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It is true. I have two strikes against me, I am a woman and I have schizophrenia. I am also a member of the middle class, a white person, and I have access to the best medical treatment. It is no longer enough to write about the inhumane treatment of the vast majority of people with mental illnesses in this country. Who am I to talk about what it is like to live in a state of psychosis on the streets? Who am I to write about the fact that prisons have replaced mental hospitals in this country? I write from a place of privilege.  My experience of schizophrenia is tame compared to the majority of sufferers. I can empathize with their pain, and I can understand their symptoms, but I can’t imagine the horror of being locked up, or trying to find food and shelter when voices are raging in my head.

I need to do more. I commit to doing more.

I am not these people, yet I am. It could easily be me. If something happened to my husband, my life could change in an instant. I won’t be silent. I can’t be silent. To know this information and to do nothing is to condone the current treatment of one of the most vulnerable segments of our society. You can’t say you have compassion and turn away. I can’t. My journey as a true advocate starts today.

America has a dark history when it comes to the treatment and care of the mentally ill. Prior to the 1840’s and the work of Dorothea Dix, the mentally ill were housed with criminals. They were often kept without heat, in darkness, chained and beaten. Dix fought for institutions to treat and house the mentally ill. She was successful in her efforts. But over time, there ended up being abuses in those institutions as well. People were committed with no hope of ever being released. The conditions were terrible. People were subjected to inhumane medical practices and experiments (lobotomies, electric shock, insulin therapy, ice baths, etc.) Over the last thirty years most institutions have been shut down and abandoned.

The current policies and civil rights protections we have were meant to keep people with a mental illness from spending their life in an institution without any hope of release. Currently, a person can’t be committed involuntarily unless they are a danger to themselves or others. And a person can refuse treatment (medications).

We know the result of closing all those institutions it has resulted in a drastic increase in the mentally ill living on the streets and in prisons. This is another dark time in American history for the mentally ill.  It is inhumane to have some of the most vulnerable people among us having to somehow figure out how to survive without a home, or to have them kept in solitary confinement twenty three hours a day.  It is known that solitary confinement can cause psychological distress including psychosis, hallucinations, depression, etc.  This is an issue of a human rights violation and it is happening in your neighborhood, in your cities, in your country, in the United States.

It is estimated that 4.1% of U.S. adults have schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or severe depression. But it is estimated that 36.6% of prisoners and a higher number of those in jail, have one of these illnesses. 

There was a study conducted that showed that people in other countries have a better rate of recovery from schizophrenia than in the western world and much of this has to do with the support and attitude of the family.

I find it as no surprise that some cultures produce better outcomes with severe mental illness than the United States. Our history with the treatment of the mentally ill is a grim one. I don’t know how we can call ourselves a compassionate nation.

I am going to write my representatives about better treatment for the mentally ill (again). Maybe, the thought that I can change the world is a delusion brought about by my schizophrenia. I don’t know, but it is a pleasant symptom, and I like myself better for having it. I wish more people suffered from delusions that caused them to take steps to make the world a better place, because guess what? If we all took action, it would no longer be a delusion, it would be reality.

But for now, reality sucks.