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The Story of Fawzi and the Future of Mental Health

The 11-year-old could spark a discussion about the future of mental health.

Anna Shvets/Pexels
Source: Anna Shvets/Pexels

It couldn’t have been told with more grace. Fawzi, just an 11-year-old boy, shared the remarkable story of seeing his brother die right before him in a playground bombing. The memory was seared into Fawzi’s eyes. Fawzi shared his story in the Apple TV+ series produced by Prince Harry and Oprah Winfrey, “The Me You Can’t See.” He and his family are Syrian refugees. Having experienced war-filled trauma, Fawzi’s story is one of unshakable strength and courage.

In the episode, child psychiatrist Essam Daod passed a drawing to Fawzi. It held the image of a young boy in a superhero cape. Daod remarked, “This is you, Fawzi.”

The superhero is Fawzi. His cape is a symbol of a bright future. Fawzi shows superhero strength in my eyes. Perseverance. Trauma. But the pressing question is this: How can we use stories like Fawzi’s to envision an inclusive, conversation-filled, and stigma-free future for the field of psychiatry? In other words, how can Fawzi or others like him grow up to live their full potential, no matter what they’ve endured?

The future of mental health, I envision, is one in which anyone who has suffered trauma can wear the superhero cape; hopefully, then anyone can rise to see their personal growth and life feel tremendously satisfying.

A Possible Future for Mental Health

How can we achieve such as future? First and foremost, the discussion of mental wellbeing needs to start with two components: stress and well-being. In this new future, each individual — young, middle-aged, or older — will receive a “stress and well-being score” at their doctor’s office growing up, in their primary care doctor’s office, or at any other time requested in a health-care setting.-

This “stress and wellbeing score” will consist of “minus” or “stress elements” as well as “plus” or “well-being elements.” The objective is to assign a value to mental well-being so that prevention of mental health crises is possible in addition to “pulling up” anyone with a low or lower “score”; the latter is meant to get anyone with a lower score to simply understand that their stress levels are just higher, without requiring a mental health diagnosis.

In this possible future, which could arrive in 10 years or less, stigma may be removed because the discussion of stress and well-being can permeate society to the point where it will be absolutely essential to “improve your scores.” There is unbridled potential for each and every individual, which may even be reflected in functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans of each individual’s brain. (Currently, we are still finding how gratitude activates specific parts of our brains that are linked with other positive emotions such as empathy.) The current tools used in improving well-being, including gratitude, mindfulness, meditation, prayer, exercise, nutrition, sleep, and so many more, may essentially be the tools to “improve scores,” because they will have proven themselves that way. Via fMRI activity and conversations with our doctor, ultimately our “stress and well-being scores” can accurately reflect that our lives are more satisfying, joyful, and rewarding.

This future of mental health is needed so that trauma like Fawzi’s does not define lives but marks the beginning of futures with unlimited moments of bliss and intangible rewards: bright futures for our children, happiness for loved ones, and an amazing life for ourselves.

As a global and public health professional invested in well-being for all, I invite all health professionals to start having a discussion about building this future. I invite professionals, especially, to start seeking this brighter, inclusive, conversation-filled, and stigma-free future. There is unlimited potential in each of us, and a “stress and well-being score” can integrate the discussion of mental health into the mainstream if we act now; a “stress and well-being score” can allow each and every person, at any age, to unlock their potential and live their happiest life.

Let us let the inspiration of Fawzi launch a new, bold discussion, and begin to usher in this future.

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