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Airplanes and Mental Illness May 31, 2017

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Anxiety, Delusions, Hearing Voices, mental illness, Stress, Uncategorized.
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Ever since my psychotic break back in 2008, my world has shrunk. Due to my reduced mental capacity either from the damage done to my brain from the break itself, or the side effects of the medication I take, I am no longer able to process information as quickly as I used to. Trying to think is sometimes like trying to punch a hole through a wet blanket with my fist. The end result is that situations that used to be routine, such as flying so, are no longer so.

Also, to compound the situation, when I get under stress, I hear voices. They sound like telepathy, coming from inside my head. They are genderless and speak in American English. I am well aware that they are a figment of my imagination, but that doesn’t mean I can control them. Far from it. They come on gradually as the stress builds and leave a few minutes after the stress is over. If I took enough medication to never hear them, I would be comatose. I choose instead to avoid stress as much as possible. Between the foggy thinking and stress avoidance, my world shrank considerably.

The dangers of travelling alone were confirmed a few years ago when I flew to Seattle from Phoenix. The trouble started as I approached the security line. At first the voices were just a whisper, telling me that they would find contraband in my luggage. The voices told me I would be arrested and jailed when they found it. I knew I had no contraband because I had packed my luggage myself. But that didn’t stop the voices. The closer I got to the xray machine, the louder the voices got. As the TSA agents began waving a metal detector around my body, the voices got so loud that I could barely concentrate on my surroundings. Within minutes of completing the security check, the voices disappeared, leaving me with a desire to avoid travelling by myself any more.

Five years later, my husband and I planned a trip to Europe for July 2016. To speed up the process of going through security, we obtained our TSA Pre Check clearance. At the airport in July, I was pleased that a reduction in scrutiny by TSA resulted in substantially reduced stress, which meant a huge reduction in hearing voices.

Recently, my husband had the opportunity to spend a few weeks in New Jersey. The timeframe included Memorial Day 2017. He asked me to join him for that long weekend, but because of the previous event, I declined.

But a subsequent discussion with my sister in law worked out the challenges at the Seattle end. Then my husband worked out all the challenges except one at the New Jersey end. The only challenge remaining was getting from the hotel to the airport for my return trip to Seattle. I decided to brave the unknown, fight through the mental fog and stress and go on the trip, pinning my hopes on Uber to return me to the airport in time to catch my flight.

Uber came through beautifully, and my TSA precheck allowed me once again to avoid hearing most of the voices. The adventure was a success, and I am looking forward to flying solo in the near future. My world is expanding.

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Halloween: Damage Control October 28, 2013

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Insanity, mental illness.
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Halloween’s coming around, and with it comes the worn-out old stories about the mentally ill.  The slasher movies and the guts and gore of the horror-filled inspirational costumes- all coming to a theater near you.

Norman Bates in Psycho, a 1960 horror movie, was inspired by Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein.  The insane Leatherface from Texas Chainsaw Massacre, a 1974 horror movie, and Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs were both inspired by the same serial killer, a man whose “guilty but insane” conviction landed him in a mental  hospital.  In The Shining, Jack Nicholson gave a good impersonation of a psychotic man.  Dr. Jekyl was clearly insane when he became Mr. Hyde in the 1931 classic Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde.   Then there’s the classic: Halloween, about a young insane murderer who escapes from his Sanitarium (mental hospital) after being locked up for 15 years- ever since he was 6. Over and over the mentally ill are exploited for the benefit of the media.  In fact, out of the top 50 best horror movies of all time, over half involve mental illness. Mental illness is, after all, scary.

Unfortunately for those of us who are mentally ill, the media makes no distinction between delusional people in the middle of a psychotic episode,  insane murderers, schizophrenics, and what I like to call garden-variety mentally ill people (bipolar, depressed, OCD, etc). We’re all, in their collective minds, the same as Ed Gein, the Wisconsin serial killer who inspired both Psycho and Texas Chainsaw Massacre. There’s nothing scarier, after all, than a mentally ill person.  Especially a psychotic one.   It’s no wonder that nobody wants to be identified as mentally ill. Who, after all, wants to be Ed Gein?

Lock up the Mentally Ill to Prevent Mass Murders September 19, 2013

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Committment Hearing, Delusions.
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A young woman on Anderson Cooper 360 last night called Aaron Alexis “a crazy schizophrenic” and stopped just short of saying he should have been locked up.  Let’s take a close look at this idea, because it’s going to rear its ugly head.

