Then the details of the boy’s past slowly emerged. He was recently suspended from school; stole and wrecked a delivery truck; and frequented a water park in the past without paying. Remember that the boy is only nine. I’ve heard the boy described as brilliant, defiant, troubled, a thrill-seeker, and a con-artist. While all of those adjectives might be true, the bigger issue remains why? Why can’t this boy’s father get help for his atypical son who, by all standards, is a child completely out of control.
The public got more insight into the father’s attempts to manage the child when he held a press conference, clearly bearing the brunt of the shame. The man spoke under anonymity, with the brim of his hat lowered to shield his face and his head disguised underneath a dark hoody. A hoody that after the Treyvon Martin incident further stereotyped the man as if the color of his bare hands left any room for unbiased judgment from some. The man spoke with a shaky voice through signs of intermittent tears about unsuccessful attempts to get help for his unruly son. The broadcast included subtitles to clarify what may be misunderstood through muffled words or maybe it was just a subtle admonition of unschooled speech. Beyond the condemnation towards this defeated dad, who people presume simply needs to crack down on his son, is now the rendering of him on our T.V. screens as a poor, black, man with even poorer parenting skills. I know better.
The real issue is access to mental health services in our country. A type of healthcare that’s controlled as if it were a luxury and not a true necessity. An understanding, diagnosing, and treating of mental health is necessary for the betterment of our society. Sounds simple, but the problem is two-fold. First, the term “mental health” connotes a deficit. Think about it. The term physical health isn’t received the same way. Diabetes, Crohn’s disease, and obesity don’t conjure up the same preconceived thoughts as someone diagnosed as bipolar, schizophrenic, or with depression. See, I did it, too, by listing depression last, almost inconsequential compared to the others, as if we all suffer from it at some point in our lives. The way in which we view mental health is on us-society. Change our thoughts and we build acceptance.
Secondly, mental health is often exempt by insurers. Why? Because the health insurance industry is a powerful machine and, in the words of Robbie Montgomery from Sweetie Pie’s, “If it don’t make money, it don’t make sense!” The insurance industry cares about the bottom line and not your welfare. We’re at their mercy. Protect us and we laud you. Deny us and we crumble. (Side note: Did you know that if the U.S. healthcare system were its own economy that it’d exceed the entire economy of France?)
Back to the “stowaway,” why isn’t society equipped to help a struggling father until the situation reaches crises mode? I don’t know the boy’s specific issues, but what I can relate to is the lack of services for mental health and the feeling of desperation and shame with parenting a disobedient child. There was a time I felt hopeless trying to control my son, Peter. A feeling of pure agony enveloped each day and the voice of my inner dialogue continuously debated whether the state of despair was worth enduring another day. Despite having a family health insurance policy, mental health wasn’t covered. At the time, my husband and I were on the verge of losing not just our savings with the Recession, but our minds as we dealt with Peter. Fortunately, his issues were mostly contained to our home and not brought to the nation’s attention from illegal excursions by land, auto, and air.
But in many ways my situation was like that of the stowaway’s father. I was desperate for answers and had that financial roadblock of how to access what seems only for the privileged. I sold possessions and took handouts from relatives just to pay the $1,000+ fees to take Peter to a developmental pediatrician and to a child psychiatrist paying $225 per hour. Both diagnoses were wrong, but the point is that I scrounged up a way to pay out of pocket, a means that’s a limited option for some. I’ve also been given phone numbers for crisis hotlines, which are empty recommendations without the funds or insurance plan to cover the fees.
Mental health is a public health issue that’s more than a moral panic created in the media. Right or left, mental health coverage affects us all. The incidents carried out by troubled youth are too numerous to mention. Undoubtedly each one of us can recall a news story where the signs of a troubled child were brewing all along until tragedy brought them out into the open. I question how mental health is neglected when the brain is the controlling force of the human body. I go crazy thinking about the inhumane loopholes of insurers for what seems like a no-brainer- literally! Love it or hate it, Obamacare allows for mental health coverage. I think we can all agree that’s a good thing. Now if it sticks, well, I think we all know that’s debatable.