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Mental Health Care as Social Justice

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By: Rep. Marvin R. Pendarvis Sr., Esq.
Special to Holy City Sinner

Mental health in the Black community is a major issue but it may be better argued that mental health is, itself, a race issue. People who grow up in worse circumstances have more mental illness and, in our society, those people are disproportionately in racial minorities and other oppressed groups. My legislative aide is white and has lacked any crisis intervention or academic accommodations at his institutions but while he is white, he’s experienced major prejudice for being autistic and the same rule applies. If any institution is going to be integrated by race, by sexual orientation, by neurological condition, then it has to have the infrastructure to handle people who have been through harder times than average. Mental health care is a major factor in doing that.

It ensures that when a veteran comes off of the street and into a job that they don’t get in trouble and liable to be fired for a panic attack or something similar. If they do, then it is harder for them to get another job and more likely they’ll end up homeless again. I am an ardent supporter of accepting refugees and to accept them we have to have infrastructure that can deal with the effects of a war-zone. Mental health is often imagined as a white issue and, it is also a white issue, but it is an issue that is possibly the most racial issue in politics, right now. Lacking the infrastructure is a barrier to anyone from an oppressed background succeeding.

For the most part, the institution we have to handle mental issues is the police, and they are the exact wrong body for that purpose. Even at their most benign, they still represent the awesome power of the state, and power dynamics are among the main causes of trauma,  especially for abuse victims. Sending someone with the power to render one fully without agency and also the power to kill is going to raise the stress level of many people who just came from a situation of relative powerlessness. We must apply real science to this issue. The police can be trained in mental health, but ultimately, we cannot have people who handle violence code switch into a completely different skill set. In college, the same people who handle sexual assault should not handle anxiety attacks. Society sends people who need love and warmth into people habituated to give the opposite. Those lucky to have had easy lives are likely to outcompete minorities and other disaffected groups if our system continues to punish rather than treat mental illness.

As much as there has been conversation regarding the intersectionality of mental health and other issues and transitioning away from a punitive approach to mental health, almost nothing has been changed and very few ideas have actually come forth. Most who acknowledge the need for change on this issue, fail in either the specifics of what they think should occur or in the courage to effectuate the ideas themselves. That’s because of stigma and stereotypes of mental health issues still come from fiction like horror films more than the mundane, yet tragic, realities of mental illness. A lot of people are still so afraid, they want to send people with guns, both literal and metaphorical to deal with psychological crises. Prejudice of all types has often been under the misguided pretext of safety.

To have a punitive system in place to handle medical issues will do nothing except to keep the broken people broken. It will keep the marginalized oppressed and the comfortable in power. The system we have to handle mental health, now, intersects with every other issue. In itself, the issue is important on its own. Yet, it is an issue which is inseparable from justice for any group in society.

 

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