Mental Health: Changing the conversation
By John Damon
The early Greeks believed in a mind-body dualism or that the mind and body are distinct and separable. This belief has been proven to be wrong. What happens in the mind is inextricably connected to what happens in the body. Despite an indisputable modern day understanding of the connected nature of the mind and body, we continue to perpetuate artificial “silos” between what we consider “mental health” and “physical health.” This perpetuates the stigma associated with mental health.
I can remember not too many years ago when people would go to great lengths to hide common medical conditions, such as diabetes. They were often embarrassed and ashamed of their disease. Thankfully, there is no longer the same level of shame associated with diabetes. Students talk about their diabetes with their teachers and friends, tell them about warning signs, and pull others into a support and response team if their “biology” is off. There is now a broader social understanding of that physical condition – the pancreas is not producing the right levels of insulin for the body. We must understand that this medical condition is no different than the brain not producing adequate levels of serotonin, leading to depression.
Today, I am hopeful that we are on the cusp of a parallel breakthrough for mental health. The gripping stigma around mental health prevents many children and families from thriving. The costs to individuals, families, and society as a whole, both in human suffering and economic impact, are crippling. Despite the fact that 1 in 5 children struggle with significant mental health challenges, 80% of those children never receive the treatment and care they need! Since we now have a better understanding of the “physical health” system, we need to similarly tackle the lack of parity around mental health and our nation’s growing mental health crisis. What if tomorrow’s headline read, “Top Story: 1 in 5 children now have cancer”! We would all be floored, overwhelmed, and saddened. To make matters worse, what if the headline also said, “80% of those children will never receive the help they need.” Simply put, we would not tolerate that as a society. We would storm the Capitol, call our schools, hold roundtables with our pediatricians…we would do whatever it took to make sure EVERY child received the care they needed so they could have the opportunity to reach their full potential. We can and must demand the same for children struggling with mental health challenges. It is time to quit blaming and shaming someone with a mental health challenge. Just like a child does not choose to get cancer or diabetes, a child does not choose to have mental health challenges. Children with depression, anxiety, attention deficits, etc., should have the same support from their community, schools, friends, and families to help them thrive.
May was recognized as National Children’s Mental Health Awareness. Mental health crises occur in all demographics of race, ethnicity, religion, age and socio-economic statuses—mental health affects us all. If we choose to change the conversation, to speak openly about mental health, we can have a happier, healthier society. If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, please speak up and find help.
John Damon is CEO of Canopy Children’s Solutions. For more information about mental health solutions, visit Canopy Children’s Solutions’ website at mycanopy.org or call a Care Coordinator toll free at 800-388-6247.