Mental Health: The Ghost of America
By Lindsey Earl
At the Table Colorado facilitator and Host of the continuing What’s on Your Mind? conversations on Mental Wellness at Coffee at the Point, the third Monday of each month, 7:30-9 PM.
Mental health is one of the most pervasive issues facing Americans today. Actually, I am willing to bet every reader of this blog post has been touched by mental illness in some way—whether you, a friend, family member, or coworker has a mental health condition. According to Mental Health America, in 2019, almost one in four people in the United States have been diagnosed with a mental health condition… and that excludes unreported and undiagnosed cases. In fact, depression remains the number one cause of disability worldwide and more people are diagnosed with depression in the United States than any other nation (National Alliance on Mental Illness 2019).
If mental health is such a big deal, why is it SO hard to have a conversation about it? America treats mental health like it’s a ghost— it is hard to see, unwanted, and people look at you funny if you admit its presence. In this metaphor, it’s obvious America is haunted. Unlike this metaphor, mental health is very, very real.
I’m sure you’ve heard it. Words like “crazy,” “nuts,” “insane,” or “deranged” to describe people with mental health conditions. Hell, I’ve used these terms before. If you’ve grown up in the United States, you’ve also been socialized to describe mental illness in a certain way. In the United States, we’ve become incredibly accustomed to using words to “other.”
In my professional life at a non-profit in downtown Denver, I see the effects of mental health stigma. At my job, I have the privilege (or curse) of asking total strangers incredibly personal information. Daily, I ask almost every client if they have a disability. If my clients have a physical disability such as loss of limb, hearing, or vision impairment, they will tell me right away. For others, they usually say “no,” then hesitate, then timidly follow up with something along the lines of, “well, I deal with general anxiety.” It seems like my clients do not see the state of their mental health as worthy of recognition or consideration. It is clear my clients see a dichotomy between mental and physical health. In reality, they are one and the same—I mean, both biological effects on the body, right?
In my personal life, I have felt the sticky grip of mental health stigma. When I decided I wanted to see a counselor in college, I remember trying to justify my decisions to friends and acquaintances. I remember saying, “I’m doing fine. The first four sessions are free, so why not?” In a way, I was trying to say, “I don’t really need it.” I was trying to deflect the conversation away from the state of my mental health to the cost of the program. Even now, I find my fingers tensing up on the keyboard as I admit that I’ve seen a mental health professional.
Truly, I’m sick of the stigma. In the United States and Denver, there is not enough funding for mental health services, there aren’t enough mental health professionals, and not enough people seek help. Also, some insurance providers don’t cover mental health services. The outcome of these deficiencies is the loss of quality of life. And in extreme conditions, the loss of life itself.
Although I believe that the conversation around mental health has increasingly entered the public sphere, there is a lot of work to be done. The first step to improving the mental health situation is, well… talking about it. And I was happy to see that you want too. “Mental Health” was the most common topic submitted to the What’s on Your Mind? page.
Be part of the solution and join me every third Monday from 7:30pm to 9:00pm at Coffee at the Point for a robust, guiding conversation about mental health. With your participation, we can illuminate the facts, issues, and stories our society has tried to dull. Join me and we can acknowledge America’s ghost.
About Lindsey Earl
Lindsey Earl grew up in west Denver, walking distance from hiking trails and camping spots. After studying at Colorado State University, Lindsey joined AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) where she was placed on two teams of 18 to 25-year olds. For two years, her and her teams traveled the nation serving nonprofit and governmental organizations. After a challenging year as a team leader, Lindsey transitioned to graduate school at Illinois State University’s Stevenson Center for Community Economic Development. Her professional practice was at a public health nonprofit in Houston’s Third Ward. Since her service commenced three days before Hurricane Harvey, most of her contribution became forming and assisting the disaster services department. Lindsey has returned to Denver to apply the skills she has learned At Mile High United Way. Lindsey lives in Curtis Park with two roommates and a rambunctious cat named Gus Gus. In her free time, she attempts to learn Spanish, hikes, cooks, paints, and leads neighborhood tours.