First of all, Alexis was never diagnosed with a mental illness. So how do we find people like him and lock them up so they don’t kill people?  Let’s lock up anyone we suspect of having a mental illness. That would do the trick.

How do we find those people?

Let’s make the police find them for us.  Any time someone calls the police about someone acting bizarrely, let’s have the police assess that bizarrely acting person.  After all, the police interviewed Alexis when he called them to report someone was “sending microwaves through the wall”.  Anyone who makes bizarre statements like that should be locked up.

What about people who are acting bizarrely because they’re drunk?  Let’s not count those people.

Where should they go to be locked up?  Let’s build more mental hospital beds to house them all. How many beds will they need?  Well, if you count the number of people who want to commit suicide, there probably needs to be four times as many hospital beds as there are now.  Or don’t we want to count those people?  After all, they just want to take their own life- not anyone else’s.   Except for those people who do things like get in bad car accidents, managing to accidentally take the life of others with them.  So we should definitely count the suicidal in our sweeping net.

Should we let the police be the ones to make the official determination, or should we bring in someone trained to handle such a task, like the Designated Mental Health Professional?  That clinician determines whether someone is a danger to themselves or others, the current standard for involuntary commitment.  And that’s what we’re talking about: involuntarily committing anyone who exhibits bizarre behavior. We don’t really need a DHMP because the police already performed that function when they took the police report.

Violating people’s civil rights (which is, when you get down to it, what involuntary commitment is) will become commonplace. I don’t want to live in such a world.

Gains Sequential Intercept Model July 21, 2013

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Law Enforcement.
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The Sequential Intercept Model is a framework for understanding how people with mental illness interact with the criminal justice system. The model, which was described by Mark Munetz and Patricia Griffin in 2006 in Psychiatric Services, presents this interaction as a series of points where interventions can be made to prevent a person from entering the justice system or becoming further entangled.

The points of interception include law enforcement and emergency services; initial detention and hearing; jails, courts, forensic evaluation and forensic hospitalizations; reentry from jails, prisons and hospitalization; and community supervision and community support services. According to the model, at each of these points, there are unique opportunities to assist a person in getting appropriate services and preventing further justice involvement.

Without intervention, these stages can become a revolving door – with individuals encountering law enforcement during a crisis, and progressing through the various stages of involvement, until they are released from jail or prison. Without support or intervention during this process, there’s a high likelihood that the individual will ultimately come back into contact with law enforcement during another crisis and repeat the cycle.

Ideally, the best point of intervention is in the community, before law enforcement becomes involved, and treatment needs can best be met by community mental health services. Unfortunately, if these services do not adequately address the needs, a person in crisis may be drawn into the criminal justice system.   Even with adequate community services, a few people may slip through the cracks and encounter police. In a system with appropriate interventions at each intercept, fewer and fewer people will slip through the cracks, so by the time of release from jail and prison, most people should be connected with services to help them recover and prevent further contact with the justice system.

How can Communities use the Sequential Intercept Model?

While many communities have successfully implemented some response to the crisis of criminalization, such as police-based diversions (like CIT) or mental health courts, most communities do not have comprehensive plans that address the entire spectrum of criminal justice involvement. Few communities now meet the ideal, but many are striving to become more responsive and effective by using the model for planning. According to leaders in many communities, the Sequential Intercept Model has helped them move forward in planning a systematic response to the criminalization of mental illness in their communities.

Michele Saunders, a leader of the Florida CIT Coalition, says that the Sequential Intercept Model has been the basis of planning sessions in several Florida communities that helped to “map” the path that a person with mental illness takes through the criminal justice system. Saunders says communities have “mapped the process of a person with mental illness who has contact with the criminal justice system from the point of contact with law enforcement to the time of release from jail or prison.” This process helps identify where there currently are opportunities to divert someone out of the justice system, and also where there are gaps in services.

Saunders reports that using the Sequential Intercept Model for planning brings together a very broad group of stakeholders, and helps them work together rather than in isolation to problem-solve. The process builds better relationships between stakeholders, and helps them create a common vision for responding to people with mental illness involved in the criminal justice system. The result is better-coordinated services and more people diverted from the criminal justice system.

Stephen Bush, an attorney with the Shelby County (TN) Public Defender and coordinator of the county’s post-booking jail diversion program, the Jericho Project, agrees that the Sequential Intercept Model has been a useful tool for planning. While Shelby County has long been known for its pre-booking jail diversion strategies through the Memphis Crisis Intervention Team model, the county has embraced the Sequential Intercept Model as a conceptual framework to develop comprehensive systems to engage persons with mental illness at key points in the interface between mental health and justice systems.

