Rx 35 Seeing Through the Eyes of the Heart

Dr. S.D. Shanti

We can see not only through our eyes but also through our hearts. It is a skill that we can cultivate and grow and that will enrich our lives and those of others. Coming Soon: via Zoom, a workshop on how to see through your heart. Please message me via the contact form for details if you are interested in attending or would like me to present this to your organization. Sliding scale registration.

Rx 34 Learn About and Implement Violence & Depression Prevention Measures

by Dr. SD Shanti

Dear Readers,
Today is World Mental Health Day and it is a good moment to share with you some of the behind-the-scenes work. I’ve had a short sabbatical from blogging while working on grant proposals, and partnerships, and identifying the next steps in light of my current situation and related resources.

The pandemic derailed major pledges, especially from some well-known musicians who had offered to do benefit concerts, and I have been challenged me to find alternate ways to keep the mission going. Violence prevention and depression prevention, along with related issues such as the prevention of distress and chronic stress have never been more urgent.

The pandemic has exacerbated psychological needs while access to psychological care continues to be difficult to locate for many, and is financially out of reach for many. Rates of violence continue as well.

In light of all this, I have decided to soon embark on teaching the public, especially anyone who is in a position of leadership within their community, organization, school, etc. about the science of prevention.

Currently, I am in the process of evaluating various online teaching platforms and accompanying technology that allows us to create communities of practice, such that people who learn about prevention can support one another, encourage one another and learn from one another as we work collectively to take prevention modalities to the tipping point.

I have also been active behind the scenes, getting ready to scale my violence prevention pilot and proof of concept conducted in Ethiopia and which reached 20 million listeners. This was carried out with grants from UNICEF and the American Psychological Foundation. I am now preparing to mobilize support for a three-year-long serial drama intended to reach 200 million people, in the first of its kind effort to prevent sexual violence and change related harmful social norms via mass media.

Fingers crossed, I recently submitted a grant to a US source to train media personnel in violence prevention, but won’t know until March of next year if that comes through or not. Regardless of what one funder may or may not do, the work needs to be carried out urgently around the world and I will soon launch crowdfunding efforts to that end.

We are still in the midst of the pandemic, but it appears that the worst is behind us. This means we can resume our focus on other equally urgent matters such as the global epidemic of violence which affects over a billion people as well as the global epidemic of depression and chronic emotional distress.

As part of my regrouping in light of the challenges of the past couple of years, and in light of a recent milestone birthday, I’ve decided to focus on two major goals in this body of work:

a. teach people from various countries, about the primary prevention of violence, depression, and emotional distress, such that they are empowered to take action within their spheres of influence;
b. infuse mass media with pro-social content that models alternatives to violence and promotes healthy social norms.

In the language of goals and targets, that translates into “teach (at least) a million and reach (at least) a billion people.

Last but not least, lest you think that all this talk of prevention science risks being stuffy and overly serious, I leave you with a video my sister the epidemiologist created for World Mental Health Day. As she is extraverted, she took the lead in making the video below, while I remained in the background, taking up the task of writing this post. She hopes it makes you smile and we both thank you for sharing this post and the video with your family, friends, and colleagues.

By sharing our messages, and encouraging people to sign up for the list and the forthcoming prevention courses, you are helping to advance prevention in this world.

P.S. For the prevention courses, I will be following the concept of Langar, namely that no one will be turned away if they cannot pay, and those who are inspired to support the worldwide teaching efforts will be gratefully acknowledged and appreciated.

Rx 29 Support Women and Women’s Groups

Dr. S.D. Shanti

The world is filled with seemingly impossible challenges: wars, conflict, environmental degradation, interpersonal violence that affects one in every three women in the world, and the list goes on and on…

So where can we even begin to find hope and the possibility of change when problems are on a giant scale?  The answer lies in women and women’s groups. 

When I was a Reuters Digital Vision Fellow at Stanford University, I developed my innovation framework for violence prevention; this was reviewed by the Violence Prevention Alliance of the World Health Organization (WHO), and the NGO I founded was admitted to the alliance on the basis of the science behind the methods. 

One of the pillars of my innovation framework is the power of women and women’s groups around the world. You most certainly have seen the power of women’s groups and their ability to successfully carry out health promotion and social change efforts; it is quite possible you may have benefitted from it in some way. 

The WHO recommends empowering women with health information because of the pivotal role we play in caring not only for ourselves but also for our families and our communities.  

