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A mental health vaccine?

Here's a big question. And I want you to seriously consider this. Would you take a mental health vacc
A mental health vaccine?
Here’s a big question.
And I want you to seriously consider this.
Would you take a mental health vaccine?
Well, first, I guess you would need to know what a mental health vaccine would protect against.
What if it protected against erratic behavior?
Or what if it protected against volatile emotions?
I know, I know. This is not how vaccines work.
But think about it.
Many people around the world treat mental health as if it’s an infectious disease.
And that produces a number of big problems.
If we actually had mental health vaccines, would they help?
Let’s figure it out.

Operation Stigma
At first glance, it might appear that there is no link whatsoever between treating mental health issues and taking COVID-19 vaccines.
But please put whatever initial reactions you have aside.
Because I want you to join me in a little thought experiment.
What if we lived in a world where mental illnesses were treated like infectious diseases?
Diagnoses like bipolar disorder, OCD, and schizophrenia could be clearly defined and then, using hyperfocused, disease-fighting weapons, targeted and treated until they get wiped off the Earth.
What if?
Actually, we don’t have think too hard about what this might be like, because the way that people are treated regarding the coronavirus is similar to what a lot of people with mental health issues already experience.
People are shamed if they think about going out into public and getting infected with coronavirus. And there’s covert and overt shame when people get the coronavirus and then have to quarantine for 14 days.
The fear of the unknown will get you every time.
And that’s what people living with mental health issues experience, sometimes on a daily basis. It only gets worse if you have a mental health condition that is not typically mentioned in the news or in popular entertainment.
But there’s good news! Here comes a mental health vaccine!
Taking A Mental Health Vaccine
We tend to view treatment tools as the fixer of all our problems.
We tend to view treatment tools as the fixer of all our problems.
Now that you have a little more context for my thought experiment, what if we actually had vaccines that could deal with problematic mental health issues?
Again, I know this is not how vaccines work. And I know how effective vaccines are for infectious diseases like the coronavirus, so I’m not trying to minimize a very serious issue.
But I’m trying to get you to think deeply about something here.
Naturally, a mental health vaccine would solve many problems.
Or would it?
People with debilitating anxiety could line up for a shot.
Individuals with bipolar could do the same.
And then all would be right in the world.
The only thing is, there would still be several lingering problems in these scenarios that mental health vaccines could never solve:
  • What would be defined as a mental health problem after vaccines are taken?
  • How severe would these additional mental health issues need to be?
  • Would there continue to be issues after people get the mental health vaccines? How many more treatments would be needed?
  • Who would define the new issues, and in what ways would those issues need to impact others for new vaccines / treatment tools to be developed?
You see, we’re getting to the heart of the matter now.
Mental health issues are unbelievably complex, and there are physical, emotional, social, societal, and even spiritual, factors involved.
What’s “normal” for one person or group could be considered unacceptable for others.
And here’s the part that’s really aggravating and demoralizing: people actually die from mental health issues all of the time, often behind the veil of silence and ignorance.
And so it’s very tempting to think that, if a mental health vaccine were available, you might want to take it.
I know I’d love to get rid of my anxiety and OCD behaviors. I’d be thrilled beyond belief if I could guarantee that I’d never, ever need to experience another depressive episode.
But that’s not how mental health works.
Mental health can’t be “cured.”
Because we all exist somewhere on the mental health spectrum.
Strange behaviors we have one today could be considered perfectly acceptable in a situation that calls for them.
Cultural norms dictate common thoughts and behaviors that would be considered foreign in other parts of the world.
But the piercing truth that cuts through it all is that people fear what they do no understand. And, because we don’t talk about mental health issues nearly enough in this world, people do not understand mental health.
It’s often seen as toxic, as a threatening, snarling beast that could snap forward and lash out at any time.
Which brings us back to our present moment in time.
We now have several coronavirus vaccines that may stop the spread of COVID-19.
But we all must remember this.
Even if we all take the vaccines, and even if we protect ourselves from unseen enemies, we still are humans at the end of the day.
We still exist on this Earth with one another.
We still need compassion and understanding.
A vaccine is just a tool.
If we had vaccines for mental health issues, I’d seriously consider taking them to make my life easier.
But I’d also know that, at the end of the day, life is uncertain, and how we treat each other matters much more than the treatments we use on ourselves.

I hope this thought experiment made you consider some issues you might never have considered before. This is a time of intense emotions and great uncertainty. Take care of yourself, and be good to the people around you.


P.S. A reminder, I will not be sending an update on Friday, 12/25. I’ll be taking some time off for the holiday break. This week (well, entire year) has been intense and draining, and I need to put myself, my wife, and my family first. I hope you are able to do the same. If you need anything, though, please email me, and I’ll get back to you. Happy holidays.
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Jordan Brown - Mental Health Newsletter Writer, Poet, Social Worker, and Advocate

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