Today I read some articles that have me concerned about the potential impact of my last post (in which I described some of my own experience struggling with intense anger and the hoops I had to jump through to access mental health services).
- Thinking the Unthinkable, better known as the “I am Adam Lanza’s mother” post
- Comments on “Thinking the Unthinkable,” most of which were by mothers also sharing their experiences raising children with mental illness – but some of which were by adults and teens with mental illness. This comment makes a particularly relevant point about how one’s responses to a child’s difficult behavior may cause the very thing we fear.
- When You Tie Shootings to Mental Illness, which points out the dangers of assuming that violent criminals are mentally ill and, conversely, that someone with mental illness will commit violent crime (people with mental illness are actually more likely to be victims of violence)
- Law Creates Barriers to Getting Care for Mentally Ill
- Some articles questioning the validity of psychiatry (which lacks scientific tests to diagnose mental disorders, relies on societal norms to define mental disorders, and benefits financially from dispensing potentially-debilitating medications to some of the most vulnerable members of society). The articles go to more of an extreme than I think is valid, but they make a good point: People labeled as “having mental illness” are not really all that different from people considered “normal.” They are people with very difficult problems, some of which result from their experiences, our messed-up society, and possibly biological or genetic factors. What they need more than anything else – regardless of diagnosis and other aspects of their treatment – is the compassion and respect of someone (preferably multiple people) willing to accept them as they are. (This is a core component of any psychotherapy and has been supported by scientific research.)
And so we come to the real problem with mental illness: the stigma associated with it. That stigma can lead a person who is suffering to isolate hirself for fear of rejection, violence, and “being locked up” – instead seeking much-needed help. Not only does it put that person in danger, but it perpetuates domestic abuse and can create a significant risk for others in the community. It also costs a lot in terms of lost contributions that person could have made to society.
That stigma interferes the creation of an adequate mental health system. It interferes with people reaching out to someone who seems troubled or is exhibiting “abnormal” behavior and trying to get that person much-needed help. It criminalizes people who have mental illness.
Worst, it interferes with developing the understanding we really need in order to find more effective treatments and change society in ways that enable everyone to live safer and healthier lives. Most of the information available about various mental illnesses is from the perspective of people who have never experienced them. Descriptions of abnormal behavior, especially as it may be exhibited by people with schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders, verge on the sensationalist – like going to a freak show! Sometimes I read them and think, “if the author of this article saw some of the things I do on really bad days, what would ze think about me?”
Exposure to these portrayals likely silences the very people we need to hear from in order to actually understand the behaviors and bigger picture, particularly how they fit into and reflect upon society. I most certainly do not want to be lumped in with the “monsters” and the “lunatics” and ridiculed (again – it was bad enough as a kid) and marginalized and worst of all considered unemployable – just because I dared to share some of my experiences. I most certainly do no want to be physically brutalized or killed. So what am I supposed to do? Even writing this blog using a pen name seems incredibly risky.
So please understand this: whatever we may be feeling, whatever we may be tempted to do, even whatever we may do, people with mental illness are people first. Yes, it may be disturbing and frustrating to others who have to interact with us, but consider how much more disturbing and frustrating it is to us! We have to live with it constantly and with the terrifying and devastating consequences of behavior over which we sometimes feel we have no control. You are entitled to your emotions, but when you interact with us and talk about us and make policies concerning us, please do so as compassionately and with as much empathy as possible. And please respect our confidentiality – including that of children!
Please listen to people who are brave enough to share their experiences and insights as a person with mental illness – and if you are one of these people, speak out!
Finally, you can comment anonymously on this blog.
(All comments are moderated.)