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It's Time To Talk About Mental Health Reform

At the beginning of this semester, I wrote an op-ed entitled “Dear Andy,” with the goal of honoring my friend and finally putting my long, complicated journey with mental health into words. Now, I am writing with a bigger goal in mind: I hope that we, as a country poised to enter yet another divisive election cycle, can come to agree that regardless of who we elect, our leaders must focus on national mental health reform.

It is time. Those of us with the power to enact change in our society must use our privilege to speak out for those among us with no voice. Our policy makers and national leaders must use their authority to develop strategies to fix our nation’s current mental health crisis. They—we—I have seen too many friends and family members struggle with mental illness, and their families and communities suffer with them.

As is the case with many of us, I have my own family story of despair and destruction. I have battled depression for as long as I can remember—and I am not the first in my family, or the first one of my friends, to do so.

My maternal grandmother was crippled by her undiagnosed bipolar disorder, and as a result, she was unable to live a normal life. Because of the stigma and ignorance surrounding mental health, she did not get help until she was 55 years old, when my mom finally appealed to the state to get medical power of attorney. This process irreparably marred their relationship. And it took decades for my grandmother to get the aid she needed to reconnect with reality—only to find that most of her life had already been wasted. She died a decade and a half later, at age 69. She barely even lived at all.

My high school class graduated without three of my best friends from childhood. Two of them, before they turned 14, experienced the death of their fathers. The other one saw his entire world crumble and fall apart, as his parents lost their house, their car, and their faith in God when the 2008 mortgage crisis devastated our North Georgia town.

My friends, when they were just children, lost everything. Due to a lack of knowledge, acceptance, and support, they coped with these hardships the only way that they knew how: All three became addicted to drugs, all three got into legal trouble, and all three dropped out. Because of their early trauma—and our society’s refusal to acknowledge the importance of mental health—my friends lost their childhood and lost their way.

I am tired of seeing my friends kill themselves when they could have gotten support. I am tired of my friends losing themselves to depression and drug addiction when they could have gotten therapy. I am tired of knowing my friends are only a few among thousands—no, millions—of American children who have experienced trauma that no one should ever endure, and who do not know how to ask for help.

Mental illness is a national epidemic, and remaining silent about it will not make it go away. Even if you are not like me, and have never personally suffered from severe mental health problems, you know at least one person who has. Maybe she committed suicide, maybe he became addicted to drugs, maybe she sat on the couch all day, every day, trying to drown her anguish with the steady drone of the television set. Maybe he was gunned down by someone who couldn’t or wouldn’t get mental health treatment.

This movement for national mental health reform is about the Americans who fall through the cracks. This movement is about the folks we neglect, about those we allow to fade away. This is about a stigma that is so strong that I, despite devoting myself fully to the cause of mental health reform, am still unable to motivate myself to get therapy for my depression. This is about our shared pain and our common need for change.

Mental illness affects all of us in some way. Now, in this upcoming election cycle, we as an American people must stand up to our former, lesser selves and say, “No more.”

No more drowning our sorrows in beer and vodka because, despite the splitting pain in our livers, alcohol is still a cheaper and less stigmatized comfort than mental health services. No more remaining silent as millions of Americans with mental illnesses are refused access to timely, affordable treatment. No more passively watching as our politicians refuse to address the fact that the largest government source of mental health treatment is the American penal system. No more remaining silent as our brothers and sisters sit dazed, alone, on the sidewalk or in a prison cell, with no way to get help. No more listening to politicians drone on and on about the horrors confronting America when they can’t admit their own failure to address the horrors haunting the minds of people we love.

No more silence. No more waiting. Just awareness. Then discussion. And finally, action.

Now is the time. National mental health reform starts with our generation, it starts with us, and it starts right now. So let’s start talking.


William F. Morris IV ’17, a joint concentrator in history and East Asian Studies, lives in Pforzheimer House.

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