Over the weekend, my wife helped NAMI MN deliver Christmas presents to a few mental health units at area hospitals and dropped this bombshell on me afterwards: At one hospital alone, there were 52 children inpatients. But there is a waiting list of 13 kids who are in mental health crisis. There aren’t enough beds to allow them to receive the help they need.
We tell people, especially children, that all they have to do is ask for help. It’s the big lie.
If there’s a story that should be holding the attention of news organizations, prompting people to hit the streets in protest, and sending politicians scurrying for the stage to decry the situation, that’s it.
Instead, crickets. This isn’t a new situation.
Why does it persist?
Over the weekend, the Grand Forks Herald carried a story suggesting the stigma surrounding mental health is easing somewhat, leading people to ask for such help.
“People are becoming more aware of mental health treatment and are accepting mental health treatment,” a manager of an outpatient clinic said. “Awareness of the benefits of treatment is increasing.”
He’s probably right, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. The reason people aren’t getting help isn’t entirely because they don’t want it or don’t ask for it. It’s because we’re a society that’s entirely comfortable with not making it available, and then wondering how things happen that happen, almost as if we don’t know.
Mass media coverage of horrific events, such as mass shootings by psychologically troubled gunmen that have shocked the nation, probably sets the stigma issue back, he said.
“The stigma is that people with mental illness are dangerous,” he said.
Dewald said social stigma prevents people from seeking help.
“They worry about their neighbors or members of the community thinking, ‘are they going to be dangerous now because they’re getting mental health treatment?'” he said.
That stigma is evident to Johnson when it comes to efforts to build housing for those suffering from mental disease or related disorders.
Some people maintain the “not in my backyard” viewpoint, she said. They may think people with mental illness are more violent than people who don’t have it, Johnson said.
“In reality, people with mental illness are more likely to be the target of violence rather than perpetrating violence,” she said.
Though true, it’s probably going to be a tough sell in the wake of the weekend assassination of two NYPD officers by a man who clearly was deranged.
But that waiting list? That’s real.