Mental Health in the U.S.

By Kristen Johnson

Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer is an astonishing, heartbreaking documentary about Aileen Wuornos, a woman convicted and executed for killing six men in Florida. Interviews with Aileen clearly depict an extremely mentally ill woman, who has been betrayed by anyone and everyone. Several police officers and other officials, her own family, and her personal friends came under fire for trying to personally profit by selling her story to Hollywood.

Clearly, there is no excuse for her actions. But, listening to interviews with childhood and adult friends who indicated that her father was selling her as young as nine years old for sexual favors was heartbreaking and nauseating. Many witnesses claimed she was the victim of a lifetime of abuse including incest, rape, molestation, abandonment by a parent, physical abuse, and beyond. How anyone could ever survive that without mental illness is inconceivable. (She initially claimed that her actions were in self-defense, then years later she backtracked, clearly in an effort to go to the death chamber.)

At the age of 14, she gave birth and was subsequently kicked out of her home and forced to live first in the woods for a while, and then a sort of vagabond lifestyle for the remainder of her life. Viewers of the film can only wonder how society failed this woman so miserably. Where were the pastors and lay leaders of local churches? Where was social services? Did any teachers speak up and try to protect her? When friends knew she was living in the woods, did they tell their parents? Did those parents do anything to help?

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that: An estimated 26% of homeless adults staying in shelters live with serious mental illness and an estimated 46% live with severe mental illness and/or substance use disorders. Only 41% of adults in the U.S. with a mental health condition received mental health services in the past year. Among adults with a serious mental illness, 62.9% received mental health services in the past year.

How is it possible that so many people are fighting mental illness, but are not receiving services to help? Stigma is still a major factor in seeking care for mental illness (Healthline). Medicaid and Medicare both cover the costs of mental health care but eligibility and services vary by state, and what do you do if you have an income above the limits?

The Affordable Care Act provides one of the largest expansions of mental health and substance use disorder coverage in a generation, by requiring that most individual and small employer health insurance plans, including all plans offered through the Health Insurance Marketplace cover mental health and substance use disorder services. Also required are rehabilitative and habilitative services that can help support people with behavioral health challenges. These new protections build on the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 (MHPAEA) provisions to expand mental health and substance use disorder benefits and federal parity protections to an estimated 62 million Americans. (

So, Obamacare was designed to help quite a few people with mental health services, but for how long? If Republicans have their way, Obamacare won’t exist much longer….

I think we can do better. I don’t have all the answers, but I do know that Christians are absolutely required to love. The Bible doesn’t say to only love people who are “normal” or “desirable” or just like us. It says to love everyone and that includes people with mental health challenges.

1 John 4:8 (NRSV): Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.

Serve all with love.

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