Home 2018 Elections To Politicians Who Blame the Mentally Ill For Gun Violence: We’re Coming...

To Politicians Who Blame the Mentally Ill For Gun Violence: We’re Coming For Your Seats

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by Jennifer Lewis

There are a lot of reasons I decided to run for Congress this year, here in Virginia’s 6th Congressional District.

Yes, I’ve been an outspoken and vociferous opponent of outgoing Congressman Bob Goodlatte, infamous for everything from letting his staff author the Muslim Ban last January, to being less accountable and available than almost any other politician in the country- which, in this day and age, is saying something.

Yes, I’ve been helping to lead the charge in the fight against the two large pipelines being built across our district, destroying family farms via government fiat to help not the citizens of the 6th District, but a state energy monopoly and its shareholders. The worst examples of “corporate socialism” imaginable, where we’ll destroy the farms and forests of our district forever just so some day traders and CEOs can make two-tenths of one percent on their margins.

And, yes, I’m not far removed from the fiscal instability that comes from endemic poverty; where your heart starts to beat as you load groceries on the belt, hoping you did your math right so you don’t have to suffer the embarrassing indignity of having to put something back, knowing nothing you’d put in your cart could be considered “indulgent” or “extraneous”.

Those all helped influence my decision. But for me, it ultimately comes down to a couple phone numbers I’ve got stored in my cell phone.

Numbers I can’t get rid of.

I’m a mental health worker. My job is to work with treatment care teams to ensure that people who are dealing with mental health issues have the follow-up support they need once they’re discharged from the hospital- because without proper follow-up, most of these people will end up right back where they were- but generally through the emergency room, and usually after going through a crisis. It’s bad for the patient, it’s bad for medical professionals… it’s bad for everyone.

So I do whatever I need to do to make sure the people we’re caring for have the support they need to not just survive, but to succeed and thrive once they’re back on their feet. And it’s not easy. It means going to the hospital to meet with the treatment care team and the patient. It means developing a rapport with the patient, their nurses, social workers and doctors, their family and friends- whatever I need to do to make sure these folks are set on the right path once they go back home.

But it’s an uphill fight. The mental healthcare system in rural Virginia is practically non-existent; Virginia doesn’t allow mid-level providers like nurse practitioners to practice autonomously, so primary care and mental health-trained NPs can only go where doctors will go, which is bigger cities like Roanoke, Charlottesville, Richmond, Northern Virginia, and Hampton Roads.

The General Assembly passed a law requiring that anyone in a mental health crisis has to get a bed in a mental health facility somewhere in the Commonwealth- but then refused to fund more doctors, nurses, or beds for any of those facilities, which just sends those patients into the arms of our emergency services providers in EMS, police, and the ER. Too often, patients have to wait weeks in an ER room until a bed in an appropriate psychiatric hospital is found for them.

And, of course, the Virginia GOP’s decision to use the most vulnerable members of our Commonwealth as hostages in order to thumb their nose at President Obama by not expanding Medicaid coverage has probably done the most harm overall. When you don’t have insurance, you can’t see a primary care provider, can’t get medications refilled, can’t get referred to a specialist, can’t get professional intervention often until it’s too late, not to mention any sort of prevention.

And I’ve been yelling and screaming about that to my legislators for years. And when they didn’t listen- I organized. To kick Bob Goodlatte out of office. My state legislator. Anyone and everyone who claimed to “get it” but refused to act.

Because I see first-hand the toll taken by their refusal to act. Being so intimately involved with making sure my patients succeed is such an amazing honor- to be a part of their lives that way. But it means I get an up-close-and-personal view of when things go wrong, just like all of my colleagues in the mental health field who have all experienced tragedy, heartbreak but also a lot of success and heartwarming experiences.

Mental health workers know what it’s like to be the last person someone texts. To call 911 and speed over to their house, to bang on their door, while praying as hard as you can that they eventually answer the door. To fruitlessly do CPR only to be later told by the EMTs, doctors, and nurses that you were too late anyway. They tell you that to make you feel better, but it doesn’t work. It never works. It never gets easier. It never hurts less when you lose a client to suicide.  It never gets easier when you lose a client to a health issue that could have been treated if they would have had insurance. It never gets easier to see those struggling with mental illness live on our streets, without a home, without treatment, care and dignity.

Instead, I, along with other mental health providers, have to pick ourselves up and go back to work the next day, like nothing happened, because there are so many other people who need us. We have to struggle uphill against legislators who just don’t get it, and who don’t WANT to get it- they’re content to let our patients suffer, to let our emergency services folks suffer, just so they can play a partisan game of spite.

It’s why I stood up. It’s why I’m fighting. Because I refuse to let this go on any longer. I refuse to stand by while my clients continue to needlessly suffer at the hands of a dysfunctional government. As people like Dana Loesch bad mouth “crazy people,” throwing everyone suffering from mental illness under the bus. I can’t even fathom the incredible lack of compassion for the mentally Ill and for the victims of gun violence demonstrated in saying that anyone who’s ever legally picked up a gun and decided to kill children, coworkers, strangers, loved ones, must be mentally ill. Mental health patients are infinitely more likely to be the victims of gun violence than to be the perpetrators of it. All this does is make the jobs of those of us fighting this on the front lines even harder. Stigmatizing mental illness keeps people from seeking the help they need to keep themselves from self-harm.

And as Delegate Chris Hurst said recently on MSNBC, as Governor Ralph Northam has been saying for months, as Jennifer Wexton reminded us last week, as Democrats across Virginia said all last year and as Democrats across America are saying today, if we can’t change their minds?

Change their seats. And that’s what I damn well intend to do. But I need your help.

We’re running a people-powered campaign in the 6th Congressional District of Virginia; I’m the only candidate to reject fossil fuel money. To reject corporate PAC money. To make our campaign built from the grassroots up. When the Washington Post said that that this district was flippable with the right campaign, they were talking about the movement we are building right now with your help.

Every single donation helps. It puts us out on doors now, not after Labor Day. It gets us into the communities up and down the 6th District, from Front Royal to Roanoke, Warm Springs to Waynesboro, and Harrisonburg to Lynchburg.

Stand up with us today- donate, every single one helps. Volunteer- back-to-basics organization is what is winning the day for us, and that means we need YOU! And get the word out- tweet about us, follow us on Facebook, let everyone know we’re here and we’re gonna fight for THEM.

I’m Jennifer Lewis, Candidate for the 6th Congressional District in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Join me, and let’s bring progress to Virginia- to our country- together.