The United States comprises 5% of the world’s population but accounts for 25% of the world’s prison population. The leading cause of death in young people (ages 16-24) is drug overdose. Every day 91 Americans die from an opioid overdose. The first age of response to porn is 8. Women who are abused as children are twice as likely to be a victim of assault. For every dollar spent on early intervention, $7 is spent on prisons, welfare and illness.
These facts were just some of the statistics shared at a recent continuing education conference I attended on trauma, addiction and intimacy disorders. And while these facts are scary and overwhelming, there is hope. Communities, families, individuals can change these numbers.
We can create a culture of safety.
Cultures of safety are spaces and places where folks with shared values have policies and procedures to lower risks and to improve the health of everyone in their community. Safety cultures are not only committed to analyzing the risks but also to learning from their mistakes. The assumption is that we are not perfect but we are open to growing.
One of example of where a change in culture created huge benefits is with the United States Naval Aviation Program. 10% of naval flight pilots develop an addiction. As you may imagine, impaired pilots are a huge risk and have the potential to cost the Navy millions of dollars in damages. The Navy quickly learned that if addicted pilots were shamed or punished, they would be less likely to seek help and report a problem. The Navy, therefore, encouraged pilots to get help by providing free treatment without fear of retaliation.
In the four decades of this naval program, 87% of impaired pilots were able to return to duty and stay sober. That number is incredibly high: most drug treatment programs are lucky to report a 30% success rate. So what does the Navy attribute their high success rate to? Their safety barriers.
The Navy prescribes to James Reason’s Swiss Cheese Model which likens each safety barrier to a slice of swiss cheese. While the barrier may have holes, and therefore not completely prevents a problem from slipping through, each barrier does prevent some problems or hazards from occurring. The goal is to stack each barrier or slice of cheese so that none of the holes line up. In other words, if a hole in each barrier aligned with the previous barrier’s hole, then a path for a problem is created. The model suggests that if 3 mistakes or holes line up, then a problem will occur, i.e., drug relapse.
Cultures of safety not only create barriers like mandatory drug testing in the instance of the naval pilot drug treatment program, but also look for ways to reduce or eliminate holes in the safety barriers. (Design bathrooms which make it difficult to cheat on a drug test.)
While some safety barriers involve logistics like the one mentioned above, other safety barriers are intangibles like compassion and empathy. No amount of logistics can make up for the intangibles. If people are judged, demeaned and devalued, it does not matter what safety precautions are in place. No one thrives in an environment where they are not allowed to be vulnerable.
To heal means to be vulnerable: to feel secure enough to express emotions, to remember pain and to grieve loss. Most folks are living with some type of pain. How well we handle the pain depends a lot on what type of relationship we had with our primary caregivers.
If we grew up in a home where our needs were met and our parents were attuned to us, then we typically have the internal resources needed to regulate our emotions and to avoid unhealthy coping mechanisms like substance abuse.
Parental or primary caregiver attachment is so important in our overall health that scientist can predict which folks are more likely to develop a mental illness, live in poverty, commit suicide, experience sexual assault, go to prison, have a teen pregnancy or develop an addiction simply by looking at a person’s early childhood experiences.
If you, if we, want to change the statistics, if we want to create healthy communities, then we need to invest in our children and families. We don’t need more prisons. We need to create a culture of safety.
Instead of prisons, let’s build parks and gardens and family education centers. Let’s give parents more maternity and paternity leave. Let’s create opportunities for people to learn without shame and to share without retribution. Let’s be a community where children are valued and families come first. Let’s lead with love.
We need to create a culture of safety. Let's lead with love. #cultureofsafety #ShaktiCoaching Click To Tweet