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We march for mental health on Saturday. Who’s watching?

Nostalgia is mostly pointless — the past is, well, past. And, nostalgia lies; seldom does it provide an accurate picture of what has gone before. That said, for many of a certain age late summer calls to mind the days surrounding the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, and the iconic phrase, “The whole world is watching”; and, for a while, it was.

On the afternoon of Saturday, Sept. 13, the National Alliance on Mental Illness-Southern Oregon chapter will present the March 4 Hope at The Commons in downtown Medford. How much of the world will be watching? Glancing, even?

When mental health gets any attention at all it is usually an embarrassed sidelong glance. The strangely dressed person wandering the park, deep in an animated conversation with nobody, evokes (dare it be said?) “images” of H.G. Wells’ Invisible Man.

But, we will not be invisible! We will march! We are NAMI, and raising awareness is what we do. In the past we “walked”. This year we will march. If we are ignored this year, maybe we need to see about a group rate with a local bail bondsman — some civil disobedience may be in order. That’s said half in jest, but, 46 years later, the chant echoes: “The whole world is watching”!

A popular post on social media has a little red squirrel shouting, “Relax! It’s not a competition; we’re all crazy.” Unfortunately, it is a competition. As compelling as the little squirrel is, he can’t hold our attention for long.

We compete for a spot on the news cycle merry-go-round — on several levels. A breakthrough in treatment grabs a below-the-fold, small-font headline in Sunday’s paper. A funding appropriation gets even less. On the other hand, a shooting or stabbing dominates the front page, and not far into the story, the inevitable, “the family of the alleged killer says he/she experienced mental illness and had recently stopped taking medication.” And for a while, a part of the world is watching, until an earthquake or political scandal starts getting the ink.

We compete for time. Never in the history of the world have so many people tried to cram so much activity into so little time. Here, nostalgia may well be telling the truth. “March 4 Hope?” “Let me check.”

Years ago, one would look thoughtful and say, “The 13th? I’ll be there.” Not long ago it would have been, “I’ll check my calendar and let you know.” Ask someone today, and they’ll be clawing their belt for their “device,” touching a screen, shaking their head sadly, and saying, “Sorry; I have five things going on that day.”

What about the person walking the park, talking to nobody? He has all the time in the world. Can we spare him a day or an hour or a minute? Who’s watching?

Of course, it all comes down to competing for money. Doesn’t it? Jackson County Mental Health has a budget. Compass House has a budget. NAMI-Southern Oregon has a budget. Psychotropic drugs are some of the most expensive in the world. “If we had more funding, we’d have more resources”, goes the common thinking. The person in the park is in the system; he’s not living on the bike path. Whatever his level of funding, he’s still invisible — who’s watching? Who cares?

On the 13th there’ll be entertainment. There’ll be provocative speakers. There’ll be signs. There’ll be T-shirts. This is pretty much standard fare for a demonstration — get people’s attention and make a case for a cause.

So why do we want attention and what’s our cause? Why do we march? In the words of the organizing committee, this is why: “40 percent of adults living with mental illness receive no mental health services. Mental illness impacts the lives of at least one in 4 adults and one in 10 children. That’s over 60 million Americans!  Every day, 18 veterans die by suicide and another 80 veterans are hospitalized for attempting suicide.”

And this barely touches on why we march. Mental illness brings a load of heartache and misery to every one of those 60 million Americans. Mental illness keeps many of those 60 million Americans from leading productive lives. Mental illness keeps many of those 60 million Americans from pursuing the liberty and happiness that are among our most basic rights. That’s why we march!

Be at Lithia Commons at 2 p.m. Saturday; be there and make some noise! Let’s see who’s watching.

Mike Hubbard of Medford is editor of the NAMI-Southern Oregon newsletter, and has worked in the mental health treatment field.