With so much trauma, let’s make mental health America’s No. 1 issue

With so much trauma, let’s make mental health America’s No. 1 issue
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Since it seems as though the only thing that counts in Washington is election outcomes, we’ll be clear: Mental health matters. The mental health of Americans underlies many of the major policy conversations and crises happening today in the United States; daily, it seems, we move mental health closer to the center of our national discourse.

After every school shooting, Republicans tell us, “It’s a mental health problem, not a gun problem.” (They’re wrong; it’s both.) Our current immigration crisis, in which Central American children as young as 3 months old have been taken from their parents and placed in “tender age” shelters, has unified the medical and psychiatric community to warn us about the potentially disastrous mental health outcomes.

Mental health features prominently in conversations about health care reform. And an alarming report on the rising number of suicides came to the forefront of national attention just as celebrities Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain took their own lives after struggling with depression.


For our part, the Bustle Trends Group surveyed nearly 600 women, ages 18-34, and found that 93 percent believe mental health problems are epidemic in the United States. Eighty-eight percent reported there are not adequate resources to address this. And they’re speaking from experience. Almost every woman surveyed acknowledged having had mental health struggles.

These numbers are so high, says La Shawn Paul, therapist and owner of Social Work Diva, an online provider of therapy for women, because it’s especially easy for millennial women to relate to feelings of depression or inadequacy when something traumatic occurs. “Mental health has to find its way from the margins and not be discussed only when a major tragedy happens,” Paul tells us. “An ongoing dialogue is necessary for mental health awareness and normalization of treatment.”

And, she notes: “In order to see change in mental health policy, it is important to vote for politicians who are allies in the fight for mental health funding and who push for health equity.”

Indeed, our survey’s findings are consistent with public concerns expressed elsewhere. After the Parkland, Florida, school shooting, 77 percent of respondents in a Washington Post-ABC News poll about what should be done to avoid such a crisis again said better mental health monitoring and treatment might have averted the shooting.

In a recent poll of 1,000 U.S. adults by the American Psychiatric Association, 77 percent said private health insurance offered through an employer or union should cover mental health treatment, including 76 percent of Democrats and 81 percent of Republicans. A majority of Americans (51 percent) believe mental health should be covered by all types of insurance, including individually purchased insurance, that which is purchased through Healthcare.gov, Medicaid and Medicare, and other government-provided sources (such as veterans’ benefits). These responses included 55 percent of Democrats and 51 percent of Republicans. It’s not often you find party loyalists in agreement, but here we are.

Public opinion research released in May, commissioned by Nationwide Children’s Hospital, found that 87 percent of Americans agree there needs to be more mental health support (including increased treatment, therapy and prevention resources) available for children and adolescents in their communities.

Evelyn Rappoport, a psychotherapist and child development specialist, doesn’t mince words about the state of mental health in the country. If we want to see improvement, she says, we need policies to provide substantial resources: “Mental health services have been cut over and over again. The problem becomes not (an event) itself but the services provided to the people who were involved. Mental health services are currently not available for normal reactions to trauma. If people are not treated in the immediacy, it becomes a larger problem.”

In short, we need resources for coping with devastating events and we need programs that support people’s emotions on a daily basis. In February, the National Institute on Drug Abuse published a study noting that “about half of those who experience a mental illness during their lives will also experience a substance use disorder and vice versa.”

“The whole opioid and drug crisis is about people self-medicating both physical and emotional pain. There is a direct link to the lack of services and recognition of the struggles people are dealing with,” Dr. Rappoport says.

One might think that just one of the dozens of school shootings would lead to change. Or that the president designating the opioid epidemic a “health emergency” would move the political needle. But it doesn’t. Instead, Republicans seeking reelection apparently thrive on Americans’ short attention spans and the allure of tax cuts, when anyone good with a calculator can tell you that the cost to our health care system — and to American lives — will be much greater than having $1,000 to put back in the bank.

We’re proud Democrats, but unfortunately partisanship won’t help much here. At this moment, with an immigration crisis, Republicans and Democrats supposedly want the same thing and yet appear to be at an impasse (again). Americans are upset, too. If you look at the money raised during the past few days to help the children separated from their parents at the U.S. border — more than $12 million from one Facebook fundraiser — you can see how the issue might impact elections if we don’t let this momentum slip away.

We’ve got to put mental health on the ballot, one way or another. Shifting money and public attention towards mental health will save us in several ways — by reducing gun violence, by reducing the number of children and adults traumatized through crises, and improving the quality of health care in America. That sounds pretty damn important.

Jessica Tarlov is head of research at Bustle Digital Group and a Fox News contributor. Danielle Thibodeau is manager of research and insight at Bustle.