The Problem With Mental Health Awareness


From The Nation: “Most people looking for care couldn’t simply ‘reach out,’ as the billboards would have it, even if they wanted to. There are months-long wait lists for providers, and care isn’t cheap. Many providers don’t take insurance, meaning that people end up having to cough up at least $150 per session for a psychotherapist and $250 for a psychiatrist. Even if you find a clinician who accepts insurance, most insurance providers still require a co-pay, and $30 to $50 per week adds up, especially in a country where almost half of people don’t have $400 on hand for an emergency.

Even if we lived in a country where everyone could immediately be seen by excellent providers they could afford, there would still be problems with framing our mental health crises as a matter of awareness. Many people have legitimate reasons for feeling anxious and hopeless. A small selection: Americans work long hours while wages remain low and unemployment remains high. We are living through a pandemic that has killed more than 400,000 Americans and shows no signs of being effectively contained. Being murdered by police is a leading cause of death for young Black and Latino men, and many high-profile police killings of people of color have gone practically unpunished. We may have crossed planetary tipping points that would make climate change compounding and irreversible. By many measures, the United States is a failed state. Is it any surprise that more and more Americans are escaping these realities through drugs and even suicide?”

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  1. A progressive take on the “problem of mental health.”

    Progressives don’t see a huge problem with psychiatry. Except that it costs too much and doesn’t have enough social justice activists in its ranks.

    Handled these problems, and the world will be a better place. Right?

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  2. Agree that “awareness” campaign feel hollow and meaningless to me, but I also noticed a subtly Marxian assumption that the antidote (and opposite) is simply improved material conditions…yes having a better job with better wages and benefits and less stress would help a lot of people’s mental health, but it’s not the only way (there could be direct government involvement in a way that actually helps–crisis respite houses, Soteria houses for longer-term issues, peer support training and groups, supported housing and employment, etc.).

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  3. “By many measures, the United States is a failed state.” I agree, as a matter of fact, I was psychiatric neurotoxic poisoned almost 20 years ago, for knowing the wrong people were in charge of America, just after 9/11/2001. Everyone should know that the “mental health” workers are lunatics, who believe that distress caused by 9/11/2001, was distress caused by a “chemical imbalance” in my brain alone. WTF!

    And the “mental health” industries are a huge part of this destruction of America, but they are not a part of the solution. They are a multibillion dollar, primarily child abuse covering up, group of industries. Working for the religions and wealthy, while always begging for more money for themselves – while raping, defaming, and neurotoxic poisoning the decent people of America.

    “Mental Health Awareness,” more begging for money, by the “mental health” industries, will never be the solution. Taking power away from the scientifically “invalid,” primarily child abuse covering up, “mental health” industries – and the globalist, fiscally irresponsible, bailout needing, “trillions in homes” stealing banksters – who they work for, is the solution.

    The wrong people are still in charge of America, psych drugs don’t change that reality. But time – and free speech – does help the rest of humanity slowly garner insight and awareness into these societal problems. But, alas, all the “mental health professionals,” and the pharmaceutical controlled mainstream media, care about is covering up the truth.

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  4. Great article but it left unaddressed the individualism that mental health treatment entails. Yes, we need a more equal society but we also need to educate people that feeling bad is a normal part of the human condition. “Happiness” is not actually the goal of life. Character is built through adversity, perseverance, triumph. We need to understand that taking prescription drugs to avoid feeling is no different than taking street drugs or drinking alcohol to excess to shut down those feelings. Our feelings are what drive us to make the changes we so desperately need and so few people are making change because they’re too busy attempting to drug the bad feelings away and be ok on a personal level only. The politicians aren’t going to change the system without the people participating in holding their feet to the fire.

    Also unspoken was the vast number of people who have tried out the mental health system and either got little help or found it made their situation worse. My opinion is that it’s time to flush awareness campaigns entirely. It’s time to do away with individualized mental health treatment and instead start building up cooperative and supportive housing, employment, and mutual aid that doesn’t depend upon individual pathology.

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  5. Individualism is not automatically at odds with mental health, in fact something like “building character” could be seen as a very individualistic endeavor. (There are just as many people who abuse substances in collectivistic societies, I would guess).
    (I agree that awareness campaigns are largely symbolic but “individualized” treatment isn’t a bad thing, this just means tailoring solutions to people instead of imposing cookie-cutter solutions; it’s not simply defining all pathology as purely personal. [I’m with you 100% things like supported housing, peer support, etc.]).

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    • I don’t see awareness campaigns as “symbolic,” I see them as marketing schemes for the psych system. They are selling the idea that people have “mental illnesses” and that the system has solutions to these “mental illnesses” and that anyone who says otherwise is “shaming” the “mentally ill.” It has no other real function than to publicize and sell the concepts above, as far as I can see.

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        • There are dupes who believe this is for the benefit of the “patient,” but these people are duped. The forces behind anti-stigma campaigns are not concerned with the welfare of the “mentally ill.” They are trying to protect and expand their markets. It’s true that NAMI feels like they are helping out, but they are funded to a very large extent by Big Pharma.

