Mental Illness

I haven’t written here in a few days even though I committed to writing every day, but I’ve done some writing elsewhere that I’d rather not share in this “PG” rated forum. Be that as it may, I’ve stumbled across a couple of topics near and dear to my heart.

I just read a news article titled “US jails struggle with role as asylums.” The gist of it is that many folks with mental illness have little access to real health care, and often must get arrested for minor offenses, (usually committed as a symptom of the mental illness) and end up in jail rather than treatment. While in jail, these folks may or may not get evaluated or treated for their mental illness while there. This depends largely on whether the person admits to having an illness. Even if they do though, they may receive medication for the time they’re in jail, but are then released with no follow up, and so the cycle repeats itself. Except occasionally, some one becomes violent against others, or commits suicide.

Then, there’s an article somewhere, and in today’s internet world, space afterward for comments. They always seem to go like this: “My brother wouldn’t take his meds and he was homeless, now he’s in prison.” “My mother has bipolar but won’t get herself help, so we’ve given up on her.” “Dad can’t take care of himself, but he can’t get an appointment to see a doctor, and the system won’t help him.” “My sister is schizophrenic, but she takes drugs and steals to get the money, so we threw her out of the house. Now she’s homeless, but she won’t stop using drugs.”

There were also other statements by commenters who claimed that a big part of the problem for mentally ill people in the jails was the obvious abuse perpetrated on them by the staff, principally the “guards.”

Now I have some experience with mental illness, as I was diagnosed with “Major Clinical Depression” 19 years ago this month, as fate would have it, and I’ve been treated for it with everything from meds to therapy to electro shock treatment (ECT). I’ve discovered what amounts basically to a cure for me, but I have to be wary and watch for the signs and symptoms of depression, because it can sneak back in if I let it.

It has taken me this long to understand how I can defeat this monster though, and many people just aren’t so fortunate. Maybe someone will read my blog, and discover that they too can get better without medications and what passes for “treatment.” That’s not to say if you have a mental illness and your treatment works for you, that you should give it up, but I lost faith in the conventional forms and I found what works for me.

Any way, that’s not really the point of this post though. What I’m talking about, first and foremost, is that families don’t seem to come together to care for a mentally sick member, at least not like they do for those with physical ailments. In the past, (I know I’m generalizing here) if someone had a mental illness, the family would surround him/her, make sure that person was cared for with a home, food, someone to watch over them, and their privacy was protected. The neighbors may have known that the Michael’s had a son who “wasn’t right in the head”, but nobody bothered them, and the son could live out his days as well as possible, in the loving embrace of his family. Obviously, there were circumstances where that wasn’t possible, or the ill person had no family, and these people needed to be institutionalized.

I’m not going to go into great lengths about the horrors that were uncovered in some of the institutions, but generally speaking, families took care of their own. When did that change? Why did that change? I realize this is a different world, but there are tons of stories about folks with cancer who are cared for by family, loved ones, hospitals, and finally hospices when the time comes. Why doesn’t that happen with mentally ill people? There are no people with cancer in prison for stealing to get the pain meds they need, because the meds are supplied to them as compassionate care. Why are schizophrenics or depressed folks locked up for stealing in order to medicate their pain? It’s partly because those who’ve never experienced that pain don’t believe it’s real. I’m not suggesting that someone with depression should be supplied with morphine, but the current methods and the current meds that screw with brain chemistry don’t work. If they did, there wouldn’t be so many of these folks committing crimes and ending up in jail!

Why are people with mental illnesses blamed for their own diseases? Why do their families give up on them? Why isn’t home care and more than just emergency hospitalization available to them? If I became severely depressed today, went down to the local hospital psychiatric ER and told them that, they would make me an appointment, or more likely, give me a number to call to make an appointment in two or three weeks, to see a psychiatrist who would ask me how sad I was and then prescribe an anti-depressant. Or, more anti-depressants. If I went there and said I was going to kill myself or someone else though, then they’d lock me up in a ward where I’d sit most of the day and stare at a TV. If I had been drinking before that though, then that would become the root of all my problems, and they would hustle me off to a rehab as soon as possible.

Some folks get so depressed that they literally cannot move from bed for days. What happens to these people when they have no one to care for them? If someone discovers them they might go to an ER and get IV fluids, but they’ll be sent back home again. Not posing a threat to anybody, right? My point being that if someone needs “help”, the way to get it is to act out.

Next, even though I’m a little biased on the subject, prison officers are probably the greatest mental health counselors alive today. They damn near live with the mentally ill, they have to watch out for their safety, as well as the safety of those around them. Prison officers, when experienced, have a very finely tuned sense of who the ill inmates are, and maybe more importantly, when they are “decompensating” and descending into their own particular brand of hell. Thus, the prison officer is often the first advocate for the mentally ill prisoner, taking all the administrative action required to get him treated. Every officer with a few years on the job has experienced some who are known to be ill and are caught in the revolving door of incarceration, release, no treatment, incarceration, release, on and on. Plus, as in my case, very often the prison officer learns first hand what depression feels like.

I don’t know what the answer is, and maybe there isn’t one. I do know that if you have a mental illness but are functional and can understand the basics, then the Law of Attraction can help. It did for me.

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