In the aftermath of the Aurora tragedy, it seems to me that we, as a nation, need to have a serious discussion about mental health. The Strange and Tragic Ballad of Mabel Pearsall, by Randall Kenan, prompted my reflections this very idea.
In many ways, Mabel appears to be functioning well in her small town culture. She is a teacher at the school and a committed member of the church. She is a devoted mother and faithful wife. Yet Kenan allows us to see the cracks in her façade of health: she is over worked and under appreciated. Her children disrespect her; her husband is unsupportive. These pressures wear on her, and she begins to have psychosomatic symptoms like headaches and sleepless nights. Individually, each one of these elements might not warrant cause for major concern; yet collectively, they should have been the canary in the coal mine. No one pays attention, however, and Mabel’s story ends in utter tragedy. She snaps. In a psychotic break, she beats a baby to death who wouldn’t stop crying. Kenan’s incredible writing has indelibly pressed this image in my mind.
It is long past time for our society to view seeking counseling as a sign of strength, not of weakness. We are not critical of those who seek cancer treatments, and yet there still exists a social stigma for those who attend therapy. We expect others to “get over it” or “pull themselves together.” We flippantly use words like “crazy” and “insane” to refer pejoratively to certain behaviors. What’s more, therapy is not properly funded. There is not enough public pressure upon insurance companies, medical staff, and politicians alike to include mental health services as basic components of healthcare coverage. And we do all of this at our own peril.
It is easy to point to James Holmes as someone who needed help. But what about so many people, like Mabel, who seem to be living “ordinary” lives? Surely, the vast majority of them will not go on a shooting spree; but how much could one’s quality of life be improved with some essential counseling services?
Recently, I became aware of a reputable insurance company who denied coverage to a client seeking counseling services because they deemed her too healthy to require therapy. I ask you, is this not the exact opposite of how we should view mental healthcare? Shouldn’t the point be to reach out to people before it’s too late? If someone recognizes symptoms in themselves, shouldn’t we support their efforts to get better?
Remember Mabel. If we have the moral courage and political will to address the canaries in the coal mines, then so many people might see the hopeful light at the end of the tunnel. The time is now before it is too late.