Imagine being diagnosed with Parkinson's. Determined to get the best treatment available, you seek out the leading Parkinson's specialist and facility inside or outside your community. Quickly, you realize something is amiss. There are other patients milling around with a variety of diseases, and there appears to be a holistic approach to treating diseases rather than a focused approach to treating Parkinson's. Frustrated, you ask how you are expected to get the best care possible to treat Parkinson's, but the only response you get is that a disease is a disease is a disease.

It's difficult for us to imagine that happening; however, it happens every day for those suffering from mental illnesses. A young adult suffering from depression is expected to room with a middle-aged adult battling schizophrenia. An adolescent who suffers from severe anxiety is clustered with others whose eating disorders could lead to their deaths.

Why is this? Why aren't more people fighting for a complete overhaul of the mental health system in our country, our state, our community? Depending on who you ask, Texas is ranked either forty-ninth or dead last when it comes to per capita funding for mental health treatment. If you work in education, you know all too well about the dramatic increase in the number of students suffering from anxiety, depression, and bi-polar disorder. We give them lists of facilities where they can seek help and think we've done our job. It's shameful. Astute parents take their children to see specialists or admit them to facilities, but many young people refuse to stay because their needs are not being met. Because of a shortage of mental health professionals and lack of funding, the system often lumps them all together. It's frightening.

I recently had my students write original poetry about American Sign Language and deafness. Their work impressed me, and I love how they expressed what they have learned about members of our Deaf community and their language. As I began to prepare for this column, I thought about their poems and realized that this might be a way for me to express my abiding frustration with the way the government and our communities often turn their backs on those battling mental illness, regardless of their age. I am no poet, but here is my effort to express how I feel:

If you've never lost someone you love with every part of your being to suicide, as I have

How could you know?

If you've never experienced shock the first time someone told you depression is a mental illness, as I have

How could you know?

If you've never seen a young person unable to work and laugh with friends and function because anxiety controls her, as I have

How could you know?

If you've never seen a child suffering from depression and feeling no one can help him, as I have

How could you know?

If you've never witnessed the demons that taunt someone trying so hard to fight addiction, as I have

How could you know?

If you've never felt yourself spinning as you try to seek help for your students, your family members, your friends, as I have

How could you know?

If you've ever been in a position where you could have done more to change things and you didn't....perhaps....one day

You'll know.

Chris Ardis is in her 28th year of teaching, 27 of those in McAllen ISD. She is also a freelance writer. Chris is involved with a grassroots movement to transform public education called SOAR McAllen, which you can find on Facebook. You can email Chris at cardis1022@aol.com.