Mental Health Month is a time to educate ourselves about the realities of mental health. And I was encouraged to see nearly 700 Kansas Citians doing just that at the Mental Health KC Conference earlier this month. While the conference primarily attracts mental health professionals, it is also starting to reach more corporate and business community members, as well as parents and others in the community who just want to deepen their understanding of mental health.
We, as a community, are talking about mental health now more than ever. And that’s a great thing. Here in Wyandotte County, residents have identified mental health as one of the county’s biggest healthcare needs. But when we say there is a growing need for mental health care, what exactly do we mean by that? Are we recognizing that we all have mental health and need to be taking care of our mental wellbeing? Are we realizing we could all benefit from therapy at some point as we navigate the ups and downs of life? Are we starting to recognize the impacts of early childhood trauma and learning to approach people with an attitude of “what happened to you” rather than “what’s wrong with you”? Are we committed to sharing the hope of recovery with individuals who have been scarred by their life experiences?
I sincerely hope this is the case. But I worry that when some of us talk about the need for mental health care, it is simply a way to scapegoat our societal challenges without offering real solutions. When it comes to the need for increased access to mental health care, I worry that some of us are focused primarily on people who are homeless, who might act different and be perceived as scary and viewed as “other.” I think of the young man in Overland Park who was shot and killed in the midst of a mental health crisis. Or Jordan Neely, a homeless man who died after being put in a chokehold on the New York subway. These men are not that different from you and me.
Mental health exists on a continuum. I once learned that we all have symptoms of a mental illness. But only those with the most severe cases receive a diagnosis. But my depression is not all that different from Mr. Neely, who lived with schizophrenia. My genetic make-up is just different. We cannot blame someone for being born with a biological brain disorder or for their stories of trauma. We are all much more alike than we are different.
During Mental Health Month and beyond, we need to recognize that improving the mental health care system is about addressing all of our needs, regardless of where we fall on the mental health continuum. And let’s starting talking more – a lot more – about the hope of recovery for all of us. Recovery is for everyone.