There is a much scarier take on Mental Illness Awareness Week than the one I mentioned previously, and that is the one expressed by DJ Jaffee in his post Mental Illness Awareness Week Is Nothing to Celebrate—In Fact It Doesn’t Even Exist.
Oh, and he’s not trying to suggest Mental Illness doesn’t exist. No. None of that sort of thing at all.
How bad is it? Mental Illness Awareness Week does not even officially exist anymore. Congress first declared it in 1989 at the strong urging of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, which still celebrates it. (Who needs Congress anyway?) It was re-enacted in1990, 1991, 1992 and 1993. But since then, no one in Congress has had enough interest in the seriously mentally ill to keep it going.
However even though Mental Illness Awareness Week bit the official dust, stigma groupies will be happy to know Mental Health Awareness Month (May) is coming on strong.
He begins his post by bashing the term stigma in favor of the more politic expression discrimination. He then goes on to call serious mental illness a biologically based disorder without considering that by doing so he is ‘stigmatizing’, ‘discriminating’ against, and alienating the very group of people he would claim to be defending.
You want to know what is going on here, well, first you have to figure out who this DJ Jaffee is. DJ Jaffee claims to be an advocate for the mentally ill. He’s one of these people who speaks for the mentally ill because he believes they shouldn’t be allowed to speak for themselves. DJ Jaffee is a cofounder of the Treatment Advocacy Center.
What the heck is the Treatment Advocacy Center? The Treatment Advocacy Center is a not for profit organization that advocates for forced mental health treatment. The Treatment Advocacy Center, in other words, spends a lot of time and energy lobbying politicians and the public for laws to forcibly treat people who don’t want to be treated.
Not in America, you say. Think again.
He takes one of these ridiculous NAMI/MHA stats, the 25% of the people in the country have received some kind of mental health treatment stat, and he uses this stat to claim that most of the people bitching about stigma aren’t really seriously mentally ill at all, no, they’re just plain worriers. Okay. He then goes on to claim he’s talking about the 3-5% of the population he would call seriously mentally ill.
Gotcha! Now who are these seriously mentally ill?
So here’s an idea. This week, while everyone else is celebrating the non-existent MIAW by working to divert your attention to the “worried-well”, let’s think what we can do for those so seriously ill, so imprisoned, impoverished and punished by their psychosis, they are not at all “like you and me”–the 150,000 mentally who are homeless, the 231,000 who are incarcerated due to acting out when untreated, the 5,000 who took their lives this past year, the 70,000 in state psychiatric hospitals, and the 28% who get food from garbage cans.
I wouldn’t, as this DJ Jaffee seems to do, equate serious mental illness with homelessness, poverty, and imprisonment. There are a lot of so called experts that are good at jockeying numbers, and he would seem to be but one more. Once he makes the claim that serious mental illness is a biological condition, then he saddles a lot of people without homes, without money, and in jail with it. The implication here is that there are no labeled mentally ill among the wealthy and the middle classes, and this is just not so.
Blame poverty on deinstitutionalization, and this argument is going to go on for a hell of a long time.
When we do this kind of thing we are also begging the question regarding matters concerning cause and effect. Do homelessness, poverty, and imprisonment cause mental illness, or is mental illness the cause of homelessness, poverty, and imprisonment? Is it possible then, that it’s not all biological after all, that there is a environmental element to all of this? Yin/yang, differing gestalts, that kind of thing.
I personally think the line is much thinner between the merely worried well individual and the seriously mentally ill individual than DJ Jaffee might imagine it to be. It is a line in fact that some people have managed to step over.