I went to the local county mental health clinic the other day, and left feeling slightly ashamed of myself for wasting their time. Not because of anything the staff there did — they were kind and helpful and gave me a lot of useful information — but because the scope of what they handle is so, so much more grave than anything I need assistance with.
They are set up for people just coming out of jail. People who are ordered into therapy by the courts. Folks with acute addictions. People whose lives, in other words, are either utterly destroyed or on the verge thereof, who have nowhere else to turn.
I was a tadpole in a building built to handle whales. It was a humbling experience, and put my own troubles into a sharp perspective. Now. Having said that, I do not consider my problems to be any less serious or deserving of attention than I did prior to walking in that door. I do not pity the folks seeking help through the county, nor do I look down on them in any way. I’m extremely happy that the help is there, and I’m proud to live in a city that offers an extensive network of programs dedicated to mental health issues.
Side note: I also appreciated that the intake form asked about sexuality with very neutral language; I believe it was worded along the lines of “When you date, do you prefer to date men/women/both?”. There was similar easy wording for sexual activity questions. That was important to me. I felt a lot of my anxiety disappear as I filled out the paperwork. (Of course, it all came back during the financial interview, but I imagine that’s pretty standard)
The perspective I mention had more to do with the scope and the scale of mental health issues in general. How few people get help at all; the barriers to getting said help once people try; the availability or lack thereof of help focus on specific issues. The history of how humanity has handled mental health is a series of horrific experiments on people in no position to give meaningful consent. The current roster of attitudes across America, some of which haven’t shifted far from the days of the original Bedlam style facilities. The way mental health is or isn’t handled by insurance companies. The bits and pieces that are accepted, even possibly fashionable, to talk about in public, depending on the segment of public you’re interacting with at the time.
I saw a blog post recently by someone I didn’t know, talking about how she’d done a lot of bad things and was trying to come back from that place. She’d written it because her ex was holding the revelation of her past as a threat to keep her in line; when she left him, she took the bulk of that weapon away by publishing the truth herself. That took incredible guts. She risked destroying her own life, because some of what she talked about crossed firmly into the lane of Things One Does Not Reveal To A World Of Strangers Online. Reading that post made me reflect back on the times I’ve seen people hold their past shames tight to their chests, terrified that their family and friends would reject and ridicule them if it ever came out.
Sometimes secrets like those leak out. Sometimes they don’t. Many times, secrets burn folks up from the inside out, triggering a cascade of bad choices that end up at places like the county health department. But secrets about bad things — whether they’re things a person has done, or things that have been done to that person, or a tangled cause-and-effect mixture of both — they never rest easy. They always push and pull and bite and grumble, draining the energy we need to live day to day lives. Our behaviors, our big and little quirks, are informed by the damages inflicted by our past experiences.
It’s hard not to reference current politics at this point. A lot of the strain I’m dealing with is incendiary anger over unrolling news, and I know I’m not the only one. The question of “what to do about this specific high profile problem” dominates the news cycle right now. The usual answers involve protesting, calling your politician, writing blog post. I have a quieter, longer-term action to propose — not in lieu of, but in addition to, the more immediate responses.
I’d like to invite everyone reading this* to look into their local community’s mental health support system. What programs your county offers. How good they actually are. Go in, if you can, to sign up; find out how they treat you, what their paperwork is like, what insurance they take. Don’t lie, obviously. Don’t Secret Shopper this. But if you’ve been wanting some help, some guidance, if you’ve been feeling like you’re not sure where to start on lining up a path out of whatever strain you’re under — start with what’s available through your local government-funded programs.
If you see holes, problems, biases … call them out. Bring them to the attention of higher levels of management. Talk to the newspapers about the need for reform in your local safety net system.
If you’re impressed, on the other hand, talk about that too. Send in a letter telling the management how remarkable they are, how much you appreciate them. Talk to your local newspaper about featuring the hard working folks at that office. The overall idea is to raise the visibility of mental health services at our local level.
None of this will help to prevent events like what’s been exploding in the news lately. But it might make day to day life a little bit better, over the long term, for the people in your community. You might help save a life without ever knowing it, just by pushing for services to be a little bit more comprehensive, a little bit better funded, a little bit more respected.
I think that’s worth adding to our ongoing task lists*.
*CAVEAT. The call to action is aimed at folks with relatively minor health issues, who can get around and function in everyday society with minimal hassle. There’s no shame in noping out of any call to action if the timing just isn’t right!
#HoldOnToTheLight is a blog campaign encompassing blog posts by genre authors around the world in an effort to raise awareness around treatment for depression, suicide prevention, domestic violence intervention, PTSD initiatives, bullying prevention and other mental health-related issues. We believe fandom should be supportive, welcoming and inclusive, in the long tradition of fandom taking care of its own. We encourage readers and fans to seek the help they or their loved ones need without shame or embarrassment.
Please consider donating to or volunteering for organizations dedicated to treatment and prevention such as: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Hope for the Warriors (PTSD), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Canadian Mental Health Association, MIND (UK), SANE (UK), BeyondBlue (Australia), To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA) and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.
To find out more about #HoldOnToTheLight, find a list of participating authors and blog posts, or reach a media contact, go to http://www.HoldOnToTheLight.com and join us on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/WeHoldOnToTheLight