This whole thing with the child abuse allegations at Penn State reminded me of the biggest – or one of the biggest – problems in public health in the United States and elsewhere in the world. What could be just as bad as malnutrition and outbreaks of infectious disease? What can tear individuals and their families apart like very few other things can and still be largely ignored as a problem?
I remember the look on the face of one of my ex-girlfriends when I told her that I had gone to talk to a counselor. She was shocked. Instead of asking me if there was something she could do, she asked me what was “wrong” with me and if she should be worried about me, not for me. I explained to her that the workload of school and my two jobs at the time were getting to be too much, and that I needed to talk to someone who would hold my thoughts in confidence and see problems from outside and without much bias.
That wasn’t enough for her. She retreated from our relationship to the point that we broke it off after a few weeks. Later, I would find out that she started spreading the rumor that I was “crazy”, so much so that I got pulled into the boss’ office to talk about my “problem”. Can you imagine if I really did have some sort of a paranoid disorder?
I also remember a time when an uncle of mine tried to commit suicide and how the family reacted. Many of them branded him a “sinner” because, through some twisting of their logic and their religion, suicide attempts are sinful, something that God hates.
And these same stories repeat themselves over and over again each and every day all over the world. People who seek mental health care are branded as being crazy or inherently broken. People with addictions are thrown in jail and forgotten. People with trauma of some kind are branded as being “weak” or just not able to deal with life. And don’t get me started on the stigmas of people with depression.
Yeah, like you can be cheery all the time in this economy.
Listen, when you get hepatitis, your liver is infected and doesn’t act normal. It makes you sick on the outside, making you look yellow from all the bilirubin. If you get pneumonia, you’ll be coughing and very miserable. So why is it any surprise that an illness of he brain manifests itself in our mood and in the way we interact with the world. How we see the world is processed by the brain, so it stands to reason that anything wrong with the brain will change our view of the world.
It’s the cultural and social stigma that is associated with mental health problems that really gets to me. I hate it when people say that someone who is addicted to a drug – or food, or anything – is broken or has some sort of control over their addiction. It’s called an addiction for a reason, and it needs to be addressed because addictions don’t just affect the addict. The addict’s entire world is somehow affected, and that effect is most often not a constructive one. But there are so many people, many in power, who ignore their own addictions and treat addicts worse than lepers.
Mental health is a matter of public health that we need to address just like we would any other disease and any other outbreak thereof. We need to come together and work with experts in the field of mental health to look at what is going and attack it head-on. None of this, “it’s a private/family/personal matter” crap because it’s not. Sure, the underlying details of what has lead to the mental disease is private, as are the individual details, like those of any other medical patient, but the overall problem is all of ours.
I mean, I’m sitting here listening to an interview of Darrell Hammond on NPR and feeling very bad about all he’s gone through, how his mother’s mental disease infected him as well. I’m also very proud of him for coming out so sincerely about his condition and how it has affected his life, and I’m happy that a big outfit like NPR is publishing the interview. His book is definitely something I need to read… We all need to read.
Too many things need to be our “Manhattan Projects”, but this is one of those that we can’t allow to go uncontrolled any more.