It’s Mental Health Awareness Month! But what does that mean, exactly? Who are we raising awareness for? Is “mental health” the same as “mental illness?” In this Not Crazy Podcast, Gabe and Lisa ponder the meaning of this decades-old campaign and discuss the pros and cons of the movement.
What do you think? Is Mental Health Awareness Month a necessary outreach that sheds light on mental health, or is it a flimsy substitute for actual help? Tune in for an in-depth discussion that entails several different perspectives.
(Transcript Available Below)
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About The Not Crazy podcast Hosts
Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar disorder. He is the author of the popular book, Mental Illness is an Asshole and other Observations, available from Amazon; signed copies are also available directly from Gabe Howard. To learn more, please visit his website, gabehoward.com.
Lisa is the producer of the Psych Central podcast, Not Crazy. She is the recipient of The National Alliance on Mental Illness’s “Above and Beyond” award, has worked extensively with the Ohio Peer Supporter Certification program, and is a workplace suicide prevention trainer. Lisa has battled depression her entire life and has worked alongside Gabe in mental health advocacy for over a decade. She lives in Columbus, Ohio, with her husband; enjoys international travel; and orders 12 pairs of shoes online, picks the best one, and sends the other 11 back.
Computer Generated Transcript for “Mental Health Month” Episode
Editor’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.
Announcer: You’re listening to Not Crazy, a psych central podcast hosted by my ex-husband, who has bipolar disorder. Together, we created the mental health podcast for people who hate mental health podcasts.
Gabe: Hey, everybody, you’re listening to the Not Crazy podcast. My name is Gabe Howard and I am here with Lisa. Lisa, are you excited that it is Mental Health Awareness Month?
Lisa: How could I not be excited for Mental Health Awareness Month? But probably not as excited as you are.
Gabe: I mean, I am uber excited that for an entire month. I mean, one twelfth of the year, I matter.
Lisa: Well, and, of course, for that entire month, nobody with mental illness has any problems because everyone pays attention and loves us.
Lisa: There isn’t anyone waiting for treatment and there aren’t any waiting lists in emergency rooms. There isn’t any one being cast out on the street. There aren’t any people who can’t afford their medication. All of that happens in May. It’s amazing. And the most important thing that comes in mental health advocacy, which everyone knows is awareness.
Gabe: Let’s talk about awareness for a moment, because awareness is one of these things that it’s really hard to nail down what it is. And many nonprofits that are funded to the tunes of millions upon millions of dollars across our nation, literally in their, in their purpose, their goal.
Lisa: Mission statement.
Gabe: Yeah, their mission statement, they say, to raise awareness about fill in the blank. And I’m not just picking on mental health charities or mental illness
Lisa: Oh, no,
Lisa: There’s lots of them.
Gabe: I mean, this is, yeah.
Lisa: Cancer, M.S., children, whatever.
Gabe: Lupus. Just everything, it seems like raising awareness
Lisa: Abused animals.
Gabe: Is this really vogue thing. I have a really hard time. In research for the show. I tried to figure out, like, what does that mean? Like, ah, ah.
Lisa: Well, that’s the problem, nobody knows what it means.
Gabe: Well, right, but it
Lisa: It’s a nebulous goal.
Gabe: But it has to mean something.
Lisa: It doesn’t mean anything, and I think that’s one of the reasons it’s everyone’s goal. Because how convenient. Your entire mission statement is something that can’t be clearly defined or quantified? So you really can’t mess it up. Our goal is to raise awareness about fill in the blank. How do you know if you’ve raised awareness? Do you measure it in some way? I mean, notice no one’s goal is ever, our goal is to treat 100 people with cancer or to cure 100 people with lupus. That’s our goal. That you could then go through and count. Oh, look, are there 100 of them? No, there’s only 88. Oh, no. There’s 105. We did extra well this year.
Gabe: I’m going to give you a real hard push back here because you’re doing this. This speaking in absolutes, there are many charities who their specific goals
Lisa: Of course.
Gabe: Is to treat a certain number of patients. It’s to lower the
Lisa: We’re talking about awareness. We’re not talking about all charities always. We’re talking about awareness related charities or awareness related goals. There are, in fact, many charities that actually do something that can be quantified, that are doing great work and saving the people and blah, blah, blah. Whatever.
Gabe: Here’s the thing, here’s the problem that I have with awareness.
Lisa: It’s not measurable.
Gabe: I know. That’s not the problem that I have with awareness.
Lisa: That should be the problem, you have with awareness, because that’s what’s wrong with it.
Gabe: That’s not the problem that I have with awareness. The problem that I have with awareness is that it essentially accomplishes nothing as far as I can tell. Like, there never seems to be a step two. For example, if I can’t pay my mortgage, I feel that my goal should be to pay my mortgage. If I said I’m raising awareness about my mortgage, I could make everybody aware that I can’t pay my mortgage. If there’s no step two of now that you are aware, I want you to give me a dollar. I’m seeing a lot of people being aware that I can’t pay my mortgage. And I see a lot of people like writing me messages like, hey, Gabe, so sad you can’t pay your mortgage. That’s such a bummer. We’re pulling for you. Thoughts and prayers.
Lisa: The thing that anyone is going to say to respond to that is that they haven’t gotten to step two yet because they’re not done with step one. That awareness has not yet been appropriately raised. They don’t have a high enough level of awareness.
Gabe: Do you think, like, sincerely, do you think that there is anybody in America who isn’t aware of mental illness?
Lisa: That’s a hard one for me because I’ve heard criticism of awareness raising events where people say things like, are you aware of homelessness? Is there anyone in America who’s not aware of homelessness? Yet, we still have homelessness. So raising awareness clearly didn’t help. Having said that, when you say is there anyone who’s not aware of mental illness? Sort of.
