World Mental Health Day is celebrated on every 10th of October. Today, I take a moment to reflect on the many challenges faced by those living with mental illness, especially those who are unable to access treatment.
This is a perfect way to urge others to support mental health prevention, mental health education, and improved access to mental health treatment. Today is our chance to restart the conversation about mental health, to speak openly about uncertainties and misconceptions surrounding mental illnesses, and to move toward eliminating the damaging and unnecessary stigma that lingers around mental illness.
There are many obstacles people with mental illness face when trying to access treatment for healing and recovery. Three I want to mention today are access to treatment and resources; stigma; and an uninformed society — including treatment professionals.
Many who suffer from mental illness are simply unable to access treatment in a way that is affordable and effective. Insurance companies are notorious for denying mental health benefits, leaving countless Americans to suffer their illnesses alone and in silence, and leaving far too many compromised in a potentially life-threatening state of being. Additionally, the fear of reaching out because of stigma, of being labeled or written off as “mentally ill,” can hinder many from seeking help.
Part of the problem is the myriad mental illness stereotypes and misconceptions that float through our culture. Many people are thought to be weak, or even damaged, if they admit to having mental illness. Our lack of knowledge as a society about mental health issues, our fear of speaking freely about mental health, and the nearly unattainable medical necessity criteria developed by insurance companies suppresses our ability to support mental health and emotional well-being in those around us.
“I think we’re in the midst of the beginning of a new civil rights movement. We’re dealing with medical treatment of a medical issue, and we’re dealing with prejudice. When you marry prejudice and ignorance together, you have a really ugly combination that marginalizes the treatment of these issues because they’re viewed as moral issues not medical issues; they’re viewed as character issues not chemistry issues. In order to get to the treatment, we have to address the broader attitudinal barriers.”
These are the words of former Congressman Patrick Kennedy, who served in the House of Representatives for 12 years and continues to advocate for mental health parity.
Mental health stigma is a huge part of the problem, and as Kennedy so eloquently said, mental illnesses are not moral or character issues. Mental illnesses are brain-based medical conditions, and it’s time that we stop separating the way we think about the brain and body, and start treating them as one.
Promoted by the World Health Organization, World Mental Health Day is dedicated to increasing awareness of the mental health issues that affect the lives of millions of Americans. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), one in four adults (about 61.5 million Americans) experience mental illness in a given year. These 61.5 million Americans are our acquaintances, friends, loved ones, co-workers — ourselves.
How can we become more attentive and compassionate to those who suffer with mental illness? In addition to education, early intervention, and increased resources – I believe in the power of mindfulness, taking good care of yourself (self-care), and being able to reach out for help when you need it. Although often regarded as self-indulgent, self-care is such an important piece of mental health and wellness.Jennifer Louden expresses this concept so gracefully:
Self-care is essential for our survival; it is essential as the basis for healthy, authentic relationships; it is essential if we honestly want to nurture the people we care about. Self-care is not selfish or self-indulgent. We cannot nurture others from a dry well. We need to take care of our needs first, then we can give from our surplus, our abundance. When we nurture others from a place of fullness, we feel renewed instead of taken advantage of. And they feel renewed too, instead of guilty. We have something precious to give others when we have been comforting and caring for ourselves and building up self-love.
As long as individuals are denied access to mental health care, I will continue to advocate tirelessly on their behalf. I will continue to fight for those who may not be able to fight for themselves, yet deserve a chance for support, treatment, and a healthy and successful life.
Today, I encourage you to speak openly about mental health and to practice some type of self-care — you deserve it! Take care of you. It is so important.