For 20 years, Tracy Love, who lives near Rochester, NY, struggled with mental illness before deciding to seek help. As a result, she spent many years coping with panic attacks and suicidal tendencies. Her struggle led her to drink, do drugs, engage in abusive relationships, and receive a felony conviction.
The first time Love attempted to kill herself — almost 30 years ago — her parents displayed a lack of understanding for the struggles of mental illness — an attitude indicative of the times. “Stop feeling sorry for yourself and snap out of it,” Love recalls them saying. It wasn’t until years later, after she started receiving help, that Love found out that, “there is mental illness in my family… nobody ever talked about it.”
Many people in the U.S. struggle with mental illness, but find that the resources provided to them are more than just inadequate. There is, additionally, a large stigma attached to mental illness that permeates both society and the healthcare system, which can make it even more difficult for people to access help. Medicaid, for example, has a provision that says funds may be used to treat physical conditions in hospitals, but not for mental health.
“If I have diabetes, there is no stigma to that,” says Pastor Rick Warren, whose son Matthew killed himself last year after a lifelong battle with depression. During his life, Warren’s family struggled to find adequate care facilities for Matthew. “But if my brain doesn’t work, why am I supposed to be ashamed of that? It’s just another organ.” He notes that as part of the overall stigma, people struggling with mental health issues are often blamed for it — much like what Love experienced from her parents and others.
After stabbing an abusive boyfriend, Love ended up in jail, and it was there that she finally found help. A jail psychiatrist diagnosed her with both PTSD and major depression. Love sees this as a turning point in her life. Sadly, the change didn’t come soon enough to prevent some changes — the arrest cost her both her job, as well as custody of her 10-year-old son. About 26% of children only live with one of their parents in the U.S., and custody is often impacted by mental health-related problems. Three years later, though, she was able to gain custody again, and has contract work in mental health.
“If someone had listened to me the way that psychiatrist listened to me in jail,” Love says, “I think maybe my illness wouldn’t have gotten that far.”