Gabe: What do you what do you mean by sort of? I think that everybody is aware of mental illness. I think they just have misconception, myths. They believe the wrong things. But are they aware that people are batshit crazy? Are they aware that people suffer from depression, psychosis, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia? I think they’ve even heard all of these terms. I think that we’ve done it. I think that people are 100% aware of mental illness. So we need to move on to step two, which is sort of the educational process. To drive that down. Being aware of bipolar, knowing what bipolar disorder is, and knowing what it’s like to live with it are three unique goals.
Lisa: For some of these groups, part of the raising awareness is including this educational piece, you’re raising awareness of how mental illness affects people’s daily lives or how people with mentally illness live or the barriers to care. You know what I mean? You’re raising awareness about all these surrounding issues or even giving education about these issues. So once again, I would point that out as a flaw with awareness. It’s a nebulous term. It’s not clear exactly what you’re doing. It’s not even clear what attitude it is you’re trying to change or influence like.
Gabe: Pretending for a moment that awareness is a good thing and that that we’re all okay with it.
Lisa: It probably is a good thing.
Gabe: I mean, I know that it’s probably a good thing, but I just I’m really struggling with who gets to define the narrative.
Lisa: Yes, exactly.
Gabe: When we talk about raising awareness about mental illness, are we talking about people with anxiety? Are we talking about people with depression? Are we talking about people with bipolar? Now, let’s say that we’ve all decided well, I’ve decided that bipolar is the worst one of those. Which has its own just unique challenges and frustrations. We’re playing the suffering Olympics. All the mentally ill people get together and decide who’s the sickest and that person’s narrative goes forward. But, now let’s talk about socioeconomically. Because, I got to tell you, a middle aged white guy in central Ohio is going to see and experience mental illness differently than somebody without insurance. Somebody that doesn’t have a good supportive family. Somebody that lives in rural America, somebody that lives in a state that thinks mental illness is a moral value or an emotional value or a hoax
Lisa: Right. Right.
Gabe: And just has zero mental health safety net. I’m not saying I’m thrilled with the safety net that we have in Ohio. I think it’s got some holes in it. But the net exists. There’s other states that they don’t even have a net.
Gabe: Do we talk about having mental illness with literally no family, no insurance and being homeless? Because that looks very different than having mental illness with a very supportive family, health insurance and financial resources. I struggle with this a lot because it.
Lisa: I don’t. I think it’s terrible.
Gabe: No, no, no. I struggle with the idea of bashing Mental Health Awareness Month.
Lisa: Oh, okay.
Gabe: And here’s why. My dad is a retired Teamster. He’s a retired union man. And his entire career, nonunion people would come up to him and say, you know, you’re lazy. You get three breaks a day and you get paid 20% more than me to do the exact same job. That’s terrible. You’re overpaid and you get too many breaks. And my father would always say, actually, you’re underpaid and overworked. Why is that never? For some reason, the people who are making less money and getting less benefits want to drag my father down
Lisa: Right. Right.
Gabe: Instead of raising themselves up. And I’m sitting here criticizing people. Talking about mental health is good. It’s good. And I’m sitting here saying, eh, it’s not enough. And I fear that the people in charge are like the anti-union people. Their response to this won’t be to do more with mental health month. It won’t be to go to step two and do more than just raise awareness. It’ll be to cancel the whole thing and I’ll end up with less.
Lisa: Well, every time I hear someone say raising awareness. I have to stop myself. Right. Well, I usually don’t stop myself. I usually just roll my eyes unless they’re looking directly at me. And then I try to stop myself. But again, raising awareness. What a stupid goal. How will you know when you’ve succeeded? Do you have any way to measure this?
Gabe: I know it’s a poorly defined goal, I know you’ve got your science brain on. I know you’re you’re about ready to, you know, launch in. Because it’s poorly defined, we can keep pumping money into the mental health industry. And since there’s no way to define it, we don’t have to meet the goals.
Gabe: I get all that.
Lisa: All of those things, yes.
Gabe: I get all of that. I don’t want to go down that road because
Lisa: You should it’s important.
Gabe: I’m not disagreeing. But how would you like to see step two take shape? We’ve identified the problem that mental health awareness is too ambiguous, it’s too vague. And of course, it doesn’t help people experiencing major depression, schizophrenia, psychosis, homelessness, people in prisons because they can’t get access to care.
Gabe: All of the horror stories that you just need to Google mental illness and hit return and you’re gonna find horror stories on the front page. You didn’t even write mental illness horror story. I just wrote mental illness. You’re gonna start seeing horror stories. It’s they have permeated our society.
Gabe: So let’s move past the fact that awareness is an ambiguous goal. And that we’re not thrilled with it. What’s step two, Lisa?
Lisa: Well, strangely, we have to go back to awareness, because are we making people aware that this exists in the first place? Are we making them aware of a specific situation, of a funding problem, of a new research methodology? I don’t know. What are we making people aware of? And while we’re on the subject, mental health awareness also annoys me because this focus on mental health distracts from mental illness.
Gabe: This is the thing that I fight up against constantly.
Lisa: Yeah, wellness.
Gabe: Everybody has mental health.
Gabe: Most people have good mental health and most people who have a mental health crisis, it’s temporary. The example that I always use is grief. Nobody is going to be their best self an hour after they find out that their loved one died. That’s reasonable, right? But mental illness is severe and persistent. OK. So.
Lisa: Well, how are you defining crisis?
Gabe: A mental health crisis is is. Well, yeah. OK, yeah, I. Grief in my mind is a mental health crisis. The inability to function because of something going on with your mental health is a quick and dirty definition of it.
