From the time we learn to count, we track all manner of life milestones with numbers. We mark how many years lived with birthday candles. How many years of marriage with wedding anniversaries. How many years since a loved one passed with memorial rituals. How many years since graduation with school reunions, and so on.
Today marks seven years since I launched Five on Friday! Looking forward and looking back, this mile marker fills me with both reflection and anticipation.
1. Milestones matter. Life milestones are social constructions. The fact that every society has its set of milestones – some, like birthdays, nearly universal and others culturally-specific, such as the Hindu Pilgrimage that occurs every twelve years – is evidence that milestones play an important role in the human experience of creating meaning. Milestone celebrations invite a period of reflection and introspection. We have an opportunity to take stock of accomplishments, relationships, careers, and personal journeys. Pausing to reflect at these junctures takes us back in time and prompts us to contemplate the future. This process of honest introspection can prompt a wide range of emotions – positive, negative, or some combination – depending on memories, expectations, circumstances, and dreams.
2. Looking back. My very first Five on Friday was March 25, 2016. I sent my first post to a few hundred people and shared my wish to enlist a community of readers who would “join me in weaving mental health into your reflections and imaginings.” My hope was that my weekly musings would “bring into relief the many different ways that mental health issues are woven through our daily lives: from losing a loved one to reading a great book, and much in between.” This aspiration remains at the heart of each week’s musing.
3. A Sampling of topics covered. Looking back over the entire collection of Five on Friday posts, I marvel at the range of topics and the ground we have covered, including: Depression | Mental Health at Work | The Next Generation | Family | Good Reads | Anxiety | COVID-19 | Suicide | Gender & Sexuality | Aging | Canines and Honeybees | Loss and Grief | Hope | Kindness | Play | Longing | Graduation | Films | Purpose | Holidays | Policy | Social Media | Treatment & Recovery
4. Taking stock. Five on Friday now has a readership in the vicinity of ten thousand, and, without exception, every post elicits a response – comments, feedback, and messages from all of you. Our community and conversations encourage and motivate me to keep writing. I also wonder what more I can do to raise awareness and mobilize individuals, communities, schools, businesses, and governments to prioritize mental health. We already know a lot about what protects and promotes mental health. We have treatments that work, but they remain inaccessible and unaffordable for too many people. What are the hurdles, vested interests, and competing demands that thwart our efforts to improve and promote mental health individually and societally? What can each of us do more of or approach differently in order to make mental health matter?
5. Looking forward. In many parts of the world, significant progress has been made in diminishing the stigma associated with talking about mental health and mental illness. Nevertheless, considerable work remains to translate increased conversation into enhanced action and improved policies. There is still much to learn about the causes of mental illness – from the brain to the gut biome to the natural environment. And the future will undoubtedly bring with it changes and new technology and unforeseen events that impact our mental health – from new platforms of social media to artificial intelligence to reimagining the way that we work. Mental health and psychological wellbeing are among the strongest predictors of life satisfaction. I hope Five on Friday will continue to provide thought-provoking and meaningful insight in this ever-evolving domain that matters to us all.
With great enthusiasm and equal measure naïveté, I launched Five on Friday seven years ago. I had great aspirations but didn’t focus on the fact that I am an extremely slow writer. I worried that my academic colleagues would consider these musings fluff. I underestimated the anxiety I would feel in those weeks when I was coming up short for material. I plunged in without a fully developed idea of where this would all take me. It’s been a fabulous journey of learning and growth I could never have anticipated, and for that, I am grateful to all who have joined me along the way.