ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Presumed a Fool by Fools

Jack Bragen
Friday February 07, 2020 - 03:04:00 PM

There are many people who would never admit to being disablist, yet they carry hurtful, inaccurate assumptions about people with mental illness. And there is no getting through to disablist people that, although we've been labeled mentally ill, most of us are competent adults, we can do things that require intelligence, and we can think. Their assumption is that all mentally ill people are managed--or something to that effect, that all mentally ill people are incompetent, and that our levels of functioning and intelligence are always below average. 

A problem I've had with disablists is they don't usually put their cards on the table. When you see a mental health professional or other person in a position of authority, and they seem unreadable, it usually means they're hiding something. 

They hide behind a mask of pretending to take me at my word. But, at some point, the truth comes out. The person had been assuming all along that I'm an idiot, that I'm incompetent, that my accomplishments aren't real or don't amount to much, and that I am supervised by the mental health treatment system. 

Some disablists work in the mental health treatment system, while others are involved in mental health in other respects. Some are not involved in mental health, and do not hide their hatred and contempt toward persons with mental illness and/or persons with other disabilities. 

I can't force anyone to think the way I want them to think. The alternative to such a futile effort is to choose my battles. Secondly, I need to put up an emotional wall that insulates me from the derision of disablists.  

And disablist therapists will never admit their feelings toward those on whom they do their work. If confronted, they will use therapeutic, manipulative techniques to deflect the criticism, so that they can avoid being accountable. 

Therapists are taught multiple techniques to deflect being accountable. They may tell an angry person to "take a deep breath." They may psychoanalyze someone's upset feelings toward them. They will inevitably deny any wrongdoing, and they will assert that it is the client's mental illness that makes her or him feel that the therapist has done something wrong. 

And I must remember that, just because someone believes or assumes something about me, that doesn't make it so. 

Dealing with disablists is the same idea, albeit at a much milder level, that black people were subject to, before racism became socially unacceptable. However, unlike with black people, disablists do not do physical violence to disabled people, or if they do, it is relatively rare. The injustices that befell nonwhite people in the not too distant past, and to a subtler extent in present day, are far beyond the levels of injustices that those with psychiatric disabilities must deal with. 

We might get a stinging remark, or we might get discrimination in hiring. Or we could be dealing with people putting their false impressions in our charts. And the last example could affect court cases where we are suspect of something--but this is hypothetical from where I stand. Yes, we are dealing with ignorant people and their ignorant beliefs, people who may have a lot of power over how we live. However, if our feelings are not easily hurt, and if we are resourceful, we can probably overcome and/or outwit these things and these ignorant people. 

The quagmire we face is where we need the mental health treatment system more than it needs us. We can't survive without being in treatment. And if we overtly defy "the system" numerous things will go against us. Society is set up such that we don't have limitless choices. The illnesses are real and must be addressed with treatment. Because of the above, sometimes we must walk a fine line. 

However, we must never believe people's assertions and assumptions that we are less, that we can't, or that we are not.