Apparently, it’s Mental Illness Awareness Week, and apparently, since I’m a crazy person, I’m supposed to care about it. Well, I don’t. I think it’s bullshit.
Lack of awareness is not the problem. We all know mental illness exists. I doubt you could find anyone in this country, in any developed nation, who doesn’t have a lived experience of mental illness or know someone who does. Plastering banners on Facebook and wearing rubber wristbands and pointing out that 25% of us are bughouse nuts doesn’t actually help anyone. We don’t need more awareness.
What we need is compassion. We need people to stop treating us like we’re all axe murderers who will hack them into pieces at the slightest provocation. We need people to stop being afraid to let us be around kids. We need people to stop ignoring us because they don’t know what to say or how to make it better. We need people to stop treating us like we’re intrinsically different from them.
We need to look at the epidemiology. We need to look at the fact that people of color and poor people are more likely to be diagnosed with mental illness. We need to look at the fact that trauma is probably the single biggest predictor of a psychiatric diagnosis. We need to look at how being mentally ill puts us as much higher risk for being emotionally, physically, or sexually abused.
No, it’s not even that we need to look at those things–we have already established these as facts. What we need to do is prioritize finding solutions to these problems. Psychiatric treatment doesn’t address the underlying issues of poverty and racism that, in many cases, cause the emotional distress. Most psychiatric treatment is still not trauma-informed; in fact, it is structured in a way that takes away all of the patient’s power and makes it even easier to abuse them.
We need more involvement in the system. We need to remake the phrase “inmates running the asylum” into a good thing, into a working model for treatment of emotional distress. We might not know exactly what we need in our moment of crisis, but people with lived experience know better than any guy with a white coat and a diploma on his wall. We need professionals who will work with us, who will respect us as whole, competent people even when we don’t appear that way. We need to hold the choice in our treatment and the power in our lives. We need to stop being so afraid of violating boundaries that we leave people suffering all on their own.
We need a system where the patients hold as much power as the clinicians, or close to it. It can be done; I’ve seen it work. But it’s only available to rich people. We need to find a way to make that available to everyone who needs it. We need healthcare that doesn’t discriminate against people with emotional distress. We need doctors who take our physical problems seriously instead of telling us it’s all in our heads. We need to be listened to, heard, believed, included.
We need a system that doesn’t turn people away because they’re too sick or not sick enough. We need a system in which the quality of care doesn’t depend on the amount you can pay for it. We need a system that can offer people support beyond one hour of therapy a week if that’s what they need, but without threats and seclusion and removal of freedom. We need a system that, instead of isolating us further, brings us into a community–first a community of other people experiencing emotional distress, and then into the larger community
But awareness? No, we’ve got plenty of that. All it does is reinforce the broken system that’s currently in place, so count me out. I’ve got all the awareness I can stomach. Instead, I’ll leave you with a poem. To me it says everything I’m saying here except much more clearly, so here’s hoping you guys can understand it too.
was whole because
it shattered. When it shattered,
then we knew what it was.
It never healed itself.
But in the deep fissures, smaller worlds appeared:
it was a good thing that human beings made them;
human beings know what they need,
better than any god.
On Huron Avenue they became
a block of stores: they became
Fishmonger, Formaggio. Whatever
they were or sold, they were
alike in their function: they were
visions of safety. Like
a resting place. The salespeople
were like parents; they appeared
to live there. On the whole,
kinder than parents.
feeding into a large river: I had
many lives. In the provisional world,
I stood where the fruits were,
flats of cherries, clementines,
under Hallie’s flowers.
I had many lives. Feeding
into a river, the river
feeding into a great ocean. If the self
becomes invisible has it disappeared?
I thrived. I lived
not completely alone, alone
but not completely, strangers
surging around me.
That’s what the sea is:
we exist in secret.
I had lives before this, stems
of a spray of flowers: they became
one thing, held by a ribbon at the center, a ribbon
visible under the hand. Above the hand,
the branching future, stems
ending in flowers. And the gripped fist–
that would be the self in the present.
–by Louise Gluck, from Vita Nova