patterns seem to relate to the closing down of essential brain circuits that, if they do not function in childhood, are probably inoperative later on. Treat the depression in the mother, and the infant’s brain waves are likely to normalize. When a depressed mother is not treated, her immune system is depressed, she is sick a lot of the time, her children tend to end up in the welfare and prison systems: the sons of mothers with untreated depression are eight times more likely to become young offenders as are other children. According to a recent paper by Bruce Ellis and Judy Garber in the journal Child Development, daughters of depressed mothers will have earlier puberty than other girls, and early puberty is usually associated with promiscuity, early pregnancy and mood disorders. The cycle repeats itself and this is how we end up with intergenerational dependency on welfare, people who cannot hold down jobs, more addictions, more crime, and ongoing high school drop-out rates among the poor.Poverty costs us billions of dollars. Would it not be best to re direct some of those funds to care and nurturing so we can eventually decrease dependence on welfare, shelters, food banks, foster care, detox, rehab and jail?
Some pilot studies are under way on the holistic treatment of depression among the poor, and the results have been startling. Consistently, the participants felt better about their lives, and their lives got better. Even when faced with huge barriers, they progressed, often very quickly and never looked back. People reported that after so many things had gone wrong for them, they wish they had been empowered by this help much sooner as it changed their entire lives. It’s a win-win for everyone as it makes a healthy life available to all in mind, body and spirit.