But what exactly is the force that underlies women’s ability to overcome odds and improve conditions in the world?  

When women and women’s groups work together to improve conditions in the world – this is love in action; it is one of the keys to overcoming seemingly impossible odds, and creating a better world today, and a better future for our children and grandchildren. 

The next time you wonder how to make sense in a world that appears senseless and how to find hope in a world that feels hopeless, remember the power of women and women’s groups. Therein lie the seeds of hope, and love is the life-force contained within the seeds. I invite you recognize this and support women and women’s groups today, especially on International Women’s Day, but also everyday.

Rx 28 Plant the Seeds of Love

Dr. SD Shanti

We can fly to the moon and we can explore the deepest oceans, yet our human hearts have not kept pace with technological advancements.

War and other forms of violence and bloodshed are vestiges of our old selves.

What kind of world do we want to leave for our children and grandchildren?

What if we invest as much in peace and violence prevention as we do in war and weapons? What if we systematically plant and cultivate the seeds of love?

What might the world be like in the next fifty years and beyond if we had a curriculum that taught adults and children everywhere essential elements of compassion, cooperation, peaceful discussions, and non-violent conflict resolution?

What if movies and television programs were saturated with actions that depict loving-kindness rather than aggression? What if along with teaching children reading and writing, we teach them about the active practice of empathy and caring for others? What if we taught all parents everywhere ways of raising children without resorting to violence?

I invite you to sit with these questions for a moment and envision the resulting world if we were to bring these ideas to fruition. This is a legacy you can feel proud of – and a legacy that will ripple forward into future generations.

It is time for our hearts and minds to keep pace with our technological advancements. There are many ways to plant the seeds of love as an antidote to violence. We can do so as individuals, as communities, as nations, and as one collective family on this planet.

Rx 27 Bread and Books not Bombs

by Dr. SD Shanti

What kind of world do you wish for your children and grandchildren?

We are wired as much for love as we are for aggression. War is not inevitable. We have choices as individuals and as nations.

The physical and emotional fallout of war and conflict contribute significantly to the global burden of disease and distress. If we want to improve the health of individuals and nations, then we must reset our compasses to focus on “tools of widespread construction” rather than “weapons of mass destruction.”

It is the only sane and compassionate course of action and future generations will thank us.

Rx 25 Increase Love in the World

Dear Readers,

It has been a while since I posted, as the pandemic continues to impose challenges. However, as large numbers of people are still experiencing distress and unmet needs, I looked for how to keep the mission of Prescriptions for Hope going, i.e. to prevent violence and depression and improve the health and well-being of populations.

Pursuant to these goals, I am launching today #52WeeksofLove.


Well…why not?

The pandemic has derailed a lot of things and public health is in the ICU, so we have to find new ways to keep advancing universal goals of health and well-being.

Love – in its multitude of forms – is at the heart of so much that makes life meaningful and worth living. However, we as humans individually, and collectively as humanity, have yet to realize our fullest potential to love one another and love our earth. I don’t mean this in a granola, tree-hugging way. I mean just simple things like being present to those we love and taking time to care for others in need.

I also mean big things on a population level – such as creating healthy workplaces, and promoting love and other pro-social content in mass media, instead of the violence and sarcasm that passes off as entertainment and foments violence, discord and hatred.

Join me over the next 52 weeks in advancing love in small and big ways – be it in your personal life or in the world.

I am working on creating the accompanying web site which will go live in the next days. It will feature resources for you to take action, inspirational materials, and workshops and talks.

Let us work together to increase the net total of love in the world. It is the only way forward and is the only way for us to survive on this planet and create a positive legacy for future generations.

Thank you in advance for joining me in whatever way you can, within your spheres of action and influence.

Dr. SD Shanti

Rx 24 Eradicate Female Illiteracy

Dear Readers,

Today is International Women’s Day.

It’s the perfect day to reflect on the progress women have made in the world, and to also reflect on what remains to be done.

The ability to read and write is something most of us take for granted. But it is a skill that is out of reach for millions of people, especially women and girls.

Just as we can eradicate diseases through vaccines and proper hygiene, we can eradicate illiteracy rapidly in the world- through focused and concerted action.

Literacy is a social vaccine that confers many benefits including: participation in the workforce; reduction of marginalization and associated psychological distress; reduction of risk of human trafficking; and improvement in the health of individuals and nations. It is also a proven pathway out of poverty.

