ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Don't Oversimplify, &, About Hydration

Jack Bragen
Friday July 21, 2017 - 01:26:00 PM

Don't oversimplify mental illness

Many people in the general public have uninformed opinions about us; people in mainstream society incorrectly view mentally ill people with negative stereotypes. People do not understand mental illness. Even family members, some of the time, will tell us to "lift yourself by your bootstraps." They may be viewing mental illness with monochrome, oversimplified thinking.

Many have erroneous views about medication. Some people believe medication should not be taken, and we ought to just get over our problems without it. Others assume medication is absolutely needed in all cases. I feel that medication isn't good or bad. It helps millions of people to survive and to live somewhat normally. Yet, psychiatric medications have drawbacks.

If someone can get by okay without medication, they should. This is because psychiatric medications, aside from being useful, often have side effects that affect the human mind and body in awful ways.  

Psychiatrists, when they decide someone has psychosis, and find through a blood test that the problem isn't caused by narcotics, tend to prescribe antipsychotic medication almost automatically. Apparently, medicating is the most cost-effective and convenient way to deal with a person suffering from psychosis. In some instances also, medication is the only thing that will work to get someone out of the mental and behavioral predicament in which they are stuck.  

But, let's look at the same person a year later, ten years later, twenty years later. Medication, while essentially saving a person's life, has done much to make life more difficult. Could alternatives have been tried?  

Attempting alternatives to meds probably is not cost effective (for the mental health treatment system) and most of the time, alternatives just won't work. Additionally, the more times that a mentally ill person relapses, the more damage there is to his or her brain and life circumstances.  

It isn't necessary to be on one side or the other of the medication debate. It helps some people. For some, it is the only thing that helps. On the other hand, it has some pretty awful long-term effects. In addition, medication, although it helps many individuals remain mentally stable, for some people, blocks brain function to the extent that it prevents adequate performance at most jobs.  

To adopt the view that any medication is bad, or the view that medication is the only answer, are two poles of oversimplification.  

By the same token, people with schizophrenia should not go into the danger zone of looking for reasons to go off of medication. If medication got you out of the pit of psychosis, then probably, you need to keep taking the stuff--even if it does make you feel awful.  

(If newly medicated, you may not know this: that over time, you can relearn to enjoy life, despite medication side effects. This is accomplished by learning to ignore side effects, by acclimating to medication, and by using cognitive methods to neutralize the suffering of side effects.) 

Who and What Are Mentally Ill People?

Are mentally ill people dangerous? Are we idiots? Are we unable to participate in society?  

Some persons with a psychiatric illness are a danger to the public. I have met one or two mentally ill people who were dangerous. And, I have met a couple of mentally ill people who seemed to have lower than average intelligence, at least at the time that I met them.  

However, people should not automatically judge us if they find out that we have a history of mental illness. Doing so is to stereotype us, and it is yet another version of oversimplified, monochrome thought. People in the mainstream of society should not automatically exclude us, should not automatically assume that we are bad people, and should give us the same chance as others to be "let in" to society.  

Many people with mental illness are sensitive, brilliant, and gentle. (Yet, before others value us, we may need to value and respect ourselves.)  

About hydration

This advice is a bit late in the season in coming, yet it will still probably be relevant for about the next two and a half months of hot weather in the San Francisco Bay Area. 

Many psych medications interfere with the body's mechanisms to cool itself. Furthermore, some medications can cause increased urination. Some persons with mental illness may be less aware of their bodies, for various reasons. If we lack body awareness, it may prevent being aware of becoming overheated.  

It is of the utmost importance that we take in enough fluids, such as Gatorade, cold water, or perhaps diet soda. Cold water tastes better than the tepid water that many of us are getting from the tap this time of year. When I go to a drugstore or supermarket, I'll often grab a bottle of water from their refrigerator and drink it immediately--so long as I have the two dollars or so needed to pay for it. 

Air conditioning is important as well. Like I say, those of us on psych medications have more of a need to keep out of the heat. Waiting for a bus, in Central Contra Costa County, should not be attempted on a hot day. You could be in the sun for an hour and forty five minutes waiting for your bus, and then another hour or two, waiting for a connecting bus. This can be life-threatening for people on meds. Get a ride.  

Jack Bragen is author of: "Stories to Read at the Kitchen Table at Night," and, "Instructions for Dealing With Schizophrenia: A Self-Help Manual."