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Vince Mercuri: Our broken society needs 'habilitation'

| Tuesday, March 13, 2018, 9:00 p.m.
Spending time with a friend is a good way to reduce stress before it has a negative impact on health.
Spending time with a friend is a good way to reduce stress before it has a negative impact on health.
Vince Mercuri
Vince Mercuri

The alarms sound daily. The pangs of pain echo — there is a dark grip on many that manifests with isolation, divisiveness, rage, depression, emptiness, confusion, frustration, destruction and death. The statistics are an even greater indicator of this once proud nation's turmoil: 112 suicides, 175 overdose deaths and an average of 70 school threats — a day . Anxiety and depression medications are prescribed at record levels. The planet's wealthiest, most civilized country consumes 80 percent of the world's opiates to relieve pain and induce sleep.

Truly, we are a people out of balance. Excess comfort, leisure and wealth have not translated to personal satisfaction and fulfillment. Our society's foundations have crumbled, leaving many broken individuals and families looking for restoration.

The process of change needs to be intentional for the person and the culture. We need to come to a collective understanding that the basic foundations of personal responsibility and accountability have been disregarded and replaced by entitlement and self-centeredness. The road to healing our brokenness needs to encompass an approach that empowers change while emphasizing healthy choices, responsibility for our conduct and accepting the consequences of our decisions and behaviors.

This will require not our rehabilitation but our “habilitation” — the teaching of life skills so noticeably missing today. We must rely on some basic tenets to redirect our course. Decades of providing prevention programs have resulted in a model that works to strengthen our families/communities. This model is comprehensive and crosses the lifespan; enhances protective factors and reverses/reduces risk factors; intervenes as early as preschool; is tailored to address risks specific to populations or audience characteristics; enhances family bonding/relationships and includes parenting skills; includes behavioral and skill-oriented effects; is based on science (evidence-based/informed); and employs interactive techniques.

These efforts need to enhance our youths' resiliency regarding decision-making, coping skills, stress management, relationship building with healthy boundaries, listening skills and good communication. These become the habilitation effort's strong foundation stones. The American lifestyle of continuous entertainment, the importance of self-pleasure and immediate gratification, needs to change, from “microwave” to more of a “Crock Pot” style: Slow down, think, reflect and enjoy the simple ways.

In addiction recovery, we talk about the acronym “HALT” — do not let yourself become too hungry, angry, lonely or tired — and address the importance of learning to be bored in a healthy manner. Reading, walking, helping others, spiritual development and gratitude are wellness concepts that need to be emphasized as a healthy lifestyle.

We Americans should heed the advice of Mahatma Gandhi —“There is more to life than increasing its speed” — and teach our children the skills to live with grit and purpose.

Vince Mercuri, executive director of the Open Door Alcohol/Drug Treatment Center and Crisis Intervention Program in Indiana, Pa., is a member of the Valley News Dispatch Editorial Board.

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