While watching the Democratic debates and trying to muddle through all the different ideas from the presidential candidates, I had an “out of the box” epiphany. Without going into detail about all of the candidates' positions, or their fundamental political ideologies, I noticed that one particular problem in our nation is not being discussed, and it’s not really being discussed across the political spectrum.
Our country is extremely divided about how to deal with major social and political issues including gun violence, homelessness and opioid addiction. Pundits lament, discourse glacially moves through the process, and partisan politics dictates the outcome with nothing (and I mean absolutely nothing) ever being reconciled. I’m sick of the rhetoric, and I’m willing to bet that 100 percent of people reading this are, too.
Metaphorically speaking, our country drinks from a poisonous well. Our elected officials, "the doctors" if you will, continue to treat us with antibiotics or alternative treatments for our ailments, and yet we all remain sick because we continue to drink from the same tainted well. What is poisoning us in that well is staring us in the face, and it's at the core of most of our nation’s problems: our behavioral health system.
Do you want to reduce mass shootings? Provide behavioral health. Do you want to fix the homeless epidemic? Provide behavioral health. Do you want to aggressively address substance abuse? Provide behavioral health.
How many crimes are associated or motivated by outcomes stemming from behavioral health? How many suicides are attributed to behavioral health? How many citizens are destitute or impoverished because of poor behavioral health? All of us are directly touched by behavioral health.
Historically, this country has been spiraling down the abyss with its lack of attention to making our nation mentally healthy. Where we are today is the long-term outcome of what Gov. Reagan did by shutting down treatment facilities in the 1970s. Once president, his discontinuation of behavioral health policy deepened the emotional health deficit of this country. Years later, Gov. Brown released criminals into our communities with no thought to oversight for treatment.
What if we, as a nation, decided to aggressively address psychological illness by providing a social construct that supported non-judgmental and accessible behavioral health care? We are already paying for it through the results of not addressing it: crime, incarceration, hospitalization of indigents, emergency resources and insurance premiums. Even more egregious is the emotional damage, especially from the normalization of mass shootings.
Recently, I was in a local restaurant and a mentally ill person walked into the establishment, picked me out of the crowd and proceeded to make it clear he wanted to fight. This individual was extremely agitated, and said he had a gun. Fortunately, the attempted assault ended with police intervention and no one was hurt, unlike the father who was murdered in a restaurant in Ventura two years ago under the same circumstances.
Look at all the benefits of a healthy mind: better work performance, decision-making capability and life in general. Would a mentally healthier human contribute more to society, helping to make our economy more solid? I say yes. Would we, as a society, be able to see through all the garbage that keeps us divided as a nation? Would we see the political agendas more clearly if we had good behavioral health? I say yes. Would we be more equipped to communicate with each other if we had better behavioral health? I say yes to that, too.
Most of the infrastructure is in place, we just need to fund a program and hire the professionals. More importantly, we have to have a societal paradigm shift that recognizes we can no longer look the other way.
Elected officials that lament on the costs saying "we will go broke" have to bench this citation as antiquated ideology. This country can do whatever it collectively sets its mind to. And I say it's time to clean the well and get our people the help they desperately need.
Last and most importantly, I want to thank those that are providing care to those in need of behavioral health services. Your dedication and commitment are not going unnoticed.
Jeff Heinle has lived in Bakersfield since 1983.