Name: Emily Giadone
From: Concord, California
I remember tumbling through freshly cut grass, the sharp blades prickling my scraped-up knees and elbows with a stinging vengeance. It barely bothered me though. The day was perfectly sunny, and the warm air swirled with the nostalgic smells of chlorine and cigarette smoke as I put my cartwheeling skills to the test.
“Dad, can help you me?” I called out to my father.
From the porch, he made his way across the backyard to me. I smiled, and so did he. I was eight years old then; I guess you could say a lot has changed.
Now, as I sit at my desk calculating the velocity of a moving object with constant acceleration for physics class, I can’t help but reminisce on those special days I had with my father–before everything started to change. He was a smart man, an engineer, and I know that he could have helped me solve some of these equations.
Unfortunately, my father isn’t always the best or safest person to be around anymore. It isn’t necessarily his fault. You see, my father has bipolar I disorder, also known as manic depression, and a substance use disorder. Growing up and watching mental illness and addiction steal a loved one has left its mark on me, just like those scabbed knees. In addition to gaining understanding and empathy for people struggling with mental health, I have realized the urgent need for mental health care reform in our country.
As one who takes many classes related to medicine, I find I’m always being taught about physical health, but rarely about mental health. Even though a disease within the brain should receive the same care and attention as a disease within any organ, there is a stigma surrounding the subject–fueling a sense of taboo or shame. Furthermore, mental health problems are actually far more prevalent than people think. According to mentalhealth.gov, one in five American adults have experienced a mental health issue, and one in 25 American adults have experienced a serious mental illness, like my father’s.
When I was younger, I used to ask myself why my father would continue to use drugs knowing that it meant he couldn’t see me. If he loved me more, he would stop, right? As I’ve grown older, I’ve realized that the answer to this question is complicated, because addiction is complicated. One thing I do know for certain is that my father loved me–a lot. We did everything together and had an incredible bond, but addiction is stronger than anyone could imagine; it has the power to break seemingly unbreakable bonds. Addiction’s overwhelming capabilities, in combination with an absence of education and awareness, is why addiction is so prevalent in today’s world.
America’s mental health care system is broken. The sheer lack of mental health and addiction services in the U.S. surpasses being characterized as unmet clinical needs. It has instead been referred to as a “violation of civil rights” by former Congressman Patrick Kennedy. To provide better care for mental health conditions, it is crucial that everybody becomes involved in the conversation. We must work to normalize and destigmatize the subject. More funding must be allocated to research into mental illness and addiction, just like how funding is provided for cardiovascular disease or diabetes research.
Mental health and physical health are interconnected and inseparable from one another. They both play a vital role in a person’s overall health. I want to become a doctor–one who looks at the patient’s entire health and well-being, and recognizes mental health’s value and significance. My hope is that one day I’ll be able to make an impact on the people around me and become a catalyst for more research, better resources for those struggling, and most importantly, widespread awareness and acceptance of people with mental illness.