ON MENTAL ILLNESS: A Voice That Must Be Heard

By Jack Bragen
Thursday May 01, 2014 - 02:13:00 PM

The voices of persons who suffer from mental illnesses are oft silenced by a number of forces. Our perspective is one that should be heard, and that usually is not. Persons with mental illness frequently have difficulties speaking up for ourselves in a number of forums including, but certainly not limited to, simple verbal communication. This is often a cause for bullying in subtle and gross forms, since without being able to protest, we are often unable to prevent being stepped on. 

When someone's mind has gone haywire, it makes it much harder if not impossible to communicate one's needs to others. Part of this is due to internal confusion concerning what is real and what isn't. Partly, psychosis or other psychiatric problems make it harder to communicate things coherently. People in the outside world, including mental health professionals, are not at fault for this. If you can't speak up about what hurts, how is anyone to know? 

On the other hand, it is clear that some mental health treatment practitioners are in the wrong business. Some treatment professionals wrongly use therapeutic techniques as weapons to silence people. Other professionals get into our internal workings by digging, apparently in the name of helping someone, and yet they end up doing more damage. Therapy should never be used this way. 

People with chronic and severe mental illness are not in the position of influencing policy makers. Thus, when legislation is considered that affects people with mental illness, those most affected, the mentally ill people, do not have a voice in the decision-making process of government. 

I am sure that the gargantuan drug companies who manufacture medications for the mentally ill have plenty of lobbyists to influence Congress. But where are the lobbyists who might speak on behalf of persons with mental illness? 

(Don't get me wrong; I believe psychiatric medications have saved my life. However, there ought to be more of a push toward safer meds that, unlike most of today's psych medications, will not cause severe physical health risks. Zyprexa, for example, has made me eighty pounds overweight, hypertensive, and borderline diabetic.) 

Persons with mental illness are generally underprivileged and do not have any economic power to speak of. Thus, when dollars are voting, persons with mental illness don't get their vote. 

Mentally ill people are thus reliant on family, usually parents, to be the ones who would pull any strings on behalf of persons with mental illness. And so, there is NAMI, National Alliance on Mental Illness. While this is helpful, it is not exactly the same as if we, ourselves had such a voice. Parents may not have a complete understanding of the suffering caused by medication side effects, for example. And they may not have the same agenda for us as we would for ourselves. 

Government, in the almighty quest to save money (so that there will be more left for building drones) has cut benefits for people with psych disabilities, including drug coverage, cash, and programs that would help us become more independent. If you are on a combination of Medicare and Medi-Cal, good luck finding a private practitioner for therapy or psychiatry. 

Because of how conditions have changed, I wouldn't dare try to go off meds because the prospect is terrifying of a relapse in which I would simply be incarcerated or, at best, hospitalized in an underfunded and cruel situation. 

Furthermore I am terrified of the future as someone who is dependent on government funded services that currently allow me to be housed, fed and medicated. Things are headed back to the Stone Age in which persons who can't make it in society are left without fundamental support. 

Thus, it is important that persons with mental illness have a voice. This column offers my voice and can potentially include yours. I can be reached at: with your comments. Please specify whether or not I have permission to publish your comments. (Your name and identifying information will not be included unless you specify otherwise.) . 

Ps.: my self-published books, "Instructions for Dealing with Mental Illness, A Self-Help Manual," and "Jack Bragen's Essays on Mental Illness," are available for purchase on Amazon.