Lisa: Oh, that’s a good definition. That’s a good one.
Gabe: It’s not perfect. And that’s certainly not how it’s going to be defined medically. But.
Gabe: But I get that. I just get it. I think that when significant relationships end, people struggle mentally for a while. And we’ve heard about people having a hard time at work. People missing responsibilities, people pulling away from friends. These can all be described as mental health issues and.
Lisa: That’s another spectrum.
Gabe: Let’s talk about anxiety. Look at all of the anxiety that’s being caused by the global pandemic, by corona, by the quarantines that are finally starting to lift in some states, are still in other states and all of the social distancing. And that is a mental health issue.
Lisa: But going back, when you said crisis, you know, you’re always talking about everything’s on a spectrum. Well, so is a crisis. Right? And I think a mental illness crisis and a mental health crisis are different. I like your definition of you can’t function because of something going on mentally. I like that. That’s a good one. But again, how far not function, right? Like, I didn’t do a very good job at work yesterday because I was feeling kind of depressed. Where does it trip into crisis?
Gabe: Listen, I think that missing a day or two, because you’re overwhelmed, maybe that doesn’t rise to the level of crisis. But it is something that people should be concerned about. And when I think of mental health month, I think, are we focusing on anyone with severe and persistent mental illness? For example, how come we don’t do anything about homelessness during mental health month?
Gabe: Like nothing.
Lisa: Mental Health Month almost always seems to focus on wellness or it’s helping the worried well.
Gabe: And I hate that term.
Lisa: Really, why?
Gabe: First off, being well and being worried. That’s a fair statement.
Lisa: What are you talking about?
Gabe: This is the suffering Olympics.
Gabe: Worried well is just so offensive because you’re well most of the time. Now, when you get worried, we should ignore you. But again, I got to tell you, I do have trouble feeling bad for somebody who’s a little bit anxious
Gabe: In comparison to somebody who’s in prison because of a psychosis episode that went south. And now they’re in prison for the next ten years. But we can’t just ignore. The worried well just sounds so offensive. It sounds so belittling.
Lisa: Well, but that’s the thing. In a perfect world, you wouldn’t ignore either, both people would get appropriate care, both people would get the resources that they need. But the pie is a finite size. Therefore, if someone else is getting some pie, then the guy who really needs it doesn’t get it. So.
Gabe: Actually, I’m going to cut you off right there.
Gabe: It annoys me that the pie is a finite size
Lisa: Well, yeah. That’s the real problem.
Gabe: Because, I gotta tell you, the pie is not a finite size when it comes to, oh, I don’t know, military spending.
Gabe: The pie is not a finite size when it comes to government spending.
Gabe: The pie is not a finite size. When it comes to, oh, I don’t know, bailing out billionaires. The pie is not a finite size when the local sports team needs
Lisa: Needs an arena.
Gabe: A stadium. But suddenly, oh, this is awkward. We don’t have enough money for sick people, severely sick people. Let’s pretend that the pie is a finite size. You know what annoys me about that damn pie? The sicker you are, the less pie we allocate for you.
Lisa: Yes, absolutely. And it’s very depressing.
Gabe: Why is that not being addressed? I want that to be addressed for mental health month.
Lisa: I would agree with that completely.
Gabe: I also want there to be a mental illness month. I’m not against Mental Health Month.
Lisa: Did this start as mental illness month?
Gabe: This is what I hate so much.
Lisa: I actually don’t know.
Gabe: This is what I hate so much. I hate that we’re doing an episode on Mental Health Month, and you just asked if it started as mental health month or mental illness month. Because it shows a severe lack in your research abilities that you are just paid top dollar for.
Lisa: I actually do have it written down here.
Gabe: I just.
Lisa: I have it written down. Give me a second.
Gabe: You are so incredibly well paid.
Lisa: I have a lot of notes on the table here. Let me find it.
Gabe: There’s a lot of? You haven’t organized your notes. I see her organizing her notes by typing in Google.com. Look at those. Look at those organized notes right there.
Lisa: Okay, but I did find out the thing. It was founded by Mental Health America in partnership with the Jaycees. That I thought was very interesting. So they meant it to be a community wide effort.
Gabe: And I love Mental Health America.
Lisa: Oh, yeah, yeah.
Gabe: And this is the problem that I struggle with so much when I criticize these things. One, I want them to be better and I want them to do more. But I don’t want to shit all over people who are doing something because you know how many people are doing nothing? I love Mental Health America, and I don’t want this to turn into shitting on people who are doing something because so many people are doing nothing. They’re doing absolutely nothing. And then we start attacking the people who are doing something because it’s not enough.
Lisa: Yeah, that’s a problem. That’s a problem.
Gabe: I hate that. It’s not enough. But you know what it is? It’s something. We’re doing something. And in the meantime, we just leave the people who are ignoring people with mental health issues, who are ignoring the mentally ill, who are ignoring the plight of my life. I’m like, oh, I’m not going to pick on them because I’m going to go attack somebody who’s doing something because Gabe Howard doesn’t think it’s enough. That’s just a jerk move. I don’t want to be that guy,
Lisa: That is a problem.
Gabe: But I do want Mental Health Month to be so much more. I want it to be more.
Lisa: So you feel that it’s a way to say, hey, we don’t care about you the rest of the year, the other 11 months, you’re on your own. But for this month, we care.
Gabe: It does kind of feel that way. I get hung up on that because, for example, I have family members that, like, only call me on my birthday. Is that them suddenly saying that the rest of the year they don’t care if I live or die? Only when I age up or survive the whole year am I worthy of that phone call? No, it’s a good thing because it’s a birthday. It’s a demarkation. It’s a celebration.
Gabe: It’s a way to bring it up. So in that way.
Lisa: That’s an excellent analogy to a birthday. That’s exactly what mental health month is. There is no reason why your relative couldn’t call you year round, any day of the year. But they don’t. They just don’t. So there’s no reason that people can’t be interested or talking about or fundraising on mental health and mental illness in other months. But they don’t. They just don’t. They need to have that time. They need to have that day. The reason why we have Mental Health Month is the same thing as the reason why stores have sales, because otherwise there’s nothing to go around. Right? You can’t just say, hey, come out and shop at our store. Why should I go shop at your store? I shop at your store whenever I want. Whatever. Oh, but you need to come this weekend because there’s a sale. Oh, okay. I need to go do it now because it’s something that draws me in.
Gabe: It creates a sense of urgency, right, that’s the purpose of the sale. You can buy the pants at any day for $100, but you have to buy them by Friday to get them for $50. And that creates a deadline in your mind.
Lisa: I think it’s partly that, but it’s also just something to tell people. So when you call up and say, hey, I’d like to talk to you about mental health. Really? Why? Because it’s Mental Health Awareness Month. Oh, OK. That makes sense. I remember years ago we were doing a fundraiser and people were saying, oh, well, this group doesn’t need a fundraiser because people can donate money year round. We don’t need a fundraiser. People could just send in money all the time. Yeah, but nobody does that. You need something to say when you call up and say, hey, you want to send me some money? You have to say because we’re having this fundraiser on X Day.
Gabe: Yeah. Sense of urgency when there’s a deadline.
Gabe: You have to have your money in by Friday. Then all the sudden. This is why we do like year end, because
Gabe: You have to have it for your taxes that year or for your year end giving, or surrounding Christmas.
Lisa: It makes people think about it. Otherwise, they just don’t get to it. They’re like, oh, I’ll give whenever.
Gabe: So in this way, Mental Health Month is extraordinarily vital.
Lisa: Yeah, because it gives something to rally around that gives you an excuse to send out the email, it gives you a new title for the email that you want to send to your supporters. It just gives you something new to talk about, something new to use.
Gabe: It gives you a platform, and there’s no reason that people can’t learn about mental health year round.
Lisa: Right. It’s not until you call them and say, hey, we’re having our fundraising drive right now that they send in the check. So there’s no reason anyone’s going to sit around and just learn about mental health unless they’re like, oh, well, now is the time to do so.
Gabe: There’s some pretty prominent advocates out in the world who hate, they absolutely despise Mental Health Month. And they’ve gone as far as to say in prominent editorials that have been published in The Washington Post, he New York Times. I mean, this isn’t some, you know, ranty person or organization on the Internet saying this. This is.
Lisa: Right. These are prominent organizations, names you recognize.
Gabe: Yeah, who said that mental health month is killing people with mental illness. Do you believe that Mental Health Month is taking away resources and actively harming people with severe and persistent mental illness?
Lisa: That is a hard one. Ahh, the devil’s in the details, right? I would say that the idea that, oh, this is killing people with mental illness, that’s overblown. That’s being overly dramatic. That’s not fair. Could our resources be directed elsewhere? Maybe? Or even could some of our resources be directed elsewhere? So maybe the point isn’t so much whether or not Mental Health Awareness Month is good or bad. It’s how do individual groups use it? Maybe the way that individual groups are using it is bad or good.
Gabe: One of the things that I always struggle with when I read a lot of these editorials is there’s always like this grain of truth that I believe.
Lisa: Right, that they take too far.
Gabe: The grain of truth that I believe is that people with serious and persistent mental illness are not, hard stop, are not getting the care and resources and opportunities that they need to live well,
Lisa: Obviously, yes.
Gabe: I don’t care if it’s mental health month. I don’t care if it’s Christmas. I don’t care if it’s Depression Awareness Week. I don’t care if it’s International Bipolar Support Day. The sicker you are.
Lisa: Is that a thing?
Gabe: Yeah, of course.
Lisa: International Bipolar Support Day?
Gabe: It’s Van Gogh’s birthday.
Lisa: It’s just, it’s what?
Gabe: It’s Van Gogh’s birthday.
Lisa: Van Gogh’s birthday is International Bipolar Support Day?
Gabe: Yeah. You didn’t know that?
Lisa: No, I did not know that.
Gabe: This is why our marriage failed. Just unequivocally, like there’s a whole holiday dedicated to Gabe and I never got a card.
Lisa: You’re right. Never once did I give you a present for bipolar support awareness day.
Gabe: You know what’s sad about you being unaware of this? You know the picture of me and my wife holding the signs?
Lisa: Oh, is that what that was for?
Gabe: That say, I live with bipolar disorder.
Gabe: And I’m his wife. I’m a husband with bipolar disorder. And I’m his wife.
Lisa: His wife, who loves him.
Gabe: That you took the picture, you helped make the signs.
Lisa: I did, actually.
Gabe: You made sure our hair and makeup was good. Remember? Remember that?
Lisa: I do remember that, yes.
Gabe: And what was that for?
Lisa: Wearing the matching t-shirts. I picked the t-shirts.
Gabe: Right. And what was the event that we did that for?
Lisa: You know, I actually have never.
Gabe: International Bipolar Support.
Lisa: Was it really?
Lisa: I probably knew that at the time.
Gabe: You are very behind the scenes. As it turns out, so far behind the scenes that you were just like, here’s some random signs. Do your makeup. I don’t know. Gabe does something online. This is so sad
Lisa: You still. That was years ago, and you still use that picture all the time.
Gabe: Yeah, it’s a great picture. I look fabulous.
Lisa: It is. You both look great. Huh, you’re right. OK, my bad on that.
Gabe: Yeah, so all of those things. Unequivocally, yes. All of those things exist. They make us feel certain ways. They have pluses, they have minuses. But none of those things, none of those things that we just mentioned, frankly, when I say none of those things, I mean, including my wife and I holding that sign in that picture that we just talked about where I looked great in
Lisa: You did you look fantastic.
Gabe: That did nothing, that did nothing to help people with serious and persistent mental illness.
Lisa: Well, but is that true?
Gabe: Yeah, it’s absolutely true.
Lisa: You don’t know that.
Gabe: Yes, I do. I do. Because the shortfall is so great
Lisa: What do you mean?
Gabe: That people with serious and persistent mental illness have so little. They get the smallest amount. And it is absolutely, unequivocally galling to me that the better off you are, meaning the less sick, the more resources that are available.
Lisa: Oh, yeah,
Gabe: That’s disturbing.
Lisa: It’s disturbing and it’s bad for everyone, really. But I want to go back to that for a second, though. When you said this didn’t do anything. You don’t know that. The idea is that it did this incremental bit of good. That there’s someone out there who was like, oh, bipolars, meh. Right? And now they think, eh. You know, it’s just upped them by this little tiny bit. And the point being that if you do that enough or you do that to enough people, eventually you’re gaining traction. So, you don’t know that it didn’t help. But, how much did it help compared to how much time, effort and money it took?
Gabe: There’s lots and lots of unknowns. But I still have a hard time not celebrating recovery. I agree that celebrating recovery doesn’t help the people on the, for purposes of this discussion, we’re gonna say the people on the bottom, the sickest of the sickest of the sick. But I don’t know. If people didn’t celebrate my recovery, what’s the point? I’m being very genuine here. I was on the bottom. I was taken to the emergency room. I was committed against my will. I didn’t work for four years. I.
Lisa: You worked. Don’t say it like that, you worked.
Gabe: I was very underemployed.
Lisa: You were underemployed, you weren’t unemployed. OK. Take that back.
Gabe: Look, I didn’t work for four years.
Lisa: That’s not fair, you worked. You just didn’t work a lot.
Gabe: Ok, fine, fine. I went to college, I tried to work a lot, but I did not make the kind of money that would qualify me as above the poverty level.
Lisa: Ok. You were definitely.
Gabe: Thank you, by the way, for working then, because. Hey.
Lisa: I’m just saying you should give yourself credit for what you tried.
Gabe: Listen. Thank you. But we’re way off topic and I want to get back to the point at hand, which is, should we cancel Mental Health Month? And will that help people with serious and persistent mental illness? See, I can’t say yes to that.
Gabe: Canceling it I do not think will help people with serious and persistent mental illness.
Lisa: But will not canceling it help?
Gabe: No. Well, maybe.
Lisa: Is it irrelevant?
Gabe: No, it’s not irrelevant because remember what you said about Mental Health Month gives you a platform? I think the bigger issue is that nobody’s using that platform to help people with serious and persistent mental illness.
Lisa: Ok. So.
Gabe: We’re using the platform incorrectly. It’s like having a stage and saying this stage is not helping banjo music flourish. Well, that’s not the stage’s fault. That’s the fact that nobody’s booking banjo acts.
Lisa: And now we have a word from our sponsors.
Announcer: Interested in learning about psychology and mental health from experts in the field? Give a listen to the Psych Central Podcast, hosted by Gabe Howard. Visit PsychCentral.com/Show or subscribe to The Psych Central Podcast on your favorite podcast player.
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Lisa: And we’re back deconstructing May as Mental Health Awareness Month.
Gabe: You’re being pretty critical for what is essentially a month long holiday celebrating people living with mental illness while at the same time doing absolutely nothing to improve our circumstances.
Lisa: I think I would like it if it was a holiday, if it was were like Mother’s Day or Veteran’s Day and you had to like give cards and give gifts and stuff to people that have the holiday in the name. So, like, it would be a time where people would bring me stuff and say happy mentally ill day. Here’s here’s some flowers or a casserole.
Gabe: I, let’s predict in the future. Next year at this time, this episode is going to be sponsored by Hallmark and they’re gonna have like a whole line of, hey, I’m sorry, you’re depressed.
Lisa: I would like that. You know, actually, I think they do have a whole line of I’m sorry you’re depressed cards because they have everything, but I don’t think it’s specifically the card that you’re looking for, which is like, hey, you’re depressed. But today’s your day.
Gabe: Are you baffled by bipolar? Are you depressed because you’re depressed? Cheer up, some bunny loves you, and it can be like a bunny.
Lisa: Ooh, well, maybe we could get a bunny as a mascot?
Gabe: Why? Why is it a bunny?
Lisa: Well, I don’t know.
Gabe: Like when I was thinking of mascots for people with mental. Like when I was thinking of like mascots for Gabe Howard.
Lisa: You sit around and think about this?
Gabe: Like who do I want to be the mental illness mascot? I’m thinking a dragon.
Lisa: Ooh, dragon is absolutely the best. Yes, Dragon one hundred percent, yes. Forget the bunnies.
Gabe: I’m Thinking straight up, dragon. Would it be a fire breathing dragon?
Lisa: Screw the bunny, we’re in with the dragon.
Gabe: I can already hear the criticism. Really? When you think of mental illness, you think of a mean, evil, fire breathing, attacking dragon? And I’ll be like,
Lisa: You mean a magical, mythical creature?
Lisa: Of exquisite beauty who is rare?
Gabe: See, dragons are misunderstood.
Lisa: They are.
Gabe: We see them as like violent and destructive, when in actuality we’ve got Puff, we got Puff the Magic Dragon. Remember, he lives in a land called Honnalee. He’s just trying to help little Jackie Paper. He’s just minding his own business. And everybody’s like, Oh, my God, the horrible dragon. I, you know, I feel like a dragon.
Lisa: Is that how the story goes?
Lisa: I, uh?
Gabe: We’re the same age.
Lisa: I remember the song, but I don’t think I ever actually
Gabe: What is wrong with you?
Lisa: I don’t think I ever actually saw the movie.
Gabe: It’s literally about helping Jackie Paper through depression.
Lisa: Is it really?
Gabe: His name is not actually Jackie Paper. His name is Jackie, but he’s really depressed and he blows into Jackie’s ear and puts his soul into paper so that he can talk to Jackie Paper.
Gabe: And he helps. Yeah. This is a big, big deal to me because it helped me understand both the.
Gabe: Yeah. Yeah. It just I.
Lisa: Apparently, I’ll
Lisa: Have to see if that’s on Netflix because that seems much more profound than I thought. Ok, going back, focus.
Gabe: You still haven’t answered
Lisa: Oh, OK. What was the question?
Gabe: From like six and a half hours ago.
Lisa: Sorry, I don’t remember the question.
Gabe: What is step two? See, I really try to be aware. Sincerely, Lisa, focus. Like I’m not trying to pick on you.
Lisa: Sorry, sorry. I’m all over the place.
Gabe: Just, just focus for a minute. I just I want to talk about what I want to happen and not what is not happening. I want to focus on what I love instead of dwelling on the things that I hate. What is step two? What do we want people to do?
Lisa: Well, the very fact that you can’t define it or that we don’t know or that I didn’t immediately have an answer for that goes to show you that this is a real problem. That, as I said before, raising awareness is a nebulous and dumb goal.
Gabe: You know the part where I said, stop hating on the things that you hate and focus on the things that you love? You didn’t do it. You might have depression or
Lisa: You think?
Gabe: Or some sort of pessimism or
Lisa: You think?
Gabe: Maybe you’re a negative person?
Lisa: I almost can’t stand to watch anything anymore. It’s ridiculous. Like all pop culture is terrible. Anyway.
Gabe: Focusing on what we want to happen. Here are some things that I would like to see happen.
Lisa: Ok. You’ve got good stuff.
Gabe: One, I would like people to understand, and I know that that’s dangerously close to raising awareness.
Lisa: Well, I was going to say understanding is awareness.
Gabe: But I want people to understand the warning signs for suicide. I want people to
Gabe: Understand the warning signs for major depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, psychosis. I want people to know. I want to see the equivalent of first aid for mental health issues. I want more people to understand what these things are. From an educational standpoint, like actual value, like, for example, you can argue first aid is just raising awareness about injuries. But then they also try to teach you how to treat the injuries.
Lisa: Well, yeah. I was going to say.
Gabe: Right. That’s what I want to see. I want people to know what bipolar disorder is. I want people to know the warning signs. I want people to know then what to do
Lisa: Well, the what to do is the most key part.
Gabe: If they suspect that somebody has bipolar disorder, I want them to know what to do. So I guess that that’s awareness. But I think it’s education with action items. I also want a fully funded safety net. I want less people with mental illness to be homeless. I want less people with mental illness to be in prisons. And people are like, well, Gabe, how do you do that? And I hate that question. You know why I hate that question? Because when I say, I don’t know, they’re always like, ha, you don’t know. But you expect us to know. Yes,
Lisa: Yes. that’s your job.
Gabe: I expect you to know because that’s your job. I don’t have access to doctors. I don’t have access to research. I’m not the government. I don’t run a government agency. We know all of this data on everything else.
Lisa: Yes. It is very annoying.
Gabe: But if I don’t know the answer to that, they think it’s some sort of proof. No, I don’t keep track of this. It’s not my job.
Lisa: Well, I’ll also when anyone proposes any other goal, no one says, how are we gonna do that? When someone says, Oh, hey, let’s invade Iraq. How are we gonna do that? No, we just do these things.
Gabe: Then everybody sits down and figures it out because we have
Gabe: A well-funded Defense Department and military. We make a plan. It costs millions of dollars to come up with these plans.
Gabe: In the meantime, somebody gave Gabe, a guy living with bipolar disorder, no money, no resources, no doctors, no research, no nothing. And they want me to come up with a plan.
Lisa: It’s a difficult thing because everyone says the problem is too big to do anything about. What does that even mean? What are we supposed to do?
Gabe: Do you know why I know the problem is not too big to do anything about?
Lisa: Other countries have successfully done something about it?
Gabe: Well, I mean, there’s that, but I’m going to keep it in America. Because I believe in America. I want my analogies to come from America. Let me tell you about Sacramento. You
Lisa: Sacramento. Ok.
Gabe: Know what I love about Sacramento?
Lisa: They have that fast food place you like?
Gabe: You know what else I love about Sacramento?
Gabe: Sacramento’s history is actually very, very fascinating. Let me tell you about Sacramento. Now, you know, I’m going to tell the story quickly. It’s a cool analogy. I strongly suggest that you Google this to learn the real story. But I’m going to give you the 50 cent version. If you want to learn about the history of Sacramento, you should probably get, what? What would you Google to learn about the history of Sacramento?
Lisa: History of Sacramento.
Lisa: Probably history of Sacramento would do it. Yeah,
Gabe: Always a smart ass.
Lisa: Google is magic.
