Julia Verónica Matus Madrid, David Hogg, and Consuelo Amat at Power and Purpose: A Symposium on Mental Health and Democratic Agency

Image caption: Julia Verónica Matus Madrid, David Hogg, and Consuelo Amat

Credit: Will Kirk / Johns Hopkins University

SNF Agora Institute hosts symposium on mental health and democratic agency

Experts from Johns Hopkins led explorations of the relationship between mental well-being and democracy at a symposium in Athens

Hundreds gathered June 20, in Athens, Greece, for Power and Purpose: A Symposium on Mental Health and Democratic Agency, hosted by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Agora Institute of Johns Hopkins University.

The event—in conjunction with the four-day 2023 SNF Nostos Conference—brought together thought leaders, academics, politicians, and activists to discuss how people can overcome feelings of powerlessness to benefit their communities and democracy itself.

Video credit: Johns Hopkins University

Welcoming remarks were given by Hahrie Han, director of the SNF Agora Institute, and JHU President Ron Daniels. U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes presented the keynote address about how democracy reform and access to mental and behavioral health care foster broader and more meaningful democratic engagement.

Two panel discussions with Q+As followed:

  • A session on the restorative effects of pursuing happiness and political engagement featured Deb Roy, director of the MIT Center for Constructive Communication; Brett Q. Ford, director of the Affective Science & Health Laboratory at the University of Toronto; and moderator and SNF Agora faculty member Lilliana Mason, an expert on partisan identity, partisan bias, social sorting, and social polarization.
  • A panel on intergenerational reflections on mental health in activism featured Julia Verónica Matus Madrid, a feminist activist in Chile since the time of the Pinochet dictatorship, and David Hogg, a gun control advocate and survivor of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. They shared lessons about preserving their mental health and sense of agency in the face of repression or democratic failure. SNF Agora faculty member Consuelo Amat, an expert in state repression, resistance, and the development of civil society in authoritarian regimes, served as moderator.

"Movements are collective actions of individuals—they're just people, right? That's all a movement is," Hogg said. "If those individuals are not taking care of themselves, they are not doing their job to be stewards to the movement, to take care of the movement, because they are the movement."