Shelby County has developed a new strategic plan based on the Sequential Intercept Model which allows them to see where resources are needed and prioritize the types of services and interventions that will be most effective. The model, according to Bush, is helping the county expand beyond relying solely on CIT and respond to people “who are already under parole or probation supervision; at the point of re-entry from local corrections systems; caught deep within the court system; and to gain fast track release of persons shortly after arrest.” Says Bush, “This strategy will guide local systems development and capacity expansion for years to come.”

(Reprinted from NAMI National’s website)

Sam the Psycho January 3, 2013

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Delusions, Hallucinations, Hearing Voices.
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Walking into the mental illness support group, I was surprised to see two teenage boys sitting side by side in our small circle of chairs. Very few young people came to our support group.

It was clear from Sam’s glassy and brilliant eyes that he was the one with the mental illness, and that his friend, Carl, had simply been the means of Sam’s transportation to the meeting. Later on, we learned that Sam’s mom had actually talked Carl into bringing Sam here. I surmise that Sam wouldn’t get in the car with his mom. Or vice-versa.

When Sam’s turn came to share, he said he was getting more violent against his mom, and that he was having trouble with his relationship with her. His principal complaint was that she didn’t agree with his religious views.

He claimed that he and God were buddies.  He also claimed to be possessed by the devil and demons. He said he was routinely roused from sleep by the demons’ violence against him.  They punched him and pushed him and yanked his hair while he tried to sleep. Oh yeah: and he said he wasn’t mentally ill. He was just possessed.

Initially, he and his friend sat quietly listening to the three of us share our stories. But as time progressed, Sam was increasingly claimed by his invisible friends.  Talking and laughing with them, he faded in and out of our reality.

Sam said he had been taking two anti-psychotics for 2 months. Based on his severe delusions and his statement that he wasn’t mentally ill, I seriously doubt that he was taking his meds at all. His friend said that Sam hadn’t been back to his psychiatrist since he had been given the anti-psychotics. I suspect that was by choice.

Leaving the meeting, I realized the danger Sam’s mother was in. I hoped she had a lock on her door. After all, her teenage son, known to be very angry with her, roamed around the house believing that he was alternately God’s best friend or possessed by the devil and demons. It isn’t a stretch to imagine him slipping into her room at night and slitting her throat or stabbing her as she lay sleeping, convinced that the devil and demons- and maybe God- had directed him to do it. She would be just another dead mother whose soon should have been committed to a mental hospital before he murdered her.

Sam the Psycho July 8, 2012

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Delusions, Hallucinations, Hearing Voices, Insanity.
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Walking into the mental illness support group, I was surprised to see two teenage boys sitting side by side in our small circle of chairs. Very few young people come to support groups.

It was clear from Sam’s glassy and brilliant eyes that he was the one with the mental illness, and that his friend, Carl, had simply been the means of Sam’s transportation to the meeting. Later on, we learned that Sam’s mom had actually talked Carl into bringing Sam here. I surmise that Sam wouldn’t get in the car with his mom. Or vice-versa.

When Sam’s turn came to share, he said he was getting more violent against his mom, and that he was having trouble with his relationship with her. His principal complaint was that she didn’t agree with his religious views.

He claimed that he and God were buddies.  He also claimed to be possessed by the devil and demons. He said he was routinely roused from sleep by the demons’ violence against him.  They punched him and pushed him and yanked his hair while he tried to sleep. Oh yeah: and he said he wasn’t mentally ill. He was just possessed.

Initially, he and his friend sat quietly listening to the three of us share our stories. But as time progressed, Sam was increasingly claimed by his invisible friends.  Talking and laughing with them, he faded in and out of our reality.

Sam said he had been taking two anti-psychotics for 2 months. Based on his severe delusions and his statement that he wasn’t mentally ill, I seriously doubt that he was taking his meds at all. His friend said that Sam hadn’t been back to his psychiatrist since he had been given the anti-psychotics. I suspect that was by choice.

Leaving the meeting, I realized the danger Sam’s mother was in. I hoped she had a lock on her door. After all, her teenage son, known to be very angry with her, roamed around the house believing that he was alternately God’s best friend or possessed by the devil and demons. It isn’t a stretch to imagine him slipping into her room at night and slitting her throat or stabbing her as she lay sleeping, convinced that the devil and demons- and maybe God- had directed him to do it. She would be just another dead mother whose soon should have been committed to a mental hospital before he murdered her.

