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We need mental health awareness and education, yes, but also resources


In the eight days following the end of Mental Health Month, which is May, two beloved U.S. celebrities committed suicide, driving home the need for a campaign to lessen the stigma associated with mental illness, raise awareness of its pervasiveness, and educate the public about signs and symptoms to be on the lookout for in their own loved ones. Fifty-five-year-old designer Kate Spade’s June 5 death was followed, three days later, by that of chef, author, and travel show host Anthony Bourdain, who was 61. Each reportedly suffered from depression and anxiety, and Bourdain had battled drug addiction, too. Both were also talented, rich, famous, and attractive — factors that someone uninformed about mental illness might assume add up to happiness.

Mental Health Month responds to a clear need. This morning, I walked in on a break-room conversation between two coworkers who were sharing their disbelief that Bourdain, whom they admired, didn’t actually “have it all figured out,” as one of them so firmly believed he did, based on his public persona.

My coworker can be forgiven for mistaking success for mental wellness. Before my own intimate encounters with mental illness over the last several years, I didn’t truly understand it, either. It took a close family member’s near-death experience and inpatient hospitalization for me to shift my thinking on what constitutes “ill” and “well” when it comes to the complicated human mind. I had to have it explained to me by several professionals, along with a few books, before I could see how someone who has every reason to be happy — and who is playing that part on the outside — can be dying on the inside.

Consider the local example of former senator (and current Clark County Commission candidate) Justin Jones, who posted on Facebook this morning that, despite having a great family and friends and good job, he has considered suicide during the low points of his own depression. “It took me a long time to come to terms with seeking treatment — I can be obstinate, and it's hard for me to admit needing others' help,” Jones wrote. “But I'm glad I did. I'm better able to recognize depressive episodes and share with my wife, and a few others, when I have fleeting thoughts of suicide so that they can help me through it.”

Inspiring public admissions like Jones’s are an important part of accomplishing Mental Health Month’s mission of raising awareness and reducing stigma. His post had garnered hundreds of comments before noon. But even if such personal stories were to spark a #MeToo-scale movement, I have to wonder: What then? Where would all those people who are suffering in silence, or know someone else who may be, go? Particularly in Nevada, the 51st-worst U.S. state in terms of the quality and availability of its mental health services, according to Mental Health America’s recent ranking; the state whose main public mental health facility, WestCare, is struggling to stay open following an audit that identified financial and insurance irregularities; and the state where the mentally ill are routinely referred to filthy, pest-ridden apartments run by businesses that one state lawmaker called “slumlords.”

Based on her extensive experience with the state’s mental health system, Marilyn Rogan has some thoughts how the community can improve the treatment of its mentally ill members. Her son, Adam, was one of them until he died in 2012 at the age of 26. She, too, wishes that people had a better understanding of mental health and there were less stigma surrounding it, but beyond that, she wishes that schools did a better job of integrating children with mental health issues; that there were more resources available, particularly for children and teenagers in low-income families; that law enforcement got more, and better, training in dealing with the mentally ill; and that there was more, and better, housing for mentally ill adults.

“You can find places to go to if you want to pay,” she says. “But even the ones that you pay aren’t any better than the groups that do take insurance. There’s just not enough resources, not enough people who care, and not enough people who advocate for those who can’t advocate for themselves.”

Rogan also told me that she’s moving out of state this summer, partly because she’s now caring for Adam’s young daughter, who is showing signs of having some of the same mental health problems as her dad, and Rogan wants to go someplace where her granddaughter will have a better chance of getting help.

Spade and Bourdain left behind 13- and 11-year-old daughters, respectively. For all the children of those who are suffering, and the kids who are suffering themselves, may we educate ourselves on mental health issues. And, more important, may we do whatever it takes to make sure those in crisis can get help.

(Photo by Neeta Lind/Wikimedia Commons)

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