Today in the United States, we celebrate the legacy of one of the world’s greatest orators, peacemakers, and activists, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. You might ask what Dr. King’s thoughts, teachings, and actions might have to do with mental health, but we would argue it has a lot to do with everything we stand for here at hope and grace.
Dr. King dedicated his life to the pursuit of equality, an ardent quest for humanity, equal rights for all men, and education to continue the furthering of these endeavors. His quest was for men and women of color, but also for those of different socio-economic circumstances, for the leveling of the playing field based on the content of one’s character rather than outward appearances or perceptions, and for the end of persecution and violence against man by the hand of another man. In his famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail, he wrote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial ‘outside agitator’ idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.”
Those who suffer with mental health concerns are aware of the ostracizing of which Dr. King speaks. Many go untreated for fear of revealing their struggles, and so many suffer in silence when the light is a mere phone call or conversation away. The news treats mental illness as something to be feared, citing gunman blasting their way through humanity. We know that mental health is a valid concern of physical well-being, not a character flaw. Unbalanced brain chemistry is not a sign of evil; they are mutually exclusive. Those who live with mental health concerns deserve respect under the law and in their communities. They deserve access to health care to help them live full, rich lives. They need compassion, not pity. They require love, not fear.
Furthermore, the persecution of entire segments of the population leads to detriments in mental health. We cannot expect to level hurtful insults, anger, fear, and painful slurs toward other human beings and expect them to remain healthy, happy, and wise. As the back breaks under the continual weight of physical labor, the mind eventually shows wear and tears under the continued pressure of maintaining even thought under dangerous circumstances. We must respect each other. We must help each other rise.
As part of his dedication to non-violence and peaceful resolution to society’s conflicts, he mentioned that the illusion of separation — whether by geography, socio-economics, or race — is merely a fallacy, something to consider as the persecutor of any other person. We live on this planet together, and all will live in harmony if we come together to solve our problems as opposed to tearing each other apart. As Dr. King so beautifully said, “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.” And so it is will all aspects of society, including those who require help for mental health. If we all work together, we all win. It’s a day to which we look forward with hope and grace.