A Journey Into Madness… February 1, 2012

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Insanity, mental illness.
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A journey into madness begins with the first step. It isn’t a case where you wake up one morning and say to yourself  “Oh no! I’ve lost my mind!”  Rather, it’s more like someone who gains say 25 pounds over the course of one year.  It’s a very gradual thing.  One pound. Then a leveling off for a few weeks. Then another pound.  Then a pound two weeks after that. And so on.

The same with mental illness. One small step towards madness the first day. Maybe you think you can communicate with one person via ESP.  And then a leveling off for a little while, as that small step (communicating with one person via ESP) becomes the new “normal”.  Then a few days later, another person is added to the ESP repertoire. Day after day, another person or two is added to the number of people you communicate with via ESP. Then you start seeing green people. Then zombies. Day after day these small steps play out little by little.  Step upon step, all becoming the next “normal”.  It’s not like a heart attack where you wake up and your world changed overnight.  It’s more like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s or some other relatively slow-moving disease where your world changes slowly but surely.

But I won’t kid you here.  The progression of my illness wasn’t in years. It was in months.   I went from being a relatively sane 49 year old professional woman (with no history of mental illness or drug or alcohol use) the first week in February 2008 to involuntary committment to a mental hospital with a full-blown case of Bipolar I with psychotic tendencies at the very end of May 2008. Almost four months from start to finish.

That would seem relatively quickly to some, but again think of weight gain.  You don’t feel every single pound of weight gain on a day to day basis. You don’t feel every single daily aspect of the loss of memory that’s the hallmark of Alzheimer’s. One little change at a time, piled upon the other little changes. And so it goes for insanity.

Halloween and Mental Illness October 19, 2011

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Insanity, mental illness, Psychotic.
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Halloween’s coming around, and with it comes the worn-out old stories about the mentally ill.  The slasher movies and the guts and gore of the horror-filled inspirational costumes- all coming to a theater near you.

Norman Bates in Psycho, a 1960 horror movie, was inspired by Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein.  The insane Leatherface from Texas Chainsaw Massacre, a 1974 horror movie, and Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs were both inspired by the same serial killer, a man whose “guilty but insane” conviction landed him in a mental  hospital.  In The Shining, Jack Nicholson gave a good impersonation of a psychotic man.  Dr. Jekyl was clearly insane when he became Mr. Hyde in the 1931 classic Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde.   Then there’s the classic: Halloween, about a young insane murderer who escapes from his Sanitarium (mental hospital) after being locked up for 15 years- ever since he was 6. Over and over the mentally ill are exploited for the benefit of the media.  In fact, out of the top 50 best horror movies of all time, over half involve mental illness. Mental illness is, after all, scary.

Unfortunately for those of us who are mentally ill, the media makes no distinction between delusional people in the middle of a psychotic episode,  insane murderers, schizophrenics, and what I like to call garden-variety mentally ill people (bipolar, depressed, OCD, etc). We’re all, in their collective minds, the same as Ed Gein, the Wisconsin serial killer who inspired both Psycho and Texas Chainsaw Massacre. There’s nothing scarier, after all, than a mentally ill person.  Especially a psychotic one.   It’s no wonder that nobody wants to be identified as mentally ill. Who, after all, wants to be Ed Gein?

Eastern State Hospital (WA) and Photovoice August 18, 2010

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Involuntary Committment, Mental Hospital, mental illness.
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At a recent NAMI Conference I attended this past weekend, I had the privilege of listening to Dr. Jeff Ramirez and Ms. Elaine Alberti discuss the culture of Eastern State Hospital (http://www.dshs.wa.gov/mhsystems/esh.shtml).  Housing involuntarily committed civilly committed patients as well as patients who have been acquitted of committing crimes due to the fact that they were found Not Guilty By Reason of Insanity, the hospital is located in Medicine Lake, a rather isolated part of the State.

Dr. Ramirez and Ms. Alberti brought with them a wonderful Photovoice display, which showcased the work of some of the patients. Bringing the voice of hospitalized patients to the outside world, the powerpoint was a very powerful demonstration of the sometimes-forgotten humanity behind the various incarcerated individuals housed at that facility.

In an experiment designed and conducted by a clinical nurse specialist, a group of patients had the opportunity to participate in photo sessions in which they took pictures every other week. Photos were taken in and around the hospital grounds. Patients were not allowed to leave the grounds in order to take photos.

