ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Tragic Ends to Tragic Lives

Jack Bragen
Saturday October 05, 2019 - 12:21:00 PM


This week's column has dismal content, and you should embark on reading it with caution. It reflects the realities that many persons with mental illness face, and often these are not good. However, I'd like to preface it with another reality, which is hope. So long as we live, breathe and think, we can do some things to better our life circumstances and our mental condition. It takes effort and it takes bravery, but, if you are determined, you can make things better.

I have a brother with schizophrenia, the same condition that affects me. We've both made it past age 50. Yet, it is common for men afflicted with this disease not to make it as far as we have. I could name perhaps a dozen men and women with psychiatric illness who did not make it past 50. There are multiple causes of death. One of the most common is suicide. I've met numerous individuals who died this way. Others have had early heart disease, and/or diabetes. Others have passed because of an accidental drug overdose or bad interaction. You do not hear of many mentally ill people making it to their seventies.

These deaths are tragedies and should not be trivialized because of it happening to a mentally ill person. People often don't perceive us as being in the category of fully-fledged human beings. Many medical doctors do not treat mentally ill patients with the same level of care afforded to a non-afflicted person. 

The lives of many mentally ill people, before an early death, are often an additional tragedy. We've been shortchanged in life. We do not get the good stuff that mainstream Americans are after and are able to get for themselves. This is because many people with a severe mental illness are not employable. 

And if we can do a job and perform competitively, we have limited chances of being hired to do such a job. Many mentally ill people do not have college education. Those who do have college have a far better chance at employment. Yet, the condition and the impairments that come with it often get in the way of being hired and of then performing at a job. This constitutes a huge barrier to the hope of living under good conditions. 

I've met people with substantial mental illness who have a good education, who can get hired, and who work at a professional job. Most people in this category must remain closeted about their condition, by necessity. 

Those who are more impaired and/or less fortunate could be stuck seeking bottom of the barrel jobs, if any. This doesn't lead to finding a fulfilling relationship. It doesn’t lead to buying a house or to having a good car. 

I'd like to tell you that if you just take your medication, cooperate with treatment, and do all of the things authorities and mental health practitioners tell you to do, that life will be good. I can't tell you that. If you want anything for yourself, you must fight for it. You must be willing to compete with people who do not have any impairment. 

Yet, there is nothing wrong with being taken care of by the mental health treatment system, so long as we have some valid source of fulfillment in our lives. I, myself, accept treatment. I wish I had more support than I get from the system. The system falls short. There isn't enough care. At this point, I'd settle for a lot less than I'd originally hoped to have in life, if things would just get a lot easier. 

Many Americans are spoiled. The expectations handed down to us include a nice home, a family, vacations, and fulfilling, lucrative careers. This is the basic American Dream that baby-boomers have been led to expect. Yet, the generation following baby-boomers (and varying labels have been put to this such as "Generation X") Have been sorely let down. And, Millennials, the current generation, are struggling. They experience far more demands and far fewer rewards compared to preceding generations. 

And, if you look at the plight of those with disabling psychiatric illnesses, prospects are dismal. And this must be rectified. Our society needs to offer some shred of hope to us that there is some way we can have a better life.  

Meanwhile, we wait, and we hope. 

If this is your situation, you should realize that you are not alone. 

Jack Bragen has several books in print, including "Revised Short Science Fiction Collection of Jack Bragen," "Schizophrenia: My 35-Year Battle," and others.