What Paul Ryan doesn't get about mental health (is everything)

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House Speaker Paul Ryan's healthcare plan leaves mental health and addiction out. Associated Press

I hate being depressed.

I hate taking pills, I hate going to therapy, I hate drinking too much, I hate eating too much, I hate using, I hate sleeping all day, I hate being too negative, I hate being told I'm too negative (as if that's supposed to fucking help), and I especially hate whining about it on the internet.

I hate being depressed. Hate hate hate hate hate it. You probably do too.

A few years ago I used to attend this support group in Minneapolis. It was made up of addicts, alcoholics, abuse victims, and even a few veterans. All survivors. The majority of attendees were in their 40s and I often felt out of place, because my personal turmoil paled in comparison to their longstanding and numerous tragedies. I kept attending the meetings because I needed to get out of my head, and the people were honest, warm, welcoming, and kind.

But the chief unifier among this group wasn’t that they were all grief-stricken malcontents (they were). It was health care.

That was the focal point of so many of the conversations. Most people who suffer from serious mental health issues don’t have access to proper coverage. Maybe it’s because they’re afraid of talking about it, maybe they’re in denial, maybe no one believes them. When you’re depressed it can be hard waking up for a soul-crushing job.

And it can be even harder finding one when there’s a nine-month employment gap on your resume. “Oh, I was on heroin” or, “I was bed-ridden because I couldn’t afford my lithium” aren’t really personal truths you want to share during a job interview.

A lot of the people in my group lost their jobs, and consequently their coverage, because they’d relapsed or suffered from episodes that prevented them from functioning properly. Some eventually had a family member pull through for them. A few, through sheer herculean fortitude, worked through it and came out better. Others retreated back to drugs and drinking or whatever all-consuming vice they could get their hands on. Too many of them never got better. There are so many of these stories and it’s such a cruel fucking bummer.

In 2015, NAMI reported only 23 states had increased funding for mental health services. In 2016, suicide rates surged to a 30-year high, which affected nearly every age group in the country. That same year the CDC reported a spike in opioid-related deaths and that number has steadily grown since.

And all of this isn’t even accounting for the potential spikes in homelessness, which is even harder to track. The current House bill completely eliminates the ACA mandate for mental health and substance abuse coverage, and most of those provisions were barely enough to begin with. What’s even more rankling is that this is low-cost healthcare.

There’s no medical equipment involved with treating mental illness. Pills are cheaply manufactured. These companies lose nothing.

Paul Ryan should be ashamed of himself. The Wisconsin district he represents, particularly Kenosha County, has been plagued with a burgeoning opioid epidemic for years.

Whenever social welfare is axed, substance abuse programs and mental health funding is always the first to go. So for Kenosha, and so many other communities, this means fewer free clinics, fewer counselors, fewer needle exchanges, zero suboxone treatment, and, in the long run, less growth and economic stability.

It also means more unemployment, more crime, and more drug-related death and violence.

I usually have to be on my meds every day or else it feels like someone is taking sandpaper to my brain. It’s a nuisance. Some of us learn to live with it but a majority are too afraid to even come forward. The real bottleneck of mental health is you can’t prove it. There’s no blood test or comprehensive screening to undergo. So, all too often the emotionally disenfranchised get dismissed as “weak” or “lazy.” It’s a disgrace.

It’s no revelation that there’s a stigma attached to mental illness. In a culture that has long prioritized stability and monetary achievement over personal fulfillment, the chemically imbalanced are just one of its many, many casualties.

Fortunately, I have access to health care and a decent support system, so none of this is an imminent threat to me. But a lot of folks aren’t as lucky. If you have a friend who is depressed or bipolar or manic, an addict, whatever, just be nice to them. Support them and always remember that you don't know what's going on their head.

Another thing you can do for them: Call Paul Ryan. Remind him that when sick people aren’t treated, we all lose.


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