Beyond The Mental Health Community

I’m not part of the mental health movement. I don’t beg for money from the state. I don’t think the state should subsidize “mental illness”. This is an awkward position to take because I am also a psychiatric survivor, and the psychiatric survivor movement has, in a sense, become absorbed into the broader c/s/x or consumer survivor ex-patient movement.

Let me explain. Many people who call themselves psychiatric survivors are part of the mental health movement. When our movement began we were a separatist movement, that is, knowing how badly the state treated people in the psychiatric institutions it ran, we were intent on creating our own separate places where we could truly care for people who were suffering, for people who were being abused by the state. There was, in this, a call for what became known as drop-in centers.

Fast forward 20 or 30 years. These drop-in centers have evolved, in some cases, into peer support centers. What has taken place couldn’t take place without collusion or collaboration with the government at one level or another. This collaboration has essentially turned a great many former mental patients into mental health paraprofessionals. It has also made many of these places that were once alternatives to force and abuse alternatives in name only.

Many of us got into the movement, not because we wanted treatment, but because we didn’t want treatment. We received treatment regardless. It was thrust upon us against our will and wishes. We felt compelled by this force to do two things; one was look to creating the alternatives I just alluded to, and the other was to support the abolition of all forced and harmful mental health treatment.

The question then becomes, when a former mental patient becomes a mental health worker, must he or she of necessity resort to the same wrongs he or she was initially protesting. In other words, does this position have a tendency to turn psychiatric survivor former patients into turncoats, and oppressive turncoats at that, even  if this oppression is now more subtle and cleverly disguised.

Psychiatrists may be the most powerful people in the mental health profession, but corruption in the mental health field is by no means restricted to psychiatrists. The mental health system is growing, it is not stabilizing, nor is it contracting. Either “mental illness” is contagious, doctors are better at detecting it, or personal failure as a business, as other people’s success, is thriving.

Federal and state money, tax payer money, has made the mental health system even harder to escape from than it was in years past. Calling the mental patient by another name doesn’t change the mental patient role. Part of the problem is economic damage and financial dependency, and there are forces at work now that are more intent on maintaining the problem than they are at ever coming up with any solutions.

The mental health community is somehow separate from the community at large, even if it is contained within it. When we talk about the mental health community, we are mainly talking about the community that has evolved around the business of outpatient treatment, or so called community care. Perhaps a better way to refer to outpatient treatment would be to refer to it as limbo. Perhaps not.

Outpatient treatment aside, my guess is that a mental patient who was integrated into the community he or she came from would no longer be a mental patient. This seamless integration business seems to have hit a few major snags of late. This doesn’t mean that getting people back into the non-mental health community isn’t something we should be striving for. There, I think we have something we can  work on together now.

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