Most citizens perceive persons with mental illness almost as subhuman. There are numerous stereotypes and common misperceptions to which most non-afflicted people ascribe. In some families, the very existence of a mentally ill family member is hidden; in other instances, a relative will apologize for them.
Today, mental illnesses are considered shameful. We are associated with depravity, with uncleanliness, with being “druggies” or we are thought to be dangerous. Society is harsh toward people with a mental illness.
Being on the receiving end of this is rough. Although my behavior has not always been pristine, I try my best to do the right thing. I’ve been living with mental illness since 1982. I know the mental health treatment system well. I have also had encounters with police at times in the past when I’ve stopped my medication.
I am not a bad person, even though some would disagree with this assertion. In 2012, I was given a Community Service Award by the Alameda County Mental Health Commission for my writings on mental illness. And I have written steadily for two small newspapers in the East Bay, for well over 10 years. It seems that most editors like good writing, and most do not care whether it came from a person with a disability.
I can tell you that mentally ill people are having a rough time of it. With the current housing crisis, numerous mentally ill people are homeless because rents are impossible. We might get $900 per month in SSI. A room in a house, if we could find someone willing to rent to us (also problematic), starts at $900. That is not an affordable rent.
When someone with mental illness becomes homeless, there is a likelihood that she or he will die soon after becoming displaced. Without adequate medication, food and shelter, persons with severe mental illness are the quickest to go.
Proposition 2, approved by voters statewide in 2018, offers hope that there will be badly needed housing for persons with mental illness who are at risk of homelessness. But we need to do more.
Persons with mental illness are subject to discrimination when applying for work. We are subject to police harassment. We are subject to the disdain of those who lack understanding.
Everyone wants some of the good things in life, and this includes those with mental illness. By providing some hope of meaningful employment, a social network and help during a crisis, society will be better off as a whole. Those social programs that some politicians say are a waste of taxpayer money, are not a waste. They make a big difference in people’s lives.
Failure to provide a livable situation for persons with mental disabilities, which, to an extent, is how it stands, means that lives go to waste. People die due to lack of treatment or lack of housing; people deteriorate on the streets and are considered a health hazard and a nuisance; people clog our criminal courts with offenses committed inadvertently, minor offenses that should be dismissed but aren’t.
If we provide funds to help mentally ill, if we stop hating them and ostracizing them, if we treat them as acceptable, then everyone wins.
Jack Bragen is a Martinez author.
Opinion: I live with mental illness and I’m not a bad person