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      • That’s right, Steve. This is a marketing campaign. It’s done in the context of other “awareness” campaigns that are a bit more honorable in their purpose and intent. So it takes advantage of that sheen of moral meaning. But it is clear from the careful work of many that the current “mental health” system is a scam designed to make money for certain groups and worse.

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      • I have noticed an interesting trend recently. As more research has come out showing people can indeed heal from trauma, and borderline has been framed as having a high rate of recovery, suddenly people are tripping over themselves to reveal their borderline diagnoses. Nobody wanted to be borderline when we were regarded as untreatable and now it’s the diagnosis du jour. And why wouldn’t it be? Who would want one of the labels that are regarded as needing pills for life or that are associated with psychosis, like bipolar increasingly is framed as. And move over neurodiversity, borderline and dissociative disorders are what all the cool kids have. Or something…

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          • Interestingly, well before DBT became the go-to treatment for Borderline, it was well accepted that the associated behaviors were often “grown out of” by the mid-30s, although clinicians still appear reticent to use the word “recovered” even now in favor of “sustained remission” instead. In order to be considered “recovered”, one must have a full time employment outside the home. So sorry to those with any other disabilities precluding full time employment… if you’re not slaving for someone else’s profit, you aren’t recovered. “Functioning” seems conspicuously tied to capitalist interests.

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          • I have a young friend who rather carelessly informed me recently that she had once been diagnosed as “borderline.” She knew I was a Scientologist and didn’t believe in those labels. And I ignored the communication for that reason. (I didn’t know what “borderline” meant.) But I didn’t forget it!

            Now this subject comes up in the context of “mental health awareness.”


            So I looked it up. I read part of the definition of what “borderline” is at PsychCentral then double-checked it at NIMH. While these descriptions describe this young woman quite well, what a trip to lay on a person!

            I can imagine how easy it would be to convince someone that all their reactions and emotions were because they were “borderline,” and so send them on a trajectory of endless self-doubt and basically despair. I can imagine how seriously this woman (being a former psych student) takes this information! I can only imagine how it could make her worry, wonder if she will ever “get better” and impede her from taking the risks we all have to take in life in order to stay alive and fulfill our basic obligations.

            She desperately wants to heal or “get better” without any drugs or other interventions. But if she takes this diagnosis seriously she could find herself back on meds, in endless and costly “therapy” and with her relationships with her children and with me possibly ruined (she has already suffered through a divorce).

            This gives me more reality on what these labels, especially in the absence of fast and effective ways to get rid of them, can do to ruin a life and offload all the responsibility for a person’s upset and suffering onto their own personal world, when only a fraction of that responsibility belongs there. I am glad I stayed away from all that. I am very concerned for my young friend, as she was not able to stay away from it, and she now lives in a world where almost everyone around her thinks that psychologists actually know what they are talking about.

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      • I mostly agree except I see one more purpose of these awareness campaigns. They are also designed to reduce stigma and shame of people with family who are labeled with mental illness. One campaign had people wear shirts. The sister of someone with Bipolar had a shirt that said “sister” while the person labeled with Bipolar had a shirt that said “Bipolar”.

        It objectified the person labeled with “bipolar” in order to make those around her feel better. Family members are helped by putting false blame onto the labeled person. It is dehumanizing towards those who are labeled.

        This allows family members to blame their own behavior/feelings on the “mentally ill.” Increased drugging ensues as family members respond with any negative reactions to their behavior by pressuring the “defective ill” person to take drugs.

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      • Steve. You’re probably right about these awareness campaigns, but that’s easy for me to say, as I’m one of the least likely readers to seek the “mental health assistance” the spokespeople are usually talking about. I doubt if the professionals would like to see individuals seeking mental health assistance at the supplements’ counter of their local pharmacies or big box stores, or even going to the pharmacy counter to ask for bulk 500mg. niacin in the 1000 tablet bottle.

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        • Absolutely not. I’m always amazed that the same doctors who hand out drugs that demonstrably cause earlier death in recipients, and warn strenuously that taking large doses of niacin or vitamin C is dangerous, or that homeopathic stuff is a terrible hoax and waste of money.

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    • I’m sorry you misunderstood what I meant by individualized treatment. I’m not talking about meeting an individual’s needs in terms of the supports provided to them. I’m talking about the way “mental illness” is framed as existing as a treatable medical illness within the individual instead of a response to abuse/oppression/exploitation. The individual illness/medicalized approach to treatment doesn’t generally address social and environmental causes/etiology of distress.

      Secondly, when I mention adversity, I never mean oppression, abuse or exploitation. Humans learn by trial and error. Sadness and grief and anger and joy are all within the normal spectrum but our culture tends to see only a very narrow range of emotions as being acceptable. Being too happy or too sad or too angry are all pathologized instead of trying to understand why and use them to our advantage. Our emotions exist to drive us to explore and take risks and learn. There is value to experiencing setbacks, keeping our eyes on the prize, being determined. But all of these have been twisted under capitalism and we rarely truly get to experience the fruits of our labor when our labor is exploited for others’ profit. Oppression and abuse rarely teach us anything more than how to exist/survive within harmful power dynamics.

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