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[ Rev. Jason Pointer ]
Before the end of this year, nearly 48 million adults in the U.S. Will suffer a mental health crisis.
To give you a sense of what that might look like, if you took the 44 most populated cities, put them all together, that would be about 48 million.
Another big-picture way of looking at it, if you're that kind of thinker, is that Texas is the second-most populated state of 29 million.
New York is the fourth-most populated, at 19.
Now I'm married to a math teacher, so I better get this one right.
28 plus 18 equals 48 million.
The same number of American adults who will have a mental health crisis this year.
It works out to about one in five, nationwide.
Now the numbers aren't that much better for the kids.
It's one in six, for every child between the ages of 6 and 17.
That comes out to 7.7 million children who will suffer from a mental illness this year.
7.7 million - that's the entire state of Washington.
So now you have Washington, together with New York and Texas, and you have more than 55 million people in this country alone, this year alone, who will suffer a mental health crisis.
So let's just put that number over here for just a second -- 55 million - and we'll come back to it.
The American Cancer Society tells us that by the end of 2020, we will have 1.8 million new cancer patients.
Just let that sink in for a second.
That's 5,000 people a day.
That's every person - man, woman, and child - in the entire city of San Antonio, getting the bad news, "you have cancer."
5,000 a day.
Now my question is this.
Do we all agree that the 1.8 million is bad?
Right? Then why doesn't the 55 million register on the Richter scale of our hearts as the same kind of injustice?
Why does it not offend our very nature as caring human beings?
Part of the reason it's that way is, there's still too much stigma surrounding mental health issues.
Maybe mental health, yes, but mental illness, no.
We're right at a tipping point.
It's not as bad as it used to be, but it's not as good as it's going to get after tonight.
So what I want to do is take you on a journey, and ask you to go with me for about the next 10 minutes, and see if on the back end, we don't come out a little bit stronger and a little more equipped to destigmatize mental illness.
Most people learn about mental illness from where?
They see it where?
On tv, right.
Which is where you'll only see the worst cases of mental illness, and the least favorable media coverage, right?
Only the most sensational stories make the public conversation.
It's time we stop standing for it.
It's time we stop giving our money to the media people, the movies, the tv shows, that stigmatize mental illness, and only give us the worst-case scenarios.
So why am I so passionate about this issue?
What really drives my heart?
One, at my job as the director of pastoral care at the largest state psychiatric hospital in Texas, we see typically, the worst cases of mental illness.
And you wonder, how many folks could've been helped by earlier intervention?
You can't wave a magic wand and make it go away, but how can you make it better?
Well, you take away the stigma, the shame, the fear of being labeled with earlier intervention, and just maybe we can help millions upon millions of people.
Of the 48 million adults, only 43% will seek help for themselves this year.
That leaves 30 million people, adults, suffering in silence.
This is the worst statistic of all.
7.7 million kids, only half of their parents will seek help for their kid.
That leaves 3.8 million children somewhere in this great land of ours, suffering in silence with an illness they have no control over and know nothing about.
If for no other reason than we do it for the kids, right?
That just hurts my heart when I think about that many kids suffering.
But listen, if you're a parent, listen, I get that.
The last thing you want for your kid is to have a label.
But on the other hand, if your child showed the early signs of being on the autism spectrum, you'd have him looked at, just like that, and move on accordingly.
Mental illness isn't that way.
We sweep it under the rug.
It's the old-fashioned elephant in the room.
You've heard that?
But as the old adage goes, how do you eat an elephant?
One bite at a time, right.
The average person, from the time they think they might be having some sort of mental health crisis, to the time they actually seek treatment, the average time is the question.
Your answer choices are: 11 days, 11 weeks, 11 months, or 11 years.
Now let's take a quick poll of the room and see where you guys stand.
Who's going with 11 days?
11 weeks? 11 months?
And 11 years?
I hate to be a chicken little, and say that the sky is falling.
But folks, the sky has fallen.
The average time - let that sink in for a second - from the onset of symptoms to the seeking of treatment, is 11 years.
A cancer patient who waits 11 days might not live to tell the tale.
The second reason I'm passionate about mental illness is more personal.
My mother suffered a severe psychiatric illness when I was a kid, from the ages of 5 to 15.
Oh, by the way, that's 11 years, before she got on track and started becoming the person that she wanted to be.
So this topic has been close to my heart for a long, long time.
And now I'm in a position to do something about it.
And I want to make good on the privilege of the position I have, and leverage the use of the personal story that I have, to try to get that tipping point headed in the right direction, so that the momentum carries us to a place that mental illness is talked about like any other illness.
You know, in this liberated day of holistic health care, looking at the entire person, we seem awfully shackled to an outdated idea that being mentally ill is somehow less than important, or it's somehow less serious as other illness or injury.
Again, we sweep it under the rug, the elephant in the room, right?
It's the thing that everybody knows is there, but nobody wants to talk about.
Let me give you a what-if scenario, real quick.
See if this makes sense, at least in principle.
Say you have a 13-year-old son, and on the first day of summer vacation, he falls out of a tree and breaks his leg; compound fracture.
You'd have him in front of the orthopedic surgeon by the end of the day.
The next day you'd have scrips for pain meds, and appointments for physical therapy.
You'd advocate for your son every step of the way, until he got the very best of the best attention and treatment, all the way to the aftercare.
Now this next part is important.
In this day and age, you're likely to post at least some of that on social media.
You might ask for prayers from the emergency room, updates before and after surgery.
Later on, cool for him - a picture of the leg with the rods and the screws, and eventually, the cast with the signatures.
And he gets to have a moment of celebrity as the kid from junior high, who laid on the couch and played video games all summer.
Now let's say that same 13-year-old boy, your son, starts showing the early signs of schizophrenia.
What do you do?
Do you even know the signs of schizophrenia, and how it differs from bipolar order - disorder, or clinical major depression, or one of a handful of severe anxiety disorders that are common to teens?
Truth is, most people don't know, because they don't want to know.
And they wait until it's too late.
And it's got to get really bad before it gets better.
And the waiting makes the getting better that much harder.
So here are five things that we can all do to continue destigmatizing mental illness.
The first thing is just talk about it.
Talk privately at first if you must, but talk honestly.
Take someone into your confidence, and allow them to help you with the steps along the way.
Number 2: educate yourself.
Do you know the difference between schizophrenia and bipolar disorder?
What do those things look like?
What does it sound like?
You don't have to be an expert to have a conversation.
That's part of how you become an expert.
3: watch your language.
A person isn't their diagnosis.
They're not the schizo in my british lit class.
They're not crazy; they're not nuts.
They're just having a problem with their brain chemistry.
4: continue to show compassion.
And 5: choose empowerment over shame.
Maybe it's time you stand up for yourself and say, "I'm one of them."
So I'm saying, I'm one of them who suffers, too.
So I hope you'll join me.
Oh, by the way, my mom that I mentioned earlier, she worked on an ambulance for a while as an EMT, became a nurse, and the sweetest irony of all,
Became a psychiatric nurse.
And worked in the very first prison in the state of Texas, completely dedicated to serving mentally ill inmates.
Not bad for a high school dropout and teen mom, who bore the brunt of her illness in the stone ages of the 1970s.
So thank you for your time.
I appreciate you very much, and thank you for joining me on the journey, as we finally destigmatize mental illness once and for all.
[ Music ]