Unfortunately, education is not viewed as “urgent” when it comes to various health and social agendas. It’s just not sexy. Thus it is not aggressively pursued in the same way politicians and other decision makers pursue the development of vaccines against infectious diseases.

However, education is crucial for good health and is one of the foundations for a strong society. Literacy falls under the rubric of “social determinants of health,” i.e. non-medical factors that have a significant impact on health and which can account for anywhere from 30-50% of health outcomes.

Women’s literacy is associated with reduced risk of violence in the family, reduced risk of trafficking and increased participation in civic and community activities.

When people, especially women and girls can read and write, individual lives are transformed. Families are transformed. And ultimately nations and our entire planet are transformed – for the better.

Some years ago, I was interviewed at Northwestern University in Chicago, following a talk, on how to eradicate female illiteracy, that I gave at a global health conference there. Here’s the link if you would like to read a bit more about this topic.

Those of us who can read and write are among the lucky and privileged.

Please consider joining me in making this basic human right accessible to all. In so doing, you will contribute toward: reducing dire poverty; ending the global epidemic of violence which affects one in every three women around the world; and reducing the risk of human trafficking which is occurring at sickeningly high numbers.

I’ve already developed a road map for eradicating female illiteracy in this world. I developed it during a fellowship at Stanford University and it’s been peer-reviewed by experts. Additionally, with help from a few students at Stanford, I developed and piloted an awareness and fundraising event that is ready for scaling across colleges and universities around the world.

What I lack are people to help me get the word out and mobilize support so we can rapidly eradicate female illiteracy, and through that, improve lives. Even just a few minutes of your time will make a difference – when you lend your voice to collective action.

If you have not already signed up for the mailing list, please do so. This way we can keep in touch and you can stay updated about next the steps.

I would also be grateful if you might consider inviting your friends to sign up and keep informed about this and other Prescriptions for Hope.

Together, we can eradicate female illiteracy.

I look forward to hearing from you, and look forward to the day when we will create a world where everyone, including women and girls everywhere will be able to read and write.

Dr. S.D. Shanti

August 1 and Swiss Ties

by Dr. S.D. Shanti (Editorial Note: It is late afternoon on August 1st in the time zone where I am writing, though the time stamp says August 2nd).

Today, August 1st, is the Swiss National Day, which marks the beginning of the country in 1291. Thus it feels timely to share with you the Swiss origins of Prescriptions for Hope and its current ties to Switzerland.

When people ask me where I am from, I reply that I am from three countries: India, the United States and Switzerland. I moved to Switzerland in my mid-thirties. Over time, I became a Swiss citizen and the country has become my home.

Swiss Origins and Current Ties

It was in Basel, Switzerland, in the Fall of 1997 that I learned about newly released data on mental health in The Global Burden of Disease, a report issued by the World Health Organization and the Harvard School of Public Health. The report stated that by the year 2020 depression would be one of the leading causes of disability worldwide.

That moment in 1997 was the start of a public health journey that initially began with the goal of advancing depression prevention worldwide, and soon expanded to include violence prevention as well. In the ensuing years, it was also in Basel, where the groundwork for my innovations was laid. There I discovered the power of combining psychology, public health and writing, and how this could help people.

My earliest steps were carried out with support from the Gebert-Rüf Foundation in Basel, and the University of Fribourg. Then, following incubation and development at Stanford University and other places in the United States, it is anchored again in Switzerland as we prepare for global scaling of the prevention work.

Prescriptions for Hope operates under the auspices of the Arco Foundation in Winterthur. The Arco Foundation, founded and led by Mr. Heinz Waech, is a “roof foundation,” or Dachstiftung as it is called in German. This structure offers smaller foundations, such as ours, the ability to operate with lower overhead costs in comparison to a conventional foundation, and still gives us full access to professional oversight and financial management.

Innovation in Public Health

When most people think of Switzerland, they typically envision mountains, cheese and chocolate. Banks, Swiss Army knives, yodelling and alphorns also come to mind.

However, for many of us working in public service, Switzerland is synonymous with humanitarian assistance, international cooperation and neutrality. It is also a country with one of the highest per capita rates of innovations. The country that gave the world the International Red Cross and the Geneva Conventions has also given us VELCRO®, the World Wide Web and the hang drum, among other things.

