Public Health in Action – A Contemporary Lens

how-healthy

Two story lines typically emerge in the days following a mass shooting: gun control and mental health.  8 days after the Orlando nightclub shooting on June 12, gun control has been the main focus, highlighted by Senator Chris Murphy’s marathon 15-hour filibuster (during which 48 more were shot).  How Congress responds is up for debate, but a quick glance at recent history following mass shootings is a telling sign.

A few years ago, in the wake of the Newtown school massacre, Sarah Kliff wrote about unmet mental health needs and articulated why the U.S. healthcare system failed to meet those needs.  Could those shootings have been prevented with a more robust and effective mental health care system?  Perhaps.  Judging how well systemic changes affect health outcomes can take years.  And that’s only after changes have been implemented.  As of now, access to mental health services is more difficult to come by compared to other health care services.  It’s unfortunate that discussions on mental health become inextricably tied to violence, but grassroots social movements to reduce stigma on mental health issues have risen in recent years.  While we wait for systems-level change to improve access to mental health services, a few recognizable celebrities have leveraged their social platforms to raise awareness: Glenn Close with Bring Change 2 Mind and most recently Prince William’s talk on Father’s Day.

Advocacy leaders have also shared their unique stories and experiences to dispel stigma.  Hannah Blum, creator of Halfway2Hannah, chronicles her experiences living with Bipolar disorder from her unique 20-something perspective.  With vivid detail, Hannah reflects a raw authenticity in her writing that connects and engages readers.

I’m excited to share her thoughts in my interview with her (below).

 

Me: How did you end up doing the work that you’re currently doing?

Hannah Blum: I began volunteering in the mental health community via National Alliance on Mental Illness North Carolina NC (NAMI).  I did simple jobs around the office. They were unaware of my diagnosis.  Then an opportunity came up and I felt like I could help.  It was a local public speaking engagement about mental illness.  I decided to finally open up about my diagnosis.  From there I really began to get involved, getting to know people in the community, and felt like I could get creative on reducing the stigma.

Me: Describe your journey to your blog, Halfway2Hannah – why is raising awareness and/or reducing stigma about mental health issues important to you? Why is it important to others?

HB: I have been writing for years.  Halfway2hannah was originally a “Style” blog for women.  However, I realized that there was no passion in my writing and it showed by the lack of people reading, so I put it on hold.  A couple years later, I had built up this content in journals about my story.  My Bachelor’s Degree is in Communication-Media, and I became fascinated by the impact social media, and online mediated platforms has on the public.  The mental health conversation needed a contemporary look to get the attention of young adults.  I worked everyday for hours and hours while working and attending school.  I launched the blog in January 2016, and I am so thankful for the response it has received thus far.

At the end of the day, Bipolar does not define me, however, it is a major part of my life, and always will be.

The stigma directly affects me and my life.  Not only that, but the information about mental illness people are receiving from the media is fabricated and untrue.  Imagine being compared to a mass shooter when violent thoughts have never been a part of your life.  I felt like I was obligated to start a movement against the stigma of mental illness.  The stigma stops people from receiving help, and coming forward.  It is sad to say that people with mental illness begin doubting themselves when they are constantly told terrible things about their condition.

Me: What inspires you on a daily basis, especially when things get hard?

HB: My family and those I have met along the way that encouraged me to share my story.  The people who have been silenced by stigma.  It is funny because every time I have questioned my decision to write the blog, I receive a beautiful message from someone that truly inspires me.  I get my energy from those who surround me with support and love, including my followers.

Me: What would you like to see in the next few years for our society as it relates to mental health?

HB: I believe that the image of mental health needs to change.  Mental health encompasses everything from a clinical diagnosis to struggling with our differences.  This requires younger people who have had success in their lives to come forward.  I would like to encourage popular brands to work with the mental health community to establish awareness.  People are getting tired of reality television shows, and being surrounded by superficial people and objects.  The public is yearning for real stories.  I believe the public is at a point in which they are looking to find inspiration in real things going on in society, and are willing to help regardless of a diagnosis.  I want mental health campaigns to be on billboards, in magazines, on television etc.  I want people to be consumed by real stories by real people.

Me: What do you foresee as the biggest challenge(s) to the movement mentioned above?

HB: Getting people to really understand mental illness, and why it is important we embrace our differences rather than reject them.  The stigma has been embedded into our heads, and this is very difficult to wipe away.  Majority of society still believes that people with mental illness are weak, incapable of maintaining jobs and violent.  This is a major challenge we are faced with.

Me: What are the current needs of the population as they relate to social determinants of health (i.e SES, poverty, access to care, transportation, safety, etc.)?  We can tie this to mental health or overall health and well-being in general.

HB: I think we need to be focused on being proactive, instead of waiting for people to really hit rock bottom.  Our hospitals need to be cleaned up for sure, but the funding is just not there.  We need to change how people with mental illness view medication, however, this is not my area of expertise.  It is all about well-being.  It is about learning to connect our bodies to our minds, and this will help in all areas.  People have to learn to be more selfless and reach out to those in need even if they do not understand their circumstances.  We have to start at the beginning by acknowledging the health issues in our society, and informing people about it.  It is very important to be active on academic campuses such as Universities where young people struggle with health in all areas and are more willing to listen.  This is the future of our society, and we need to catch them early on.

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