Taking four photos at each session, those photos were developed for the patients. Then, during group sessions, the photos were handed out to each patient. Patients put meaning and interpretations to their photos, sharing those meanings and interpretations with the group.

The clinical nurse specialist in charge of the program assisted the group in categorizing the narratives into four overarching themes: finding meaning, expressing anger, fighting stigma, and finding hope.  Each of the photos were identified as belonging to one of those four groups.  The resulting collage of photos were combined and set to music, and the end product was shown to the staff as well as others. Giving voice to the patients, it presented itself as a strategy to help reduce seclusion and restraints. Delivering a powerful message to all who saw the presentation, it resulted in a 96% reduction in restraint use.

Unfortunately, one of the unintended consequences of the escape of Philip Paul, the Eastern State mental patient, included the dissolution of this program. For about 4 months after Philip Paul’s escape, patients were in total and complete lock-down, unable to even get to their treatment mall to receive their medication much less take photographs even inside the hospital grounds.

For those unfamiliar with his story, Philip Paul was incarcerated at Eastern State Hospital in eastern Washington for the death of Ruth Motteley, a woman whom Paul thought was a witch.  He said that voices in his head told him to kill her, and he obeyed them.  Diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, he was found not guilty by reason of insanity and taken to Eastern State Hospital, where he has been held on and off since April 1987, escaping from a field trip to a fair on September 17, 2009.  The history of his incarceration can be found in a September 21, 2009 article in the Spokane Review (http://www.spokesman.com/stories/2009/sep/21/key-developments-pauls-legal-history/).

It’s unfortunate that a program with the success rate of this one has been cast aside because of the behavior of a few.

Which Medical Condition Is the Worst? July 15, 2010

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Hearing Voices, Insanity, mental illness, Psychotic, Schizophrenia.
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If you had to guess which medical condition was the worst, which one would you pick?

Most people’s thoughts would go immediately to the most widely publicized, the disease advertised as the most painful and deadliest of all diseases: cancer.  With pancreatic cancer, the victim suffers prolonged agony, relieved only by colossal injections of pain medication, until finally he expires, leaving his cancer-ridden body once and for all.  The worst possible disease, some would say.

Many would choose Alzheimer’s disease as the worst disease.  Your mind slowly loses memory, forgetting things and people and places. Eventually, your heart “forgets” to beat, and you pass on, leaving a wake of pain and suffering by your loved ones.  Because you generally become less aware of your surroundings as time goes by, and because the deterioration happens over years or even decades, the pain and suffering are felt more by your family and friends than you.

Some would say that Lou Gherig’s Disease, also known as ALS, is the worst. Like Alzheimer’s, your body slowly forgets to function, but unlike Alzheimer’s, your mind works perfectly.  The result is a little like waking up in the middle of a surgery, and being unable to communicate to the staff that you are awake. Your body is paralyzed, but your brain is wide awake. Thankfully (or not), death is generally relatively quickly.

Others would say that a stroke is the worst, for reasons similar to ALS. Your mind is generally awake, but your body is unable to communicate that awareness to the world at large. Thinking that your brain has turned to mush because you undergo the humility of wearing diapers and eating baby food,  your family may treat you like you’re a piece of furniture, or as if you’re an infant. Unable to communicate your complete awareness to them, you suffer for years or even decades in silence.

As the worst possible disease, mental illness isn’t even on most people’s radar. But consider, for a moment, the facts.

One of the problems is that unlike cancer, mental illness has a lousy public relations campaign. It doesn’t have a public personality attached to it- at least nobody positive. There’s no Lou Gherig or Lance Armstrong or Stephen Hawking to bring a sense of empathy to the masses. Unlike breast cancer, hundreds of millions of dollars aren’t spent on events to publicize mental illness- events like the Susan G. Komen Walk for the Cure – where the color pink has come to symbolize breast cancer in everything from headbands to hand mixers. Unlike Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong cancer campaign, where yellow bracelets signify triumph over cancer, there is no public campaign for the little plastic bracelet color for mental illness awareness (silver). In fact, because of its enormous stigma, you would be hard-pressed to find many victims and family members willing to take the spotlight for mental illness.

Everyone recognizes that the term “cancer” is a blanket term for a multitude of illnesses all sharing the same basic characteristic: improper cell division. Unlike cancer, the general public doesn’t perceive mental illness as a blanket name for illnesses caused by improper brain chemistry. Both are breakdowns of normal bodily functions, yet cancer doesn’t have the reputation of being a character flaw or a sign of moral bankruptcy that mental illness does.

