Personal accounts of liberation and bondage

Regarding recent study results showing that despite more of a biological approach to serious “mental illness” issues, the “stigma” had not appreciably lessened, Patrick Corrigan, an Illinois Institute of Technology psychology professor, had a few good remarks to offer on the subject. The report I’m referring to, found in Bloomburg Businessweek, bears the headline For Many, Stigma of Mental Illness Lingers.

Corrigan believes the answer — or at least part of it — lies in stories, “having people with a condition tell their story. This, he said, might include a “way-down story” and a “way-up story”: “the way-down proving you are a person with a mental illness and the way-up proving that you have recovered.”

Reading the news, you catch more way-down stories than you do way-up stories. I’d definitely like to see more way-up stories out there, many more.

“Most people with serious mental illness do recover, so that’s why way-up stories are so important,” he added. “We would suggest that [these stories] be told to key power groups — instead of trying to change popular opinion, trying to change important power groups like landlords [and employers].”

Here I wouldn’t neglect popular opinion. I think that’s in large measure a big part of the problem currently. The education the general public receives at the hands of mainstream media and the entertainment industry in cohoots is atrocious. Your average person in mental health treatment is by no means a slashing serial murderer. In fact, people who have received no “mental illness” label are more likely to commit a violent crime than the typical person who has had experience in the psychiatric system.

Give us more way-up stories, and I think you’d see a slight shift in public opinion. The psychiatric industry is full of way-down stories. These way-down stories serve as a justification and rationale for the medical model of psychiatry (i.e. psychiatric pessimism). Give us a few more way-up stories, and even your conventionally minded mental health professionals might begin to see that there are different ways to approach the subject of problems in living.

A related but unmentioned story is the way-out story. One shouldn’t automatically assume that everybody who gets sent to a state hospital is “mentally ill”. It just isn’t so. People get locked up because somebody wanted to get them out of the way, in some instances, as in custody disputes and inheritance battles. Some people enter the mental health system as children, too, and this is often a case of guardians over reacting to the stresses involved in child rearing rather than to any case of actual derangement.

One damper to this situation is that when the bureaucratic maze gets too clogged with red tape, or the system presents itself as too “broken”, even the way-out story can cease to find that way-out.