I presented to a small class of drama therapy students this past weekend and it became more than apparent, to me and to them — though we all already knew this — that the US mental healthcare system is about more managing and controlling people than providing care and resources for health and recovery.
And then I had dinner with a former colleague who works with a mother who lost a son to suicide . This mother is working to make institutions nicer places. As in making the interior environment of the cages that house mentally ill individuals more cheerful. She has money and started a foundation to do this. I think that is a weird angle to approach improving the quality of life for people with mental illnesses, or is it just me? Of course locked wards and psychiatric institutions are indeed very dull and depressing, and apparently her son spent a lot of time hospitalized. However, I think better — or different — care might have been in order, not just nice art on the walls and designer hospital gowns. I’m being a bit sarcastic about that, but really, what is meaningful care these days and where and how is money, both public and private, being allocated to help us?
These students were all very interested in our dialogue about how to find new ways to actually better the lives of and provide essential care for their mentally ill clients and patients that go beyond just managing them. Actually, they already know some ways to do this, but indicated their voices are often, or always, drowned out by more senior people with very traditional views of how to treat mental illness and people with mental illness. Which is not paitent-centered by any means. And, this is New York City where we supposedly have the best of the best of everything, including hospitals and other healthcare services. Not.
It all came back to the misinformation, wrong-headed ideas, and stigma surrounding mental illness in the helping professions and psychiatry. And, hey, I’m not a big fan of what one of my friends with bipolar terms “crazy lib” or a part of the psychiatric survivor movement, to me those groups/movements are both right-on and also extreme in their beliefs at the same time. But, whatever you need to get you through life that doesn’t hurt anyone else I’m all for. Hell, I take Klonopin every day to take the edge off, so I generally don’t judge too harshly anyone else’e antidote to hell on earth.
Now I’ve completely lost track of my point… We need to be very vigilant in our own lives and with our sisters, brothers and others with mental illness. We need to make sure those of us who can write necessary info, put the word out, the ideas out, the resources out there on the Web, in person, in books and in movies, too, watch out for each other, and hold the the institutions (not just the locked ones) and the people who run them accountable.