- Glenn Sonnenberg
Musings from the Bunker 3/31/21
As I have been writing for a while, mental health is as important as physical health. But it remains stigmatized and talked about in whispered voices. It takes varying forms, from truly severe and often inexplicable profound mental illness to debilitating depression to just mild bouts of gloominess.
The pandemic has brought this issue front and center. People have responded to the challenges of the pandemic and lockdowns in a variety of ways. While many have been able to navigate the challenges, isolation and news with just the occasional frustration, many have suffered more significantly. Often this is a product of circumstances. And while circumstances vary—whether a student, a young adult in an entry-level job, someone with an elderly parent they haven’t been able to visit—there is not a “sure-fire” predictor on one’s response.
An article this month in CNN on-line notes the prevalence of mental health issues among teens, citing that nearly half of parents and teens report new or worsening mental health issues:
Mental health is at the base of so many of society’s problems, from people left behind in their struggles for success to the large number of those suffering from mental health warehoused in our expanding gulag of a prison system. I’m not suggesting there aren’t legitimate cases of true criminal masterminds out there, but I think there is a large segment of the prison population that would be better served through rehabilitative programs and treatment.
No one knows for certain how much of mental illness is genetic, how much is a factor of childhood (or later) traumas, upbringing, or happenstance. What makes one person occasionally gloomy yet another person melancholy. And what separates the chronic melancholia of Churchill or Lincoln, which allows them (perhaps even enables them) to achieve great things, from the melancholia that cripples others?
THE STORY OF A FAMILY
I am reading the book Hidden Valley Road, subtitled “Inside the Mind of an American Family” which is on a number of 2019’s best lists. It offers a discussion of mental health through the story of a large family (12 kids) that, other than family size, would strike one as relatively nondescript. Yet six of the boys start out seemingly normal, yet “break down” over time into schizophrenia, leading to varying different devastating consequences. Not only is it the story of a troubled family and the parents late to understand or address the catastrophic situation. It also is a fascinating study of mid-century America and the great trauma that mental illness can bring to other family members and the broader community. The book also provides a history of the responses to mental illness, what can give rise to this serious type of mental illness and the successes and failures in addressing the mysteries of mental imbalance.
THE WOEFUL INADEQUACY OF FACILITIES FOR MORE SIGNIFICANT CASES
From my friend Sam Yebri, great lawyer, big thinker, philanthropist, community leader, and candidate for Los Angeles City Council:
“In a county with more than 10 million people, there are only ‘81 crisis residential treatment beds across 6 facilities’ (i.e. mental health hospital beds), and not all of them have been operational during the pandemic.
We need to come to terms with the mental health crisis in Los Angeles. We cannot police or build our way out of it. Funding priorities and state laws need to change to ensure folks who need help get it.”
DOING SOMETHING ABOUT IT
Andrea and I have been focusing a good deal of attention on the mental health of young adults, largely through the Bradley Sonnenberg Wellness Initiative at USC, whose mission is:
“USC Hillel is committed to enhancing student well-being and cultivating a healthy community through our Bradley Sonnenberg Wellness Initiative. The initiative focuses on physical and mental health programs, including one-on-one professional counseling as well as peer-to-peer support. This ensures that any student who comes to Hillel, regardless of religious identity, receives services to meet their needs, with an eventual goal of developing a roadmap to healthier experiences.”
You can read more and/or donate at: https://www.uschillel.org/wellness
We were stunned to learn that some 50% of college students report some level of mental illness, a problem not often discussed by universities and a problem only now getting the attention it deserves. We also are impressed with, and support, the good works of Wayfinder Family Services and the Children’s Institute, both of which serve the more vulnerable in our community.