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Advocating Diversification

A former professional tennis player at a conference in Montana claims to have substantial knowledge about only 2 subjects, tennis and depression. You will find the following in a story for the Billings Gazette, Former Tennis professional details illness.

[Cliff] Richey, 63, is in Billings as a keynote speaker for the Montana State Conference on Mental Illness. He puts a face on the conference theme, “Recovery and Reform.” Richey, who said he is now in recovery, first went public with his clinical depression diagnosis in 1999 and has been a mental health advocate since.

Mr. Richey’s time “in recovery” apparently may not have spanned the 30 odd years since retiring from the professional tennis circuit, or I’d be asking whether the time hasn’t arrived when Mr. Richey should have finished his “recovery”. Many are the people who get “in recovery”, but who fail to graduate out of this “recovery” into the “recovered” category after 30, 40 years or more. It’s a shame that grades aren’t given “in recovery”. One wonders whether or not receiving a failing grade “in recovery’ might serve as an impetus in some cases to actually, literally and functionally, recover. The vast majority of people have no problem assuming the mentally well role of responsible citizen. What I have to ask is what is it about a “mental illness” diagnosis that makes doing so, as it is so often put, a “constant struggle”. My own conclusion is that it has less to do with the diagnosis itself than it does with professional miseducation, a misdirected system, and the accompanying peer pressure. When it comes to mental patienthood, it’s all a matter of shuffling the shuffle, mumbling the mumbo jumbo, and popping the pill. You can be adult babied out of coming to an end to your unlimited supply of excuses.

Depression afflicts one in 20 Americans. He said he is “rabid” about advocacy and uses any “little platform” he can to advance the discussion about mental illness.

I know a little about the dog that bit Mr. Richey. I am a psychiatric survivor, and I describe myself as a human rights advocate. Mr Richey characterizes himself as a mental health advocate, and I don’t think that is necessarily a bad characterization. One should check oneself though, I don’t think it is a very good idea to become a “mental illness” advocate as many of the so called mental health advocates these days seem to be in actuality and in consequence. I know of people who have characterized themselves as recovery advocates and I imagine that’s not such a bad avenue to go down either. Unless, that is, this recovery advocate is actually a non-recovery advocate as some of those in that racket would appear, upon closer inspection, to be as well. I have met “consumer” advocates working within state agencies also. I would never call myself a “consumer” advocate. I don’t advocate “consuming” mental health treatment. I don’t advocate, speaking for myself alone, “consuming” that which would destroy a person. I advocate instead ceasing to “consumer” mental health services, otherwhere referred to as recovery, and recovery of mental health. I don’t think this outcome should ever be considered outside of the realm of human capability.

“I know two things,” Richey said. “I know tennis. I know depression.” As a tennis player, he was known as the original “Bad Boy” of tennis, before there was John McEnroe and Ilie Nastase. The temper tantrums and boorish behavior, he said, masked his internal struggle with a living nightmare: clinical depression.

This I see as a major part of the problem with mental health, or perhaps more aptly put, “mental illness” treatment in this country. Anyone who receives an extensive education in “mental illness” to the exclusion of other subjects has received a very limited education, however extensive that education happened to be. Any accomplished athlete who does not look at the need for expanding his educational employment interests due to his or her inevitable retirement is not being adequately educated.

There is, you must understand, life beyond “mental illness”, too.