Patients with cancer are not embarrassed to tell their friends and family their diagnosis. They aren’t afraid of being thought less of as a person for that diagnosis, that somehow they fell short. But with mental illness, the stigma is so great that the fear of rejection and isolation is a legitimate concern.  You just don’t tell anyone.

Because their loved one’s illness isn’t associated with moral bankruptcy and character flaws, friends and relatives of cancer victims don’t have the same incentives to keep anyone from knowing their loved one has cancer. Protecting themselves from the unspoken charge of moral bankruptcy by association isn’t a top concern of the families of cancer patients.

Other diseases, like cancer or ALS or a stroke, don’t cause its victims to commit heinous crimes.  You don’t see a breast cancer victim as the lead-in story on the nightly news because she murdered a bunch of school children. You don’t hear about a stroke victim trying to assassinate the President. A lung cancer victim doesn’t jump off a bridge to get away from the voices in his head. And yet the connection between these types of actions and mental illness, if the news media even bothers to make one, is voyeuristic rather than sympathetic.

People with cancer or ALS or all of the other diseases are aware that they are ill and need treatment for that illness.  In many mental illness cases, this is not true. The mentally ill patient, in many cases, has no insight into the fact that he is mentally ill and need treatment.

No legitimate insurance company would dare decline to authorize or pay  for mainstream treatment of a cancer victim, but most insurance companies have little or no such coverage for mainstream treatment of mental illness, reasoning that it isn’t, after all, a real physical illness. If they do cover it, it’s under a separate policy from “physical” health, called “Behavioral Mental Health”, and the payment for treatment and disability from the disease is very limited.  We don’t see major insurance companies splitting off cancer from a list of diseases, calling it “Cell Divisional Health”, severely restricting its access, and farming out its administration to an entirely separate company.

When it comes time for hospitalization, there isn’t a question of whether a cancer victim or stroke victim even needs to go to a hospital. If they’re seriously ill, a cancer patient doesn’t have to be at death’s door before he’s admitted to the hospital. But a mentally ill victim has to either be about to hurt or kill himself or others (as determined by a third party) or needs to have tried (and failed) to kill himself before a mental hospital will consider admitting him.

If they’re hemorrhaging, but not near death, a cancer patient isn’t turned away for lack of space. Cancer patients don’t have to wait until there’s room for them at a hospital. Unlike hospital space for the mentally ill, hospital space for cancer victims hasn’t decreased over the past 20 years.

Alzheimer’s patients aren’t routinely discharged from hospitals onto the streets, left to fend for themselves. Cancer patients aren’t routinely discharged before they are stabilized. And yet the mentally ill are routinely discharged out onto the streets while they are still unwell all of the time. Who do you think the homeless people are?

The cancer patient doesn’t have to give up his civil rights in order to be treated. He can leave the hospital whenever he wants to. But in order for a mentally ill patient to be treated, he has to give up his civil rights. Mental patients are locked in, physically unable to leave the hospital until someone else- the attending psychiatrist- says they can go- however long that takes.

Once in a hospital, a cancer patient has the option to discontinue medication at any time. Again, a cancer patient doesn’t have to give up his civil rights in order to be treated.  Mentally ill patients, on the other hand, must leave their civil rights at the door when they enter a mental hospital. Whether they want to or not, they are forced to continue medication while they are hospitalized. That is the treatment.

Comparing the physical pain of the cancer or the effects of cancer treatment with the effects of mental illness is in some ways like comparing apples to oranges.  Whereas the cancer victim fights for her life, the severely depressed victim fights to kill herself.  Is the physical pain of cancer worse than the emotional pain of continually hearing voices in your head nonstop? Is radiation sickness worse than lithium side effects?  Is prostate cancer preferable to schizophrenia?

I’m not trying in any way to minimize the pain and suffering that these diseases engender. My point is that each of these diseases –all of them- including mental illness-engenders tremendous pain and suffering. None of them- including mental illness- is any less severe than any other.

For too long, mental illness has been a quiet disease. Quietly terrible, but still quiet.  This is a disease- or a family of diseases- on par with cancer and ALS and strokes, and yet there is a huge vacuum out there. Nobody even thinks about mental illness as a true physical disease. It’s not even on the radar. This needs to change. We need to raise people’s consciousness about mental illness, and give it the parity it deserves.  We’ll know we’ve done our job when “mental illness” takes its rightful place on the list of Terrible Diseases in the public consciousness.