ON MENTAL ILLNESS: In Politics, Mentally Ill People Don't Get a Mention

Jack Bragen
Sunday March 22, 2020 - 05:58:00 PM

I watched the Presidential primary debate between Sanders and Biden (a week will have passed before you are reading this), and people with disabilities didn't get lip service. 

I watch a lot of politics on television and I read it on the internet. So far, I have seen no politician courting the votes or contributions from persons with disabilities. My category, that of mentally ill people, does not have political clout. The closest we come to it is through NAMI, National Alliance on Mental Illness, an organization consisting primarily of the parents of people with mental illness. NAMI does have some amount of clout, but even they rarely get a mention by a politician. 

Mentally ill people often do not have jobs. If we had jobs, it would be easier for us to organize into an entity that has some form of clout. The money has to come from somewhere. And people are not going to contribute to the cause of mentally ill people forming an organization that is by and for mentally ill people. 

Many families continue to keep it a secret that a family member is bipolar or schizophrenic. The concept that mental illness is something to be ashamed of is a misnomer. Yet it persists. 

Many mentally ill people probably do not vote. Many can't afford to contribute to a politician. When we are living under restrictions, including the passive restraint of having no income, activities become very limited. My writing is easy to do in some respects, because it merely involves possession of a computer, and the will to sit at that computer and produce something. 

Politicians don't mention mentally ill people because that won't help them win an election. Yet there are many elected officials who care about our wellness and who will act to make our lives better after they are elected. Proposition 63 was a one percent millionaire tax to fund mental health. It has done a lot to make the lives of mentally ill people better. It pays toward the Clubhouse in Concord and might pay for some of the expenses of NAMI Contra Costa. 

In the not so distant past, mentally ill people could and did organize. This was due to there being less economic pressure and other constraints on us. Additionally, the previous generation of medications was less restrictive of brain function. Thus, in the past, mentally ill people could do more things, including organize. 

When we organized, we accomplished some good things, but there was also some amount of corruption. I was out of the loop, so I do not know the exact nature of this. However, there were some mentally ill people in the organization with which I was involved who liked being a big fish in a small pond, and they also liked fishing out of a barrel. 

Where there is money, there is corruption. At one time, mental health organizations were able to get grants. These times appear to have passed. The capacity to organize seems to have been swept away by the force of medication, and other forces, including a harsher society. The "Patients' Rights Movement" arose when there were far worse injustices in the mental health treatment system than there are now. 

Yet, in the past ten years, certain things about inpatient treatment have worsened. And, additionally, police forces have always been too heavy-handed in their detainment procedures, from what I have observed firsthand. 

Organized mentally ill people often served as a balance on the authority of the mental health treatment systems. There are some organizations, such as Office of Consumer Empowerment. Yet, my perception, and the reader should correct me if I'm wrong, is that this organization is supervised by the county. 

Better conditions for mentally ill people would allow us to organize and have clout, and not worse conditions. This is unless the parents become excessively outraged at what is being done to their adult children. 

Meanwhile, there is the Clubhouse model, which has absorbed the funding, and which is not run by recovered mentally ill people. We've lost adult status.