Violence and Depression: Parts of a Social Syndrome

Through my early stage research when searching for cost-effective ways of preventing depression and violence on a large scale, I arrived at a cluster of five elements that are inter-connected: poverty, illiteracy, violence, depression, and inequality.

Together they form a social syndrome, whereby one or more of these elements co-occur. As a result, these elements drag people into a vicious circle of despair and hopelessness.

The global data on violence and depression spurred me to develop new approaches to stopping this downward spiral, and replacing it instead, with a virtuous circle by creating healthier conditions in which people can grow and flourish.

The core of my innovations are contained in a document called A Blueprint for Hope. This document offers practical, cost-effective and research-based ways to create a world free of suicide and inter-personal violence (which affects one in every three women and one in every four children globally).

Growth in a Unique Environment

When I was nineteen years old, while living in the United States, somehow I just knew that my life’s work would involve serving people in poverty. By twenty-two, that knowledge had translated itself into a goal: that one day I would work in public health in Switzerland.

I envisioned a scenario that is not uncommon among people from other countries who end up as senior specialists in Geneva. After my time at Stanford, that goal did come true, in connection with the dental public health side of my life.

In Geneva, I had the opportunity to lead the public side of a multi-country public-private partnership and collaborate with colleagues at the World Health Organization. I even had the chance to speak at the UN during a World Health Assembly, in the setting seen on television news shows, where delegates from around the world sit with their country names in front of them.

But the calling I first heard in Basel in 1997, to advance depression and then violence prevention, never left me. I continued refining and improving the Blueprint for Hope and in the process also created Prescriptions for Hope. Like a slow-cooked dish with various spices that requires time to be ready, my body of work in violence prevention and depression prevention is now fully ready for implementation around the world.

The need for violence and depression prevention has always been great, but it has increased in magnitude due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Thus, as a behavioral scientist and public health practitioner, I am grateful for the opportunities Switzerland has given me to develop innovations in public health. I am also grateful for the opportunity to grow my work there, in a unique environment that supports global collaboration, consensus building, and humanitarian assistance.

Happy Birthday Switzerland! And Thank You!

P.S. In case you are interested, below is an excerpt from a Swiss magazine published in 2005, where I was featured among a group they called “Swiss Who Innovate.” It’s in French and deals with one of my innovations. Due to time constraints I am unable to do the English translation now, but will do so as soon as possible if you are interested.

Rx 21 The How of Lasting Change: Take the Mister Rogers Pledge

By Dr. S.D. Shanti, ©2020, Photo by  Mariana Carvalho  on  Scopio

Rx 20 discussed what are some of the things that must be done to correct structural inequalities. Yet, how can we come together to create change when people are polarized? This video offers a way for how people can come together and create lasting change: Take the Mister Rogers Pledge.

Although I created this video in 2018 on the 90th birthday of Mr. Fred Rogers, the message is still relevant today. Mr. Rogers was an American television personality who achieved iconic status. He was the producer and host of the much-loved, long-running children’s television show Mister Rogers Neighborhood, which was widely viewed by children of all backgrounds in the United States.

Note: This video has been reviewed by Mr. Joe Negri, who played played Handy Man Negri on the show and by Professor Albert Bandura at Stanford, who is also featured in the video in connection with his landmark work on how children learn aggression and violence through observation of others. Mr. Rogers was motivated to create a show for children because of the educational potential of television, and because he was unhappy about the extent of violence on television already present in the 1950’s.

Rx 20 Improve the Social Determinants of Health to Help Create Lasting Change

By Dr. S.D. Shanti, ©2020, Photo by  Mariana Carvalho  on  Scopio

People are protesting and rioting. Companies are issuing statements about diversity and inclusion. Individuals and businesses are making donations to non-profit organizations that support African-American people. And social media is trending with people stating they are allies.

But what more can be can be done if we are to create lasting change? What more must be done to correct structural inequalities?

Some of the answers to this question include ensuring access to health care and good schools for everyone. It is also important to eliminate food deserts and make grocery stores accessible to all. These solutions can be grouped under a broad category known as social determinants of health. They are essential for ensuring good health for individuals, communities and nations.

Social Determinants of Health, Image from HealthyPeople.gov

This short video below, originally intended for persons in the health care professions, describes social determinants of health. However, the message is relevant to anyone who wants to address inequalities in society. Addressing the social determinants of health will improve health outcomes and quality of life for everyone. It is also one sure way to help reduce structural inequalities.

Improving living conditions is one of the keys to creating lasting change and overcoming inequality.