ON MENTAL ILLNESS: We Should be Considered a Minority

Jack Bragen
Friday August 08, 2014 - 11:10:00 AM

The maltreatment experienced by persons with mental illness is not on the same scale of severity that African American people experienced several decades ago in which there was extreme violence perpetrated upon them. (We yet have a long way to go to alleviate the discrimination, wrongful conviction and violence directed at nonwhite individuals.) 

Yet, the maltreatment of persons with mental illness is real—it is not a figment of our psychotic imagination. Part of this is that we are essentially a segregated population. Some of this occurs through wrongful imprisonment. Some occurs by means of being supervised by the mental health treatment system. 

Some of the maltreatment is brought forth by attitudes of people in mainstream society who are intolerant of someone different. It remains socially acceptable to regard persons with mental illness with disdain and ridicule. 

We are considered to be a lower form of life by most people. The stereotype of a person in treatment for mental illness is that of a person either rocking back and forth on a bench while smoking a cigarette, or involuntarily twisting their face while boarding a bus. We are considered a bunch of "sick people." 

Some of the mistreatment perpetrated upon persons with mental illness is economic. It is much harder for us to get hired at a decent or any job. Banks set up predatory lending which victimizes unwary individuals--and a number of them are mentally ill people. Although gainful employment is sometimes an unlikelihood, the government doesn't provide a decent amount of money for us to live on. 

Persons with mental illness are presumed stupid, which is the same lie that was once directed toward African American people. 

Persons with mental illness experience being physically tied up in the name of "treatment." We are forced to ingest mind-altering drugs. In some instances, we are forced to have our brains zapped with electrical current. 

The segregation and discrimination we experience have some level of subtlety but are nonetheless genuine. Outpatient segregation means living in an unlocked facility designated for persons with mental illness. And without transportation or money, we are stuck in such a facility unless a family member decides to take us to a coffee shop. 

You may not realize it, but many persons with mental illness have jobs, drive automobiles, go out on dates, and do all of the "normal" activities that you, the reader, do. Not all persons with mental illness are stuck in a psychological childhood, and not all of us are disabled even though we may have a condition that requires treatment. 

Persons with psychiatric disabilities have some ability to "hide" our status of being in the mentally ill minority. If we are at a supermarket, we are often treated the same as anyone. 

On the other hand, we are often subject to being recognized as a "client" by people at such a supermarket who work in the mental health treatment system. Our disability may also be apparent to some, since we may not be as well dressed or groomed as most, and we may have differences in our mannerisms due to being on heavy medication. 

Thus, in some instances, I am treated disrespectfully at random and for no apparent reason while I am out in public. 

Persons with psychiatric disabilities are subject to violent attack perpetrated by criminals. Criminals see mentally ill people as easy victims since the medication slows our reflexes and makes it harder for us to defend ourselves. Furthermore, drug dealers may believe a mentally ill person is a likely customer for the stuff they sell. 

To summarize, persons with mental illness are unfairly victims of bad treatment. I believe we should be given minority status, which in some cases already exists through the Americans with Disabilities Act. However, the ADA is often easy for corporations to maneuver past, and we do not have the same status as other minorities in terms of civil rights or in terms of what actually gets enforced. Legally, we are actually a subverted group, since laws are now on the books to streamline the process of being locked in a hospital, and having medication forced upon us. 

One day, there will be recognition, by mainstream society, of someone’s ignorance and bigotry, when they say something derogatory or insulting about persons with mental illness. It will be easier for us to get jobs, and we will be in on some of the good things that life has to offer that we are currently denied.