NIMBY…Newsflash…Mental Health Issues Are Already on Your Front Porch

Soapbox alert! This topic gets under my skin in ways that I can not describe. I have made brief mentions of this on Facebook but it is time to speak about the bigger picture.

I’m an avid news reader. I’m curious about the world, our country, our state and my local neighborhood. Reading the news is a catch 22. You can keep up with current info which about 10% of the time is good news and 90% of the time is bad news. Often the bad news simply disgusts me but bad news is all around us and we have to pay attention to it.

Several years ago my town was embroiled in a heavy battle of the NIMBY, the Not In My Back Yard, mentality vs the need for accessibility, the availability of land and the potential for economic growth. I won’t even start on the potential to employ locals. Unfortunately a neighborhood of shortsighted people garnered enough attention to sway the powers to keep a well planned facility from being built in Huntersville. Huntersville had a perfect piece of land that was previously occupied by hospital and later by a nursing facility. It was on a road along the main CATS route, thus offering ample opportunity for employment by those with transportation and those without. There was a neighborhood next to the property and they formed committees, contacted media and waged outright war on the plans to help those in need. Their main call to action was Not In My Back Yard. The neighborhood felt they won. Unfortunately, those in need lost. Thankfully, the Town of Davidson saw the bigger picture and embraced a beautifully built facility to bring those suffering from mental health issues to find healing. I watched the facility finally rise from the soil near Davidson and now pass by it and I anxiously wait for the day I can drive. I have dreamed of volunteering there. I want to be available to refill kleenex, keep hot coffee ready, keep cold water ready or perhaps be a smile to the faces of desperation that come through the door. I don’t need to know why you have come through the door but people walking in the doors of a mental health facility deserve the best our world can offer. When we embrace those seeking help and the family members in despair we bring positivity to our community and send better equipped people back into our neighborhoods.

Newsflash! Mental health issues and difficulties are not in your backyard. They are on the front porches of everyone in America. Pick up the old-fashioned method of news called a newspaper, click on CNN, click on your local news or read the updates from our local schools. Our country is overwhelmed by people who suffer from various forms of mental health difficulties and because help is not readily available to them nor to their families, we all suffer.  Sure, some are of their own doing, but some are not. These issues stem from a world that does not offer enough opportunities to understand those that don’t suit “our” standard of normal. My question is this; when might we ALL understand that we can ALL be part of the solution instead of just dumping other people’s issues on themselves and essentially saying “figure it out for yourself”.

A bit of history about why this stirs my pot. My Grandfather was the smartest, most gentle and most patient man I have ever known. He was ordained as a Minister in the Methodist Church, served as Chaplain in the Navy during WWII and until his retirement was the Chair of the Psychology Department at Davidson College. He was part of the call to action in NC to license psychologists. He was in line to hold license #1, but as his life displayed an intense love of respect for others, he stepped aside in this historic time and asked that a woman hold license #1 and he held license #2, issued on June 19, 1968. In the Navy he was on an unarmed vessel, the USS Granville, that served our country by bringing the injured home for recovery. He was also charged with meeting with families and giving them the horrific news that their beloved had suffered fatal injuries while fighting in the name of the United States of America. I will never claim to even be able to imagine the pain and suffering he saw and how these experiences shaped the man he became. He taught by example that we should always, always put others first and help others where possible. During his time at Davidson College, he caught wind of needs at Broughton Hospital. He volunteered his summers at Broughton to relieve the Chaplain of the incredibly difficult responsibilities of a minister serving at a mental health facility. He and my grandmother spent many summers at Broughton, accepted no pay, but for the joy that he could fulfill a need and thus give rest to someone dedicating themselves to helping those suffering from mental health disorders. I would sum up my Grandfather in two 4-letter words: GIVE and LOVE. He gave himself in as many ways as possible because he loved ALL.

