Letter to the Public

abilenemha/ March 30, 2016/ MHAA Blog

In May of 2014, Mental Health America of Greater Houston wrote “It isn’t surprising that the stigma around metal illness has entered the political arena as it has been affecting individuals in every other aspect of their lives.” In Abilene, we have joined this conversation but fear that it is not for the betterment of mental health.

You may remember in his primary campaign Lt. Governor Dan Patrick’s medical records were used by another campaign to imply that his previous mental health treatment somehow disqualified him from the candidacy. This smear tactic strays as far from the truth as possible. In reality, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick’s experience helps understand why the state is making progress in mental health despite years of neglect and underfunding.

Many of the lessons learned in 2014 regarding mental illness have yet to be put into practice in 2016. It is worth reviewing the facts around the stigma associated with mental illness and how it was once associated with other illnesses. Stigma can be a powerful and unnecessary deterrent to care for a person experiencing mental health symptoms. It is especially important for not only our families and friends, but also the media, elected officials, and others in leadership positions to view and portray mental health issues in a realistic and sensitive manner. A first step in changing these damaging attitudes may be challenging the use of stigmatizing language that is detrimental, common, and often accepted. There should be no shame in a mental health diagnosis yet stigma still saturates the lives of those dealing with mental health issues. Almost every Texan knows someone dealing directly or indirectly with a mental illness, making it an issue everyone should be concerned about.

In the past, if someone was known to have a mental illness they were often pitied, feared, shunned, ignored, or even abused. Cancer and HIV/AIDS are both serious medical conditions that were so taboo at one point they were not publicly discussed or acknowledged. Now we see pink and red ribbons to raise support and awareness so that people can share stories, offer help and resources, and give hope to those struggling with cancer and HIV/AIDS. This change is a direct result of societal shifts in language and attitudes that allowed for progression over the last 30 years. If this same change happened with the perception of mental illness, a serious a medical condition, millions of people and communities could experience a drastic improvement in their overall wellness.

When the Texas Legislature convenes in 2017, we have an opportunity to work together for improved public policy for mental health in the state. Candidates have the opportunity to discuss both their record of support for mental health policy and what they would do if elected. It is our hope that the public will support efforts to talk openly and honestly about mental health and what Texas can do for those with a mental illness so they can have the support and resources needed to be successful in their recovery.