ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Segregation Versus Reintegration

Jack Bragen
Saturday December 09, 2017 - 04:08:00 PM

There can be so much more to life than riding in a van to a "day treatment" program, spending the day there taking about your problems and hearing others talk about theirs, riding back to a "board and care," and looking forward to another night of watching television, and eating bad food, bought at Costco, for dinner. 

I am mostly out of touch with people who are segregated this way. I probably live in a similar way to how numerous retired people live. That entails that I don't have to show up for work every day, I live on a fixed, low income, and I live under my own supervision. Not all people with my diagnosis live like this. Many live in supervised conditions, do not handle their own money, do not handle their own medication, and do not have basic freedom or privacy.  

Persons with mental health diagnoses function at all levels. Some have become U.S. senators; others have made it as far as delivery driving. I have met some with a mental health diagnosis who've passed the California State BAR exam, and who could hypothetically function as an attorney. I've met some who have become executive director of a nonprofit. 

It is unlikely that a person can reach true greatness and at the same time be a totally normal person. 

Among the non-afflicted, there are highly successful people who rely on alcohol in their off time, in order to counterbalance the extreme stresses of the work they do. I don't have extreme stresses, and alcohol would make me very sick because it is a bad mixture with the medications I have to take. I'm doing well for an unemployable, middle-aged, paranoid-schizophrenic man.  

However, I have noticed that persons with psychiatric diagnoses, in general, are not mixed among the "normal" people. Those who go to work every day, who work hard and earn big money, who are able to enjoy some of the finer things that only money can buy, usually do not want to be bothered by a mentally ill person acting out, let's say, at their Starbuck's, or perhaps, at their place of work. 

The mental health treatment system is not intended to be for the best interest of mentally ill people. They serve as a way of insulating mainstream society from us. People don't want to be bothered by someone near them acting "abnormal." The system is set up to "manage a population." 

Outpatient segregation is where people with psychiatric diagnoses are kept apart from most of society. It is a poor substitute for the state mental hospital system in California, which Ronald Reagan dismantled a very long time ago when he was Governor of California. 

I've been told by a friend who was around at the time, that in the past, the social service system in California was far better, and back in those days, perhaps the 1960s, there was not a problem with people becoming homeless. 

Also, back in the early 1970s, there was Proposition 13, which caused the gutting of education and a number of social services in California. Proposition 13 passed because the property tax was making it impossible for seniors and others to remain in their homes. 

If mentally ill and disabled in California, generally we are forced to submit to some level of outpatient institutionalization. In my case, I have weekly meetings with a therapist and monthly meetings with a psychiatrist. I am at the bare minimum of institutionalization. The treatment venue where I go seems to acknowledge my writing and the fact that I am making good use of my time. 

We are not being helped to live productive lives. However, it is just as well. If we are to achieve something, it should have our name on it and not that of a mental health counselor or program. When the mental health system adopts to help us achieve our goals, it has "special person" written all over it. The goal then is yet another facet of being controlled by the mental health treatment system, and of not being normal--not having an identity other than that of mentally ill person.  

Currently, I have not seen any programs in the mental health treatment system that would help those who are getting well from their conditions to reintegrate into the mainstream. The system seems focused on causing us to keep coming back. The possibility of reintegrating is nowhere in the picture. Persons with psychiatric disabilities can look forward to being babysat in a number of programs. 

However, the Putnam Clubhouse (Concord, California) seems to have some resources. The Putnam Clubhouse is able to line up some jobs with some consumers who are ready to work. I've seen several people use the clubhouse as a do-it-yourself rehab program. There have been some high functioning people go there with good results. 

The Putnam Clubhouse, and other "clubhouses" across the U.S., seem to serve as a place to go for people who might otherwise have time on their hands, yet who aren't ready yet to fully participate in society. Yet, I have seen some participants move on to obtaining education and/or professional employment. 

Harry Brill who writes for the Planet has recently done a good piece concerning ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and how it is hard to enforce, and this causing persons with disabilities to be discriminated against. This is a reason why, if possible, persons with a psychiatric disability are often better off if they remain closeted concerning their condition, if seeking employment. This would entail not being accommodated, but the alternative is that you will probably not be hired. 

There are tax incentives for employers who hire disabled people, yet, apparently this is not sufficient most of the time. Most employers want workers who they perceive as able to perform and not add complexity to their company. If an employer has a choice between two qualified individuals, and one of them has a psychiatric disability, which one do you think the employer is going to choose? 

People with schizophrenia and other psychiatric disabilities are wrongly stereotyped as capable of sweeping a floor while being micromanaged, but incapable of anything beyond that.  

It is obvious to me that there are a lot of barriers in the way of mentally ill persons who would like to participate in society. People are judged based on their job titles. If we are to reintegrate, and try to participate in mainstream society, professional employment doesn't hurt. But how are we to get there? The odds seem stacked up against us.