From curing symptoms to finding meaning

In 2017, the WHO recorded a 13 percent rise in mental health conditions and substance use disorders compared to the previous decade. By now, this has no doubt been compounded by a pandemic, climate anxiety and global conflicts. Our current mental health systems haven’t been able to keep up, but a new approach pioneered by Ashoka Fellow Markus Raivio in Finland provides a path forward.

We sat down with Markus, Ashoka’s first Fellow in Finland, to learn more about the importance of broadening our focus from curing mental health disease towards building meaningful lives, where everyone gets to be a “giver.”

Beyond treating symptoms

Markus’ path as a music therapist was paved by one of his earliest memories of his grandmother, whose schizophrenia was treated by the most advanced treatment available at the time: lobotomy. Witnessing how a fixation on eliminating symptoms had devastating consequences for her life, Markus was determined to find a better approach to advancing mental health.

Transforming dynamics

Markus and the Kukunori network are putting people back in charge of their own wellbeing. Those experiencing mental health challenges are invited to join peer-to-peer support networks that bring meaning back into their lives. Using arts & culture, Kukunori rethinks traditional therapist-patient power dynamics and brings new light to mental health.

 Bringing strengths out of the shadows

Over the years, Markus and his team have perfected an approach they call “Guided Functional Peer Support,” which they’ve now scaled across 17 Cultural Houses across Finland. Roughly 17,000 people suffering from mental health issues have benefitted from a renewed focus on their strengths, rather than their deficiencies. Giving people the opportunity to share their guitar playing or singing skills with their peers becomes the first step in a process that brings meaning back into their lives.

Turning outward

Markus reminds us that no matter our mental health status, we all seek meaningful lives and there is no better way to find hope and meaning than supporting others and their wellbeing.



Eager for more insights about the future of health? Check out Ashoka’s Making More Health initiative.