ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Adapting to Changing Times and Difficult Conditions

Jack Bragen
Friday September 18, 2015 - 02:54:00 PM

If you have a psychiatric disability and live with minimal responsibilities, adapting to changes may not be incredibly hard. You probably have a cellphone or an iPhone and a computer. You probably understand how to use these.  

This is not to say that mentally ill people always lack responsibilities in our lives. Not all of us are able to live with parents or in a situation in which there are people to take care of us. Some of us cannot be happy living in an institutional place, and we are too old to live with mom. Thus, we may have the responsibility of fending for ourselves while lacking the income of full time work.  

While some persons with mental illness can work, those of us more severely afflicted, or with additional disabilities resulting from the physical long term side effects of psychiatric drugs, may be forced to get our income from Social Security.  

In the distant past, Social Security and SSI provided enough income to live without too much discomfort. However, the cost of living has sharply risen. Rents have risen, food has risen, basic essentials have gone up, and SSI benefits have failed miserably to keep up with this or, in some instances, benefits have been cut outright.  

At one time, someone living on SSI could pay for subsidized rental of some kind, could buy enough food, could pay utilities, and could often afford to pay cash for a used car or perhaps make a car payment. We could order pizza one or two times per month, and we might've been able to afford a Denny's meal.  

This has changed. SSI pays for living in an institutional situation, or you might be able to make it with an extremely barebones budget, and you would certainly not be able to afford car expenses. And then, Social Security has the brazenness to use intimidation tactics when they interview you.  

Governor Schwarzenegger slashed SSI benefits. When we get an annual increase in SSDI from the federal government, the State of California eats up at least half of that with a reduction in SSI.  

Grocery stores have become the domain of the rich. If you live on disability, you can get free food from the food bank, you can go get some essentials at Wal-Mart, and going to Dollar Tree is a must.  

We must also adapt to increased restrictions and increased scrutiny. If you fail to check in with mental health treatment providers on a regular basis to show that you are complying with treatment, difficulties could come about. Officials in the mental health treatment system may retaliate. If we fail to stick to our treatment plan at a less restrictive venue, we risk being cut off from services, and we do not want that.  

Because of the violent incidents that have occurred in recent years in which perpetrators have been believed to be mentally ill, there is more pressure to keep mentally ill people monitored.  

I need to remain in good standing with the mental health treatment system, since I am not in a position to try to go it alone. If I didn't have the cooperation of treatment practitioners, it would have disastrous results for me.  

When mentally ill people reach middle age and approach being a senior, the health problems caused by the medication and/or by poor self-care begin to arise. Even while we are trying to maintain our mental health treatment, we must at the same time somehow deal with physical health problems. It necessitates having a reliable car just so that we can get to all of our doctor's appointments. 

Overall, many persons with psychiatric disabilities may find ourselves in scenarios that border on being unmanageable. If parents help us with certain things, or if we have an inheritance, we are more likely to have a workable budget.  

It is harder for many mentally ill people to adapt to changes in the human environment. Even the issue of global warming seems to come into play. In California, the hot weather we've been getting this year makes it a lot harder to go outdoors. Persons on psychiatric drugs often can't tolerate high temperatures. The medication in some instances interferes with regulation of body temperature.  

If we are talking in terms of "survival of the fittest" I would assert that some of the fittest, paradoxically, live with a psychiatric disability.