I will admit that I have spent the last three years rather displaced from current events, especially in regard to politics, as I have let medicine consume my life. However, when politicians begin broadcasting televised statements that have the potential to harm the patients I feel for most deeply, I have to pull my head out of the sand and pay attention. The stigma that surrounds mental health has been a constant barrier for patients who could benefit greatly from treatment. I can’t ignore the progress that has been made in recent years with the increased awareness and emphasis on the importance of mental health, but what I have seen in the news lately takes us many steps back.
Various online publications are citing studies and calling out the inaccuracies (Times, The Washington Post, The Hill) publicized by President Trump. I’ve read sources sharing the response from the American Psychiatric Association (APA), opposing the horrendous and flat out wrong remarks made by him in relation to mental illness. I’m glad that there is an attempt being made to set the record straight about the president’s audacious remarks, unfortunately the reach is not broad enough. Why does this man, with no medical background whatsoever, get to have the loudest voice on a topic so far removed from his area of “expertise”? Why aren’t psychiatrists and psychologists taking interviews on national television to share their views on the mass shooting epidemic? What station can people turn to, to see opinion from true experts? It seems to me that only those with the prior inclination to understand the falsities spewed by our nation’s president are likely to keep up with the sources that are doing their best to set the record straight.
Accessible and affordable mental healthcare needs to be a priority, but this cannot happen from a position of fear and hatred. Creating more barriers by promoting a stigma that discourages acceptance of mental illness is the polar opposite of what will help our patients. The sick need to feel safe and supported if they’re going to seek out treatment. Compassion and understanding are needed to facilitate the healing process. President Trump says that “we must reform our mental health laws”. In reality, we need to reform the management of, and accessibility to mental health care – yet this is a topic that should be kept separate and far away from the epidemic of violence our country has been experiencing for so long. Psychiatric care needs to be addressed in every conversation involving healthcare policy, however Trump’s uneducated opinion about mental illness is harmful to patients and society alike. As described in the Washington Post, one common motive for mass shootings is infamy. The toxicity coming from the president’s mouth, in regard to mental illness, is nothing but fuel to the flame. For all we know, he could be bolstering the next mass murder, creating the next real monster.
Yes, our country is in need of better access to mental health care, which means more psychiatrists. To have more psychiatrists, means creating more psychiatric residency programs. Increasing the number and availability of therapists is another essential part of improving care for mental health patients, and affordable therapy is vital. Many of the psychiatric patients I see in the acute hospital setting come from disadvantaged backgrounds and low socioeconomic status. This DOES NOT mean that they are more likely to be dangerous or kill people. This DOES mean that they need extra support in obtaining the care they need. Not only is calling psychiatric patients “monsters” wrong, it augments the stigma and is in stark contrast to the support they need. I would love to see the government do something to change the face of mental health care, but they need to be sure that they are doing the right things, and for the right reasons.