Taking care of ourselves and each other was a topic that we felt was essential to cover in our discussion of youth-based public engagement because, as author Michael Albert says, “if social change isn’t fun, the probability that people will keep trying to do it through hard times and over the long haul is vastly reduced.”
Unfortunately, too often, young people who get involved in social change work become overwhelmed by the enormity of global justice issues, the apathy they encounter around them, and feelings of isolation and futility. Young people are at higher risk of depression and other mental health problems anyway, but for engaged young people facing the added challenge of burn-out, the risks are even greater. As public engagement practitioners, we must include discussions on taking care of ourselves and each other and provide tools for doing so in our programming, especially with ongoing groups.
There may also be a gendered aspect to experiences of burnout and how they are treated. The vast majority of people writing and teaching about self-care are women, short-term and trivializing solutions focused on bubble baths & chocolate tend to be directed at women, and the covers of self-care books tend to have pretty sea shell themes. This may mean that men are discouraged from acknowledging or admitting their experience of burnout, both before and after it occurs. Furthermore, the focus on treating yourself with stuff like chocolate and bath salts, and on “retail therapy” as a form of self-care, means that people, especially women, don’t learn how to really care for themselves, and instead increase their engagement in the same hyper-consumer culture that has caused community networks to break down and people to lack supports in the first place.