Are We Really Talking About Mental Health?

I am tired. Tired of a lot of things, but today I’m sharing one specific reason I’m tired. I’m tired of seeing mental illness get weaponized. Tired of seeing mental health being brought up in bad faith, in harmful, disingenuous and shameful ways that undo the work people have put in for decades to shrink the stigma surrounding mental health. And because I’m bouncing back between rage and sadness (which is just what it is right now) over this and have been for sometime, I just want to express those feelings today, because they need to get out.

I’m sure it’s been this way for a long time but this year in particular, I’ve become much more aware of how people try to use mental health issues and mental illness as pawns, as excuses for people’s actions. They do this in many ways and instances, but what I’m tossing my anger at right now is the way that mental health is invoked when it comes to our nation’s problem with guns. Guns are a huge problem in the U.S., and instead of having a conversation about that, a real conversation, some people want to invoke discussions around mental health instead. And frankly, it must be said, that’s bullshit.

Mental illness is being used to draw correlations and causations to disrespect, harm and violence, the same way it’s been used for centuries. It’s being used as a boogeyman to distract, to scare, to disrupt and get in the way of discussing issues. And I am getting awfully tired of it being used, over and over again, without consequence.

You want to talk about mental health issues? Cool, let’s talk. Let’s talk about how 45% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, and how 60% of LGBTQ youth wanted mental health care but couldn’t get it. Let’s talk about how 40% of transgender adults have attempted suicide in their lifetime, compared to less than 5% of the general U.S. population. Let’s talk about how 11.1% of Americans with a mental illness are uninsured, and 8.1% of children had private insurance that did not cover mental health services, totaling 950,000 youth. Let’s talk about how 49% of men admit they feel more depressed than they admit to the people in their life, and 75% of people who die by suicide in the United States are male. These are real issues that deserve real conversation—not part of a soundbite in response to acts of violence or discrimination in our white supremacist, patriarchal society.

You want to have a conversation about mental health and mental illness in this country? Let’s do it. But don’t you dare use that discussion to cover up all of the other issues we have. When you do that, you’re doing a disservice to yourself and to the millions of people who are struggling with mental health issues and don’t know what to do about it. And that’s the last thing we need right now.


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