Jack Bragen
Thursday December 03, 2015 - 04:27:00 PM

It might or might not surprise you to know that most persons with psych disabilities are sensitive. Despite society's impression of us as brain-damaged, crude, and dangerous, many of us are none of the above and are at a loss concerning how to deal with the widespread violence perpetrated by the so-called "normal" people.  

People with mental illness can't be soldiers, police, or terrorists. We lack the capacity to handle organized, premeditated violence. Any violence that does come from a small number of severely, chronically mentally ill persons will either be random and due to a delusional system, or reactive, from being put into a situation that is threatening and far beyond what we can handle.  

At the risk of telling you something you already know, mentally ill people are more likely to be victims of crime than perpetrators.  

Since 2001, the U.S. has been in a continuous state of war. This affects people's minds, including the minds of mentally ill people, and the minds of people considered normal.  

I knew a mentally ill man who died not long after the 911 attacks. I believe he was deeply disturbed by the U.S. going to war. I am unclear concerning the exact circumstances of his death, but he had experienced another of his manic episodes, and his heart attack could have resulted from mania, due to its extreme stresses on the body. (When we get a little older, the chances of coming through an episode of psychosis or mania are less, due to the increased fragility of age.)  

In my personal existence, I am affected by societal changes that are Orwellian. I am disturbed by increased restrictions in U.S. society, and I am disturbed by the cloud of suspicion that now in general permeates our culture. There is either a fine line or no line between being vigilant for external threats, versus being insanely paranoid. We have an epidemic of paranoia in the U.S.  

War is bad for people who ordinarily suffer from paranoia. Fourteen years of continuous war doubtlessly etches neurological pathways in the brain. War has changed people's brain structures.  

Technological advances that have made surveillance more feasible and less costly, coupled with the general permissiveness (legal and social) in which people have learned to expect video surveillance, is an Orwellian change in our culture, and it is a profoundly bad change, with some exceptions. When surveillance solves crimes or when it holds law enforcement accountable for their behavior, these are the exceptions. However, when we expect to be constantly watched, it is as if we are under the rule of Big Brother.  

Watching the news and seeing warplanes dropping bombs on Syria or elsewhere is bad for mental health. People with mental illness do not have the same amount of insulation compared to average people. A number of persons with mental illness have probably already fallen victim to this lack of insulation in the presence of war, and they may have become mentally ill to the extent that they can't live in society, or their existence may have ended entirely.  

This is grim stuff, and I wasn't sure at first if I would send it for publication. However, if we know in advance how something is going to affect us, we are probably better able to cope with it. If it means not watching the news, or if it means getting extra therapy, these are good adjustments that will help us take care of ourselves in a wartime society, one in which peace already seems like a dream from which we were rudely wakened.