Mental Health: What Elephant in the Room?
The economy, education, immigration reform, and healthcare: these are some of many issues that affect millions of American and are included on presidential candidates’ platforms time and time again.
Mental health is yet another issue that affects millions of people nationwide – 1 in 5 youths and adults in the United States within any given year - yet the topic gets little to no attention or coverage in presidential campaigns.
Emily Willingham, a Forbes.com contributor, did an intensive search of each of the presidential candidates’ websites in an attempt to learn what each of their stances on mental health was. Her search yielded a very limited number of results for every candidate - with an exception of Ben Carson, Chris Christie, and Carly Fiorina who all yielded no results.
Even when looking at the candidate’s that did manage to produce results, it was rarely ever to discuss it as its own issue. It would be in relation to gun control, war veterans, or substance abuse.
“The political figures that we have now have been raised in American society where it’s just something that was never talked about,” says Aislinn Foltz-Colhour, a freshman at George Washington University.
“Mental health is one of those things that since we don’t really talk about it, no one’s pushing candidates to make statements about these things,” adds fellow student Chandler Metcalf. “They’re not just going to do it on their own.”
The list of reasons why this is such a difficult conversation to have is in no way a short one. According to Foltz-Colhour and Metcalf, who both have personal experience with mental illnesses, concerns include appearing weak or broken, as well as worrying thoughts of how one may be viewed and treated by their friends, family, and even future employers.
“Addressing the issue reveals vulnerability, which is terrifying in a world that expects people to have their lives figured out from such an early age,” says Alex Clark, a peer of Foltz-Colhour and Metcalf.
“I was hesitant to do this interview because as someone who wants to go into a career in government or in the public arena, having my name attached to something saying I have this mental illness, I was like is this gonna set me back,” questioned Foltz-Colhour. “Is someone going to find this and this is going to hurt my opportunities?”
“I remember when I told my friends about [my eating disorder], it wasn’t a negative reaction by any means, they obviously did not judge me in any way,” says Metcalf. “I had a lot of really good friends in high school, but it was just like they were constantly kind of on the watch for me.”
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, about 1 in 25 adults in the U.S. experiences a serious mental illness in a given year that substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities. In the organization’s definition of mental illness, they touch on how it may affect how one is able to relate to others and function on a day-to-day basis.
In terms of how to go about getting rid of the stigma, Clark feels it is important to put a stop to the use of phrasing that desensitizes the issue. “I think if there were campaigns to stop [common hyperboles], like there were campaigns to stop the “R” word or something similar, that would be a step in the right direction.”
“I think a lot of people who think they don’t suffer from that kind of try to devalue it in a way because they don’t want to open that can of worms,” adds Metcalf. “You have to be willing to talk about it from a personal perspective and you have to be willing to listen to other people when they want to talk.”
Hear graduates speak below: