Stop using mental health as a political weapon

Stop using mental health as a political weapon

By Aaron Strain / Opinon Page Editor

Content warning: discussion of mental health, suicide, transphobia, violence.

Here’s a frightening statistic – youth suicide is on the rise, in Kansas and across the country. It is now the second-leading cause of death among under-24s, after unintentional injuries. Almost as horrible, mental health is used as a political bludgeon instead of discussed as a serious problem, intertwined with other policy issues.

According to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, 80 people under 24 died by suicide in 2019. According to The Hutchinson News, from 2009 to 2019, the suicide rate rose 6% annually.

This is a dangerous trend, and it’s felt even worse by historically marginalized groups. Children in poverty, part of the juvenile justice system, and/or LGBT face higher rates of depression and suicide. Instead of expanding access to mental health services and changing marginalized communities’ systemic issues (wealth inequality, racism, and discrimination), certain political groups like to handwave away these problems and attack their rivals with dehumanizing statistics.

Here are a few simplified examples.

Some argue that school shootings result from mental illness, not because of the easy accessibility of guns. There are a few issues with this line of reasoning.

One, these are not mutually exclusive. Both, if left to fester, can lead to violence.

Two, the argument implies that shooters are just born as exceptionally bad people, instinctually driven to violence, and are not the result of external, solvable factors like bullying, abuse, social isolation, etc.

Finally, it’s a way to say there’s nothing that can be done to stop shootings. The same people who make this argument actively work to make healthcare inaccessible and unaffordable, thereby making the situation worse.

Transgender people, relative to the general population, have a drastically high suicide rate. According to Trans Lifeline, bullying, discrimination, and societal non-acceptance against trans people cause depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation.

Instead, some argue that “transness” is itself a mental illness and that suicide statistics prove that being trans is unnatural. If you’ve ever read transphobic Twitter threads, you know what I’m talking about. It’s disgusting.

More recently, lockdown discourse has centered around what is supposedly best for students’ mental health.

“We should care about the effects isolation has on our kids and not the virus that doesn’t affect them!” is a common refrain.

First of all, the virus does affect youth, directly and indirectly. There are immuno-compromised youth who have been sick with it, and some live with grandparents who are susceptible.

Also, isolation was not the only cause of mental health issues during COVID. Reading about how our government failed in its response, recognizing that part-time and gig workers (primarily poor and young people) were thrown under the bus, and the general desperation we feel all contributed to our feelings of dread.

The point I’d like to make is this – solving our mental health crisis is multifaceted and cannot be done through simple, politically hot-button changes, unlike what some conservatives would have you believe.

As always, if you are struggling with your own mental health, like Mr. Rogers said, look for the helpers. A few 24/7 resources:

Suicide Prevention Hotline: 800-273-8255

Trevor LGBT lifeline: 1-866-488-7386

Text “HELP’ to 741741

Trans Lifeline: 877-565-8860

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