ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Why Life is Hard for People with Mental Illness

Jack Bragen
Friday June 08, 2018 - 07:04:00 PM

In American culture, and probably in most cultures, people are fond of saying "Life is hard..." And most people would agree. Even privileged people born into wealth sometimes feel sorry for themselves. So, is life in fact hard, or is this merely a perception? 

Some Buddhist spinoff philosophies would argue that life is not hard. They would claim that the difficulty arises because of our patterns of thought and emotion. They would say, just join up with us, and get free of emotional demands--and then life will not be hard any more. After all, they would say, it was only your illusions that made your life seem hard. 

Is life actually hard, or is that merely a phony perception created by the mind's illusions? My best, educated guess, is this: Sometimes life is quite hard, and for some it isn't very hard at all. 

These "Buddhist spinoff" philosophies, such as "Handbook to Higher Consciousness" by Ken Keyes, don't do an adequate job of acknowledging that sometimes life is very hard, and sometimes this is not because of an illusion. 

These philosophies are applicable to what Americans once called "the middle class," people who lived under conditions that would be incredibly wealthy if you compare them to conditions in the not so distant past, or to living in less developed countries, including India. These spinoffs of Buddhism presume a life of plentitude, something many Americans took for granted just a few decades ago. Some people were taught to assume that this was normal, and this was how the universe worked. 

On the other hand, if you look at socially conscious Buddhism, which has not been remanufactured to be a borderline cult, it is clear that the attained masters and other practitioners want conditions to be better for people. If they believed that suffering wasn't real, then there would be no need for them to espouse compassion. 

If you lived in Iraq during the U.S. bombing and invasion and following that, or in Vietnam during the Vietnam war, or if you live in the U.S., and are homeless or incarcerated, I am sure it would be ludicrous to hand you a New Age self-help book and tell you that you are the creator of their own misery because of unenlightened thought patterns. You could argue that people become homeless due to bad decisions, or choose that as a lifestyle. Such an argument is bogus, and it is a way of not helping and not giving a damn about others. 

Some individuals go through life without ever needing to withstand poverty, harsh conditions, and sickness--much less having a life disrupted or ruined by war. In the U.S., most of the middle class seem to have all of their basic needs met. They may have employment for which they are suited, and that provides a source of fulfillment. They may enjoy the wondrousness of relationship(s). If accused of a crime, they may have the option of a top-notch attorney, who is able to prevent bad consequences. They may go through life with very little hardship, and they may die in peace, surrounded by family and friends. 

Mental illness has aspects to it that can make life hard. Much of the hardship stems from symptoms of a psychiatric disease affecting the mind and body. A person suffering from psychosis may not initially have anything going wrong with her or his circumstances, in reality. However, the mind produces junk that can make us terrified, worried, anxious, angry, or sad. Living in a world generated by the illusions of psychosis can be hell. 

Although being psychotic isn't as bad as some concrete things, it is still very bad, and it is extremely difficult to endure. Psychosis can be like a living hell, in which the psychotic person is cut off from reality, and must live in a "virtual reality" produced by an ailing brain. This poses two aspects of hardship. For one thing, the psychotic version of the world is usually horrible, and in some cases it is downright terrifying. The suffering created by psychotic illusions is massive. The second aspect of hardship is that life circumstances can become very bad, since we are living apart from reality, and may behave accordingly. We could end up jailed; we could end up on the street, or worse. 

People with mental illness, even when in a recovered phase, face an uphill path. In comparison to how millions of people must eke by, in third world countries, or in oppressive regimes, most mentally ill in the U.S. are in a better situation. 

However, society in the U.S. doesn't accept us as actual people, worthy of respect and/or compassion. It is still socially acceptable to stereotype, hate, and discriminate against persons with mental illness. 

So, is it merely a perception that life is hard? If you have a diseased brain, which has a malfunction directly creating suffering, life is hard. This is so even when your own shadow is an object of terror--because the mind of a psychotic person could be unable to tell the difference. 


ADDENDUM: Caution in Hot Weather 


The hot temperatures are upon us here in California. People who take antipsychotic medications should be aware that these medications may affect the body's ability to cool itself. In high temperatures, it is a good idea to remain indoors, and one hopes you have air conditioning. Keep hydrated. And remember, it is not a sign of weakness that you should take extra measures to keep cool in the heat. 


Please look for my books by doing a search on Amazon or elsewhere. Also, if you have comments or suggestions and would like to drop me a note, I can be reached at However, I am not able to give any advice to individuals.