Mental Illness in Trump’s America
by Kelle Keyles
Photography Courtesy of Robyn Beck/Getty Images
You can't see my illness.
I don’t have a wheelchair or a handicap placard. I can't use my illness as the reason I couldn't go to class today. I can't use my illness to explain my lack of motivation to get out of bed every day.
I can’t show you my illness. I can barely recognize it myself sometimes because I am so accustomed to living with it.
In spite of all these things, in spite of its invisibility, my illness is still very real. It’s more than real—it’s important. I struggle every day to overcome my anxiety and depression; I struggle to find the drive to do my work without allowing the anxiety to overcome me. I struggle to tell myself that I’m worthy, that my pain is real and I am not “crazy.”
Many people may respond to a person with mental illness by saying, “it’s all in your head.” I agree. It is in my head, and that is the problem. Living with a mental illness means constantly seesawing back and forth between hiding it and fighting to have it recognized as real—as tangible.
The Senate and House of Representatives have both recently voted to revoke a rule instated by the Obama administration, which restricts the severely mentally ill—those who suffer so extensively that they are currently on disability support through the Social Security Administration—from purchasing firearms.
As the New York Times reports, this rule would have kept about 75,000 severely mentally ill people from being able to legally obtain a gun. This is a relatively small group of people—people who are so affected by their mental illnesses that they are often unable to function properly, hold down a job, or, in some cases, make legal decisions for themselves.
This rule would have protected mentally ill people at their most vulnerable from being able to have easy access to a weapon they could potentially use to harm themselves or others. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, about 90 percent of people who die as a result of suicide have a mental illness.
It is almost certain that many people in this pool of 75,000—people who are among the most vulnerable of us all—are afflicted with suicidal thoughts as well. All that stands in the way of this rule being repealed is President Trump’s signature, which is most likely not far behind the Senate’s ruling.
Our society refuses to see the severity and the extent to which mental illness can affect and debilitate someone. Mental illness is a disability like any other, except you often can’t see it by simply looking at someone. This one difference could cost us dearly. Mental illness is real, serious and should be treated as such, especially by our lawmakers.
In our society, recognizing mental illness—let alone setting up ways to diagnose and treat it—is a very new feat. Although mental illness has plagued mankind throughout history, the term "schizophrenia" was only coined within the last hundred years.
This is why the Obama administration’s rule to protect the severely mentally ill is so groundbreaking and important; it is one of few laws of its kind. Potentially the most important law for the mentally ill, the Americans with Disabilities Act, was only passed into law less than 30 years ago. This act prevents discrimination against people with physical, emotional, and mental disabilities, and is fundamental in many people’s lives that struggle with mental illness. The ADA protects the rights of people diagnosed with mental illnesses to live lives like the rest of society and not be discriminated against due to their mental illness.
The fact that mental illness is relatively new in the political spectrum highlights the importance of the laws passed to protect people who suffer from them.
If the Trump administration succeeds in repealing this rule, our already-behind society will regress. This rule was put in place to restrict people like me, plagued by anxiety and depression, from purchasing guns—to restrict people with schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders from having open access to lethal weapons. It seems absurd not to support that restriction.
This is not the time for the Trump administration to promote their pro-gun anti-background check agenda; this is the time for the government to recognize the severity and tangibility of mental illness, before another tragedy is allowed to happen.