On the Corner of Distress & Poverty: What Happens to Our Minds When There is No Going Home

Sera Davidow
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In the last few years, Mental Health First Aid (see also ‘Mental Health First Aid: Your Friendly Neighborhood Mental Illness Maker‘) has been backed by the President of the United States, the First Lady, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), and the National Council on Behavioral Health (among others). In fiscal year 2015 alone, the federal budget allotted 15 million toward the Council’s MHFA mission of ‘one million trained.’ Yet, this course – promoted with unprecedented fervor and designed to support the average citizen to identify a mental health ‘problem’ in their fellow persons and (strongly) encourage them to get ‘help’ – has little to say about the importance and emotional impact of meeting basic human needs.

You know… Silly little things like having access to food, warmth, shelter, and enough sleep to stay out of a waking, walking state of delirium.

But, this isn’t just another blog about Mental Health First Aid (although there’s enough meat there to fill several diatribe dishes). MHFA is worth bringing up here (again) only for the fact that this pervasive (like a disease) ‘program’ is representative of a much more general and broadly applied trend: Ignoring context and environment in favor of blaming the individual.

Now, this also isn’t just another blog about the impact of trauma. In the community where I work (the Western Massachusetts Recovery Learning Community), we define trauma as follows:

Any one event or series of events that leads someone to believe that the world is not a safe place for them and is not able to meet their basic needs.

That means that poverty, racism, homelessness and so on definitely count. And yet, even one relatively short, seemingly minor bout of neglecting basic needs (sleep, for example) due to working (or partying… or pick your poison) too much can substantially throw someone – anyone – off course. For instance, even the most conservative sources suggest that lack of sleep can deepen emotional distress and impair judgment. Open Dialogue research – where the most common drug given to someone experiencing distress is sleep medication to help them re-regulate their sleep cycles – also points in that direction.  And, in 2007, Scientific American published the results of a study called, “Can a Lack of Sleep Cause Psychiatric Disorders?” Here’s just a brief excerpt:

“The researchers mainly monitored the amygdala, a midbrain structure that decodes emotion, and observed that both sets of volunteers had a similar baseline of activity when shown the innocuous images. But, when the scenes became more gruesome, the amygdalae of the sleep-deprived participants kicked up, showing 60 percent more activity relative to the normal population’s response. In addition, the researchers noticed that more than five times more neurons in the area were transmitting impulses in the sleep-deprived brains.

Walker described the heightened emotional response in the weary as “profound,” noting, “We’ve never seen a magnitude of increase between two groups that big in any of our studies before.”

It seems important to understand all that in order to drive home the point that we are at least potentially talking about all of us, and not ‘just those people over there.’ Because if it’s not us and those we care about (or who we at least perceive to look like us), it’s all too easy to look away, distance ourselves, or consider it to all be someone else’s problem. In order to reach a place of true empathy and priority, we need to break down those boxes.  But if we can all agree that something as simple as lack of sleep can affect anyone’s emotional state over a relatively brief period in fairly profound ways, imagine what can happen when needs going unmet becomes a constant state of being? Like, say, due to homelessness?

This all seems so obvious, and yet – for those who’ve had the privilege of never having been touched by this sort of threat – understanding the potential impact and connection between basic needs and psychiatric diagnosis seems to remain elusive. However, at some point, we also must question whether or not such invisibility is because we simply cannot see what we have not known ourselves, or if sometimes some of us do not want to see because it would require such fundamental changes in our own lives and ways of being in order to address the classism, racism, and other societal ills that have led us to this place.

At the very least, one would think that those programs and services designed specifically to help people in some of their most desperate times might ‘get it.’ But, in so many instances, that simply is not the case. In fact, policies that run completely out of sync with the realities of these sorts of struggles, or that entrap people in cycles of desperation are fairly commonplace.

Consider the following:

Drop-in Centers: For people who are living without permanent shelter, drop-in centers (and particularly those that are accessible without a lot of red tape) can be a precious resource. They  provide warmth on bitterly cold days, and many of them offer at least limited access to food. Perhaps most importantly, the majority of them are designed with missions and principles geared toward supporting people through various types of ‘difficult times,’ generally making them much safer spots to sit and be than out on the street. This is all certainly true, for example, of the RLC’s four resource centers in Holyoke, Greenfield, Pittsfield, and Springfield Massachusetts.

