Mental Health is Just Health

Highlights of Remarks by Dr. Roger Davis at the Mental Health Association’s 65th Anniversary Gala

We are here to celebrate 65 years of work where recovery for persons and families with mental health and substance abuse has been the focus.  65 years of changing lives, 65 years of saving lives, 65 years of believing that everyone’s life can be better.

We need the Mental Health Association. The earliest mention of mental health intervention was in the 5th century B.C. He was a pioneer in treating mentally ill people with techniques not rooted in religion or superstition; instead, he focused on changing a mentally ill patient’s environment or occupation, or administering certain substances as medications.

When America cannot fix, solve, legislate, or sweep our societal issues under the rug, we create prisons and institutions and torturous models to deal with those we deem “unfixable.”

The Great Depression changed how we handled mental health primarily because we could not afford the 1000s of patients in care.  And by the 1950’s, we embraced closing institutions and providing medical treatment through medications and this movement continues today. The creation of MHAs across America was launched. And the movement of trial and many errors had finally ended and MHA was here to support, advocate, and provide treatment for clients in our community.

In higher education, we studied, researched and graduated scholars that were experts on mental illness until we realized that our very own students were suffering. 

  • 60% of college students suffer from anxiety.
  • 40% are too depressed to function which is one of the primary reasons for college drop outs.
  • 25% of college students have a diagnosable illness.
  • 80% feel overwhelmed by societal responsibilities where they go to school with no way to pay, work multiple jobs, take care of children and ailing family members, and somehow must complete homework, write essays, and study for exams.
  • And over 20% of our students will suffer with lifetime symptoms of mental illness.

Yet, we turn around and the church tells them “Just Pray.” The schools say “Just get more organized.” The doctors say “Just take a Xanax.” We must be more aware of our children and the toll this America, our America, is having on our young people. Our American culture is no longer lifting them; it’s breaking them.

We have to be clear in separating those who hate from those who are mentally ill.  But you will not find that distinction with our media. Aristotle told us that “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

Words have power.  These words have the power to demotivate someone to seek help.  These words continue the stereotypes that continue a legacy of stigma.  These words do not build on an agenda of early treatment and effective interventions.

There are already enough historical mental health mistakes….we need to learn from them and not repeat them. And the mental health mistakes and experiments that America made throughout history are on the brink of being repeated if we do not care, if we do not act, if we do not use our voice, our ballot, and our influence.

Thank you for being vigilant, vigorous, and vocal for the last 65 years. You have done work that has allowed those who have been through hell to walk out of the flames carrying buckets of water for those who are still consumed by the fire. It is not your work alone; it is all of our work to do. 

We need the Mental Health Association.  It’s our time to take a side.  Mental health is just health.

Dr. Roger W. Davis is President of Community College of Beaver County in Monaca, Pennsylvania. He is a past board chair of the Mental Health Association of Rockland County, N.Y.