Our Next President Could Help or Hurt the Mental Health Community

I’m so worried. It makes me sick to my stomach sometimes. Why, you ask? Because serious mental illness (SMI) is not a joke. However, when I look at the presidential candidates from the two major parties, they seem to know little about it.

What is serious mental illness, if not a joke? It’s bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder. Diseases that significantly impact a person’s quality of life. They’re not words you toss around nonchalantly as if they have no real long-lasting consequences.

I’m afraid because we’ve made some progress in the areas of SMI, like allocating funds for the treatment of it and helping move people with SMI out of the jails and into hospitals. However, I fear for the backsliding of all this good if we elect a person who doesn’t have the slightest bit of appreciation for what serious mental illness is and is not.

Mental illness seems to have a long history of being a taboo, politically speaking, for most politicians. This seems to have led to some kind of cognitive dissonance on the subject. Politicians regularly have smear campaigns against their rivals calling them names like “nuts,” “crazy” or “deranged.”

This thinking might then lend its way into the way they vote as well. It seems to me many politicians are confused and know little about how devastating mental illness is, especially without safeguards in place to protect some of our most vulnerable members of society. How does this language help us have an honest talk about mental illness in general and SMI specifically? I feel it doesn’t.

I happened to Google the words, “Donald Trump and mental illness policies,” and there was little on the subject to be found, but there was plenty of wild speculations of his own mental health. I then Googled, “Hillary Clinton and mental health policies,” and there was a bit more of meat to her mental health policies. Yet, it still doesn’t seem good enough to help those with serious mental illnesses. I also still found a good amount of articles trying to discredit her because of speculations about her mental health.

I feel these candidates are not likely to understand the complex issues that surround SMI. Therefore, I do not believe they will appreciate the power they yield to help or harm the mental illness community by signing off on bills that will undoubtedly come before them over the next four years. Until we have a president who appreciates the severity and nuances of SMI, we will not have the voice we need to be heard, the voice that affects real change. By watching the candidates we have now, I feel we will not have the drastic change we so desperately need.

Image via Thinkstock.

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