However, how many of those same spaces also forbid sleeping? (The answer, in our experience: Most of them, and self-righteously so.) How many might define that as ‘misuse of the space’ and even kick someone out for repeatedly using it in that manner? Now, that may all make some degree of sense on the surface of things. After all, how does it appear to an outsider if your community space is full of sleeping people in the middle of the day? It may leave funders and the general public with the impression that people are sleeping because the space is failing to create connection and opportunities to interact. (Although, it’s also worth noting here that, in spite of the fact that the RLC does not forbid sleeping in its various spaces, we’ve never ended up with a room full of sleeping bodies! Usually only one or two people take advantage of the opportunity to rest at a time, and the fear [like so many other fears] that everyone will go wild and collapse into group slumber at first opportunity seems to be unfounded.)

It should come as no surprise to most that the two most common reasons why people sleep during the day in these sorts of spaces are:

  • They are taking copious (or even just one or two heavily sedating) psychiatric drugs and simply can’t stay awake to live their lives
  • They are living under conditions that are preventing them from sleeping at night

I get that some of this may seem counter-intuitive, but consider this: The best, most supportive connections are built on trust. (Hopefully, we can all agree on at least that much.) Now, can you imagine the trust that must develop for someone who has been living on the streets to be relaxed enough to sleep around you? And, can you imagine how that sort of trust can grow over time if given space to do so? (Alternately, can you imagine how quickly those small seeds of trust and potential can be stamped out if you become yet another person who doesn’t get that?)

So many well-intended people spout the concept of ‘meeting someone where they’re at,’ when what they really mean is ‘meeting someone where they’re at, so long as they don’t do anything outside of no less than 100 rules, some of them unwritten.’ And, while I’m not proposing literal free-for-alls, I am suggesting that sometimes ‘where someone is at’ is needing to sleep in a safe(er) environment than those to which they normally have access. Sometimes, in order to begin to develop a useful relationship, one needs to first take care of themselves. Sometimes, what is most needed from an environment is for that environment to give someone space to meet their most basic needs.

Sometimes, if those two things aren’t a ‘fit,’ it’s the environment that needs to change.

Homeless Shelters: It’s unclear to me how many employees of homeless shelters have themselves been homeless. However, whether it’s an issue of people not ‘getting it’ because they’ve never ‘been there,’ or one of people being co-opted and assimilating for the sake of their own survival (and perhaps newfound paycheck), it’s clear that these spaces can sometimes be some of the most unforgiving, misguided places around when it comes to providing shelter to those in need. Here’s a quick top three of the most ridiculous and/or counter-productive policies I’ve heard in recent times:

  1. We want you to have shelter… but only between October and May: I get that many shelters close down for what they loosely define as ‘the summer’ due to lack of funds to stay open year round, but in our area at least, that means available shelter beds drop from about 300 to 125. (As it turns out, there’s only approximately 3000 beds in the whole state during ‘peak’ shelter season, in spite of the fact that the rate of homelessness has reportedly doubled since 1990 and the 2015 Annual Homeless Assessment Report identified 21,135 individuals in need of shelter at the time of their report.) It also completely minimizes the reality that living on the streets can be deadly for many more reasons than just the cold.

In fact, enough violence and hate crimes have been perpetrated against people who are homeless to merit a full report on the matter, and the desperation of having nowhere to go has been enough to drive many people to suicide. For example, in one study, ‘The association between homelessness and suicidal ideation and behaviors,’ they found that over 60% of individuals they surveyed who were living without shelter had also considered suicide. (Interestingly [and sadly], another study on the matter – ‘Suicide Among the Homeless: a 9-year Case Analysis’ – spoke of the completed suicides among those they studied who were also homeless as evidence of ‘psychiatric co-morbidity,’ rather than as an impact of the stress, trauma, and hopelessness experienced as a result of being homeless itself.)

  1. If you find another place to stay for the night, you risk getting banned from here (permanently): As anyone who’s ever tried staying in a shelter knows, it’s generally not a great place to land. Issues of shame aside, many shelters are dangerous, kick people out during the day, and have all sorts of rules about how and who can get in. So, it makes sense that – whenever possible – people might try and develop relationships or use their ‘social capital’ to find other places to sleep, right?

Yet, some shelters have a policy that essentially dictates that if you miss too many nights when you were signed up to be there, you’ll be banned. Maybe even for life. Now, I get that taking up a spot that someone else wants and needs when you’re not actually going to be there isn’t ideal. However, nor is giving up a spot you’ll need tomorrow because you’ve got an alternate plan tonight. Never mind that sometimes these efforts to build connections outside of the shelter may be exactly what leads to a more permanent housing situation, or that being boxed in to strict rules can be exactly what keeps someone in a rut.

