It’s World Mental Health Day and Things Need to Change

Did you know October 10 is World Mental Health Day? I didn’t until just this evening. In fact, you’re likely reading this the day after. Or some time in the future. Our world is wonderful in many, many ways, but we have a long ways to go when it comes to mental health.

Consider this:

If cancer were treated as mental health is today, you would have to get a comprehensive screening between each of your chemo appointments to determine if you really needed it.

If diabetes were treated as mental health is today, you’d be able to get your insulin injection, but only at one of seven approved locations in the state.

If a deep gash were treated as mental health is today, you’d be able to visit a crisis center, but only until the bleeding was stabilized. Then, you’d be told to go home and tough it out and come back when the bleeding started up again.

I think you get my point.

A person in a mental health crisis deserves the same care and attention as a person in physical crisis. But somehow, in our culture, we don’t regard physical and mental health as equals. I’ll be the first to admit that until our family was walking deeply in it, we didn’t pay attention to it either. If I were honest, I don’t think we would have even cared.

When one of our children was in the hospital a few weeks ago, waiting for a bed in a special care facility, I had a conversation with one of his nurses. I asked why there were so few beds for children experiencing a mental health crisis. She told me it doesn’t bring the hospital a profit and that no one wants to even touch it because it is so expensive that it might bankrupt the hospital.

Really? That’s sad.

It’s sad that to get to my child I parked under the shadow of a state-of-the art new building. I walked through a gleaming glass lobby with fine pieces of art on display. I passed several walls filled with the names of hospital donors, complete with their portraits and the glowing history of the facility.

Then, I turned onto a back hall and pushed a button on a non-descript door and entered into a mostly vacant windowless unit. I’m told that this is overflow space. I approached a nurses desk, staffed by peds nurses who rotate down once in a blue moon. The rotation must be so large they’re not sure of procedures. I told them what I needed to do to sign in and where to place my belongings. Never a consistent set of faces, no matter how many weeks I’m there to visit. Wonder how that would fly in that gleaming heart center.

Alas, I’m there. I get buzzed through a set of doors and into the pediatric unit. There’s one video game set-up for the 10 children there. Half the rooms don’t have beds, just mattresses for safety. Sitters watch every movement of every child. The walls haven’t seen paint in at least a decade. And, I’m sure bright yellow is the least stressful color they could have found. Oh, and there’s no access to sunlight, though some of these kids may be there for a month or more waiting on a bed at a special facility.

I wonder why this gleaming part of the hospital isn’t featured in the ads that I see online, on TV or around town.

We have loved ones that are deep in the throws of horrific cancer battles, who are wrestling with the agonizing daily struggle of surviving paralyzed after a stroke or navigating the unsettled waters of parenting children with autism. We have close friends coming to grips that their child will never live on their own.

We all have our battles, none is more important than another. I’m proud of every caregiver I know sitting with their child facing cancer or asking their mom, “why am I different?” I’m grateful for how they have locked arms with us, even in our trials. We’re proud to lock arms with them as they face theirs.

I also can’t help to wonder why our collective healthcare industry wouldn’t want to dive-in to an issue that affects so many lives. According to NAMI, 1 in 6 youth and 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. will experience a mental illness during a given year. I’m not a statistician, but that sounds like a huge portion of our country.

Isn’t it a wonder that we never hear about it. Or that we hear about it in hushed tones. We dance around the terminology. We’re ok tossing about terms like “crazy person” or “nut house” or “psycho.” We love to make light of something that real people suffer with real diseases.

I guess we’re not all familiar with this day because there’s not a clever marketing campaign with a color that can barely use for anything else nor are we rushing to take selfies with our children in a cool filter that blinks “I have a mental illness.”

So what then, do we do? We don’t. We’re too busy holding up the trench walls. Having excruciating conversations with doctors. We’re trying not to cry in front of our children. Were putting on facades o at work or at social gatherings where it’s not en vogue to ask how little Billy is doing up at the mental hospital.

If I seem a little upset, I am. I’m disappointed in our broken mental heath system. Something has to change. We, the caregivers, have to find the time to find our voice. If you agree, please share this blog with a little bit of your mental health story.

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