2017 was a big year — in politics, pop culture, and yes, in mental health. It was the inaugural year of Donald Trump’s presidency, which turned the political landscape of the United States upside down, and caused a wave of anxiety to ripple through the nation.
On the brighter side, 2017 has been a year of raising awareness — especially related to sexual harassment, gun violence, and the language we use to talk about mental illness.
In pop culture, we tragically lost mental health warrior Chester Bennington, but also watched as a new guard of celebrity spokespeople began to speak up about their mental health journeys. A tide may be turning.
Natural disasters like Hurricanes like Harvey, Maria, and Irma, and the fires in Southern California, were all national tragedies that, for many, became urgent fights for survival. These events were environmental crises, and forced us to examine how we respond to and treat trauma as a culture.
After sifting through the happenings of 2017, we present you with the Talkspace 2017 Mental Health Year in Review — spanning the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Setbacks — and Strides — for Feminism
With the Women’s March last January, 2017 began with a bang when it came to the continued fight for gender justice.
President Trump’s continued attacks on the LGBTQ community, immigrants, and other marginalized communities encouraged feminists and other activists to keep their eyes and ears open — and we have.
In October 2017, the history of Harvey Weinstein’s systemic sexual abuse in Hollywood began to unfold, jump-starting an astounding wave of testimonies from victims of sexual violence — recorded in print, on Facebook, and all over other corners of the Internet.
In the wake of the #MeToo movement, Talkspace donated 500 months of free therapy to victims of sexual abuse, asserting that sexual harassment is not just a workplace issue, but a global mental health concern. This year, we’ve begun breaking the silence on an issue that has long been pushed to the sidelines.
The War About Gun Violence (+ the Role of Mental Illness) Continues
On Sunday, November 5th, a lone gunman opened fire on a group of churchgoers at a small Baptist congregation in a Texas town. This massacre occurred just a month after the Las Vegas shooting, when another gunman opened fire from his hotel room window, aiming at a crowded outdoor concert nearby.
The morning after the Texas shooting, Trump proclaimed, “This isn’t a guns situation” but “a mental health problem at the highest level.” Research shows, however, that those with mental health issues are 10 times more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators of it. Trump also failed to notice that while mental illness is equally distributed across states, countries, and yes, political biases, the same cannot be said about the distribution of guns.
While Trump and Republican Congress representatives have demonstrated a tendency to hide behind lies about mental illness, 2017 showed us once again that the gun control debate needs to be about just that — gun control. And if Republicans in the White House genuinely see a need to improve mental health care, as they often suggest in response to these senseless acts of violence, then they ought to reconsider their resistances to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which has broadened access to millions of people.
Politics — from Executive Orders to Twitter
From implementing the Muslim Ban to openly discriminating against members of the LGBTQ community, the Trump administration has polarized families, silenced marginalized voices, and, for many of us, catalyzed fear about the integrity of our democracy. In all of these ways and more, politics and mental health have been inextricably linked this year.
In the Trump era, refugees are facing more discrimination than ever before. According to a report by the German Federal Chamber of Psychotherapists, more than half of refugees from war zones deal with mental illness.
The Trump administration has specifically targeted the rights and freedoms of transgender individuals. In February 2017, just after Trump’s inauguration and cabinet appointments, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos revoked the protections of transgender students instituted by the Obama Administration, arguing that the bathroom debate is an issue of states’ rights.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Trump’s attacks against the LGBTQ community. Fortunately, the resistance movement against Trump, and the ideas he stands for, has helped raise awareness and support for mental health in an array of different communities.
Pop Cultural Caché?
You could even say that mental health has become trendy in 2017. Selena Gomez and Jay-Z both publicly talked about going to therapy for cover stories in Vogue and The New York Times, respectively. Lady Gaga’s Netflix documentary Five Foot Two chronicled the singer’s struggles with chronic illness, industry sexism, and several other examples of psychological distress. Netflix also garnered a record amount of attention for their controversial series 13 Reasons Why, in which the main character dies by suicide.
Whether or not these pop-accounts of therapy, mental illness, and emotional turmoil are glamorized for the sake of entertainment remains a (controversial) question. But the biggest and most essential piece of good news is that the taboo topic of mental health has now been made more mainstream.
Most people are glued to their devices now more than ever. Tech addiction isn’t unique to 2017, but this year has thankfully shown that we’re becoming aware of its negative effects. And all change starts with awareness.
New research came out about the anxiety epidemic among teens, and psychologists have continued to explore and seek to analyze the detrimental effects of social media on our self-esteem and overall mental health.
At the same time, Facebook released a suicide detection feature, revealing powerful potential for artificial intelligence in the mental health space. At Talkspace, we certainly believe technology can help expand access to mental health care, and destigmatize it in the process. Let’s keep up the good work.
Stripping Away Stigma — with Language
As mental health becomes less stigmatized, we’ve begun changing the language we use to talk about it. This year has been particularly momentous. Terms like “high-functioning depression” and anxiety have shed light on the fact that not all mental illnesses are visible, inviting those who may be suffering in silence to reach out for support.
Regardless of labels, what matters most is that people who are struggling with their mental health seek help, knowing that there’s nothing to be ashamed of. Though language and terminology may feel like a formality, it has radical power to change the way we think about mental health, and to invite more people to get the help they need and deserve.
With that, the entire team at Talkspace wants to wish you all a happy New Year. With all of us behind this important cause, let us watch more victories for mental health unfold in the year to come.