ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Our Perspectives are Valid

Jack Bragen
Thursday June 06, 2019 - 12:36:00 PM

I've met psychiatrists who are very good at what they do, and who have been kind toward me. And I've met psychiatrists who presume. Specifically, they presume that those they treat for psychiatric illness are intrinsically inferior. Some of these have been rude, and others have kept the condescension milder. 

As recipients of mental health treatment, we are taught that we are an inferior category of people. We are taught that we ought to be happy with less. We are taught that we should not aspire to do anything considered professional. If we aspire to something great, we are said to suffer from "delusions of grandeur." 

I've caught bits and pieces of the documentation done about me. It has usually been unflattering. The documentation is a window into how I am perceived by clinicians. 

Our best interests are not the only focus. The purpose of the mental health treatment system isn't solely to help us do well; another purpose is to manage a population so that it will not create problems, nuisances and inconveniences to the greater society. 

Another agenda is that of protection, with subcategories. If mental health consumers are believed to be a physical threat, or if believed to participate in criminal activity, treatment practitioners have legal obligations. Another type of protection is self-protection of practitioners and the agencies they work for--against possible liability. 

Therapists want good, successful careers, as do most people. This is an additional agenda. 

In some instances, it almost seems as though treatment practitioners have produced interference when I've tried to succeed at something.  

Here is the second point of this week's column: We should learn to trust ourselves again. 

It is a mistake to abdicate all guidance and thought to authorities in the mental health treatment system. Although sometimes we are subject to gross errors in thought, judgment, and perception, at some point, we need to trust our own judgment. I am not disputing that we can be helped in our reality checking. Nor am I disputing that mental illness can sometimes make our minds unreliable. 

We need a middle ground. We need to retain the self-trust to disagree, and to take our own side when there is a difference of opinion. This can be done after we have enough years of being stabilized. And it must be done within limits. 

I have certainty about some things. And, concerning other things, I am open to being corrected by other people. The basic framework in which my mind functions is established, and I rely on it. This has come about after being stabilized for long enough. Within that framework, variables exist. Part of the framework includes compensation for the brain malfunction of being schizophrenic. 

There are instances in which our thinking is deluded, and we would be well-advised to listen to the cautions of mental health practitioners. Yet, there are other instances where mental health practitioners presume too much. However, there is no exact rule to tell the difference. 

All too often, individuals in the business of treatment assume that those they are treating do not know anything. And to these practitioners, anything we say is dismissed as a symptom. 

We should reserve the right to disagree. Although there are some areas in which we lack choices, other areas have wiggle room, in which we can formulate our own opinions. 

It is disappointing when I say something, and what I say is dismissed automatically. It can require some fortitude to retain value of myself despite this. And it is also a motivation for having connections outside of the mental health treatment system, in the realm of the "normal." 

When I participate in mainstream society, regardless of whether other people know of my disability, the prejudice and preconceptions are less compared to participating in the mental health treatment systems.