5 reasons why we need mental health advocates

We’re living, as many of us can tell, interesting times. The pandemic has forced us to see the real dimensions of some issues often put aside from the public conversation. It showed us how those things we claimed to be not important enough to be prioritized had an impact on so many areas of our lives. And the mental health, the caregivers, were two of the things we’ve finally got to see that can not be postponed anymore.

Because, as much as we wouldn’t want to admit it, there is a great need for mental health services. There are people in need that can not afford the costs of their therapy sessions. There are no programs to support people’s access to mental health services. And there is for sure necessary to have mental health advocates. Here’s why.

  • Mental health issues occur at earlier ages than before

It ain’t easy being a child or a teenager in this era. Everything has to happen now to be relevant, and the pressure is huge. Family pressure, peer pressure, social pressure, everything has an impact on our children’s mental health. And there are enough studies that warn us about the symptoms of anxiety and depression having a rise in the age group 10-13. Our pre-teens are not alright, and their mental health is just as important as their physical one. What are we actually doing for them?

  • Mental health is a matter of public interest

There is no single aspect of someone’s life to not be affected by their mental health status. It affects their consuming behaviors, work patterns, productivity, empathy, ways of interacting with other people, everything one could possibly think about. In extreme cases, it is a matter affecting public safety, as well as the individual’s safety. And there is no responsible society letting their most vulnerable citizens deal with this on their own.

  • Mental health affects everyone’s lives

Mental health issues are not individual but systemic issues. They are the result of living in a hostile society. But they also have an impact at a social level: people needing mental healthcare are harder to be included on the job market, have less social ties, and sometimes become bargains for their close ones. Things that could be avoided if there would be a support system that would tackle the mental health challenges from their very beginning. If only there would be someone there to actually take the time and listen.

  • The social stigma associated with mental health services prevent people from seeking help

This is, besides the political and institutional aspects, one of the greatest challenges of anyone who’s advocating for mental healthcare. The associated stigma, which is still very powerful.

Besides the financial aspects, as for many people the psychotherapy sessions are not immediately affordable, they also have to fight the associated stigma. Because the belief that someone seeing a psychotherapist is a misfit remains, despite all the mental health awareness and resources across the Internet, still powerful and common.

These are just a small part of the reasons that make mental health a political matter. Because it concerns each and every one of us. Because it could be you or someone dear to you that’s going to struggle tomorrow. Because having a safety net that’s been well-built is an incredible asset in times of extreme uncertainty. Because mental health is health. There’s no such thing as harmful as the separation between physical and mental health. They’re both essential parts of what’s called being human. 

Because being an advocate for mental healthcare is one of the bravest things one can do. It takes courage and an in-depth understanding of their privilege to come and stand up for such a vulnerable matter. In the long run, though, it remains a battle that, if chosen by many, will benefit us all. But for that day to come, there’s a need for activists and advocates of the seemingly easy to understand idea that mental health is just as important as the health of our bodies.

The agenda with empty pages

I wish I could say that I’m an activist, but I’m not. I don’t feel like I’d have what this needs. I am only someone with questions. I sit, observe, put things together, and then ask myself questions about this process. The same goes for the outer world. I sit, observe, gather information, and then try and make something coherent out of everything.

Or this is how it used to be, as 2020 came like a hurricane, shattering every single thing I thought it was already figured out. It brought a pandemic and a whole list of questions to be answered. It brought new issues to be addressed, and put some light on older issues, often left for later.

One of those issues to-be-addressed-later is the way we are looking at politics. I used to hear frequently that old line, I am not getting involved with politics, it is none of my business to do so! long before 2020. But then a pandemic came and made us ask ourselves Is this true, or just comfortable?

But let’s look a bit closer to it. When we talk about politics, we talk about agendas. About issues and core values that politicians find worthy of being prioritized. From women’s rights to migration and education, everything is or could be, a point on some political agenda. And I’ve managed to see a lot of issues being publicly addressed by politicians, real and heavy issues of the society. Excepting for one: the mental health state of the population.

Even when the environment is toxic, focused on competition and over-achievement and, constantly fearing that you might not be good enough, no politician or political party has made a statement about the mental health crisis. Because it is a crisis, and the pandemic is only putting it under the spotlights. And there are a lot of arguments as answers to any related questions.

It is a crisis because it does not provide any kind of recommendations on how to stay sane during these times. Our lives are nothing like before, we still have restrictions to face, dear ones that we can’t see, and are told to limit any unnecessary kind of interaction, for as long as it will be needed. We are being told to obey the rules, protect ourselves and the others, but no one tells us how to cope with all the anxiety and frustration that this situation has brought.

People have to deal with anxiety, grief, stress, and uncertainty on their own.

There is no real support system for psychological needs. Access to psychotherapy is a privilege and not a realistic possibility. I’ve heard a lot of I will start going to see a psychotherapist as soon as I will afford it from people perfectly aware of what they are facing.

There is no real support system for the children’s psychological needs either. They are also feeling anxiety, depression, pain, neglect. They are also feeling rejection and heartbreak. They are also needing help with learning to manage their feelings. They also need someone else to be there for them with empathy and objectivity. A bigger person, worthy of their trust and openness.