Gabe: Yeah, yeah. A long, long time ago. Sacramento was founded. It was a gold rush town. OK. And then they built up an entire city and they built it by the river because rivers are pretty. Right? So this whole city built up by the river. It had gold money. There was wealthy people and everybody was happy. And then the river. What did the river do, Lisa?
Lisa: Everybody was happy? Everyone just lived happily ever after in the fairy tale. Did they live in Arendelle, Gabe? Did they live in Arendelle?
Gabe: The river flooded.
Lisa: Ok, the river floods.
Gabe: That’s where I was going with this, and of course,
Lisa: I don’t know a movie that does that.
Gabe: It flooded through Main Street. And the solution to this in any reasonable person’s mind would be to move the city back.
Lisa: That’s not what almost any city does. But OK.
Gabe: You built too close to the river, so you move the city back. And then the town sits there now
Gabe: And you’re fine. Well, but what’s the problem with that?
Lisa: Nobody wants to do that, they’re entrenched. They’ve already built their house.
Gabe: Well, yes, they’re entrenched. Because that means all of the people that own the land behind the city would all of a sudden become the rich and powerful people.
Gabe: And all of the people that own the land and businesses and store fronts, they would become the people that owned land that wasn’t as desirable. So they didn’t want to move the city back.
Lisa: That is why we have so much flooding in America. Yes, we have this exact problem all over the country. And those people, the people that own the land in the front are the ones that have all the power and all the money. So when people say, oh, my God, this is a huge problem, the river has flooded and it happens to affect me. And I have all this power and money. Yeah, that is a big problem. Suddenly, all of society is reacting to help you with that problem rather than just saying, hey, somebody else can come up into power now.
Gabe: I feel like you’re stealing most of my punch line. But
Lisa: Oh, really? I’m sorry. I didn’t know that’s where you were going.
Gabe: But what I’m saying is, this was a problem and the people that owned these buildings, the people who stood to profit the most or to lose the most, didn’t know what to do. But they had money, resources, power, as you just said, Lisa. So even though they didn’t know what to do, they hired a whole bunch of engineers and experts and smart people to figure out how to protect themselves, protect their businesses, their resources, their power, and to keep them, for lack of a better word, safe
Lisa: In power.
Gabe: And well, yeah, in power. But also safe from the next flood. So they carted in hundreds of thousands of tons of dirt.
Lisa: Oh, yeah. I saw your pictures. Yeah, right. It was fascinating.
Gabe: And raised Main Street. And suddenly those people that owned all of the buildings on Main Street
Lisa: Were good again.
Gabe: Still owned all of the buildings on Main Street. All they had to do was turn their first floors into basements and their second floors became a street front property. But all of their buildings, all still safe. All of their power, all still safe. To tie this all back. People keep saying, I don’t know what to do about the mental illness crisis. I don’t know what to do to help people with severe and persistent mental illness, because this is a huge problem. But yet, strangely, a hundred years ago, we figured out what to do to help a bunch of rich people keep Main Street exactly where it was now in Sacramento. By doing this incredibly huge engineering project that was largely unnecessary because all you had to do was relocate the town back a couple of blocks. That’s all you had to do. That would’ve been much cheaper. But they didn’t want to do that because, hey, they wanted to help the people in power. And I know this speaks to a whole bunch of things. I’m not trying to get political. I’m just simply saying that when the first flood happened, everybody shook their heads and said, I don’t know what to do. And they spent a lot of time, energy, effort and money and came up with a plan that is still working in 2020.
Lisa: Great. OK.
Gabe: I want to see somebody do that with this problem, except this problem is going to help Gabe. It’s going to help people like me. It’s going to help people with severe and persistent bipolar disorder. But we need to get all of those people. And we need to be willing to move mountains. We were willing to move mountains to protect Main Street and Sacramento. Why are we not willing to move mountains to save people like me?
Lisa: Did? Did you hear what you just said? That you want to do this massive, large and amazing plan to help people like you? Nobody wants to help people like you, like me. Nobody wants to do that. People want to help, for unknown reasons, it is a flaw in society, the people who are already in a good position. That’s why we have to have tax breaks and bailouts. Nobody wants to help you. Could this be done? Absolutely. We have the resources. We don’t want to.
Gabe: What I do know is that needs to be an advocacy point. That needs to be something that we just poke into people’s eyes constantly. Why are we ignoring this problem? Why are we not looking for a solution?
Lisa: Because we don’t care about these people.
Gabe: But I do. And mental health charities do. And there are people that do.
Lisa: Clearly there’s not enough.
Gabe: And right now, what we’re talking about, person, first language, I want to see this become an advocacy point. I want to see people like me, people like the mental health charities. I want to see all of the advocates high and low, the people in government that do care about us. I want them to ask this question over and over and over again. Why are we willing to let people with mental illness die and succumb to their illness? Because we don’t want to help them. And they answer can’t be because we don’t care. I understand that that’s the way that it looks. But I know I know there are good people in this movement. There are mental health charities. There are mental illness charities. There are Gabes and Lisas. There are Web sites. There are hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people who care this. This needs to be a major advocacy point. Why don’t we care? And what are we going to do about it to move forward together? We need to get off of things like person first language. We need to stop raising awareness about this nebulous idea of mental illness. We’ve succeeded. It’s there. We need talking points. We need to move forward. I guess that’s what I want. That’s what I want step two to be. I want to see more of that. And to all of the places that are doing it. Thank you. Thank you. Please help us coordinate. There needs to be a sense of urgency. We moved mountains in Sacramento. We need to move mountains for this. And I’m so sick and tired of being pushed around because. Well, Gabe doesn’t know either. Of course, I don’t know. And if I pretended to know, you would know that I was full of it. And you should stop listening to me. The very fact that I don’t know shows how hard I am thinking about this and how big of a problem it is and how serious it is.
