Wallflowers Don’t Vote

I’ve heard of mental health consumers and ex-patients who turn away with scorn from politics. I’ve even heard of supposed mental health advocates who claim not to like politics, or who don’t want to dirty their hands with political actions. I don’t see how anybody can imagine themselves being a vehicle for positive change in the mental health system without getting involved in the politics of the matter. The advocate who does not get involved in the political angle of the matter, I would call an incompetent advocate. For activists, such as myself, there is no question about it; a good part of our struggle is a political struggle. If you look at the definition of politics, then it becomes obvious why this is the case.

Main Entry: pol•i•tics
Pronunciation: \ˈpä-lə-ˌtiks\
Function: noun plural but singular or plural in construction
Etymology: Greek politika, from neuter plural of politikos political
Date: circa 1529

1 a: the art or science of government b: the art or science concerned with guiding or influencing governmental policy c: the art or science concerned with winning and holding control over a government
2: political actions, practices, or policies
3 a: political affairs or business ; especially : competition between competing interest groups or individuals for power and leadership (as in a government) b: political life especially as a principal activity or profession c: political activities characterized by artful and often dishonest practices
4: the political opinions or sympathies of a person
5 a: the total complex of relations between people living in society b: relations or conduct in a particular area of experience especially as seen or dealt with from a political point of view

Merriam-Webster politics

If you look at the etymology of the word itself, as we are going to do now, then you can see how politics is unavoidable in almost any human endeavor that involves more than a single individual.

The word politics has its origins in Ancient Greece. All of the cities in Ancient Greece, such as Athens, Sparta, and Corinth, were referred to as city-states and the Greek word for a city-state was polis (πολις). The word acropolis is not just a clever name, the Greeks named all of the highest points in their city-states that because it literally made sense. Our culture is not so different for we still see the word polis used today when cities, like Los Angeles and New York, are referred to as a megalopolis or metropolis.

The polis was a tight unit where citizens would be heavily involved in the affairs of the state. All citizens were referred to as polites [pol-i-tes] and obviously this word was derived from polis. Over time, anything concerning the state would have some derivative of polis in it. This was more than ever apparent when Aristotle wrote his Ta Politika, translated into “Affairs of the State”.

When Greece faded away and the Roman way took over Western Civilization, the Romans retained much of the language that the Greeks had employed. However, Latin grammar was different than Greek grammar and in order to make Greek words fit into the Latin language, the endings had to be changed. Thus the Latin word, politicus was introduced. Politicus was an adjective that was used to describe anything “of the state”. Therefore, the suffix -us would change dependent on the gender of the noun it was describing, such as in -us, -a, -um. When the ending is dropped off, we are left with the stem politic and thus politics was born.

From Word Power: Politics
by Gregory Rineberg

So if you have a say in the affairs of the state, you do so through politics.

All sorts of laws govern the administering of mental health in most countries. In the USA Mental Health Law constitutes a separate branch of legal practice. Laws are enacted by politicians, hopefully expressing the will of the citizens they represent. Citizen groups are often a force behind some of the laws enacted by these politicians. Mental health consumers, psychiatric survivors, and ex-patients can also play a role in the drafting of bills that later become law.

Here’s what Cornell University has to say about Mental Health and the Law:

Legal standards surround the process by which those who are mentally ill can be forced, against their will, to receive treatment. Statutes for involuntary commitment whether denominated civil or criminal are subject to the due process clause of the 14th Amendment. This is because involuntary commitment severly infringes on a person’s right to be free from governmental restraint and the right to not be confined unnecessarily. Courts have held that such statutes must bear some reasonable relation to the purpose for which the individual is committed.

From mental health law: an overview

Alright, maybe that’s enough for now.

Later we need to deal with the issue of civil rights and how it pertains to the mental health system. I think no reasonable person would claim that Mahatma Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Cezar Chavez, Nelson Mandela and similar populous leaders weren’t trying to have a political impact when they resorted to acts of civil disobedience. Furthermore, we need to look more closely at the phenomenon of psychiatric oppression. Then there is what psychiatrist Thomas Szasz and others have referred to as The Therapeutic State. All of these matters directly relate to the point at which mental health and the law intersect or, more specifically, to that deprivation of liberty mentioned in the Cornell piece. As freedom is one of the fundamental rights behind which the establishment of this nation was based, we don’t want to take that right away from any person for trivial reasons.