October 2, 2017
As I begin to write this entry into a blog I have not paid much attention to in the past year or so, the death count at a mass shooting in Las Vegas Nevada has reached 58. I have to reflect on the state of the health system in our country as well as the mood of our citizens. How do we address the anger that is so prominent in our country today? How do we identify those who display this hostility towards others in such a traumatic way?
I have worked in the mental health field for years. It was and still remains a taboo field. Emotional issues are issues that we do not discuss. It is “above the neck” and therefore not a medical issue but something to be ashamed of. We talk about heart disease, diabetes, even breast and prostate cancer freely now but anything that is attached to the word mental or behavioral is still a secret. A shameful secret. When are we going to accept that this is simply not true? That anything above the neck or attached in any way to behaviors is just an illness like the ones mentioned above.
If asked, my husband will say that he has a family history of diabetes and alcoholism. I would say my family has a history of colon issues, alcoholism and dementia. But I will also talk about my family history of anxiety. I talk about it freely with my patients as well as friends and anyone who may ask because I am not ashamed of it. It is who we are. What I am ashamed of is that most of my family run from that diagnosis. They blame others for their life choices and hide behind denial instead of learning that anxiety, and depression, like cancer, heart disease, diabetes and alcoholism are just diagnoses. They are ways of putting a label on a medical issue so that health professionals can bill for them and so that we know what to treat.
Please read this, share it with others and lobby for our country to take the stigma out of what happens “above the neck” and help professionals identify and help those who are feeling depressed, anxious, hopeless before another 58 people have to die. Help us understand that behavioral health issues are no different from physical health issues and are indeed the very same thing, physical issues. Talk with your family physician to see how much they know about these issues. You will learn that most medical professionals know little and want to know less about behavioral issues. Help them to see that they are as much a part of a medical profession as the heart, gall bladder or other organ. Help our politicians see that by humanizing mental health and funding those who work in this field, they are helping others to accept help like they would for that gall bladder attack. Do your part. Make it human to have fears and worries, depressed days, feelings that we now consider “not normal”. Lobby for change.