Lisa: But that’s the point, that it is hard. This is a hard problem. There are plenty of people who acknowledge that this is a problem. This is terrible. It’s awful. Well, what can they do as individuals? Right? But they want to do something. What can they do? Well, they can raise awareness. They can put on the ribbon. They can, you know, do all of those things that are easy and make them feel like they’re accomplishing something.
Gabe: I want to be very careful to say that all of the people that care about me and are doing everything that they can, that you are valuable and that you’re needed. I want to say to the higher ups, the bigger people, the people with bigger platforms.
Gabe: You know, my mom wears the ribbon and frankly,
Gabe: That that’s all my mom can do. She is absolutely, unequivocally doing everything that she can. She is wearing the ribbon. She is honest about her son. She allows me to drag my family through the mud on my podcast damn near every week.
Lisa: Well, okay.
Gabe: She is supportive of Gabe, but I don’t want to throw all of the Gabe’s mothers under the bus. But the charity that gave her the ribbon. I want you to do more. I want you to raise the bar. I don’t want you to just hand Gabe’s mom a ribbon and decide that you’ve done enough. It’s time to do more. And I want to see more of that in Mental Health Month. And to all of the charities who are raising the bar. I want you to get, I want you to get more exposure. I want to help raise awareness about your efforts so that we can all follow and we can all get more out of mental health month.
Lisa: Well, I do believe, because I know your mother, I do believe that she’s doing all that she can do. And wearing the ribbon does have a non-zero benefit. Don’t stop wearing your ribbons. But for someone who’s just wandering around wearing the ribbon and you said she’s doing everything she can. That’s all she can do. That’s not all she can do. She can support these causes politically and monetarily. What she can really do is vote for policies that will help the mentally ill. Vote for politicians who are voting for policies that will help the mentally ill.
Gabe: Well, that’s what’s uber awesome about my mom. She does do all of those things along with wearing the ribbon.
Lisa: She does. She does.
Gabe: My mom is uber uber cool. I strongly suggest
Lisa: She’s definitely much better than everybody else’s mom. Except for mine.
Lisa: She’s the second best mom of all the moms. Anyway, that’s all irrelevant. The point is there are other things that an individual can do, but to be fair, you do kind of have to do it en masse. I would like to see a lot of these charities move more into political activism. The personal is political. That’s the only place to go.
Gabe: This gets tough, too. What if the political activism is against our best interest? Like there’s
Lisa: Exactly. That’s a huge problem.
Gabe: There’s a huge political action movement for assisted outpatient treatment (AOT) or forced treatment.
Gabe: To essentially lock people up for being sick without due process. There are charities that are moving in that direction. Some national, some local.
Lisa: That is the most. Yes. A lot of mental health charities, that is by far their greatest policy success. Awesome. Just awesome. So, oh, actually, if you think about it, there is a silver lining. That goes to show it can be done. These people can marshal political power and get change and make stuff happen. We just need them to do the right stuff.
Gabe: You know, AOT is tough for me in many ways,
Gabe: I’m against most of it. I can’t break it down into percentages, but the overwhelming majority of it is extremely problematic. But like anything, it doesn’t always do bad.
Lisa: That is a completely separate podcast. We will add it to the list of topics that we’re going to get to. Which is why you should share and subscribe so that you can make sure you get all the topics. But anyway, separate topic. The topic at hand is Mental Health Awareness Month, bringing that back around. Mental Health Awareness Month. Gabe, go.
Gabe: I think that’s the longest way ever to say, shut up, Gabe, and get back on track I have ever heard in my life. I hope that we’ve given the listeners something to think about, you know, like anything, nothing is all good or all bad. I’m not completely for mental health month. I’m also not completely against it.
Gabe: And I really want to give a huge shout out to Mental Health America for starting the whole thing. Because, listen, before they started it, we didn’t have anything. There would be nothing for Gabe to criticize. There would be nothing for Lisa to mock. There would just be nothing. There would be nothing. We would all be sitting around probably saying, hey, why isn’t there a mental health month?
Lisa: And then we could have a campaign to start one.
Gabe: And then when people insulted it, I’d be like, I started it, why are you being mean to me? And so the world goes.
Lisa: Not a perfect system.
Gabe: Thank you, everybody, for listening to this episode of Not Crazy. Lisa, as always, thank you for being here. I appreciate all of your insults, both implied and said.
Lisa: It wasn’t all insulting, I said some nice stuff. You’ve done good work.
Gabe: This is awesome.
Gabe: This is awesome.
Lisa: I don’t know where to go with this. I just say stuff. I don’t know. I just do things.
Gabe: And to all of our listeners, we really appreciate you being here. Listen, as a new podcast, we really, really need your help. Please rank, review, and subscribe. When I say review, please use your words when you share us on social media. Tell people why they should listen. E-mail people. Write down PsychCentral.com/NotCrazy. Put it on a little index card. Carry it in your pocket. Give it to people at support groups. We’re really hoping to start a movement and really change things and well, frankly, argue with each other in a productive way that, you know, makes us not hate each other in the end. Right, Lisa?
Lisa: And to think we’ve been doing this for free all these years.
Gabe: All right, everybody, we will see you next week.
Lisa: See you then.
Announcer: You’ve been listening to the Not Crazy Podcast from Psych Central. For free mental health resources and online support groups, visit PsychCentral.com. Not Crazy’s official website is PsychCentral.com/NotCrazy. To work with Gabe, go to gabehoward.com. Want to see Gabe and me in person? Not Crazy travels well. Have us record an episode live at your next event. E-mail [email protected] for details.
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