Almost fifty one years ago, President John F. Kennedy called on Congress to create a “community-based approach to mental illness.” The aim was to work toward prevention, improving treatment, educating society, and promoting recovery. Five decades have passed since JFK’s spotlight on mental health. And while efforts have been taken to push mental health care to the top of health care agendas, it continues to be overlooked by lawmakers.
However, in January 2013, President Obama also presented a renewed and revitalized interest in mental health. The Obama administration has taken some actions to improve mental health care; still, many communities do not have access to mental health resources. Conversely, if those resources are available, a cultural stigma prevents a majority of people from actually seeking help.
This past June, the White House hosted the National Conference on Mental Health. With the intention to bring the discussion out of the darkness, the conference brought together mental health professionals, educators, faith leaders, members of Congress, and local representatives. The government also created MentalHealth.gov, which serves as a resource for mental health information, news, and treatment.
Last November, my alma mater lost Austin “Gus” Deeds – a student who I knew through connections with a close friend – to suicide. Gus, the son of Senator Creigh Deeds, lived with mental health issues. Unfortunately, he was unable to receive proper and timely care. Despite impersonal reports that incorrectly paint him as a college dropout once caught for underage drinking, many remember Gus Deeds as a loving and talented young man who loved telling stories and music. The accusations of his past behavior just remind us how the media finds ways to twist the truth, by making us believe that he was the cause of his own undoing. But this is not the case. Something much bigger is at play. This terrible loss actually has pushed mental health up as a priority in Virginia, as Deeds has since proposed three bills that can improve mental health facilities and procedure.
While the movement is growing, it still requires much more positive visibility in the media. It needs the genuine concern of the public. Something more must be done. But what?
This is where I come in. At least, this is where I hope my deep concern for mental health and wellness among my peers and community helps catapult it forward in society. Through this blog, I will engage in researched discussion on mental health and wellness in our community. I will explore the cultural implications of mental health, misconceptions of mental illnesses, and the stigmas that prevent us (and people we know) from seeking help. I will also share stories and information on self-care and personal wellbeing.
Interestingly enough, as part of the National Dialogue on Mental Health, there is an initiative that recruits people from all walks of life to also share their stories of hope and recovery. Check out the following motivating and inspiring videos, which include messages from ESPN’s sports journalist, John Saunders and actress and Bring Change 2 Mind chairperson, Glenn Close.
I believe that we each have a voice. Like Gus, we are storytellers at heart, and our stories and struggles are worth sharing. I hope to encourage you to discover, learn from, and share your story as well.
Thanks for your love,