We need to stop taking mental health for granted

mental health pablo

One in five adults will eventually deal with a mental illness. | Pablo Milanese/The Cougar

The day you are exposed to mental illness is the day your life stops. Whether it happens to you, a friend, or a family member, two things never go away: the pain and the shame.

Three years ago, someone in my family had a mental breakdown that took us more than just three years to recover from. Part of us was lost, and we knew that getting help was just the beginning of it.

One day, you wake up and you don’t care what others will think, or even how much money you have spent on pills and psychiatric treatment. All you want is the person you love back.

This is only my narrative, one that ends happily and with minor injuries. But most people aren’t so lucky.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, people who suffer from a severe mental illness are ten times more likely to be victims of violent crimes. Contrary to popular belief, they’re the ones at risk and most likely to suffer outside harm.

When the debate over gun violence and mental illness come together, most people forget to mention that almost 20,000 of the 31,000 deaths caused by guns are suicides. Instead of fighting over gun control policies, maybe we should consider treating the underlying issue: why it is necessary in the first place?

Guns are only part of the problem. The way mental illness is treated in the U.S. goes far beyond the Second Amendment.

More than half of U.S. prisoners have a mental illness, according to a 2006 Department of Justice report, and numbers are higher among women: three-quarters of female prisoners have some kind of mental disorder. That means that half of our incarcerated population is getting the same treatment for a mental illness as violent criminals who do not suffer from one.

At UH, over 1,200 students have visited Counseling and Psychological Services in the last year, according to their website. CAPS attempt to provide the necessary assistance for students trying to cope with mental disorders, but find it most difficult when students perceive seeking help as “weak.”

For those who have thought about reaching out to someone, know that you are not alone.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in five adults experiences a mental health condition every year. Yet the stigma associated with the issue makes those who suffer from it embarrassed, and sometimes humiliated by the shame of having to share their condition with others.

I recently had the chance to see for myself what a mental health institution looks like. And trust me, it was not pretty. There is nothing welcoming about a place that looks and feels like a prison, and just because you are treated nicely does not make it any less of a discomfort.

Instinctively, as anyone who sees an equal being held as inferior, I beg: please humanize mental illness. Tomorrow, you and I might be the ones who need the kind of compassion we lack today when talking about mental health.

Opinion Columnist Luiza Braga is a print journalism senior and may be reached at [email protected]

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