ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Long-Term Prospects

By Jack Bragen
Friday April 25, 2014 - 10:03:00 AM

Sometimes I think there is a conspiracy to prevent persons with mental illness from doing "too well." It just seems odd to me that when someone with mental illness starts to do well, a number of unfortunate events will arise to knock the person back down to an earlier level. 

However, this does not have to entail that there is a conspiracy. An equally valid explanation for the setbacks many of us experience could be the idea of paying back karma. Or, if you don't want to go the karma route because that's not in your belief system, you could invoke the idea of us being subject to a random roll of the dice. 

Am I paranoid to think that many people with mental illness are doomed in later life to living on the fringes of society, without basic comfort and under harsh conditions? 

Maybe not. On the amount of money the government provides, usually not much comfort is to be had. Owning a car, for example, may be out of the question. 

When a person with mental illness reaches older age, they have presumably been taking psychiatric medications for a number of decades. This might cause such a person to have debilitating and horrible long-term side-effects. They may have several physical health issues which they may be managing or which may be eating away at their bodies. 

Persons with mental illness are up against a lot of obstacles in the struggle to do well in life. 

Or, perhaps my experiences are skewed. If someone recovers and moves on to live a normal life, such a person is no longer visible to me because they are no longer attending the mental health venue where I go. Those classified as "chronic" never seem to make much progress in life, and may continue coming back for more mental health treatment, while those who get well are underrepresented in my and many people's observations. 

However, I have seen numerous people who, over time, have not become better off, but have deteriorated. 

Conspiracy theories make paranoia worse. In one's thoughts, one should seek alternatives to believing that it is because they are "out to get you" that things are going wrong. Life is hard and has many difficulties for persons with or without mental illness. The truth always lies somewhere in the middle of one's far-out conjectures versus the naiveté that the accommodating mental health consumer is expected to have. Medication may induce some level of gullibility as well as manipulability. Yet the lack of medication and not trusting anyone lead to one's misfortune. 

Reasons why many mentally ill people don't do well when older include use of illicit drugs, noncompliance with medication, compliance with medication (and with it the advent of long-term side effects), housing problems, financial problems, destructive relationships, and a number of other reasons. And let's not forget that for some people, progression of the illness causes decreasing levels of functioning. 

Many persons with mental illness die in their forties and fifties due to the health risks of medication, the risks of tobacco use (a common habit among mentally ill people) and the poor diet along with sedentary lifestyle that exist due to circumstances often beyond our control. 

Yet, there is hope. Numerous people who have had severe psychiatric and emotional problems have outlasted the worst of their difficulties. They may have an inheritance that allows them to live with some amount of comfort and ease. They may, on the other hand, have been able to eke out some kind of career niche. Not all persons with mental illness have severe chronic health problems. Some persons with health problems are able to get them resolved through diet, exercise or through whatever treatment is applicable.