Mental health is a sensitive subject. As someone who has had to navigate my own struggles with mental health, I am keenly aware of how depressing, frustrating and disheartening life can be at times.
Our generation is growing up in the midst of seemingly endless crises. They range from financial crashes and pandemics to mass shootings and political instability. And in front of us lies what sometimes feels like a hopeless challenge: climate change.
My point being — the world around us sucks. Mental health is a complex issue and involves levels of brain chemistry that I am not qualified to write about. But I can confidently say that the world does not make it any easier.
During National Suicide Prevention Week (Sept. 10–16), I came across a screenshot of a tweet from @AyaReina:
“Friendly reminder that suicide prevention is not just saying ‘here if you need to talk!’ and posting a hotline number. it’s healthcare. it’s housing. it’s adequate social welfare. it’s food security. it’s actually being able to access mental health services quickly.”
It would be safe to say that tweet resonated with me. As a politically minded person, I have felt for a very long time that most societal problems require societal solutions. The mental health crisis is one such problem.
When we talk about political issues like climate change, there is a dichotomy between individual and collective action. We have all been told to avoid plastic straws and bags, eat local produce and ride bikes more. Those are all good things, don’t get me wrong, but they fail to address the root causes of the climate crisis, mainly a few dozen companies spewing polluting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
The same level of analysis should be used when talking about the mental health crisis. We can all help our own situations by having healthy habits, avoiding toxic situations, engaging in self-care and more. But there is a deeper issue at the heart of this crisis. The system is simply screwed up.
When someone is struggling with mental health, the cause is often external. For kids, that cause can be bullying, poor academic performance or a bad situation at home. As an adult, it can be relationships, issues at work or any number of things that cause stress and anxiety.
Looking back at Aya Reina’s tweet, we can see some of the bigger picture issues. Homelessness and mental health are inextricably linked, often reinforcing one another. Progressive policies like housing-first have shown to be cost-effective and successful ways to address both issues. Food and financial insecurity are in similar boats, with easy and affordable solutions that we are too stubborn to implement.
Healthcare and access to mental and behavioral health services is severely lacking in this country, and it has undoubtedly influenced our collective wellbeing. According to the World Health Organization, the pandemic caused a 25% increase in global prevalence of anxiety and depression, especially among young people and women.
When someone is struggling with mental health, the bureaucratic nightmare that is the healthcare industry serves as an amplifier. The amount of time and energy needed to find and secure the resources you need causes levels of stress and anxiety that could easily be avoided in a more just system.
When I asked my doctor to change from one medication to another, it took over a month to navigate the red tape. It took dozens of phone calls to my doctor’s office, my insurance company, and my pharmacy. I would be told that a message would be passed along only to have to call back days later and ask again. I didn’t know if or when I was going to get that new medication. How many people have found themselves in that situation and decided it wasn’t worth it to keep trying? How many people have we lost because the system made it too hard to get back up?
It’s not enough to focus on individual mental health. We as a society need to reckon with how our existing systems weigh us down and impact our mental and emotional health. When we see someone struggling, we have a responsibility to help them. When we look around at the world around us and see that it is hurting us, we have a responsibility to change it.