Many people in mainstream society lack adequate tolerance, patience and understanding of individuals who suffer from psychiatric illnesses. They do not want to share the neighborhood with us. This is simply a form of bigotry, and it comes from human ignorance and the unwillingness to try to understand those who seem different.
Communities should provide for a better existence for people afflicted with psychiatric illness. Although this may sound like I am asking for a handout, I am not.
Persons with psychiatric illnesses suffer from difficult diseases that people find hard to understand, and that are often difficult to treat. We are disadvantaged as soon as we exit the gate that leads to adulthood.
Society takes a dim view of us. There are very few, if any, laws that could protect us from discrimination in hiring, or that might safeguard our fundamental rights and needs. People with psychiatric illness suffer from several unfair disadvantages, some of which are the result of people’s uninformed and intolerant attitudes.
This is a set of diseases that impair our ability to function in society, in jobs, in social situations and in life. Additionally, the barriers to success in life are greater than they are for someone without a psychiatric diagnosis. The saying “You should lift yourself by your bootstraps” should not be used to verbally bludgeon people who may already feel defeated by the difficulties in life.
This is not something I’m saying so that mentally ill people can play the role of perpetual victim. While the mental health treatment system does foster a victim mentality among many consumers, some of us have defied that personification. When we do defy victimhood in the mental health treatment system, we often get characterized as someone with an anger problem.
For some persons with psych disabilities, the solution to life’s problems lies in going outside of the treatment system. Some who are high-functioning may keep their conditions closeted for fear of losing professional employment, or for fear of being a target for bullying.
Bill Clinton’s infamous “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in reference to s****l orientations in the U.S. military may have been appropriate for its time. Yet, as time passed, it became dinosaur thinking. However, for persons with psychiatric illness, a similar idea could actually make sense. This is partly because many persons with mental illness would prefer not to be defined by mental illness and would prefer it if there are areas of our lives in which we are simply people, and not people with mental disabilities.
For years, I did a fairly good job of maintaining employment without informing employers of my disability. I had to resort to collecting benefits when there were too many factors working against me: There was the illness itself. There was the medication to treat the illness, which is also disabling. And there was the factor that some people did not like the idea of a mentally ill man who works for a living.
If society refuses to provide for the basic needs of persons with psychiatric issues, then society is obliged to at least make the playing field level, through banning discrimination as well as implementing reasonable accommodation and affirmative action. And, at a guess, this will not happen in the foreseeable future.
Does society owe us? Society only owes us the same opportunities to better our conditions (through talent and hard work) that most people enjoy and take for granted.
Jack Bragen is a Martinez author.
Opinion: Those of us with psychiatric illness deserve opportunity