The worst thing I have seen when it comes to the treatment of the mentally ill was the video of the Fullerton police beating Kelly Thomas on July 10, 2011. I am not going to post the video here. It is so violent and so disturbing it could cause some people emotional distress to watch it. Kelly had schizophrenia, and the beating resulted in his death.
Last week we had the video (again, I’m not going to post it although it is not violent, but upsetting) of the woman with bipolar disorder left outside of a Baltimore hospital with a hospital gown on in freezing weather. Articles came out discussing the lack of humanity in healthcare.
But who is it that the police and the healthcare system get caught on camera mistreating? The majority of the time, it is someone with a mental illness. Why is it so hard to see our humanity? Why once again are we reading about hospitals “dumping” the mentally ill off at bus stations with a one-way ticket? When those people “dumped” get to their destination, they have no contacts, no family, no way to get the medication and treatment they need. If I were in that situation, I would be as vulnerable as a lost child in an unknown city. Why can’t people say to themselves, “what if this were my mom, aunt, dad, uncle, cousin, sister, brother?”
Why is it so hard for some people to feel compassion and empathy for the mentally ill?
I recently read a study put out in 2008 by the Canadian Medical Association that found that one in four Canadians are fearful of being around someone with a serious mental illness. I saw another study (Canadian) circulating on Facebook (I can’t find it now, so I won’t be able to quote it exactly) that claimed a high percentage of people wouldn’t be friends with someone with a severe mental illness.
I have to ask myself what is serious and what is severe? I frequently read from parents who have a child with schizophrenia that it is “every parent’s nightmare.” I also frequently read that it is the most “dreaded diagnosis.”
How am I supposed to keep my head up or fight the urge to isolate or my lack of motivation (both symptoms of schizophrenia) if people aren’t going to see me as a valuable member of society or as their friend, or even as a fellow human with wants, dreams, desires, etc.?
Sure, you can tell me, it is getting better, those studies were conducted a decade ago, but is it? If those needing treatment the most are “dumped” at bus stations so that they can become “someone else’s problem.” Is that better?
I know, you can tell me, “You are different, Rebecca. You are married. You have a family. You have friends.” But it is precisely those things that I have (a support network) that keep me from being issued one of those bus tickets.
I never want to be a passenger on a bus to a city I don’t know. I never want to be in that bus seat as that passenger, but in a way, I travel with all of those victims because it is our diagnosis that others are responding to and I have that “dreaded diagnosis,” too.
Stigma, it gets in our hearts and in our heads.