ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Prognoses and Prospects

Jack Bragen
Thursday April 11, 2019 - 09:00:00 PM

The norm of adult males with schizophrenia appears to be a lot of difficulty, sometimes to the point of disaster. I have heard numerous stories of tragedies befalling men with schizophrenia. The least of these is when we live peacefully and pass away relatively young, due to chronic health problems. Other individuals are not as fortunate. 

The term "abnormal" is used by professionals and others to describe people with schizophrenia. However, this word is offensive. 

It requires a lot of mental energy, a lot of effort, and a lot of consciousness to be able to fend off many of the bad effects and results of this illness. I've heard of a number of men with schizophrenia, and some women, passing away in their mid-forties due to heart attack or similar issues. 

I've heard of numerous people, both male and female, committing suicide, when they probably have a lot of their natural lifespan remaining. I've heard some stories of people becoming violent or committing offenses, causing them to be locked up in jail or prison on an indefinite basis--many are never released while living. 

Mental illnesses are serious, and they need to be addressed with seriousness. If you address the mental illness, you have a chance at living a productive life. Secondary are the chronic health problems that come with medication or that come with less complete self-care, compared to a non-afflicted person. 

Society might find it more convenient to allow mentally ill people to pass away young. They will not have to pay as much SSI, which is funded by taxpayers. They might believe that trying to help people with mental illness is a waste. The public perception of mentally ill people needs improvement. We may be the last group of which it is socially acceptable to hate, discriminate against, and sometimes ridicule. 

There appear to be mechanisms for removal of mentally ill people from society, so that we can be institutionalized, imprisoned, or otherwise rendered defunct. Society has boobytraps that are there by intention of social architects, or that have come about for unrelated reasons. For example, predatory lending. 

Someone could be removed from living among the mainstream, because they could not fulfill their responsibilities well enough, or because of inadvertently breaking a law. And then, there is outpatient institutionalization, which has an effect of segregating and pacifying mentally ill adults, while providing us, admittedly, with necessary help. 

It would be nice to think that mentally ill people have a shot at living in comfort and enjoyment, that we could have a shot at owning a house with a white picket fence, that we have a chance at finding the mate of our dreams, and of having kids that we could put through college, and grandkids. I haven't seen that happen, in the more than thirty years that I have participated in the mental health treatment system. 

I have seen a few who turned out to be misdiagnosed, who got out and achieved the above. But for those who've been institutionalized long-term, it seems that we have to lower our sights to something realistically achievable. 

Either this is okay, or it isn't. But it is so. How we process this is up to us. We may have to settle for enjoying things on a smaller scale. Reading a book in a chair with a caffeinated beverage is a way of getting enjoyment. If one has a ping-pong table available, it is another avenue of pleasure. Illicit drugs are to be avoided. I suggest not trying them in the first place. 

If we show people that we can cooperate, can actively manage our condition, and can act according to most people's expectations, things will be better than they would otherwise be. We may need to please others even if we aren't always inclined to do that. 

Is there any hope of things being better? E. Fuller Torrey, renowned psychiatrist and author, believes that more money should be directed toward developing better drugs for schizophrenia than is currently being spent. I agree with that. However, society should make an effort at creating jobs for mentally ill people. Mentally ill people can do a lot of useful and creative things, when we are in environments that aren't excessively demanding. This doesn't have to be a bottomless pit into which money is thrown out. It is potentially profitable to employ mentally ill people. What really stands in the way is human ignorance, and not that mentally ill people can't do a job. We can. 

Who is it truly up to if we want things to be better for mentally ill people? To an extent, it is up to we, ourselves. No one is going to hand us a better life just because we think they ought to. We have to create that. Is this asking the impossible? Maybe and maybe not.