From Demi Lovato and Logic to Kevin Love and DeMar DeRozan, there has been a collective willingness to divulge (and personalize) mental health struggles. Demi has openly and courageously discussed her bipolar diagnosis, self-harm attempts, and rehab stints. In his powerful song 1-800-273-8255, Logic champions suicide prevention and, ultimately, delivers a message of hope (“You don’t gotta die, I want you to be alive”) against suicide ideation.
NBA All-Stars Kevin Love and DeMar DeRozan, likewise, have publicly shared their mental health scars. In his powerful Players Tribune op-ed, Love demonstrates a keen understanding — and sensitivity — toward mental health. “Mental health isn’t just an athlete thing. What you for a living doesn’t have to define who you are. This is an everyone thing,” Love poignantly writes.
But more than tabloid fodder in the latest People, what do these public disclosures really mean? From my perspective, these disclosures represent a significant breakthrough. More than just humanizing Demi and DeMar (and Logic and Love), these public admissions encourage others, perhaps fearing ridicule themselves, to openly discuss their mental health trials and tribulations. In this vein, I remember my personal anguish when considering divulging my mental health struggles (Hello, OCD! Good day, anxiety!). A deciding factor: this Sports Illustrated article. If Julian Swartz can document his OCD rituals in excruciating detail to Sports Illustrated’s millions of readers, why can’t I? And if Kevin Love can discuss the helplessness of a panic attack (and Logic can discuss his hospitalization for derealization disorder), why can’t the next generation share its mental health trials and tribulations?
We are making progress on mental health; indeed, there has been a collective (re)awakening of mental health’s searing impact on families and communities. And for, in part, forcing us to confront an uncomfortable reality — mental health affects us all, these celebrities deserve kudos.
But while these celebrities have pushed the mental health envelope — and deserve commendation for doing so, I’m anxiously awaiting the next step: a political candidate acknowledging his/her mental health struggles. Even more than acknowledging his/her mental health struggles — which admittedly would be a monumental step, I want a political candidate to run on his/her mental health issues.
Too bold? Why? We have seen political candidates openly acknowledge their mental health struggles and prevail. Lynn Rivers, a Michigan Democrat, revealed her struggles with depression during her political campaign. And in Congress, she spoke freely about her mental health. Rivers held the Congressional seat for eight years — depression be damned. But for 99% of political candidates (Rivers, Sean Barney, and Ruben Gallego duly noted), mental health is more taboo than Ashley Madison. One Republican pollster referred to it as the “kiss of death.” Vulnerability, political pundits readily note, is exploitable. And, truthfully, in our political cauldron, I can already envision the attack ads decrying a political candidate as “crazy” for acknowledging that, yes, he consults with a psychologist and, the horror, visits a psychiatrist. Politics, sadly, is a blood sport.
That said, vicious attacks ads — and the resultant character assassinations — shouldn’t stop a political candidate (and mental health sufferer) from talking about these critically important issues. 44 million Americans — more than the population of California — experience mental health issues in a given year. Despite mental health’s ubiquity — literally it affects one out of five Americans, mental health policy discussions remain clinical. Loathe to personalize the issue — and acknowledge their own mental health stumbles, detached politicians regurgitate harrowing statistics and tepidly acknowledge a failing mental health system. This formulaic response, particularly after the latest national tragedy, provides political refuge for politicians scared to talk about mental health. We need and deserve better — specifically politicians personalizing mental health in visceral terms — and, in the process, challenging mental health
stigma’s vice grip within Washington and its halls of power.
These conversations, as we know, won’t be easy. But as Demi and DeMar and Logic and Love prove, attitudes toward mental health are a-changin’. With a societal shift toward mental health, the time is now for a national politician to discuss and run on a mental health platform. Indeed, this would represent the real Straight Talk Express — and stand in marked contrast to today’s standard (political) fare of platitudes, vague promises, and, ultimately, empty rhetoric on mental health.