What's Wrong with the Mental Health System

I recently attended an award ceremony honoring people who had made outstanding contributions to the mental health system. I listened to the various presenters talk about those who were receiving the awards. I then listened to the award recipients themselves; two legislators, two family members and two administrators for local mental health providers.

Over and over again and again, I heard these folks talk about "the poor, suffering mentally ill." I really tried hard to appreciate the award recipients and presenters but I found my thoughts drifting. I thought of the tremendous courage some of my friends had shown as their bodies twitched with tardive dyskinesia. I thought of the cold and unfeeling attitudes of the staff behind the desk, which I'd seen so often. I thought of the caring which we "patients" had shown to each other which was all that kept us going in the state hospital.

I found myself wondering where the honoring was for the clients of the system. Others may work for or with the system but we clients often place our very lives at risk at the hands of the system. We have the most at stake in what happens with the system and yet our role in this awards ceremony was nil. We were left out of the equation again.

As I listened to the speeches, I grew angry. These folks being honored didn't have a clue. They spoke proudly of their accomplishments for "the mentally ill." I thought of the many "mentally ill" people I've known over the years. I could picture too many who could stand and introduce themselves, "Hi there, I'm a schizophrenic." Their identity had become one with their "illness" until there was nothing left.

We don't have a "mental HEALTH" system, we have a "mental ILLNESS" system. Oh yeah, we're in an enlightened era. We take people and we turn them into an illness. We may no longer warehouse people in state hospitals but we brainwash them into a hopeless, helpless, dependent state and we drug them into mindless submission and we warehouse these "poor unfortunates" in the community now.

Where is the "health" in mental health? Where are those who speak of abilities instead of disabilities? Where is the talk of recovery? Where is the hope? Not one of the speakers that day addressed these issues. They all seemed content in their little world to know that people were "taken care of."

People are taken care of by placing them in day treatment for twenty years. People are taken care of by finding them jobs that offer no challenge, no future and which keep people in poverty. People are taken care of by helping them accept sub-standard housing as the best they can hope for. People are taken care of by brainwashing them into believing that there is no recovery possible and that the best they can achieve is "medication compliance" which robs people of their souls and turns them into mindless automatons.

I hope that one day, there will be an awards ceremony that honors those who really deserve to be honored. Hopefully, one day we'll be enlightened enough to honor those who have died in the care of the system. Hopefully, we'll honor those who survived the care of the system and went on to recover despite the "help" of the system. Hopefully, some day, there will be an awards ceremony that will have presenters and award recipients, who will speak of recovery, who will talk about mental health instead of mental illness and who will speak about abilities instead of disabilities.

I dream of the day when it is recognized that we all have limitations but that we are more than those limitations. We are multi-faceted individuals and we all possess many strengths and talents and should focus on those instead of any limitations or dis-abilities.