Tuesday, June 19, 2018

America's Mental Health Crisis: Stop Saying 'Reach Out'

In the wake of the two prominent figures' suicides, an entire nation is alert to the issue of mental health.  Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain ushered in- for better and/or for worse- a discussion of mental health- its ramifications and effects.  I noticed that people within the subculture of Twitter were all over the map. Some seemed shocked that those with wealth, power, and fame could feel such despair. Many spoke out by saying, "If you are hurting, reach out to those around you."  Platitudes flowed aplenty wherever news and extemporaneous thoughts were shared.

The frustration I had as someone who indeed struggles with mental illness- -and I like to call myself a "functional, sorta healthy person with mental illness"- somewhat in between the two extremes of institutionalized, definitely struggling, but also semi-healthy for the most part-- was that we do need to stop issuing platitudes.  Insiders to mental illness do not appreciate condescension, let me tell you.  If outsiders claim that those suffering are simply lonely and need to reach out to those around them, they sidestep the biggest issue in this epidemic:  they don't know that often, mental illness is about despair.

A mental health crisis is complicated. Yes, suicide and suicidal thoughts fall into this category, but it is not only the suicidal who need to 'reach out.'  And The truth is, humility about the grey area in mental illness may be the only answer to this far-reaching disease.  In order for those who are suffering to really feel healthy, they need medication, faith, and a safe place to talk about their issues-- IN THAT ORDER.  A hurting person who is suffering from severe depression, anxiety, and even delusional thoughts needs to be taken seriously, and they need to take themselves seriously.  They do not need to hear "You can tell me if you are hurting."  Often, that's because a person with deep depression is feeling something more like pervasive despair.  They do not need to "open up and have a sweet and sappy heart-to-heart."  More likely, they need a heavier prescription and they need it immediately.  The answer lies in a humility that penetrates both those who seek to be healed, and those who hope to heal the hurting. Healing doesn't happen from a place of condescension, much like the poor who aren't helped by handouts from the prosperous.

Self-care should be seen as an extremely serious route to healing.  No one is allowed to skip the steps that will lead them into a healthy lifestyle in a life or death situation.  Insiders to mental illness- myself being one- know that mental illness is about despair, and therefore 1) Platitudes don't work and 2) It is hard to be humble enough to accept the serious help they need. This means visiting a counselor and a psychiatrist as soon as possible. Outsiders don't understand this depth of struggle, so they offer euphemisms.  Instead they should be more firm and confrontational, but in a loving, patient manner.  Actually, sometimes patience is the last thing a care-provider needs.

To conclude, I have been at the door of despair. I was suicidal at one point after our fourth child was born. Postpartum depression and poor health reached a climax and I drove around in circles in my car to abate my panic attacks and suicidal thoughts.  In a recent song, Carrie Underwood sings this line: "Falling apart is as human as it gets."  Friends, do we believe this?  If so, then the humility needed to GET HELP (meaning, a better prescription) and GIVE HELP (meaning, a humble and non-condescending approach)  might finally be found. As we can see from Bourdain and Spade, when the lives of those suffering are on the line, there is literally no gray area.

cross-posting at the ACWB

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