ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Social Exclusion

Jack Bragen
Friday August 10, 2018 - 02:23:00 PM

People who take antipsychotic medication may be identifiable as "mentally ill" by members of the general public. It seems that the medications affect physical mannerisms, movements, and probably other aspects of our appearance. 

Some but not all persons in mental health treatment do not maintain grooming and dress as well as mainstream, well to do people. This additional factor could put us in a negatively perceived category. Mentally ill people often do not have the same level of weight control. We may not have a neat haircut. 

Some people whom I have never seen before have exhibited a negative attitude toward me, and I have overheard talk indicating they believe I am a mentally ill person. If this is accurate, it puts mentally ill people in a similar category to African American and other nonwhite people. And similarly to people of color, we do not necessarily know when someone is judging us based on appearance, or whether they would act that way toward anyone. 

Yesterday, a Caucasian, middle-aged, well-dressed woman was going to her car, and I happened to be nearby in the parking lot, having a smoke. (I'd driven my wife to an appointment at the mental health clinic in the adjacent building.) 

I heard the woman say something to another person, and it sounded like the name of the mental health clinic in the building. Then, she walked past me, presumably to get into her car. A few moments later, I realized that her vehicle was oriented toward me where I stood. My best guess--she was taking video of me with her dashcam or with a phone. 

Now, the above is subjective. However, at least I did not imagine the woman's vehicle facing me, at a moment when she really should have been driving out of the parking lot. 

All I can say is: Thank you, you've provided me with subject matter for my column. 

Presumably, the woman was going to show the video to police, of a mentally ill man smoking in a parking lot. Maybe she had ideas of cleaning up the streets of Concord, California. Unlike Berkeley there is no ordinance in Concord prohibiting smoking in a public place, so long as you keep a distance from an entrance or window of a building. 

However, this is not about smoking; this is about being identified as mentally ill in a public place. People's attitudes have become increasingly intolerant. 

We are witnessing social progress in retrograde. I've read other pieces in the Planet and elsewhere describing similar incidents, in which a large segment of the population is becoming more obviously bigoted. Perhaps people have been this way all along, and feel that it is now safe to go public with it. 

Yet, we are also seeing some forward social progress in some areas of society. I've said it many times: Mentally ill people should be considered a minority group. Instead, even many people espousing "liberal values" are still in the dark, and view mentally ill people as less then human. 

This has to change. It is harder for persons with psychiatric disabilities to stand up for our rights, partly because mechanisms in society, including but not limited to the treatment systems. Their objective is to keep mentally ill people "managed" and prevent us from becoming effective individuals. 

Now we wouldn't want those unclean psychotic people joining ranks with businesspersons, and writers and the like. 

This is not the same as how African American people have been treated--instead, it is subtler and it is highly systematized. Instead of us being lynched, mechanisms in society have put up walls. And if you try to climb those walls, trouble awaits.