We Need To Talk About Mental Health

We Need To Talk About Mental Health February 18, 2023

a big pile of pills
image via Pixabay

Everybody’s talking about mental health right now, and that’s a good thing.

I think the current social media discourse began when Senator Fetterman checked himself into a hospital for treatment for his depression.

I like the Fettermans a lot, and I wish them all the best. I’m proud of them for being so open about John’s struggles. When famous people are honest about such things, it can help erase stigma and encourage others to speak up. I hope he gets well soon.

But the way so many people are speaking optimistically about “seeking help” right now has got me nervous. We need to have a more complicated conversation than just cheering for people to “seek help,” and you’re not going to like it.

I have to be very careful here, because I don’t want to accidentally say something I don’t mean. It’s great that so many are being so open about mental health. Most everybody struggles with their mental health at one time or another. It’s true that there is no shame in seeking help. We all need help at some point. It’s important that there be no stigma on seeing a therapist or taking medication or going to the hospital for an emergency.

But we also have to have the talk about how abusive and traumatic mental health care can be.

We have to have the talk about how “seeking help” can sometimes leave you messed up worse than if you’ve suffered in silence, because the system in America is so horrible. And this isn’t going to be easy.

We have to talk about how calling 988 or a suicide hotline in a crisis could potentially lead to gun-toting cops banging on your door, frisking you, cuffing you in front of your neighbors and dragging you to the hospital in a cop car– or worse. People have been killed when the police perform well checks or respond to a suicidal person. If you do live through being dragged away by the cops when you’re already having a mental health crisis, this is going to be extremely traumatic and make everything worse, not better. I’m not saying the people who answer suicide hotlines take calling the police lightly. I don’t think they do. I’m certainly not saying you should never call a suicide hotline. I’ve used one before and it helped. I’m just saying we need to talk about the risks and what we’re going to do about them.

We have to talk about the fact that getting on medication isn’t a quick panacea; in fact, it’s a difficult process that can take a long time and a lot of trial and error. It doesn’t necessarily turn a person with a mental health problem into a happy easygoing person again. And when people get on medication but don’t go back to their old selves, that’s when friends and family can grow impatient and turn their backs. When people start displaying side effects like a rapid weight gain, that’s when friends and family can make everything worse. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take medication. Medication is an important tool and can be lifesaving for many. But the nuances have to be understood as well.

We have to talk about the fact that if you are in an abuse situation– if you’re living with your abusive parents or grandparents, or if you’re trapped in a violent marriage, even if you’re a kid being bullied by a teacher– a mental health diagnosis means you’re going to be gaslit in every possible way.

It will be harder for you to escape your abusers who may have caused your mental health problem in the first place. It will be harder to get people to believe you.  It will be harder to get custody of your children. Your parents who did this to you might be given the right to make medical decisions for you even if you’re an adult. And that’s wrong and it’s got to change. Think of Britney Spears. It took thirteen years to get her released from that horrifying conservatorship where she was forced to dance on a stage for money. That’s what happened to someone who was constantly in the public eye and had an army of fans clamoring to help her. Imagine what happens to someone in the same boat who isn’t a celebrity.

While we’re on the subject, we have to talk about the fact that a stay in a hospital, or even just buying medication every month, can ruin you financially. And that’s if you’re actually able to access care in the first place. If you’re living in a rural area, you might be completely out of luck even if you can afford to pay, because there aren’t any mental health professionals in the area. And you might be out of luck getting therapy for other reasons as well– such as that you have religious trauma and want to talk to a secular counselor, but only “Christian counselors” live in the area or take your insurance. And this impossibly backward and wrong, but nobody’s working fast enough to fix it.

We need to talk about the fact that dragging homeless people off the street for a 72-hour hold is the worst possible thing for their mental health, yet some people think it’s humane and want it to happen even more often.

And that, while most mental health professionals are great compassionate people who care deeply about their clients, some are abusive.

And as we start to have this talk, people are going to shush us and say “you’ll discourage someone from seeking help!” and that’s true. But the fact that people are afraid to seek help is because the system is so broken, not because we’re talking about it.

And we have to talk about it.

Because people who are already suffering are getting destroyed, and that’s wrong.



Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.

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