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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Do Not Feed The Monster

The difference between a mental patient and a mental health consumer is identical to the difference between a garbage person and a sanitation engineer, that is, it is a matter of words, of jargon. I say this because we have had what we call the psychiatric survivor, in former times also referred to as the mental patients’ liberation, movement. This movement has been instrumental in working to free people from the oppressive constraints of psychiatric intervention and the patient role.

Much confusion has been stirred up, of more recent date, due to the merging of that movement with what has come to be called the consumer movement, a movement that could be said to be lead by, or colluding with, the federal government. The consumer movement is not so much about liberating a person from the role of patient as it is about accommodating him or her in that role.

In part, the consumer movement has been a more or less successful attempt to subvert or co-opt the psychiatric survivor movement. It is something that can’t be completely successful, for if it was, you’d no longer have psychiatric survivors, you’d just have people stuck in the mental patient role. Funny thing, huh, when some people try to suggest that the mental patient role is an inescapable lifelong or chronic matter of “pathology”?

Colluding with the federal government is a matter of begging money from the feds, gained through taxation, to continue in the mental patient, alternately called mental health consumer, role. To further elaborate, the rallying cry of the consumer is more apt to be the right to treatment while the rallying cry of the survivor is more apt to be the right to refuse treatment.

This is a matter of accent. To further elaborate, psychiatric survivors are people who see themselves as more harmed by the mental health system  than “helped” while mental health consumers are more likely to see themselves as “helped” by the mental health system. It doesn’t end there though, there is overlap, there are survivors who feel they need “help” or “support”, and there are consumers who feel they have been harmed and oppressed by the system as well as “helped”.

I bring this up because there  are a number of rallies and marches “for mental health and dignity” in the planning stages right now. The idea behind these events is to accent mental health as a positive thing and, additionally, to focus attention on “stigma”. I imagine that the ulterior motive of these rallies and marches is a matter of rattling that tin cup before the federal government and the working public, and crying, “Nickels for your pity.”

This “positive slant” also involves ignoring the twin proverbial elephants of forced and harmful treatments in the room. Joseph Rogers and Daniel Fisher have expressed interest in getting the word out about these events. It’s–the smiley masks, this ignorance and deception–a lie that I really can’t endorse. Needless to say, I have no interest in attending such events. I would encourage others, unless they want to launch a disruption, or to conduct a counter march and rally, to do the same.

The Language Wars

The language wars are old and have a long history. Take psychiatry, for instance, where “sickness” starts with an insult applied to a human being. The human being thus insulted becomes a patient, and at the same time, is rendered “less” of a human being. Once this insult has been applied, in some cases, the application can lead, in a straightway and thorough-going fashion, directly to the ruination of the patient.  There is, in a concrete sense, no protection from ruination given psychiatric intervention. Psychiatric theory, being negative in general, supports ruination.

A few years back arose what were termed mental patient liberation groups. These mental patient liberation groups were part of a growing movement. It was a mental patients liberation movement that came to be called the psychiatric survivor movement. Eventually, something went haywire. These people who had been justifiably suspicious of the government decided to make a peace pact with the government. They let that government take the reins of their movement. The result goes by many names, but most pointedly, or disappointingly, perhaps, the c/s/x or consumer/survivor/ex-patient movement.

Psychiatry is notorious for its failure to integrate people–damned, divided and conquered by psychiatry–back into society at large. Psychiatry has an expression for its failures. That expression encompasses a set of people psychiatry dubs people, using the currently most political correct expression, with “chronic serious mental illness”. Looked at from another perspective, psychiatry’s failures are actually the secret of its success. People who fail to recover from the mishaps encountered in life keep psychiatrists in business. Once upon a time, psychiatry was a profession made up solely of the superintendents of lunatic asylums in this country. No more. Now there are 48,000 psychiatrists in the USA alone, and they claim that number is way too few to serve the numbers of people who would utilize their services, or disservices, depending on your perspective.

If psychiatrists, and other mental health workers, could be termed the ‘functionaries’ in this field, the patients, or “consumers” as some of them now prefer to be called, could be termed the ‘dysfunctionaries’. Their role in life is primarily to give the mental health worker a purpose through their own lack of a purpose. So-called “chronic mental illness” is defined by psychiatry, with all of its medical pretensions, as ‘dysfunction’. Alright. Now ‘dysfunction’ is a matter of degree, just as jobs can be part time or full time, and so you have a situation developing where ‘dysfunctionaries’ are moonlighting as ‘functionaries’. Because nobody else will hire them, the mental health system has taken the lead in hiring mental patients.

Sometime while you are slogging through a quagmire of gray areas, do you ever feel nostalgic about more basic black and white issues? I mean to say by this that there is a point at which complexity reaches a ridiculous level because the forgotten virtue of simplicity was always more black and white. We are experiencing an epidemic of so-called “mental illness” today and, ironically, mental patients have started working with professionals to escalate this epidemic to even more incredible proportions. I would suggest that if this situation is ever going to change, another role needs to be found for them beyond that of tending to ‘dysfunctionaries’. Just think, taxpayer money is going for the ‘functionaries’ who tend to the ‘dysfunctionaries’, and more and more, both categories are tending towards the synonymously interchangeable. What a savings we would have if we could find a more fruitful position for some of these people, both professional and patient.