Every month is Mental Health Awareness Month here at a day with depression, and I’m glad to have the support of President Barack Obama’s proclamation for one month each year.
Among the topics he discusses – care for veterans, reduction of stigma, that “taking action to help yourself is a sign of strength,” etc. – I personally am most grateful for the Affordable Care Act. As a result of this legislation, Fox and I have health insurance that enables us to receive the medication and marriage counseling we need. Around this time last year I felt like our marriage was falling apart. Now we’re working together and supporting each other. Fox has held down a job for 6 months (and counting!). I am less than a week away from completing the last two classes I need for my Master’s degree; after nailing my piano final last night(!) I feel like I’m ready for internship and will be an awesome music therapist.
I have a bone to pick with President Obama, though. His proclamation begins:
This year, approximately one in five American adults — our friends, colleagues, and loved ones — will experience a diagnosable mental health condition […] and many others will be troubled by significant emotional and psychological distress, especially in times of difficulty. For most of these people, treatment can be effective and recovery is possible.
I wish he would use more inclusive language; that would be a great way to reduce the stigma around mental health issues. The language in this proclamation suggests that mental health issues affect other people, even if “they” are the people “we” interact with every day. It seems like the President is trying to distance himself from the people who live and struggle and sometimes even thrive with these issues. He’s practically saying: “this thing exists and we need to be aware of it – and just to be clear it doesn’t affect me, and I don’t think it affects you.” IMHO, that contributes to the stigma.
I imagine that we’re all in a room, and Mr. Obama is on the stage giving a speech, and I’m in the front row because hey, I’m the one imagining it. He’s talking to me… about me, as though I’m not sitting right in front of him and can’t hear him. I’m probably one of the people who are the happiest to be there listening to him, and yet he’s not really talking to me. I think maybe he’s talking to the person sitting next to me.
However, more than 20% of the people in this room are the population he’s talking about (as though we’re not there listening to him – probably filling the front-and-center seats). The person sitting next to me might feel the same way I do; they probably think I am a member of the President’s intended audience. But neither of us will admit it, because then we’d be marking ourselves as “other” – as not really belonging in that room where “normal” people go to become more aware of us. (How ironic is that?) Instead of connecting with each other, we each go home feeling more isolated than ever. (And the “normal” people go home unaware that we were literally sitting right in front of them.)
What about us? I wish someone would say: “This year, approximately one in five of us will experience a diagnosable mental health condition and many more of us will experience significant emotional and psychological distress, especially in times of difficulty. For most of us, treatment can be effective and recovery is possible.”
That wording makes it sound like mental health issues affect everyone, and needing help with them is normal. If I attended a speech and the speaker said that, I would feel like I belonged in that room. Isn’t that what reducing stigma is all about?
You don’t have to be one of the “one in five” – or the “many more” – to use this language. You just have to be willing to admit – to yourself and everyone else – that you could be. If you’re brave enough to do that, you can help us feel safe admitting that we are. That’s how you let us know we’re “not alone.”