Return Our Sanity Through Timely Treatment
People with Stable Minds Can See Illness for What It Is
It's the day after the Newton Children’s Massacre and I want to say something as a mentally ill person. I have had bipolar disorder all my life. I have been successfully treated for the illness for 23 years. Since then I have done extensive research on the disorder and written four books on the subject. I have developed opinions on the way treatment is given (and withheld) in this country.
Mentally ill persons are the most discriminated persons in the country. They can easily be fired from jobs (“she just wasn’t capable of doing the job,” instead of the truth—we were afraid of having a mentally ill person around).
When people find out about their illness, they lose friends and sometimes are blackballed from organizations. A mentally ill person has to be careful with what he or she says and does at all times, so as not to trigger stigma.
At the same time, access to treatment has been made difficult. In the past few years, states have cut access to mental health treatment by limiting the illnesses they will treat. In my own state, mental health clinics will only treat those with schizophrenia, depression, and bipolar disorder. No other illnesses are eligible.
In the past year, I was cut from the program after five successful years with the same psychiatrist because I was “too stable” to receive treatment any longer. And I am a person who actively seeks treatment, demands it, and insists that I always have my medication, even if it means an ER visit to get it.
What about those who resist treatment? Those like the school, theater, congress-people, and mall shooters? The profile invariably shows that they did not seek treatment, that they refused it. Often it is found that a parent tried many times to get help for their child, but was turned away because he was not a danger to himself or others—yet.
Read Pete Earley’s book Crazy, in which he describes his efforts to get help for his bipolar son. He found that most mentally ill people are not in institutions, but in jails or prisons, because they did not get help when they needed it, but the criminal justice system intervened after they had acted out.
What about a person’s right to be healthy? We don’t leave sick people lying on the street to die. We deliver them to the hospital to be healed. What about a person’s right to not be mentally ill? They are in no shape to make a decision as to whether or not they should receive treatment or medication. They have a right to be treated. The “freedom” we allow people to have in our country to be mentally ill is illusory and has nothing to do with real freedom. These are chains that bind and hold a person even as they declare their own freedom.
Treat the person—return him or her to sanity—then let the person decide whether or not they wish to be ill. Then, and only then, are they capable of making such a decision. We need to upgrade our mental health system and to change our laws to deal with the reality that is mental illness and to truly help the helpless.