Many of us, including me, regularly talk about how important mental health is. We talk about how important it is that, as a society, we change the conversation around mental health. Something occurred to me as I was debating what to write: I had no idea what that specifically meant. I mean, I have some general ideas, but I want to take a minute to expand upon what I’m talking about – what I mean – when I say that we have to have better and more helpful conversations about mental health in this country.
What do I want? Easy.
- No one blinks about seeking treatment for mental health. There is no shame, no stigma. You say “I have depression” with the same breath that you say “I have the flu.” In my dream world, no one is afraid to talk about having an anxiety attack. No one is afraid to say they are having a bad day. In our current society, fear of being “discovered” creates more anxiety, more depression, more stress. That, in turns, has a dramatically negative impact on mental health and creates a vicious cycle. We shouldn’t be afraid about discussing who we are and the repercussions that may come with it.
- There are no barriers to seeking treatment for mental illness in terms of finances or access, and I mean this in a few ways. First, like many areas of medicine, there is a major shortage of mental health care practitioners. This is a major problem and one that exists for many reason, but I’d argue that the chief problem is money. Physicians go into fields for many reasons, and those reasons are similar to decisions that the rest of us make: They are often financially based, and reimbursement rates for psychiatrists are far too low. This keeps doctors out of this vitally important field, and I’d argue that these rates are too low because we are too afraid of talking about mental health to begin with. Insurance companies often create plans that have different and lower levels of reimbursements for mental health care. That leads to worse mental health, and worse outcomes.
- In my dream, as a society, we’ve stopped even hesitating about talking about mental illness. One of the things I learned quickly when I started talking about my own depression/anxiety? It’s everywhere and everyone. No, obviously every person in the world isn’t mentally ill. But just about every person in this country knows someone with mental illness. After all, one in five Americans suffer or will suffer from mental illness. We have to acknowledge this pain if we are ever going to cope with it.
- There are no disparities in healthcare among various demographics. I’m lucky; I’m a relatively well-off white male with easy access to health care. While I’m grateful for my own circumstances, we have to acknowledge that other groups – including racial minorities and members of the LGBT community – lack the easy access that I and others like me are fortunate enough to have. This isn’t fair, and it isn’t right. A society is only just when everyone has the same access to life-saving resources.
There’s more – so much more – but these are the first things I’ve come up with. I’d love to hear from you – what else am I missing? Let me know in the comments below!