WellbutrinXL (Happy Pills) & Speak Out Seattle! District 2 Candidate Forum
I’ve been to all three Speak Out Seattle! Candidate Forums so far. You should go to the one in your district. The Seattle City Council is powerful and you can actually meet and hear from the people trying to run our city. The SOS! bashing on Seattle progressive Twitter misses this key point: SOS! forums foster an environment that advances voter awareness of both issues and candidates. Not attending hurts progressive ideas and limits their scope in Seattle.
Like the District 4 forum, the District 2 Forum lacked participation from candidates (three of them for D2) who deemed the event too politically toxic to attend. At least local journalist Erica C. Barnett brilliantly fact-checked, in real time, the increasingly infamous candidate Ari Hoffman on zoning.
Barnett stepped in digitally where I wish my personal favorite in D2, Tammy Morales, could have by participating in the forum. It’s disheartening that Morales is also beholden to the online virtue-signaling that demands candidates abstain from SOS! events. #leadership?
For the record, Michael Maddux, a former council candidate and more progressive Seattle personality than I, also believes candidates should be showing up to these SOS! forums. But I encourage you to make up your own mind about SOS! and its forums by watching or attending one. This is civics, not hate, even if some of the D2 candidate answers absolutely rubbed me the wrong way.
But I had a personal moment during the D2 forum on the topic of mental healthcare. My own experience in seeking treatment makes me wonder if anyone running for council has a grasp on a key aspect of mental healthcare. By and large, people who need treatment also have to want it. Well, so say my mental healthcare practitioners: “The hardest step is deciding to come in and ask for help,” or some approximation of that.
The broader homelessness crisis includes a mental healthcare problem. And almost every candidate running for council is likely to offer at least a vague platitude demanding more mental healthcare access, among other homeless services. However, at the D2 forum, the candidates were asked: “What should we do with people who refuse services?”
No answer satisfied me. Some upset me. Watch them here and make up your own mind.
Frankly, I’m not that annoyed by the lack of a good answer. I am frustrated. I’m struggling to find a good answer too. I’m looking for leadership, and so far I’m not seeing any.
Let me get into the opaqueness of seeking help, even in a best-case scenario. Yes, I’m a millennial about to tell a personal story—stop the figurative presses—but instead of Instagram live-streaming myself unboxing an iPhone, I will share a decidedly unedited or photoshopped aspect of my life. In doing so, you might relate to my experience, or at least empathize with my narrative, all in the context of: how does Seattle address our homeless mental healthcare needs?
Leading up to my 30th birthday, I broke down. (I’m not going into why, it isn’t the point anyway.) My mental healthcare practitioner described it as a “major depressive episode.” I didn’t want to experience life. Now let’s be clear, I was not suicidal. In fact, it was reassuring to know my own therapist didn’t think so either. But I certainty wasn’t thrilled to wake up day after day experiencing almost every symptom on this list:
…It’s funny when people say “Hey, you’re looking good, have you lost weight?” …Uh yes, but only because food is so unappealing that I just stopped eating enough. Thankfully, I’m surrounded by boundless love and support combined with access (though expensive as heck for a self-employed person like me) to mental healthcare.
Three years of therapy later, including a 9-month stint on the SSRI Lexapro, and a current, stable, and effective course of WellbutrinXL (well, a daily dose of 300mg generic Brupropion): Joy is part of my daily life again.
Easy, right? Not quite.
Mental healthcare is not an abstract issue to me, and the way Seattle politicians discuss it feels a bit buzzwordy. It’s really not an input that you can turn on with a switch. Pervasive upzoning and affordable units are good policy, in part because they are relatively simple practically, if not politically—concepts that can be essentially “flipped on” if implemented well. However, I don’t understand mental healthcare this way.
Why? Remember what the Docs say: the person suffering needs to want to get better. Not only do they need to acknowledge in themselves that something isn’t right, but they must also step up and open their own dark and torturous thoughts to a mirror—the professional. It’s terrifying. What if you can’t be fixed? I thought that.
I worry access to mental healthcare won’t equate to obtaining it. Why did I reach out to my now therapist in the first place? What about me, my life, my upbringing, my support group, my health insurance (mountains of privilege for sure) allowed me to say: “Nate, you hate yourself, get help.” Do you get my blog name yet? Yes, there was a bottom, but still, how did I decide that that was the moment to seek help? I don’t honestly know.
Access is key, but it’s not enough.
Furthermore, without my other life privileges, would I have ended up on the street? I think that’s quite possible. If so, would an arrest force me to confront this? I don’t even understand why I sought treatment in my “best-case” mental health crisis scenario. Is it enough to force someone into a room with a psychiatrist? Or do they need to want to be there?
Look, it would be an astounding achievement to provide adequate mental healthcare services for the subset of our 12,000 homeless in Seattle who want it. What’s murkier to me, and what I’d challenge council candidates to spend some time on is step 2: How do you help people to seek treatment when they need it but don’t want it?
It’s sometimes impossible to nudge loved ones to seek help in the most privileged situations. This is harder. Council candidates are asking for our votes, so I would say to them: Show us you’re worthy of those votes by creating a vision around both creating access to mental healthcare and helping people actually seek treatment.
“Lock ‘em up!” is a cop out.
And a final note to the SOS! haters and candidate forum boycotters. Because I go to these forums, I’m exposed to sentiments not found in my generally progressive bubble. I wouldn’t have distilled my candidate needs as a voter in regards to mental healthcare policy without going to the D2 forum…
Grow up and show up.