Mental Healthcare is our common challenge, shared responsibility:
Access to healthcare is a human right. In the national conversation, as to health, the focus is overwhelmingly on physical healthcare, not on mental healthcare. However, mental health is as important as any other type of health and there is a need to take it seriously.
It is unfortunate that the issue of mental health becomes the focus of our national conversation only in the aftermath of an act of violence. This is really unhelpful, even harmful, because it misrepresents those with mental health needs as threats. Overwhelmingly, people with mental health needs do not present a danger to themselves or to others. Anyone who is a danger to himself or others due to a mental health issue is usually institutionalized.
The US is not unique in its mental health needs. There are mental health needs in every nation in the world. Just like some people have physical health needs, other people have mental health needs. Thanks to human enlightenment and progress, mental health issues do not have the level of stigma they used to have. However, there are still issues with dealing with mental health as a national challenge that requires sustained attention and creative solutions.
Nobody chooses to be mentally ill just like no one chooses to be physically ill. Being mentally ill, and there are all kinds of mental illness, is not something to be ashamed of. Especially in some immigrant communities and in some professions there is still a strong stigma to mental illness. The danger of that stigma is that it makes the person in need of care reluctant to seek help. This is a loss to the individual and to the society. A person suffering from a mental or physical illness who is not getting the attention that they need cannot be a fully productive person.
Individuals in need of mental healthcare should feel valued and supported. This starts with the family but does not end with the family. Often parents are afraid that if they seek help for their children they would help society stigmatize them and thus "ruin their future." We need education and outreach to all segments of society to let them know of the available help and the consequence of not seeking help. No one wishes unhappiness and an unfulfilled potential to the ones they care for.
The US is one of the wealthiest nations in the world. Our technological advancement and educational system are world class. The American healthcare system has the capacity to help all those in need of help. However, this is not only a matter for psychologists and psychiatrists. Communities must rise and help advance the education and awareness regarding this challenge facing our society. Voters should make sure that politicians know that any discussion of healthcare implicitly includes mental health care. Mental healthcare should be on the national agenda.
Imad Hamad is the Execeutive Director, American Human Rights Council (AHRC-USA)