There seems to be an assumption behind many mental health campaigns, like the #MHM2016 one – for Mental Health Month – that mental health care is all people with mental illness need. There is an unwavering focus on access to care. Okay. That’s great for people who want mental health care. I mean, I see a psychiatrist and a therapist. I take medication. Cool. In some ways I am a model citizen with mental illness. But when people talk about access to “treatment,” and people “needing treatment,” and “the plight of the mentally ill” and “mental health awareness,” this is what people mean, I think:
- Access to to treatment is more important than issues like stable housing, co-occurring physical health conditions that can be managed so we don’t die at our average age of fifty-two, and a source of income.
- People need access and should have treatment whether they want it or not, because they need it for their own good.
- Access to treatment will fix all the problems and manage the mental health needs well.
- People with mental illness belong in the hands of psychiatrists and doctors.
- Coercive/involuntary treatment and/or hospitalization.
- Awareness!!! The tragedy of mental illness!!!
My reactions to these:
- Stable housing, is, you know, kind of necessary to begin thinking about treatment. Instead of being homeless, or bouncing from place to place, and worrying about all the things that come with that.
- Stop. The baseline for any treatment should be self-directed.
- See number one. We need community supports, adequate physical health care, stable housing.
- How medical model of you. We can be fixed just by doctors, clearly! Tell that to my brain after a psych ward visit, and years of psychiatry and therapy.
- See number two.
- We are not broken – at least, not that you can decide. We are not tragedies. Many of us would take magic cures. Many of us wouldn’t. More than that, mental health awareness campaigns are aimed at getting us into treatment where we “belong.” We become whatever our diagnosis is, to be fixed. Alternately, we are prone to being mass shooters in the public eye. When your campaigns focus on treatment, it makes us seem broken and people are likely to believe we need treatment before ending up mass shooters.