To start off, I would first like to say that yes, I may be Canadian, but I have a big stake in American politics. My sister and her family live in Boston. Not only do I spend a lot of time in America, but I have a lot of friends and family who live there and who are impacted by the policies enacted in the country. These are people who I love dearly. Their well-being is very important to me. I want them to be happy, to be healthy and to be treated fairly and with respect. As well, the United States is a model for the world and other countries base their culture and look to it as a leader so it is concerning if there is a regression in human rights. Also that I feel compassion for all people so even if I don’t live there, I feel for the American people strongly.
Additionally, it is concerning because Donald Trump’s mentality is spreading across the globe, therefore affecting everyone, not just Americans. There is this global trend towards populism and anti-globalism like Brexit which was based largely on closing borders to immigrants and “Britain first!”, echoing the kind of “America first!” Sentiment by DT. This mentality and anti-globalist attitude was also quite prevalent in the “NO” side during the recent referendum in Italy.
I’m not going to go into too much detail about what I think about Donald Trump as a person. It doesn’t matter right now, because he is going to be the president, unless something crazy happens. You never know. What I do know is that, as a society, we need to do our best to ensure that all Americans are treated well, regardless of race, sex, gender identity, ability and more, which seems unlikely at this point. Therefore, we must fight for the rights of all people, especially people in marginalized communities.
As a Canadian without much power, there is only so much I can do. Because my main goal in life is to raise awareness of mental illness and mental health, I personally think about people in these communities a lot, in any country. I think about how people with mental health are treated and will be treated, and what resources will be available to them. Canada has pretty good healthcare – it’s not perfect, but it’s a start. We do have some great mental health resources but they are not enough. From what I know about the USA, it’s pretty much the same when it comes to support for mental health.
So, naturally, I think a lot about what Donald Trump might do for people with mental health issues. His official position on the matter is vague – on his website, in the section on Healthcare Reform, he briefly mentions mental health, stating: “Finally, we need to reform our mental health programs and institutions in this country. Families, without the ability to get the information needed to help those who are ailing, are too often not given the tools to help their loved ones. There are promising reforms being developed in Congress that should receive bi-partisan support.”
So, basically pretty vague, right? In my completely, non-expert opinion, I really can’t imagine that anything too great will be produced to help people like me, living with illnesses like bipolar disorder, depression, schizophrenia, OCD, eating disorders and more. From what I have seen, Donald Trump has mocked a person with disabilities. He is constantly putting people down with personal insults about their identity, people who he sees as inferior or weaker to him. He belittles women and talks about them as if they are objects. I can’t see that he has any respect for people with mental illness as well. It just doesn’t fit with who he has portrayed himself to be. He doesn’t ever seem to take the time to understand how people who are different from him live. He doesn’t seem to have much empathy or desire to push past something at face value to understand someone at a deeper level. It doesn’t seem plausible that he would take someone, say, with schizophrenia who acts a little bit “oddly” or “unconventionally”, who might say something he thinks is “crazy” and then trying to understand why they might have said that before judging them or condemning them. This is all speculation but as someone living with bipolar disorder, I have come to understand how people see people like me and I just have a gut feeling about him.
I worry when I see some of his biggest and most prominent supporters with terrible and damaging opinions about mental illness. Take Ann Coulter. A little while ago, she published an article on her website called “The Problem Isn’t With Guns or White Men.” You can read the article so I won’t write too much, but essentially she talks about the need for involuntary institutionalization of people with severe mental illness. Her argument is that most people who commit mass shootings are mentally ill, so we need to ensure that society is protected from these people. While some people with mental illness are violent, the percentage is so low. Only 3%-5% of violent acts can be attributed to individuals living with a serious mental illness. In a study of crimes committed by people with serious mental disorders, only 7.5 percent were directly related to symptoms of mental illness. Interestingly and perhaps even more relevant, is that people with severe mental illness are over 10 times more likely to be victims of violent crime than the general population. Ann would criticize me for using these statistics but I find they are important to highlight, even if she personally thinks they are inaccurate. The concept of forced institutionalization is pretty ridiculous to me. Someone with schizophrenia, who Ann Coulter argues needs to be taken out of society, can live a positive and productive life with the right treatment. To lock up every single person with the illness “in case” they might murder someone is so unrealistic. It would not only be a huge waste of resources but it would ruin lives needlessly. Taking such extreme views on solutions just perpetuates and exacerbates the stigma and would lead to people hiding their mental illness or surpressing it which are both dangerous to themselves and others. People deserve the chance to live a full life if they are able to it. I am not against institutionalization for everyone, I am sure some people do need it. But it is not right for everyone.
A lot of this article is speculation because Donald Trump hasn’t said anything concrete about mental illness so basically, mental health advocates are left guessing as to what will happen after the inauguration. I wrote this article because I am scared. Scared for people like me who will not have access to the resources they need. Scared that their place in society will be weakened, that they will not receive the respect and empathy that they need to live life fully, without discrimination and stigma. Scared that people will judge them for their illness and treat them differently, instead of celebrating their bravery for fighting difficult struggles.
So what can we do while we wait to find out what will happen? We can plan to fight. Fight for the rights of people with mental illness. Fight to have our voices heard. Fight to ensure we have a place in society, no matter who is president.
Who’s with me?