On the health front, Black Americans live sicker and die younger than almost all other racial and ethnic groups in the U.S. Our rates of HIV/AIDS rival that of third-world countries and our rates of obesity and Type II diabetes are at epidemic levels. Yet the moderators posed no questions about these critical issues in almost every televised debate. There has been little to no talk about these epidemic rates and it leaves one to wonder, what will happen to Black Americans once President Obama leaves office?
Secretary Hillary Clinton brought up her desire to address poverty — incredibly not mentioned once by the debate moderators — and highlighted what she did to champion the cause of the beleaguered, predominantly Black and poor, residents of Flint, MI, whose lives have been endangered by the negligent actions and dismissive attitudes of the state’s Republican governor.
Senator Bernie Sanders mentioned his push for debt free higher education in the absence of any debate questions about the decline of Historically Black Colleges and Universities; the negative effects of some for-profit colleges on Black students; or the need for improvements in primary and secondary public education.
Interested in mental health? According to a recent poll, you probably are just like the 90% of us in the U.S. who view mental health to be as important as physical health; the third of us who have trouble accessing mental health; and the 40% of us for whom mental health care costs are a barrier. In spite of widespread interest in mental health and the fact that almost half of the 2,000 people who responded to the poll thought they had a mental health condition, this critical issue—these are our brains and our behavior we’re talking about, after all—is barely on the radar of most of the 2016 presidential candidates.
To see what, if anything, candidates were saying about their stance on mental health and what they plan to do about something that touches the lives of just about every single person in the United States, I identified and searched each candidate’s website and performed a Google search using the terms “mental health” and “behavioral health.” This kind of search was necessary because the vast majority of candidates don’t provide search functions on their sites (a significant number of them don’t even provide issues statements. But you can buy things and donate!).
What did I come up with? Almost a fat zero. Zero mentions of what will be done to help elevate the growing mental health issues; zero mentions of the growing epidemic of HIV, obesity or diabetes being a bona fide epidemic. And yet, all candidates want our votes!
The take-home? Candidates rarely bring up mental health as part of their issues statements. They rarely address the issues which affect (in record numbers) Black communities where we are losing Black men at an epidemic rate. When they do, what they say falls very clearly along party lines. Republican candidates who do address the issue tend to do so in the context of veterans affairs or to recommend institutionalizing certain mentally ill people rather than focusing on gun control. Democratic candidates who bring up mental health or these various health concerns tend to do so in the context of reducing the flow in the prison pipeline and addressing substance use disorders. In other words and not surprisingly, the needs of Black America are still on the back burner and when it is mentioned, it seems to be politically expedient.
Choose wisely this year― no base on media outlets, social media hype, or even church persuasion. Choose because you have your health, your children’s health and the next generation to come to think about. Your vote counts.