Sustainable living is often associated with climate change. It’s less common to talk about how we create a socially sustainable society. Children suffering from mental illness are more common than ever and also an enormous cost for society. But above all, it’s a huge frustration for parents of these children suffering, to not get the help and support they so desperately need. “Tänk om nu'' is an organization aiming to grow social sustainability, by turning children's vulnerabilities into abilities.
Some children have abilities that make them quick-witted, curious, and empathetic. But they can lack focus, be highly sensitive and find it harder to compromise. This makes them vulnerable in today's society due to the narrow social norms. Diagnoses like ADHD, Dyslexia Autism, or Asperger’s Syndrome are a result of people who don't fit this norm.
Helena herself has a daughter who started to feel unwell in her teens and got diagnosed with Asperger. It was a rough time for the whole family. Helena stopped working and the family stopped living. They tried their best, navigating the healthcare system for a long time, but it wasn’t until her daughter began to understand her vulnerabilities and abilities it finally turned. Thanks to this she even got rid of her diagnosis.
Helena! Can you tell us more about why the relationship between vulnerability and abilities is so important to understand?
When we turned to the clinics for help, they painted our world in dark colors. But we didn’t agree, there was nothing wrong with our daughter, she just had different needs. For some, this becomes a diagnosis, which is society's way of telling you that you don’t fit the norm. This is a strategy focusing on short term solutions to make a more effective society. It's dangerous behavior. We should seek to explore the person’s vulnerabilities and abilities. By having curiosity as default when approaching vulnerabilities, those in need of help can get a better understanding of their needs. We should not try to make them fit yet another mold, by giving them a diagnosis based on predefined characteristics. Not everyone diagnosed with ADHD has the same vulnerabilities, and should therefore not be treated with the same methods.
What are your vulnerabilities and abilities?
Haha, I was thinking about this the other day on my way home. I’m great at connecting the dots, to gather information and create patterns and see the connection. My vulnerability is that I’m bad at remembering details, if you ask me about time or the price of something I wouldn't remember it.
So after discovering this connection between vulnerabilities and abilities, what was your next step?
I created a model that showed how they affected each other. After that, I went to see the head of the Swedish psychiatric clinic for children and pitched it for them. The response I got was that they had not thought of it in that way before. So that’s when I decided to start my organization “Tänk om nu”. The work I’ve done is no rocket science, I don’t have a degree within this, I just approached it from a different angle. I did this, my daughter did this too. If we can, everyone can.
What is the most recent milestone within your work?
When I got recognition for my model by professors and scientists studying neuropsychiatric disabilities. This meant that I knew the method has the potential to change how we use diagnoses within society and the healthcare system. Sadly some make money out of people being diagnosed.
It sounds so obvious when you say it, what do you think needs to be done to make this change in society happen?
We need to be curious about and acknowledge each individual's struggles and needs. This is a fundamental need and when this need isn’t met, our vulnerabilities grow. I’ve created a deck of conversation starters, to start exploring and reflect upon what makes the most common characteristics and qualities of a diagnosis seen as good or bad. The purpose of this exercise is to create understanding and validation. When we understand and validate differences, diagnosis becomes powerless. The deck can be used for workshops with children, to start teaching this at an early age. They’re also a great tool for maternity care clinics, to make the parents curious and aware, before the child is born. My heart and interest lie in children's mental health, but this method could be applied to Human Relations, business cultures, or relationships in general.
One last question. What would you do if you couldn’t fail?
I would do what I do. Because I can not fail. We can’t afford that. I feel like I have to do this, it is my responsibility, to give the tools to those who need them. This change is not a nice to have, this needs to change. Let’s start talking.