Putting "Mental" Back in Health
Issue   |   Wed, 10/14/2015 - 00:14

I have experienced situations that dramatically altered my perception of more than one thing. I have experienced the marvelous “aha!” moments, the “I screwed up, big time” moments and the “I wish this never ended” moments. I have even looked death in the eye. But at the end of any of my days, what matters the most is that I impacted someone in a positive or small way, whether it was through making that person smile, laugh or reconsider their established ideas about the world they believe in.

I say this not to feign the confidence of a motivational or inspirational speaker, but in order to express to you my passion for learning and seeking truth in situations and in people. I also do not claim to know everything that is good or bad in this world we live in, but what I do know is that love has and always will conquer all, even in moments I did not believe in it and its transformative power. Sometimes, all I had to do was take a deep breath and realize that: I still have a beating heart, a pair of lungs and moving limbs to get me up and going in the morning for coffee. That despite it all, there is someone else in the world, right now, who is living in worse conditions than I am, but still manages to wake up every day and continue battling this thing we call life. To restrain from dangerously delving into cliched nothings, I have learned how to believe that the universe is always ready to conspire in my favor because everything is naturally interconnected. That beautifully wicked understanding of interconnectedness, without the need for meditation and analysis of Buddhist sutras, is what can set even the most imprisoned of minds, free.

But when I consider the attitudes that many in our society today have towards those who suffer from mental health issues, I am appalled. It was not until I was diagnosed with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder that I realized how fragile a mind is, and the extent to which such minds are manipulated by institutions who are presumably in power over “diseased” and weakened individuals. Through the use of pharmaceutical drugs, talk therapy and even electric brain treatments believed to correct deficiencies and chemical imbalances, the mental health system in this country has become a way to imprison minds in their own constructed jail cells. The paradox in seeking “professional help” is that in doing so, the “patient” becomes trapped in his imagined or real issues. With or without the aid of psychologists and “doctors” who claim to comprehend the intricacies of the mind better than the general population, “patients” become prisoners to the offices, institutions and hospitals they enter once they are branded as “mentally ill.”

The fundamental problem I discern here is that there is not enough respect being expressed towards those who are not “mentally ill,” but rather completely human. Throughout the time I felt like I was trapped in a system that did not adequately serve me, my mind played games with me as frequently as did the doctors who claimed they wanted to help. At some point, I became suspicious of those volunteering first to help me solve the messes and confusion I kept finding myself in. When I then think about the different instances at Amherst and beyond where I have made errors or practiced poor judgment, never did I also stop to think that I am only a human being. And like a cog in a machine, I need oiling now and then. This is precisely the argument I am trying to make as I grapple with how to take care of myself at this school and for the rest of my life. I’m arguing that before we can feel justified, as the thriving (and not so thriving) students we are, in attending mental health and wellness activites, going to the gym, visiting the counseling center, practicing yoga, having safe sex, committing to relationships that are either not good or too bad for us, studying for hours on end without a break, saying yes to an antidepressant or antipsychotic, admit that we have issues to our family, friends and mentors or attending empowerment/ support groups, we must know that we are only human beings first, and everything else second. I challenge you to take about five minutes of your day to reach out to a person you care for on this campus, acquaintance or not, and ask, “Be honest with me, how are you really doing today, and for this past week?” before passing judgment on those who may or may not live up to your own standards around being physically, mentally, spiritually and socially healthy.

Along the same vein, I have considered how it is that we can all rely a little on institutions like and within Amherst to do the important work for us, and it was at this moment that I realized how much more liberated we can all be as long as we decide, for ourselves, what the “mental” in our collective health means for this community and those beyond it.

Charlie (not verified) says:
Wed, 10/14/2015 - 14:49

Sharline, I agree very strongly that the shunting of mental health into offices with tinted windows is suffocating the people suffering from very real problems. However, I disagree with you pretty strongly on one point: someone who is "mentally ill" is not just a person with the flaws any person has, they are most definitely mentally ill.

Mental health can be entirely composed of unresolved feelings or unexpressed emotion, but I think this is pretty rarely the case. While people are more than just brains, brains are also more than the people they contain: they have physical systems that allow them to work, and sometimes those things are broken. Some people will feel like someone has a gun to their head even if they're lying in a meadow with the sun shining on their face. When that happens, because of events in a life or because of genetics, that is most definitely mental illness.

I'm sorry that it sounds like you had some very negative experiences with mental health professionals-- there are certainly more out there with no empathy for their patients than I would like. However, writing them off as 'psychologists and “doctors” who claim to comprehend the intricacies of the mind better than the general population' trivializes the work of all of the incredible therapists and psychiatrists out there who help so many people who wouldn't be able to function without help.

Someone walking with a limp doesn't get told that that limp is part of their personality, they get seen by a doctor and stop limping. I would argue quite vehemently that depression, and anxiety, and PTSD, and ADHD, and autism, and all of the other fun things like them are no different: ultimately physical ailments that become more and more treatable every year.
While I'm all for any and all efforts to talk about mental health, talking is only the beginning.