I was listening to the Id10t podcast this morning and was struck by something the guest said. Chris Hardwick was interviewing Howie Mandel, who suffers from OCD and has been public about it since being outed on a Howard Stern radio broadcast. He thought at that moment his career was over. There was such a stigma still around mental illness that he thought, no one is going to hire me, no one is going to watch me, this is it, it's all over. Instead what happened was a huge group of people started contacting him and letting him know they suffered from the same disease. That it was so nice to hear someone famous say that they had it (even if he had no idea he was being broadcast live at the time). Basically how nice it was not to be alone.
Which is what all of us want right? That feeling of belonging? To know that we are not the only ones who feel a certain way, or think a certain thing, or are hindered by wonky brain chemistry. But that wasn't the part that struck me. It's what else he said, about mental health in general.
We don't check for problems.
Most of us go to the dentist twice a year for cleanings and exams. Most of the time the result is, everything looks good and we go on our way. But we check for problems. We don't do that with mental health. Nobody just gets a mental health check to make sure everything is fine.
That just struck me as amazing. Because it's so true.
I get blood work done every couple of years to make sure my blood sugar and cholesterol are okay. I get my blood pressure taken every single time I go to the doctor. But aside from the past year when they added the "How do you feel and how much are you drinking" questions to the intake exam nobody checks on my mental health. Not really. There is no test that is run to see how I am really doing. No detailed questionnaire that might reveal issues. Nothing.
And yet, we blame mental health for everything.
There were two high profile suicides last week and a report from the CDC about the increase in suicide over the past 20 years or so. Every single time there is a mass shooting in the US we blame mental health. But we don't bother to check up on our own, or anyone else. If depression means that you kill yourself, if another imbalance means that you decide to kill others, isn't that worth a yearly check up more than a cavity in a tooth?
Now, I can tell you that people would fight it. It's the fight I get from my gun lovers when they want to talk mental health instead of abundance of guns as an issue. When I say, "Okay, fine, then are you willing to have a complete mental health work up before you are allowed to buy guns or ammo?" and of course they aren't. Invasion of privacy! Stigma! Bias! But still we blame mental health for the problem.
Depression lies. I've talked about it before. The Bloggess and Wil Wheaton both write about depression in ways I never could, but in ways that show what it's like to live with it and battle it. Medication helps some, and makes it worse in others. It's a real tricky thing trying to balance brain chemistry. And sometimes it doesn't work and people die from depression. Yet we don't add it to the list of things we get checked out annually.
It just struck me as a shocking thing.