This was originally published on Liberal America on April 15, 2016.
Mental health issues are increasing among our childrenThe conversation about mental health has improved recently, but we still have a long way to go. Many celebrities have been publicly sharing their mental health diagnoses in order to help others and to end the stigma attached to mental health issues.
But even in 2016, people still tell the mentally ill: “Just lighten up!” or “Just change your attitude!” Yes, people still say stuff like this.
Would you tell a diabetic you don’t believe in insulin? No, you wouldn’t! So, it’s not okay to say that about mental health conditions.
These diseases can strike at any age. The National Institute of Mental Health has found that half of lifetime mental illnesses begin by the teenage years. It is estimated that 17 percent of adolescents and 13 percent of young adults practiceself harm, also known as “cutting.” Although not always connected to a mental health diagnosis, young people do this for a variety of reasons: stress relief, feeling in control, and sometimes there isn’t a specific reason.
Between dealing with bullying, taking tests, and preparing for college, young people are under A LOT of stress. This combined with lack of access to adequate health insurance coverage during and after finishing school makes it difficult for people to get the help they need. Unless they can get cushy corporate jobs with beefy insurance plans, they may never get the proper help. Therapy and medication are both important tools for living with a mental illness.
Mental illness stereotypes are another huge problem that needs to be dispelled.
Myth: “People with mental illnesses are violent.”No! They are no more violent than people without mental illnesses.
Myth: “Mentally ill people are unreliable and unpredictable.”No! A mentally ill person in a crisis may be unpredictable, but most people with mental illnesses are able to lead relatively normal lives.
Myth: “Mental illness is a character flaw and a weakness.”This is absolute bullsh*t and it HAS to stop!! You wouldn’t tell someone with cancer to not get help! Mental illness can already be isolating enough; this line of thinking just adds fuel to the fire. Self-harm is not just a cry for attention; it is the result of living in intense emotional pain.
Myth: Poor people are the only ones with inadequate access to mental health care.One well known example is that of Virginia Senator Creigh Deeds. He had money and insurance, but his son was turned away from an inpatient facility because there were no available beds. His son ended up attacking Deeds and then committing suicide. If Deeds’ son had gotten inpatient care when he needed it he may still be alive today; he was only 23. Even people that have the means to get help can still face barriers.
What can you do?Parents and friends can watch out for some of these symptoms: hallucinations, delusions (false belief that the victim can’t shake), sadness, hopelessness, anger, crying, among others. Really, talk to your child. Watch for changes in personality. Depression isn’t just “being sad.” If they suddenly start wearing long-sleeved shirts all the time, do an arm check. Mental health issues show up in many forms; everyone presents differently.
These are serious diseases. Dealing with the stereotypes and labels attached to mental health issues can make the sadness and hopelessness worse. If you have a child, teen, or friend that is suffering — listen to them. Love them! Be there for them! Go with them to the doctor if they are scared! Everyone that is suffering deserves help.
Going up a level — write to your congressmen. Mental health care all over the country has taken many budget cuts recently, so people with lower incomes have little to no access to the services they need. Between 2009 and 2011, states cut a combined $1.8 billion dollars from mental health care. This means many people have to rely on emergency rooms to get stabilized; sadly, many of these people end up in the prison system instead of in a treatment center.
There is the National Suicide Prevention hotline (1-800-273-TALK), and even aCrisis Text Line; text “START” to 741-741. These can help if you or a loved one is looking for someone to talk to. There is also an organization called the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI); they have local offices that can help you find access to services. Some hold support groups for people with mental illnesses AND for families dealing with a loved one suffering from a mental illness. You are not alone!