ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Needs of the mentally ill

Jack Bragen
Thursday December 08, 2016 - 03:26:00 PM

A mentally ill individual in recovery shouldn't have to be burdened with basic survival. Yet, too often, we are. If you look at the picture of what happens to mentally ill people; being thrown into a detention facility, being homeless, living on the lower fringe of income for those lucky enough to have government benefits, or living in substandard or institutional housing, there is something wrong with the picture.  

To get well, a recovering mentally ill person should have their food and shelter be a given, should live in a safe, comfortable, clean, affordable unit, should have people to talk to, and should not have to physically defend oneself from attack.  

We should not have to work for a living. Fortunately, in the U.S., there are SSDI and SSI that can usually be obtained.  

For our housing and income benefits, a mentally ill person must periodically deal with government hoops to jump through, and this can be anxiety producing. However, this is far better than the alternative of not having these benefits.  

Once housed, fed, bathed, and clothed, a recovering mentally ill person is at liberty to focus on recovery. This usually involves a combination of medication and counseling.  

I am not in favor of deep psychotherapy in which the therapist is trying to dig for an underlying psychological cause to the person's illness. This almost never works and usually harms the patient.  

Obstacles to recovery include the difficulty in finding good housing, the difficulty in finding good quality treatment, and the behavior of patients themselves in which housing and/or treatment are sometimes self-sabotaged. Noncompliance with treatment is one example of this.  

Another obstacle to recovery is the lack of quality of life among those who are cooperative. Persons with psych disabilities are not helped in reaching our potential. Often, if we show potential or if we make progress, assistance from the mental health treatment system seems to evaporate.  

Getting meaningful employment or a meaningful volunteer position would help numerous people do better who have psychiatric problems. However, there is a pitfall. I have seen, in past decades, a scenario in which a psychiatric consumer becomes employed in a good job, and then relapses, possibly due to believing we are "cured" and stopping medication, or in other instances due to the stresses of maintaining the position. Or, people have stopped medication because of its hindrance to job performance.  

It doesn't always work out to place a mentally ill individual in a job. Yet, the absence of a job, the absence of volunteer work, and the absence of a legitimate source of gratification are hindrances to recovery.  

Once "survival" has been dealt with, a person will transition to other issues. An entirely new set of emotions will be loaded into consciousness. It becomes possible to have a wide range of feelings, including sadness, longing, or even joy. The individual's spirit has awakened. This is a necessary step in the evolvement of an individual.  

When I read of the closure of Caffe Mediterraneum, it caused me to have an epiphany, even though I am not in Berkeley, I am in Martinez. I recall that my first date with my wife was at "Cafe Romano" a long gone cafe that was once in downtown Martinez, along with Giovanni's Deli, and a few blocks away there was Bertola's, where my wedding reception took place.  

Martinez has been modernized, and in the process has lost its character. There was once a restaurant, a diner, on Main Street called DiMaggio’s, at one time owned by Joe DiMaggio, the baseball star. Doubtless I've set foot on land that Marilyn Monroe also walked on.  

And I think of the fact that the U.S. is returning to an earlier time, but in an obscene way. I would not be able to have these thoughts and feelings were I still dealing with basic survival.  

After all of these years of living within a haze, consisting of medication side effects and of possible neurological damage, I am finding myself within a set of emotions of which I had forgotten. I don't know if I have been helped by the lack of relapses, the fish oil, the never-ending meditation, and the never-ending writing, or if I am just lucky. At the moment, I am not worried about anything, and I don't have aberrations blocking my experience of life. This is good.