by Royce White
Most of my contribution to advancing the mental health dialogue nationally has come by discussing mental health as it pertains to the National Basketball Association, one of the world's most recognizable sports brands. Battling an incorrect narrative and characterization of arrogance, martyrdom and an inability to fly on airplanes. In my advocacy for recognition and policy reform within that industry, I've received support and criticism of many different extremes. Regardless of detractors, there's no denying the importance of mental health in all workplaces and the pivotal role major corporations will play in realizing the advancements in comprehensive health initiatives. However, there's much more to this conversation - there's so much more to advancing mental health. Once we commit to a solution for this issue on every societal level, it'll be exciting to see what the quality of the human experience can be as we move forward.
Now is the time for that change.
In many ways the national dialogue around mental health conversation has advanced. The scientific evidence offers irrefutable proof that we ignore mental health to our detriment, and that this only leads to poorer health outcomes and a significant societal cost. We are already witnessing a true culture shift – one that is ushering in large scale consensus on the importance of mental health and even receiving bi-partisan political support. Of course we'll see soon if the participation matches the rhetoric. Regardless we are seeing more public figures, community leaders and common citizens show enormous courage in sharing their experiences and/or views on the mental health challenge.
Simultaneously, many of the social issues we historically compartmentalized and have given other classifications, now come with a common denominator that the public is slowly identifying as "wellness." Inequality, poverty, unemployment, worker productivity, crime, drugs, addiction, education, child development, marriage, LGBT, military, policing, general health, etc. all continue to give us a glimpse at the fundamental importance of mental health. People are now starting to realize and relay mental health as a primary factor in a diverse number of issues. Although it has been greatly denied by the mainstream, mental health is not much different from other social issues. In the sense that it is a common historical trend in society for rational ideas that could help raise the quality of life to new plateaus, be held off and given descriptions like idealistic, progressive or radical. As such, mental health like many other social issues has experienced unnecessary delays. What is evident, though, is in a society with space and time to critically think, certain issues become increasingly unavoidable.
What specifically though has led to mental health taking such a major backseat in our efforts for reform? Even now, with participation and discussion at an all-time high, it is still extremely under serviced, under prioritized, and often misunderstood. Which, to most would seem like a catch 22, but is actually more indicative of the starting line in which the mental health conversation came from. Yes, we're talking, and as good as that is, it's not nearly enough. Given what we know scientifically, a state of emergency to restructure mental health care would be totally palpable. We need to seamlessly integrate mental health throughout all of healthcare. There is an economic argument to this alongside the moral one.
What's stopping this progress, besides a longstanding history and culture of fragmentation?
There's also the huge red sign that screams out stigma to anyone experiencing mental health struggles. The stigma often stagnates the conversation about mental health as a topic. Standard cost-benefit analysis models in business, have never truly emphasized wellness and have certainly influenced the function of health care system and political budgeting as well. Even general misinformation has been an enormous hindrance for mental health. a significant problem for people seeking care, is the perpetuation by certain media, (Movies, Television, Journalism) with a tendency to produce content that is embellished or sometimes completely misrepresentative of the realities of the mental health spectrum. Media misrepresentation isn't exclusive to mental health of course. However, a topic that has such a massive demographic and is already so vastly misunderstood, enhances slight misrepresentations and embellishments can become dangerous quickly. Whether embellishment or complete misrepresentation, creative talents in media have been able to brilliantly and sometimes unintentionally make content that has had a long lasting effect on the way we think about mental health.
Even with all of those systemic and cultural obstacles the conversation faces, there is an even more innate adversary that we face in the journey to actualizing optimal mental health care - the basics of a perceived inconvenience.
If we take the term mental health and define it as, "the way human being think, feel and interact." it becomes an incredibly broad and more accurate idea. Too often confused and used synonymously with the term mental illness. The nature of mental health science and the topic amplifies personal and interpersonal accountability. There isn't a single part of our lives that doesn't start with our feelings, perspective, ability to reason, problem solve, and interact with others. From the time we wake up, until the time we go to sleep, thought is a constant. Even into our sleep (which we barely understand but know holds a significance). With all that in mind, there really isn't a part of human life existence that our mental health isn't fundamental in our results. That can be a scary notion, for everyone. Historically, fear and misunderstanding have discouraged us from buying into logical concepts. A complete buy in would change our entire way of life. Many of our societal practices and institutions are quite insensitive and neglectful to how human consciousness has evolved. The mental health science and conversation lends a very concrete foundation for humanity's interconnectedness. An idea we still only discuss mostly in a metaphorical or theoretical context.
The hesitancy to truly acknowledge mental health is explainable and understandable. It isn't however, reasonable nor justifiable.
Many people already accept that what we do with our bodies is going to be a good indicator of our general health, or our overall quality of life. Do we smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol? What are we eating? What are we exposed to? Do we exercise? All of these questions we have tried to solve and integrate those solutions into the way we navigate our daily lives, aiming for a chance at creating better health and adding more predictability and efficacy to the way we feel and function. Unfortunately, even as science gives us better pathways into the area of general health, we still see many people experiencing shortcomings at being able to capitalize on any cutting edge developments of human living. There are vast roadblocks even for the traditional components of wellness we have paid attention to. For example, the importance of a well-balanced diet that doesn't include processed food or beverages. This has almost become a global consensus. Yet it's economic feasibility is an issue for the majority of citizens in America and around the world. Seeing as how diet alone can create conflicts, add in the importance of daily exercise, (which is also a healthy habit consensus) and it's not hard to see why we're having trouble achieving 'wellness'.
Enter mental health
Of course the integration of the mental health conversation, mental health care and mental illness has continuously been backlogged. It's a huge stroke of our existence that magnifies our most fundamental fallibilities. Not only has it been back logged by government and corporations, but also communities and individuals. It's a huge commitment, but it doesn't have to be so complex. Yes the human brain is probably one of the most complex systems on the planet and it isn't a far stretch that in the future we will discover, in search of health and wellness, mental health should not only have parity but first priority. In the interim, let's just recognize mental health and mark parity as an overdue and necessary first step. People shouldn't talk about exercise, diet or health without discussing mental health. Budgets and benefits should be offering more mental health and substance use treatment.
Isn’t it time we begin to take into account all we know about mental health and usher in a new standard of care? A new standard for life quality? Mental health may be the key for us to evolving into a healthier, balanced and peaceful society, but it still needs work, it still needs our bravery.
My commitment is to see mental health addressed in all our conversations. My commitment is to a new standard of comprehensive health. My commitment is total transformation in our society.
I know my next move.