You don’t have a mental illness. No one in your family has mental illness. In fact, you can’t think of a single person you know who has mental illness, so why should you care?
Because though you don’t know it, in fact, someone you know and love is suffering from a mental illness. They are suffering in silence and shame, and they might even be fighting for their lives while making sure no one notices. Often, these are the suicides that catch us by complete surprise. These are people like Anthony Bourdin, Kate Spade, Avicii, and Chris Cornell. They seemed to have it all, wealth, fame, family, so what drove them to commit suicide? Mental illness. Specifically, major depressive disorder and anxiety.
Mental illness isn’t always hidden. Sometimes, its misunderstood because it’s identified by its symptoms. Mental illness are the two kids in every classroom who are ADHD. Their symptoms and resulting behavior affect teachers and classmates. Mental illness are the people you work with who call in sick all the time because they’re silently struggling with depression and anxiety.
You should care about mental illness and mental health because nationally, unless you are wealthy, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to get access to quality affordable mental healthcare in a timely manner. Typically, when someone decides to seek medical treatment for their mental health they will call anywhere from 8-10 psychiatrists trying to find a doctor who accepts their insurance, is willing to treat their condition, and is accepting new patients. It’s important to note two facts here – there is a shortage of psychiatrists in the United States, and many are particular about which mental health disorders they will treat in their office. For example, I know someone diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder over a year ago. To date, this person has not found a psychiatrist willing to accept them as a patient.
Public clinics are underfunded and overloaded. As a result, they limit their treatment to those without insurance and in crisis.
You should care about mental health because it’s underfunded and there is a severe shortage of appropriate treatment facilities. State hospitals were not perfect. Many were awful, but as they were closed we never really replaced them. Mental healthcare is not a sexy field of medicine. There are no colored ribbons and fundraising campaigns for mental illness. There is no easy way to diagnose disorders and no quick fixes. Stigma surrounds the entire field. People associate psychiatric hospitals with horror movies and spooky stories. A nurse mentions they work in a psychiatric hospital and everyone wants to know about the “craziest” patient they’ve ever seen.
You should care about mental health and mental illness because by the nature of the disease those who suffer often cannot advocate for themselves. With limited available treatment options and no support those who suffer end up in crisis state. Crisis state is the stage where bad things happen. This is the point that a person becomes suicidal. This is when a person’s behavior gets them arrested. This is when a person becomes homeless. Or worse, this is when a person becomes homicidal. Our prisons have become makeshift psychiatric hospitals.
You should care about mental health and mental illness because we know how to treat these disorders with evidence-based medicine. Successful treatment requires a team approach between a social worker, therapist, and psychiatrist. Sadly, there are not nearly enough resources.
You should care about mental health and mental illness because a small handful of legislators in Congress have consistently, and persistently fought for mental healthcare reform. Mental health reform bills have passed through congress with bipartisan support only to languish in the senate. Mental healthcare reform is a topic that gets drowned out by the debates over gun control and universal healthcare. We need to put pressure on our legislators to pass these reforms now.
Care is a simple four letter word. But, to those who live with mental illness it is one of the most powerful ways to change and save lives.
Caring is an action. It’s what you can do when you don’t know what to do.
Caring is a feeling. People feel loved when someone cares. People feel heard when someone cares. People recover when someone cares.
I care about mental health and mental illness, and so should you.