To the People We're Not Writing Mental Health Content For
To the people we’re not writing mental health content for:
I’m writing this to say I’m sorry. As someone who runs a mental health section at an online publication, I spend all day writing articles for the mental health community, but I haven’t written any for you.
I’m not sure if you’re on Twitter, using any of our hashtags. I don’t know if you see our anti-stigma campaigns. A lot of people are talking about mental health now, but I don’t know if you can hear us.
I just moved to Los Angeles and now I see you on the streets. Mumbling to yourself or sometimes yelling at things I can’t see. I write and read about mental illness all day; to you, I shy away.
Once for a project in college, I interviewed a woman named Lisa, a mom of a young man with bipolar disorder. The piece was about the lack of family involvement in the New York State mental health system. I got a B+.
A year later I checked in. She told me she was having trouble getting her son proper services. He was turning 18 — which meant legally, he was an adult and could refuse services — and she was getting scared. She wrote to me:
“Life takes many twist and turns. I never know what to expect. As we transition over into the adult mental health side of the system I am scared and worried for him. Tommy* is currently two hours away in a community residence. I maintain custody.”
In September of last year, when I reached out for a quote for a different piece, she gave me an update:
“Tommy has since moved to North Carolina and is unmedicated. He was taken to a psych ER in NYC and sedated and restrained twice. This was done because he threatened to kill his step-dad and was hoping the police would kill him. After the second restraint they released him within 20 minutes, all within 24 hours. He then took off to North Carolina. He has since called and let me know that… he thinks that UFOs are coming to get him, sometimes sits up all night with knives. I have contacted the Senator’s office and they say there is nothing that can be done because he is 18. We just keep praying as I am firm on faith and I know that my God has this. It is a sad situation for him and I think that the adult system has a long way to go.
I hope that all is well with you.”
When I initially interviewed Lisa, I asked to talk to Tommy. He didn’t want to talk to me. Now, I write articles he’ll probably never see.
Approximately 50 percent of people with schizophrenia and 40 percent of people with bipolar disorder experience something known has anosognosia — this means at times they have no awareness they are sick. As our system stands right now, as soon as a person with little or no insight into their condition turns 18, it can be extremely difficult to get them help. In most states, it’s required for the individual to be a danger to themselves or others before services can intervene. At this point it is often too late. In the city I live in now, where I so often see people in obvious distress on the streets, more than a third of people shot by the police last year had a mental illness.
Suffering doesn’t exist on a scale. We’ll continue to make content for anyone who needs it. And it’s good that “mental illness” is a hot topic with now, and that the one in four Americans who live with a mental health issue know they are not alone. Everyone deserves understanding, and everyone deserves a peace of mind, no matter how sick they are.
But I want us, as a mental health community, to not forget about the others. Our sickest. The people in our community who are living on the streets. Our brothers and sisters who are in jail because sometimes there’s no where else for them to go.
Because it’s too easy to ignore them. In our attempt to normalize mental illness, it’s too easy to brush the ugliness aside. We need to accept that both these things are true: yes, people with mental illness are more likely to be a danger to themselves than others, but also a small group of people with serious untreated mental illnesses do become violent. Almost all while untreated, and many while using alcohol or drugs. But they’re part of the same broken mental health system that affects us all. And while we struggle with insurance companies, medication, costs and stigma, they’ve already fell off the map. We can’t forget about them. We can’t alienate ourselves from them. They need our support and compassion, too.
Never stop talking about mental health, but also don’t forget to look over your shoulder. Dig deeper. Look for and support solutions that will not just help many of us — but all of us. And hopefully one day, everyone can benefit from this wonderful community we’ve built.
*Name has been changed.
To learn more about issues that affect people with serious mental illness and their families, here are some resources:
Pete Early’s blog.
Mighty contributor Deborah Geesling.
Mighty contributor Deb Elizabeth.
If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.
The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.