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Occupy May, Mental Health Month

May 31, 2012

Riding to work on a New York City bus this morning, I was surprised to hear an announcement over the PA system: “Due to the Occupy Wall Street and May Day protests, customers can expect service delays today. Please plan accordingly.”

Now, there are many different ways to feel about these protests. But my point isn’t about the politics or taking sides. It’s that economic realities and the financial crisis have sparked a serious national conversation, and today, May Day, people are going to be thinking about the issues, if only because of a traffic jam, or reminders like the one on my bus.

But May is also Mental Health Awareness Month. And next week is devoted to the mental health of our kids. I couldn’t help thinking that a national conversation needs to be sparked about that, too.

I like to think the mental health of our kids isn’t as controversial as Occupy Wall Street, and there’s certainly no dichotomy like the 99% and the 1%—psychiatric and learning disorders are common in all income brackets and demographic groups. Helping kids is in everyone’s interest—not just struggling children themselves and their beleaguered parents—because they are the future. But getting people to recognize the importance of early intervention for psychiatric illness is an uphill battle. Unfortunately, it’s easier to blame parents for kids with disruptive behavior, to blame teachers for kids failing in schools, to write off kids as bad apples that can’t be helped. When we do that the costs to the child, and to the rest of us, only climb.

And still, when it comes to children’s mental health, there are no announcements during the morning rush.

Today, I saw about 100 people be reminded that there is an Occupy movement, that many working people in this country struggle to put food on the table, that some are taking the issue to the streets. I imagine that this was happening on buses around the city. Thousands of people today will at least consider their opinions.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if tomorrow morning the PA crackled to life with a simple message? “If you see something, say something. And by the way, have you thought about mental health care in this country lately, particularly for kids? Don’t worry, this shouldn’t disrupt public transportation—not this year, at least.”

Tagged with: Mental Health, Public Policy