ON MENTAL ILLNESS: The Right to Exist

By Jack Bragen
Friday November 16, 2012 - 10:47:00 AM

Because of how society treats persons with mental illness, and also because of the strong "work ethic" that people have, (in which people who can't keep up are made a scapegoat) persons with mental illness, (at least those who can't work at a job as a result of their condition) are made to feel that our existence isn't justified. 

"Right to exist," among other things, is a strong Jewish tradition that also applies to other downtrodden classifications of people and to all individuals. It means that if no one takes my side in a disagreement, at least I am on my side. It means that I will not go docilely to my destruction. It means that I belong here, I have a right to be here, and I don't have to substantiate that right. 

Right to exist, applied to those with mental illness, means that, usually but not always through socially acceptable and legally acceptable channels, we will protest our mistreatment. It means that we have had laws passed which give us a legal right to refuse lobotomies and electroshock. It means that the systematic oppression and mistreatment of those with mental illness will not be condoned. 

Right to exist means that being disabled does not indicate that we are less than valid people. We ought to value ourselves without buying in to the guilt trip that says we need to be employed to be acceptable people. 

Asking a person who is disabled with severe mental illness to shrug off their problems and get a job is sometimes equivalent to telling someone in a wheelchair that they need to just get up and walk. The problem of people's lack of understanding stems partly from the fact that some of the time, we can actually just shrug off our problems and work. But sometimes we can not. Persons with mental illness should be allowed to work when able and should not be subject to discrimination. Yet, we can't be expected to always be able to work. 

The human mind and brain are very complex, and so are the illnesses that affect them. A simplistic approach to a person with a mental illness, like "just try harder and do it," does not always work. Some of the time, it will work. This is a source of confusion for people with simple minds who have trouble understanding the complex nature of our illnesses and our disabilities. 

For a non-disabled person, being able to work at a job at random is not an indication of fitness. There are plenty of people who lack intellectual development who do not have difficulty with employment. Being unable to hold employment is often a signal of more going on in someone's cranium, not less. 

Most nondisabled people are ignorant. Nondisabled persons are unaware and uninformed about the difficulties that we experience, and they believe we just ought to overcome our laziness because that's what worked for them. However, despite the fact that a psychiatric disability is invisible, it is real. 

We did not produce our disability-it has been given to us. 

If the consensus is that we are awful people, it opens the door for all sorts of hatred and abuse. Persons with mental illness are entitled to at least a modicum of self-righteousness. Yet, the world should not require that we put on a grand display of self righteous anger for them to realize we have personhood and that we do not deserve to be the target of their bad treatment. 

We are not bad people just because people believe we are. 

Furthermore, we are entitled. We are entitled to the social security and medical benefits that we receive because we have a legitimate disability that gives us that right. We should not be made to feel guilt because we aren't "earning our way." Any society that champions fairness and human rights owes us the free money and medical care that we get. 

Our society (which is people) has already put up barriers of discrimination that often prevent us from getting hired or from coexisting with employers and coworkers (discrimination doesn't stop once a person is hired). And many companies have tried to evade the obligation of creating reasonable accommodation. 

If people are going to force us to wear that label, "mentally ill person," then people have to pay us. 

I am selling a new self help guide for people with schizophrenia. The title is: "Instructions for Dealing with Schizophrenia: A Self-Help Manual." At sixty-one pages, it is a useful guide for those with this illness who need some hope, instruction, and encouragement to be treatment compliant. Here is the link to this manual on LULU, which is a self publishing website. 

And here is the link to the Kindle version on Amazon, to get the book faster and cheaper: