Don’t Fear Mental Illness

Mental Illness.

It’s going to be an oft tossed about  topic.

Generally speaking many, many, people fear the ‘mentally ill’.

And by no means am I an expert on mental illness, treatment of mental illness or what qualifies for a diagnosis of mental illness.

But I see it on nearly a daily basis because of my work environment.  I work in a protective service field investigating allegations of abuse, neglect or exploitation  (please note this is highly different from a service provider).   We work with some people who readily admit their mental illness.  We work with some people who have no idea they have a mental illness.   We work with people who are affected by family with mental illness.   And we get calls from people begging for help for their loved ones who are mentally ill.

Notice I didn’t say “work with” that last group of people.   The ones calling in for help.

In my field it is not what we do.   Though we try to give information to these people desperately seeking help, we have no answers.   Where I work we don’t have the tools or the skill set to help them.  Nor do we have the ‘authority’ to do this type of work.

It is not the mentally ill that I, or in my opinion anyone, should fear.

It is the lack of help, care, and understanding of mental illness.

Historically our world has not understood the mentally ill.  I don’t need to give you a history lesson.   Just do a search on your computer for the history of mental illness and treatment for mental illness.   It is a horrific and ugly picture.

And now?

It’s just as ugly but on an entirely different end of the spectrum.

No one should anticipate, expect or (God forbid) want the care of the mentally ill to ever return to the abusive and inhumane torture it used to be.

I cannot begin to tell you how many calls we get in our office from family, friends and neighbors begging us to do something damnit!

They call in telling us:

You can’t let them keep living like this!  

No one should be allowed to live like this!

How can you let this happen!

We hear desperation, fear and the hardest part for most:  surrender.   People giving up on someone they love.  Someone they want to protect and sometimes feel a need to be protected from.   But most often a family is  overwhelmed and at a loss on how to help their loved one find what they may define as normal.  They want their loved one to have a good life, to enjoy.

I don’t mean to say that all persons with mental illness have a ‘bad’  life.   I’m talking solely in regard to the ‘bad situations’ we see.

Where help is sought.   And help can not be had.  That is what I see most.

I have witnessed, myself, the paranoia, the fear, the isolation.   And to hear a family who suffers terribly because they want something better for their loved one describe the sufferings is difficult.  Especially when always our answer is we can’t.

We can’t force help on someone who in the throes of their illness don’t realize they may need help.

We can’t make someone want to live differently.

We can’t protect someone from themselves.

We went from the frying pan to the fire so to speak.

I don’t fear the mentally ill person.   What I fear is our ignorance.   I am relieved that our world has progressed to the point of recognizing we cannot treat human beings who aren’t like us as subhuman.  I shudder and have nearly vomited when I have read some of the horror that used to qualify as treatment for the mentally ill.

We cannot go back to that.

We have to move forward to something.  Something better than we have.

Sadly I don’t have the answers.   And I may not be popular for saying this, but I do think there are steps that need taken.   There are rare instances where a person’s rights do need to be superceded for the protection of that person and the protection of society.

There needs to be situations where help is forced upon someone who doesn’t recognize they need it.

But above all else, we need to understand better what it is we are dealing with.   Many times we get desperate calls from those who want help for their loved one because they can’t understand why that person doesn’t want help.  But that person is not hurting anyone, themselves or others.   They have differences that aren’t understood.   I’ve had people who are mentally ill tell me they know others don’t understand them, and they themselves recognize they are different.   But their differences do not make them not functional, not lovable and does not mean they are not enjoying their lives.

There is too much not understood, not known, and not provided for.

I don’t fear mental illness.  I fear my ignorance of it.  I fear what we aren’t doing.