Boldly Going Nowhere: A Commitment to Learn More about Mental Health

Post by Rob Taber Cross-posted with Young Democrats of America, Faith & Values Initiative
  I'm not ready to write this post.

I decided about a week ago that my next post would be about mental health because it needs to be talked about, because of all of the pledges to fix our nation's mental health system after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary, because of its connection to Medicaid expansion, to the development of new healthcare plans over the next year.

As a historian, I felt drawn to the rise and decline of mental health institutions. As a Latter-day Saint, I wanted to talk about the image of Prozac-popping housewives, the rigors of missionary work, and the fallacy of the "read your scriptures & pray" approach to curing depression, anxiety, or PTSD.

I'm afraid that I'm not ready.

I have been thinking about mental health: the vast policy issues, the growing theological understanding, how its impacted my life and the lives of friends and family, the struggles and daily grind of those to whom I try to minister* in my volunteer church service.

On the way back from my one-night-a-week of ministry visits this week, I was behind a car with 3-4 bumper stickers. Due to the glare of my headlights, it took me a little while before I was sure I had deciphered the sticker in the middle.

"Boldly Going Nowhere."

It's possible the driver meant this sticker to speak of a special level of cynical nihilism, but thinking of mental health and ministering to others, I saw a commitment to stay in a screwed-up world and keep loving, because, after all, the commitment to love and work acts of love is what makes the difference. And then lyrics flashed in from my childhood:

If you don't walk as most people do / Some people walk away from you / But I won't! I won't! / If you don't talk as most people do / Some people talk and laugh at you / But I won't! I won't! / I'll walk with you / I'll talk with you / That's how I'll show my love for you. 

I remember feeling rather uncomfortable as child of 9 or 10 at church singing Carol Lynn Pearson's "I'll Walk with You." I recognize now, as I suspect that I did then, that I struggled with the song's radical message and its implications for what I could be doing better, that I could do a better job of understanding, of loving, of talking, and walking.

The other night I re-watched Gentleman's Agreement, the Academy-award winning drama from 1947 in which Gregory Peck plays a Protestant reporter who spends 6 months pretending to be Jewish so he can better understand, and write about, anti-semitism. A major theme of the film is the stifling, festering power of silence among "nice people, good people" in continuing misunderstanding, discrimination, and bigotry.

The public policy issues mentioned above--Medicaid expansion, access to care, support for veterans, help for families--are all very real, but I know, at least for me, there's some education I have to undergo before I can understand what it is that we should do. Positive change depends on good information, just as charity (pure love) requires comprehension.

So instead of closing out with a political call to action, here's my pledge: I'm not going anywhere. Although there are always new discoveries about how the brain works and there are ongoing debate over the medicalization of all mental health treatment and the best way to reduce stigma for people who would benefit from help, whether that's a little counseling or a lifelong pattern of care, I'm going to find time to educate myself, at least some more, about mental health. I'm including some links here to introductory resources. If you have suggestions for further reading, please include them in the comments.

Mental Health - Centers for Disease Control

Topics - National Institute of Mental Health

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services

Families - NYU Child Study Center

Health Reform - Kaiser Family Foundation

Health Policy - Robert Wood Johnson Foundation


(George Albert Smith, 8th president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, battled depression and anxiety for much of his life.)

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