Mental illness, as a societal concern and reform, is “trending” now. Perhaps the biggest misconception is, “It’s OK now to talk about mental health,” issues continue circulating on blogs and forums. These statements are all bald-faced lies.
People make these statements for several reasons. One reason is people want to believe reform is in the works. The problem is people need to learn the truth. I see the truth every day on the streets. I also see the mental health crisis walking past the clinics. I even see mentally ill people wandering the streets. I can’t help but see mental health issues go without relief every day. Don’t you see it too?
The truth is most people don’t care about people like me or you or me. People don’t care about people with severe mental health issues. So, what mental health talk is trending? Acute anxiety, depression, single episode, and not very painful. The truth is, the more chronic. The more complicated, the uglier, the more intense, the fewer people want to address, acknowledge or talk about it.
Have you ever seen someone on the subway losing behavioural control? Perhaps even getting loud. In my experience, people look away, ignore, and hope, the person, either regains self-control or gets off at the next stop. How about someone on the street who also have a hard time? Similar to the bystander on the train. People avert their eyes and walk to the other side of the road. People do just about everything they can to avoid interaction, least of all helping the person in crisis.
Every day, people do all they can to avoid mental Illness. The same sort of attitude goes beyond the bystander on the street. All too often, the family of people with a mental health disorder and closest friends makes themselves unavailable for family/collateral support. My point is this goes beyond apathy or indifference. So, when people say mental Illness is “in” or “it is OK now”; I hope people understand why this isn’t true.
Like most societal “problems,” mental health is political. Mental Health is a public issue, not a political one. Mental health needs to be a general issue because it involves the welfare and needs of the population. The problem is mental health is politicised, if not even weaponised, by people in political power, as a weapon. The weapon is the metaphor that intersects life for people with mental health disorders in a genuine way. Just ask New Yorkers with a mental health disorder.
If you are still waiting to hear about Mayor Adams’s new plan to clean the streets, pick up a newspaper and read. Take a moment and acknowledge the reality of the mentally ill people in New York and other cities that take the lead of politicians like Mayor Adams. The plan, in layperson’s terms, is to help people that cannot help themselves. The program makes perfect sense on paper. Shouldn’t all people that cannot help themselves get public assistance? In the case of people with mental health disorders, this theory should be even more accurate.
Under the guise of Kendra’s Law, the Mayor is forcing help. How will this impact people with mental health disorders? Crisis workers often connect people to valuable resources and treatment they might not have received before this new plan. In the case of many others, people will be subject to more injustice, plight, and trauma from a broken system. In terms of the question, is this doing more harm than good? I have to believe everyone will fall somewhere along a spectrum.
For most people, the concept of “forced treatment” is off their radar ultimately. Forced treatment is a challenging concept for someone who has never experienced a hospitalisation or time in a mental hospital against their will. With this said, do people understand Mayor Adam’s plan to help the mentally ill people help themselves? For the same reasons I stated earlier if people don’t care about mentally ill people, why does Mayor Adams care so much about helping them? Stigma, money, votes? I’m sure of all this and more because people don’t care about us unless there is a political motive.
Aside from the myth of mental illness being “in”. And, of course, I’d also like to point out the politicization of people like me and you. I want to make it very visible. You would not have even been reading this to ignore what I am saying. Mayor Adam didn’t consult mentally Ill people. The Buro of Mental Health and Hygiene in NYC did not consult with people with a mental illness.
People in the mental health movement have a manta – nothing about us without us.
So, why didn’t Mayor Adam consult with DOMH, and why didn’t DOMH consult with us? I am the Chair of the Consumer Advisory Board, CAB, for DOMH. The CAB committee oversees the funding and regulation of mental health practices and programs in NYC. I can tell you first-hand that CAB never collaborated with the Mayor or his team during the rollout of his new plan. The CAB committee never got the memo: this is a huge problem.
We live in a world where no one cares about people with mental health conditions. As a person with lived experience, I have to worry about the few people in charge that govern and regulate the provision of care, keeping me alive and healthy in the community. If people like myself at such high levels were not involved with Mayor Adam’s plan, why not? And what does that say about the status of mental health reform today?
Max E. Guttman, LCSW teaches social work at Fordham University. He is also a mental health correspondent for Psychreg.
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