An Enabling Debility

I was watching mathematician John Forbes Nash Jr. on You Tube the other day, and he made a point that I don’t think a lot of people are catching. The mental health consumer represents a failure on the part of psychiatry to restore mental patients to health. Where we used to have a mental health movement, now we have what has been referred to as a mental health consumer movement.

Nash also noted that the basic difference between a person said to be mentally ill and a person said to be mentally well was that the latter earned a living and the former didn’t earn a living. This is what the whole idea of functionality is all about, the ability to make a good wage slave on the jobs market.

Of course, now we’ve got this idea of “high functioning mental illness” where the old rules don’t apply. Seeing that “high functioning” coupled with “mental illness” is basically a contradiction in terms, how do we explain this phenomenon? A few mental patients, aka mental health consumers, have managed through “compliance” to advance in professional, often academic, careers.

I would say you have about three things going on here at once. A bright and resourceful individual. A person who has a great deal of support–legal, emotional, and social–perhaps more than people who are not so “handicapped” by impugned disease. On top of which you also have someone who would tend to be less heavily drug dose disabled than many people in treatment due to the achievement (as opposed to troubling behavior) that the person had displayed.

It must be remembered here that the idea is not to produce a better quality consumer, the idea is produce a healthy individual, a non-patient. The “high functioning mentally ill” person also suggests a failure of the system to restore that person in particular to his or her right mind. One is also left with the question, are we making “illness” in cases like these a form of “success”?

There are other people who have been fully restored to “sanity”, but there is little glory in recovering one’s mental health as long “notoriety” comes of not recovering. Anonymity may be noble, but it doesn’t pay the bills. Acclaim, in one instance, must prove as much of a disincentive to recovery as federal benefits prove in another. How much of this is a matter of our cracked actor or actress making the most of his or her crack?

Acclaim seldom comes of recovery. More often than not what you have is a mental health worker who was a former patient, and as such represents the worst of two worlds. Your prisoner has become a warder, and your penitentiary system has grown exponentially. I suppose it represents job security on his or her part, but still this means the streets have gotten a little bit meaner, and the neighborhoods have gotten a little less secure.