And I will not talk here about the lack of psychological support for the families having a member with disabilities or chronic conditions. I will not even open the subject.

Yet all these have a common root, even if it doesn’t necessarily look like it: the social stigma associated with the topic. Society doesn’t see mental health as actual health, but more as a trifle. It is optional, not vital. Public policies on mental health can wait, we have bigger things to focus on. Even if this might, to some extent, be true, there is just as true the fact that a bunch of individuals facing mental struggles all by themselves won’t form a thriving group.

The public agenda on mental health policies is empty. No words about deconstructing the social stigma surrounding the mental issues, no words about increasing the awareness about anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and nothing to be said about the tendencies of romanticizing mental struggles. Silence and empty pages waiting to be written. People waiting to be seen, heard, and represented.

Nothing can be changed overnight, but this doesn’t mean that things have to stay the same forever. We need help, and we need it on an institutional level. Of course, the help given by the NGOs that advocate for mental healthcare is like a glass of water in the desert. Deeply needed, and definitely something to be grateful for. But it is not enough.

If we scream and brag about how much we care about people’s health, yet we won’t do a thing for their mental health, then our care for the overall health is just a lie. A lie we keep telling ourselves and others, without understanding that we can’t have a healthy individual with a struggling mind. Even this splitting between mental and physical health is artificial, therefore worrisome.

There is a lot to be built, but the good news is that it’s worth it. Because a society where you can afford seeking medical help when you have a broken bone, but not when you have a depressive episode, that is by no means a society that has any interest in her citizens’ health.

And that’s a society no one wants to live in.

Bătrânul Gringo, sau visul zilelor de iarnă

Despre mine ca cititoare nu-s atât de multe de spus. Iubesc ficțiunea, tind să mă raportez la autori în funcție de zona geografică de unde vin, și tind să cred că da, contextul cultural e o influență reală asupra operei. Dintre toate literaturile, însă, un loc aparte îl ocupă literatura sud-americană, frumoasă ca o poveste, serioasă ca o bunică și diafană ca un vis.

Cu Carlos Fuentes, unul din copiii săi teribili, m-am întâlnit pe stradă, într-un septembrie călduros, cu iz văratic. Nu, nu cu el în carne și oase (aș fi vrut eu, recunosc!), ci cu romanul lui de căpătâi, Bătrânul Gringo, pe taraba unui anticar stradal.

L-am luat acasă, deși nu auzisem prea multe de el, ne-am împrietenit prin octombrie, ca să termin de citit undeva prin decembrie, și nu fiindcă ar fi fost un roman greu, ci tocmai pentru că e genul de carte care îți dorești să te țină acolo cât mai mult.

Lectura e una lină, dar care reușește să facă două lucruri importante: să te țină în priză și să te facă să îți pui întrebări. Pentru că, dincolo de relația interetnică mai mult decât complexă dintre americani și mexicani, redată de povestea bătrânului gringo ce trecuse granița ca să moară, miza romanului e cu totul alta.

Cu o narațiune diafană, cu tentă onirică, Bătrânul Gringo e o amplă meditație asupra condiției umane cu toate ale sale: cu dragoste, lăcomie, stratificare socială, patimi, război, cu limite, orgolii, sensibilități și, mai ales, cu moarte.

Există o graniță pe care îndrăznim s-o trecem doar noaptea, spusese bătrânul gringo: granița diferențierii noastre cu noi înșine. este, poate, citatul cel mai potrivit ca să redau o parte din motivele pentru care romanul, la vremea lui, a fost nu doar un alt roman cu tentă politică, ci un fenomen. Pentru că romanul scriitorului mexican e, în buna tradiție literară sud-americană, îmbibat de realism magic, iar fiecare personaj principal e atent șlefuit, să spună, chiar și de unul singur, o poveste.

Personajele sunt vădit arhetipale, construite să transmită un mesaj, generalul Arroyo și bătrânul gringo ilustrând, înainte de orice, dualitatea conflictuală tânăr-bătrân, băștinaș-străin. Arroyo e moștenitorul de drept ale acelor tărâmuri, liderul tânăr și aprig născut din revolta oamenilor de rând, asupriți de albii conducători, pe când bătrânul gringo, ei bine…el e doar un străin, un american venit să moară ucis în Mexic.

Conturați atent, cu grijă pentru detalii, cei doi se întâlnesc pe teren neutru în narațiunea lui Harriett, o tânără celibatară, venită profesoară de engleză în casa unor moșieri bogați din partea locului.

O carte-bijuterie în primul rând prin felul în care sunt abordate marile teme și marile arhetipuri ale umanității, Bătrânul Gringo intră bătând pas de defilare în galeria marilor clasici literar. Un roman de citit în tihnă, cu carnetul lângă, pentru notat bucățile preferate, sau poate pe tren în drum spre altundeva, e o carte care o să vă facă să vă puneți întrebări, și să încercați să priviți spre lume cu alți ochi.