When the doors are no longer locked

The headlines in the Vancouver Sun shout, Mental patients key to erasing stigma. I beg to disagree. No mental patient, no “stigma”.

Does anything work? Thankfully, yes. A World Psychiatric Association pilot study launched in Alberta in 1996 “found that by far the most effective way to change attitudes was to engage people in an emotional experience, and the best way to do that was to establish contact between people with mental illness and other members of the public.” Contact with a person in the throes of a mental illness can be, at best, disconcerting. So McKnight rephrases it: “It’s important for members of the public not simply to have contact with psychiatric patients, but to see and hear from successful members of the community who have battled mental illness.”

I do think there is something to be said for mixing. That said, I think maybe you could come out on the other end of the mix.

I would hope that some of these successful community members won the battle, if not the war, against, excuse me for using the expression, “mental illness”. A cancer non-survivor is a cadaver; a psychiatric survivor is no longer a mental patient. Many psychiatric survivors are no longer mental patients anyway. I tend to think more in terms of what we refer to as “mental illness” as being failure, and what we refer to as non-“mental illness” as being success. To return to an earlier formula, where there is no “mental illness”, there is no “stigma”.

The author of this article claims to have had been hospitalized for 2 episodes of depression (translation: profound sadness, formerly referred to as melancholia) 20 years apart in 1966 and 1986 or thereabouts respectively. I should hope that between bouts maybe the author met with a little smooth sailing here and there. I think the author is being rather stubborn and clinging when it comes to abandoning this rather non-advantageous notion of “mental illness”.

Mental patient is defined by a relationship to the mental health/illness system. Should a person leave the mental health/illness system entirely, that person ceases to be a mental patient. Technically, people outside of the mental health/illness system are not “mentally ill”. People that have left the mental health/illness system altogether, therefore, have recovered their mental health.

First, there’s a need to recruit people who are willing to talk openly about their mental-health history. Groups such as The Canadian Mental Health Association and The Mood Disorders Association are in a position to help with recruitment, as they often call on former mental patients to address meetings held to provide support for friends and families. But any campaign based on interaction with those of us who have been successfully treated must reach people with neutral or negative attitudes toward mental illness to make a difference.

One has to ask here, do you have a neutral or a negative attitude toward mental wellness? I don’t really see the virtue of “problems in life”, “troubles”, “life crises”, etc., all the little more intelligent ways we have of describing what quacks in the psychiatric field have come to characterize as “mental illnesses”. I happen to think it possible for people to overcome and get beyond such difficulties.

Which brings us to the second key factor, organizing events that attract people from all walks of life to meet those who thrive as a result of psychological and psychiatric treatment. This is something new, and enthusiastic people need to do some brainstorming as a first step.

I agree. There is life beyond the mental health treatment center. You and your friends should try it sometime.