Thursday, October 27, 2016

As the election nears, remember America's broken mental health care system

The mental health of veterans is tied to the mental health of civilians.

I am not a veteran.  I am a civilian with mental health issues. Depression is in my DNA. I can't help it. I can, however, do something about it. A conscious choice that can only be made when I am not in the grip of a depressive episode. That's how tricky it is.

I'm always on the lookout for Catch-22 analogies.
"There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.  
"That's some catch, that Catch-22," he observed. 
"It's the best there is," Doc Daneeka agreed.”  
With depression, it works like this. When you are depressed, you need help. You have to ask for it as nobody else knows you are depressed because you look normal although you may not act normal, whatever that is. If you ask for help, that is a sign that you are coming out of depression. Have some pills, the doc says and sends you on your way to recovery.

It gets worse before it gets better. It takes time for the medications to kick in. With the pills comes talk therapy with a psychiatrist or a therapist or both. This also takes time to bear results. Meanwhile, you have to get on with your life. There's work to do, soldiering to get done, families to raise, bills to pay. None of this waits on your mental health. If your job and family permits it, as mine did a few years ago, you can take a month off of work to allay your latest depressive episode. Some people would rather work through it, take their mind off the problem. But what happens if you can't?

There's a TV ad for Trintellix, a new depression medication. It shows a man trying to get involved in gardening with his wife. A thought balloon perches over his head. Inside is a jumble of colorful spaghetti strands that seem to represent the tangled web depression causes. If you take Trintellix, the word "me" magically emerges from the spaghetti. It's not magic, really, but pharmacological. Antidepressants now can be targeted to the brain's synapses a lot better than when I took my first dose of Prozac 25 years ago. I'm not sure of the science but I'm going to look it up. I'm always looking it up.

My Catch-22 analogy isn't perfect. But it does illustrate the quandary of a person with clinical depression, or with any kind of mental illness. You find yourself in an illogical, Catch-22 universe. It makes no sense. It makes perfect sense.

On my growing stack of books to read is Bruce Springsteen's biography, Born to Run. One of the best-known performers in the world has struggled with depression. Interesting, isn't it, that the man who known for rousing anthems and hour-long encores, can also be battered into submission by the blues. The real blues. The kind that's as physical as a heart attack or leukemia.

Chris and I saw Springsteen in concert during his "Born in the U.S.A." tour in Denver in the mid-1980s. It was September and it snowed at Mile High Stadium. We didn't mind. Springsteen and the band didn't seem to mind. Maybe they minded but it didn't stop them. That's kind of how depression feels. You mind that it's there but you play on. The show must go on, as theatre people say.

Springsteen might have been depressed that day. I was, until I went to the concert. I then was uplifted.

The song, "Born in the U.S.A.," focuses on the Vietnam War and the problems veterans had when they returned home. Not a whitewashed Lee Greenwood or Charlie Daniels vision of wartime trauma. War can transform you, just as childhood traumas can. Some psychiatrists say that childhood trauma can exacerbate PTSD sparked by combat. We also know that people who have been no closer to combat than Donald Trump or Dick Cheney can struggle with PTSD. It's all in your head, man! Last time I checked, my head was attached to rest of me.

It's real. That's why it's so difficult to hear someone like Trump belittle the problems of veterans. After Oct. 9's "debate," Jon Soltz sent out an e-mail call for donations. Here's his pitch:
I am filled with profound sadness after watching Donald Trump's behavior before tonight's debate.  
I started VoteVets after returning from Iraq because veterans, military family members, and those who support them need elected representation that recognizes the cost of war continues long after the last service member returns home.  
This is a presidential election. We deserve a debate on these issues. Every veteran who has ever served deserves better than what Donald Trump has done to the process of deciding our next Commander in Chief.

Contribute to VoteVets here:
I am not a veteran. I state this as a matter of fact. I approach this issue not from personal experience as a warrior but as a civilian. It's academic and personal. My kids both struggle with mental health issues. So do I.

My weapons are words.

Donald Trump has no mental health plan in his platform. Hillary Clinton does.

As Jon Soltz says, we deserve a debate on these issues. We still haven't had one. All of us struggling with mental illness deserve better.

1 comment:

RobertP said...

Well said Mike. I heard Springsteen interviewed on NPR about his book. He said it is very different offstage than on; suppose that like many artists (including writers) his blues drives his art.

A book you may find of interest, reviewed on the very fine Tom Rick's Best Defense site, by one of Tom's regular posters.