By: Ryan Ayers
Creativity and societal problems have not always been closely associated. In the national dialogue, fixing these problems involves a series of concrete steps—steps designed to create concrete processes and repeatable outcomes.
As we learn more about why these problems occur, however, we’re also learning more about how to treat them, which can involve a healthy dose of creativity and innovation. After all, when other approaches haven’t worked, it’s time to move on to something new. Here are just a few ways creativity and innovation are being used to improve society and help people who are struggling get help.
Advancing Mental Health Care
Mental illness is more common than many people realize. About 1 in 5 American adults experience mental illness each year. There are a wide range of conditions, from bipolar disorder and depression to eating disorders and obsessive compulsive disorder. Unfortunately, many people struggling with mental illness are stigmatized or told to just “deal with it.”
In addition to medication and psychotherapy, new creative insights into mental illness treatment are beginning to emerge and help patients find relief. Many patients need something to focus on that is not related to their disorder, something one person recovering from an eating disorder discovered. This person found relief in photography, an activity that reconnected her with other aspects of her life aside from her relationship with food. People with depression also often find that a creative outlet helps them to recover more quickly.
Equal Education for All
Education is key to creating a prosperous and engaged society. Unfortunately, not all citizens have equal access to a quality education. People in poor communities and those with mental or physical disabilities are often underserved. In fact, 82 percent of special education providers feel there is a shortage of personnel to adequately serve their students.
As technology advances and becomes more accessible, innovations to help these underserved students could ensure equal education for all. Nearly all schools have Internet access, and adaptive technologies are playing a role in tailoring curriculums to meet individual student needs.
For example, innovative technology can help fill in some staffing gaps by offering both physical and academic support. Students who cannot write due to a physical disability, for example, can use text-to-speech technology to communicate their ideas. Touchscreens and interactive curriculums can help students who have trouble focusing or struggle with a particular subject area. Advances in artificial intelligence and other innovative technologies are making it possible for all children to receive the quality education they deserve.
Overcome Substance Abuse
Alcoholism, smoking, and drug addiction kill thousands of people each year. Opioid overdoses alone were responsible for 18,893 deaths in 2014, and the problem persists as one of the United States’ biggest health crises.
There’s often an association with creativity and substance abuse—people who believe that drinking to excess or drug use makes them better artists. While some great artists undoubtedly do struggle with addiction, there’s also the potential for creativity and innovation to help pull people out of addiction. Many rehab patients find that creative hobbies like art therapy help them to channel their creative energy and feel the accomplishment of making something. These projects can be anything from drawing and painting to woodworking or cooking.
Our infrastructure is in need of a massive overhaul. Our crumbling roads and bridges have become a safety hazard: there have been more than 1,500 highway bridge failures since 1966, and uneven roadways pose an everyday threat to motorists as well. Innovations in technology could help reduce the possibility of safety issues before they occur. IoT (Internet of Things) devices are beginning to be put into use to identify when infrastructure features require maintenance. Instead of manual inspection, which is often understaffed due to funding issues, these sensors can detect safety issues before a bridge gives way and causes an accident. They provide a steady stream of data to inform infrastructure strategies and streamline operations. These sensors can save time, money, and lives.
Innovation is Key in Societal Problems
As we can see, innovation and creativity are key in nearly every area of societal concern. Unless we constantly think about new ways to approach problems and apply the best technology we have to society’s biggest problems, we’ll make no progress. Art and science go hand in hand to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to lead a happy and meaningful life.
By Ryan Ayers