America has reached a nexus. We are in a state of transition. It is almost a pupal stage that lies between the progress of yesterday and the promise of tomorrow. There are real problems, real difficulties, real danger, and the path to solution is difficult. Few things represent this more than mental health care.
Every year I participate in or donate to the NAMI walk. They are attempting to make the process of seeking treatment for mental health issues more acceptable, #StigmaFree. It is a tough slog through decades of misunderstanding and narrow minded bias. But, every year they grow a little stronger and a little louder. And more people listen.
Recently I heard about an organization called Barbershop Talk. It is held by an organization called AAWALK. Its main focus is men’s health, primarily black men, with an emphasis on preventive steps and routine doctor visits. They emphasize “knowing your numbers” in terms of cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure, and controlling them through diet and exercise. They also believe mental health is the cornerstone to a happy, healthy life. They feel, justifiably so, it is vital to physical health to be mentally sound.
There are dozens of organizations scattered around the country preaching the gospel of mental health, calling on people who are suffering in silence to share their pain and find treatment. It is one of the most profound, vital acts I have witnessed. For far too long it has been viewed as weakness, as laziness, as being soft and steeped in self-pity. It is time it was dragged into the light and recognized for what it is: an illness, treatable, like diabetes, or hypertension. There are professionals waiting almost everywhere who are educated in verifiable treatments, doctors who can console, assist, and reduce the suffering.
The treatment is available, people are working diligently to make it acceptable, and the need exists. It is the perfect supply-and-demand situation. So why isn’t it working?
Unfortunately, most people can’t afford treatment. It is expensive, and most insurance companies don’t cover it, at least not very much of it — which, considering how many people need help, is inhumane, and particularly when you consider the fact that the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act was passed into law over ten years ago. It was supposed to make it as easy to get treated for mental health and addiction as it is for other illnesses. It has fallen pitifully short. Very few people have ever heard of the law, let alone its abandonment.
Most addictions can be traced back to problems that are treatable. Depression is often considered one of the leading reasons people turn to alcohol or drugs. The number of people with mental disorders is staggering, and these are only estimates. The actual number could be much higher given the fact that so many just try to “tough it out.” We all understand the cost of the recent cycle of opioid addiction in dollars and lives, not just deaths: either in wasted, ruined relationships; unemployment; or days of absolute, dismal suffering. Maybe we don’t really understand at all, but we know it is awful, and something needs to be done. Treating the illness, and not the symptom, should be the highest priority.
In our country today, almost everybody knows somebody who took their own life. Most know several. Some of us know too many to remember. Certainly those people could have used a professional ear, a few remedial words. Mental illness and personality disorders are the leading cause of suicide. When you consider all the lives lost that could have been saved — one in every 40 seconds — you begin to understand the scope of the problem. Where are the right-to-life demonstrators for this? That’s not the right kind of life, I guess.
None of these things are difficult to solve. And, in the long run, they probably aren’t that expensive — not when you consider the enormous costs of doing nothing. But they will take a certain amount of political courage. Moreover, it will never happen unless we demand change.
With the candidates jockeying for favorable position, and the aroma of potential progress hanging delightfully in the air, we need to demand redress for these issues. If history has taught us anything, it is that change only comes from the dissatisfied. “Medicare for all,” single-payer insurance, whatever you want to call it, has to have a provision for mental health. We can’t accept anything less. We can’t watch our brothers, sisters, our families, waste under the shame or cost of decent care. 2020 has to be about progress, real progress, not just returning to a time when things weren’t this bad. We have to demand better.
Tweet to your members of Congress. Write letters. Make calls. Don’t give up.
Join me in the #RiseOfTheHippies. Together we can make a difference.
Featured image: Mateus Lucena/Flickr