Mental Health Isn't A JokeMonday, May 13, 2013
A friend of mine posted on Facebook earlier today that he needed to find a way to see a therapist, because he was upset with himself and that he couldn't "keep living this way". I didn't ask for specifics (we're not that close), but recommended a local counseling center that operates on a sliding fee scale, which he seemed to appreciate. Two other people had commented before I had.
The first comment said that the gym is cheaper than a therapist (this might be true sometimes, but not always). But he already goes to the gym almost daily. He doesn't need to find a gym. He flat-out said he wanted to go to therapy. To me, it just seemed like the first commenter wasn't taking him seriously.
The second commenter, in an attempt to lighten the mood, quoted that old SNL sketch where Sean Connery is on Jeopardy and sees the category "Therapists" and says he'll take "The Rapists" for $200. I get that he was just just trying to be funny and cheer him up. I get that. But it doesn't make me any less irritated.
Maybe you think I'm getting too upset about this, but I don't. I think more people need to be more upset about people not taking mental health seriously. I dealt with mental health issues for pretty much my entire adolescence, and I have several loved ones who have struggled with mental health issues as well (they actually run pretty rampant through my mother's side), so this is an issue very dear to me. If someone is asking for help, it's because they want help; they don't want jokes, they don't want to be belittled...they want HELP.
We live in a society that attaches a stigma to mental health issues, so when someone has one, they are often hesitant to ask for help. They don't want to look weak, or out of control, or "crazy". They're willing to be falling apart inside while they put up a front to maintain appearances. And some people are awfully good at it.
So when someone takes the brave step to ask for help, WE NEED TO HELP THEM. We need to offer our support. If you don't have the necessary resources, recommend someone who does. A Google search can work wonders.
There's more that you can do though. Mental health care needs to become more accessible so that more people can get the care they need. You can help make this happen by writing your Congressmen. If mental health issues have directly affected you, I encourage you to share your story with others. The more we talk about mental health issues, the more people will realize that mental health issues aren't something to be embarrassed about, and that might embolden them to seek help when they need it.
When I was in elementary school, the insult of choice was "Go to Charter" (Charter was a mental/behavioral health center in the area). Every time I think about that, I'm embarrassed. Yes, I was a child, and I didn't exactly know better, but it just shows that the stigma attached to mental illness can be learned at a very young age. It's my hope that by the time I have kids, they won't grow up in a culture that still feels that way. I know it seems improbable, but together, we can work toward making it a reality.