My Grandfather suffered several strokes before he died in 1995. God showed him mercy and he only lived about 6 months after suffering life altering strokes but those months gave me insight that shaped my mind and heart until this day. He never bragged about anything he did, and found it difficult to receive any accolades for what I call his ministry through psychology. I visited him frequently after his strokes. Sometimes he knew me but usually he thought I was one of his sisters. I enjoyed venturing back into time and playing the role of “sisters Libby and Martha” and learning even more about this quiet little man of tremendous faith and strength. One early evening I was sitting with him in his room on the second floor of The Pines in the nursing unit. I had helped him eat dinner and afterwards I propped up on his bed and he sat in his wheelchair while we watched/listened to Jeopardy. A commercial came on. At the end of the commercial the narrator said “If you don’t get help here, please get help somewhere”. He perked up from his slouched position and said “Exactly!” I shook my head in confusion because I had not paid attention to the commercial. I asked what he was talking about. The professor, the psychologist, the minister and the lover of people went on to explain in great detail that people need help for a variety of reasons. He liked this commercial because it did not necessarily promote their facility but in fact it promoted encouraging people to get help somewhere. This man with whom I had sat for months was still in there. His understanding of mental health issues was the heart of his heartbeat. In that one conversation I realized that he had seen and understood far more about mental health disorders than I would ever know. In his last months he still believed that everyone had the right to help. He was right on target!

Over the last few weeks a neighboring county has been gaining attention fighting another Mental Health Hospital. Yet again, the headline was NIMBY. I sighed in anger and disgust. I shudder at the thought of fighting an opportunity for healing. I scrolled on and saw various headlines and began to see a pattern. The overwhelming bad news seemed to have a clear connection. Untreated mental health issues are negatively affecting every single one of us! No, we don’t need to worry about mental health disorders being in our back yard because far too often the problem of untreated mental health disorders ends up on the front porch of all of our homes! We all should accept some of the blame for not being willing to welcome facilities that offer help to those in need and to their families. We have become so short-sighted in our own needs that we can’t see the bigger picture and grasp the full color version that when we extend a helping hand, and welcome people into our backyard we bring a light of hope to our front porch.

I was in my 11-year-old’s room yesterday and saw a project he was working on about anti-bullying. Just a few hours later I saw adults engaged in social media bullying regarding politics. When I shook my head it was as if all the puzzle pieces fell into place. We are in a new age where we speak our mind behind a computer and in fact we are adults bullying adults. Now we are waging a horrific battle against bullying in our middle and high schools. I place the blame on our own shoulders. We have spent far too much time pushing off other people’s issues on themselves, not willing to spend some time helping our neighbors and now it has filtered down into kids barely into double digits. This makes me sick to my stomach.

This might be the most disjointed blog I have ever written, but my fingers can not keep up with my head. We have come to a place where we are focused on kids bullying kids. What example have they followed? You tell me. We have not exercised the proper example by helping others and instead our communities have become a people who wants to fight others and send them off on their own. Far too often we no longer seek to understand and shun the opportunity to join hands and be the helping, giving, loving people whom God intended.

Mental health disorders, illnesses and difficulties permeate our society. If we focused the same attention on fighting for help to be in our back yard and instead focused on how our back yard can help, where might we be? Maybe I would not find my 11 year old trying to fight the bullying that is simply taught by adults. How can we be actively in our community, loving, giving and helping our neighbors live a better life? I wonder where we might be if we all concentrated our efforts on understanding each other and the all-encompassing thoughts that might change? We are all from different backgrounds, stories and battles. I absolutely believe we can turn them into the positive but it takes a community effort to accept this is on our front porch.

If you walk away from one message in this blog, please think about how we can embrace those in need, those with differing needs from our own and how the dominos can line up to change the future for the next generation. You or I may hold the key to understanding the mental health needs of someone we know or someone we do not know that may change the future of someone we love. Step out…GIVE…LOVE and listen. Stop the NIMBY philosophy and be active in the solution.

Copyright © Gatewood Campbell, October 2015

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