Alderman Rupa Blackwell

Alderman Rupa Blackwell

The final piece in this series has been difficult for me to write, and this past week has brought mental health care and the stigma associated with it center stage, making me acutely aware of comments that contribute to the stigma. 

-Simone Biles withdrawing from competition and the outrage and lack of empathy from many keyboard warriors on social media.

-A friend telling me lovingly that they were concerned these editorials showed my “weakness.”

-A meeting where we discussed how self-medication using alcohol and drugs is somehow considered more socially acceptable than talking to a therapist once a week.

After a week like this, I felt empowered. It wasn’t just me out here. A woman who is considered one of the greatest athletes of our time needed help, admitted to it, and OPENLY and UNABASHEDLY took care of herself, prioritizing her own mental health needs over expectations, wealth and what many considered her duty. This is exactly what our community should be applauding and supporting, rather than critiquing.

While in past columns I’ve talked about the “tools in my toolbox,” I haven’t discussed what creates a toolbox and how the structural chamber of that box truly relies on community.

A toolbox is the way you’re able to maintain and house these tools. So how was I as someone who was ready to find mental health care able to access all these tools? Health insurance that covered my medication, the financial means to pay for therapy in the absence of insurance, reliable transportation to appointments, a job that allowed for me to take off work for appointments, a family who was supportive of my efforts to get help, friends who helped hold me accountable for my progress, and a community supporting my quest for mental wellness.

I had the tools to put in my toolbox because of the privileges I mentioned above, but not all are as fortunate.

In looking around at our community, you can see the vast socioeconomic disparities in our citizens. For many in our community, health insurance is not affordable. For many in our community, transportation isn’t reliable. For many in our community, mental health care is cost prohibitive and unattainable for a multitude of reasons.

Where we (and I mean all of us) can make a difference is how we support each other- how we, as a community can support people (like Simone) who are struggling, work as a community to ensure every person has access to mental health care (because unlike Simone, many don’t) and how we as a community support and applaud (rather than chastise) those who are seeking help- just as we would for a diabetic taking their insulin or someone with strep throat taking their amoxicillin or a person exercising to maintain their cardiovascular health. We can do this simply by talking about it, normalizing it and taking part in non-profits (Partners for Healing, Blue Monarch, Haven of Hope, to name a few), organizations and groups that are advocating for people to take care of their mental health.

On September 18th, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Tennessee Chapter is hosting its first Out of the Darkness walk here in Coffee County. I’m thankful to be a part of the walk committee as this is just one way to show that it’s OKAY to talk about mental health struggles and to let others know that they are not alone. If you would like to be a part of this walk, you can register for free at www.afsp.org/coffeecounty.

It’s a small step—OK, a 5K worth of steps—but a step in the right direction. I hope to see you there.

In looking at my initial recap of this past week in mental health care, here are my thoughts:

1. Simone, while you were considered a role model for athleticism, to me you’ve shown more strength, grit and superhero powers THIS week than ever before. It takes guts to say to the world, “I know you have expectations of me, but right now I need to care for myself so that I can one day possibly perform the way I want to.” While many put her on a pedestal for her athleticism, I hope my daughter sees her as a role model because of her ability to advocate for her mental health needs.

2. To my dear, worried friend, I didn’t show my weakness- I showed my strength and my ability to take my life into my own hands so that I can be the best person I can be for this community, for my colleagues, for my family, and most importantly for myself.

3. To those who fear being judged for getting mental health care, those that are judging you are WRONG. And their judgment is likely based on their own fears. Please make that call to any of the organizations above that can help you. I’m cheering for you for taking that step.

So to you all, I ask you to make a concerted effort to lift each other up as we work as a community to heal from the past 2 years and tackle this mental health epidemic- one day at a time.