Getting to Yes, And

Sarah Rose Cavanagh: Mind Over Monsters


Sarah Rose Cavanagh

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Kelly welcomes back Sarah Rose Cavanagh to the podcast. Sarah is an associate professor of practice in psychology at Simmons University and the author of “Mind Over Monsters: Supporting Youth Mental Health with Compassionate Challenge."

You use a metaphor to talk about this mental health crisis that is plaguing young people today and that metaphor is monsters. Why?

“Why, monsters? Well, I think that because we're living through a sort of monstrous time at the moment, and with coming out of the pandemic and with climate change and all the polarity in terms of politics and all that that's going on. And so, partly because we're living through a monstrous time, partly because what monsters really represent, of course: what we find frightening in the world. They are symbols for what we find frightening. And so, we like to watch horror movies and read horror books and things. And they're big, scaly creatures who are after us. But they're not really that. They're really about mortality. They're about racism. They're about losing people, they’re about our own bodies becoming unruly and deteriorating and rebelling against us.”

You write in the book, “If we label all the 9-year-olds who cannot sit still and do math problems for 8 hours a day with a diagnosis of attention deficit disorder, we don't have to question whether we should be asking nine-year-olds to sit still and complete math problems for 8 hours a day."

“Looking at the context again, right? The structures that we're asking people to operate in. And I think that's more broadly true, of course, when we look at college students instead of 9 year olds, and we ask why are our college students, right now so anxious and depressed? And then we look at the world that we're asking them to enter, and the structures that we're asking them to enter and operate under, and all of the precarity and scarcity - gig culture - and they have less hope and security, and then layer on all these other monstrous issues. We need to fix the structure and we need to address that if we want our youth to be not anxious and not depressed.”

I also appreciate how you note that although we think of ourselves as having unique problems, the problems of the human condition are as old as humanity itself.

“Yeah, there's always this glowiness when we look back to the past, right? And this feeling that our problems are unique, and that in the past things were more secure and it's really not true. That doesn't mean that the challenges we are currently facing aren't terrible challenges. But I think that anxiety has been with us forever as part of our bodies, as part of our biological systems, and it's actually an adaptive part of our biological systems. And so we're never not going to be anxious. We were anxious in the past. We're anxious now, and that's just how it's going to be.”

Photo credit: Theresa Bourassa

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