  1. If you take psychiatric drugs you can’t stay here: Now, this one is a little bit, shall I say, ‘off the books’? In other words, no one who works at the shelter I’m aware of where this is a ‘thing’ would ever claim it as a policy. (It is, after all, completely discriminatory.) Yet, people far and wide (both providers and individuals who have stayed, tried to stay, or tried to help someone stay at this particular place) are fully aware of the reality of it.

Perhaps even more frightening than a policy that essentially says, ‘If you’re trying to cope with grave distress (due, perhaps, to living without a home), well, then, we don’t want you here,’ is this: As many providers as are aware of this practice, almost no one is willing to go on record and say it is so. Apparently, speaking out openly about something that so clearly hurts so many vulnerable people in our community would be too risky of a professional move for those who are used to living comfortably. And the beat goes on.

Low-income Housing: It’s wonderful that our country offers low-income housing options. Yet, there aren’t nearly enough to go around, and some of the options that do exist come with so many hoops as to become inaccessible to those who most need them. One interesting bind is that, while some shelters essentially seem to prohibit standard psychiatric ‘treatment’ (or exclude those who are so engaged), many permanent housing facilities want to be assured that you’re fully connected with the local mental health authority. (They may even ask about this on page 1,002 of your housing application.)

There’s also the small matter of invasiveness. When one has money in this country, one naturally has privacy and choice. No one’s regularly coming through your home to check out how you’ve got it set up, and if a particular place you’re living happens to come with rules you don’t like, you’ve got the resources to pick up and move. Not so with people in low-income housing. They’re expected to feel lucky to have made their way through an often years-long waiting list and into a place to stay (even if that place is occasionally full of bed bugs or other sub-standard conditions). They’re also expected to feel grateful to those in charge of managing that place, even if they come with routine inspections, rigid rules about cleanliness and upkeep, suspicious and discriminatory attitudes, and little understanding of the life experiences that have landed that person there.

All this often leads to an adversarial relationship where someone who has likely been living a life of survival on the street’s terms is expected to transition immediately into the norms of the building with little support, guidance or leeway for learning curve. The structure of many such buildings also essentially locks someone into a ‘time capsule.’ Wherever they are in life when they enter is essentially where they’re expected to stay.

Begin dating someone? Great, but they can’t move in, or (in some settings) even spend the night too many times. Get a job? Okay, but be prepared for that to change your rent, sometimes in ways that make having gotten a job counterproductive, at least from a financial perspective. The end result of all this can be (at best) confusion and conflict. At worst, it can lead to eviction. And, of course, if one has ever been evicted from federal housing, they won’t be getting back in. Ever.

On this site, when we refer to the ‘system,’ we are most often referring to the mental health system and all of its constructs, failings, and manners in which it participates in oppressing (intentionally or otherwise) those it is intended to help. Yet, society as a whole is made up of so many different intersecting systems that, unfortunately, share many beliefs, biases and ways of being, and ultimately are what make ‘systemic oppression’ so real and inescapable. After all, if what we talked about here were truly only an issue within the ‘mental health system,’ it would be so much easier to simply walk away. But, in reality, our legal systems, educational systems, housing systems, employment systems, and so much else are intertwined and serve to hold us exactly where we are stuck.

So much of it then becomes a game. And, it is one where those in power make the rules, and they aren’t always necessarily under obligation to share them. (Because, after all, knowledge begets power.) They also define the problems, and control how and where information is shared. For example, (as Suman Fernando does such a good job of detailing in his article, ‘The Politicization of Schizophrenia’), those in power are so in control of all these factors that what constitutes ‘scientific evidence’ has even gone up for grabs, and the ‘truth’ has become almost impossible for most to sort out. And, the most terrifying thing in all that malleability of ‘the facts’ is that it means that those in power are free to use them against those who are not.

Many of us here on Mad in America argue for a complete re-set of systems, asserting that what exists is too broken and warped by power and misdirection to ever be fixed. That may be true, and as someone who comes from a community where we commonly speak out about power imbalances and oppression, and try relentlessly to correct so many myths, I agree in many ways. But, in the meantime, it does seem that something else is needed, and that’s where the ‘peer support’ aspect of our work often comes in.

One of our current projects (led and developed by Earl Miller, who also contributed several thoughts and ideas to this blog), where we try most directly to recognize and shed light on the intersections of poverty, homelessness, and emotional distress, is called ‘Finding Shelter through Peer Support.’ This effort started when we became connected with the Rainville, a 46-unit building in Springfield, Massachusetts that provides permanent housing to individuals who have been homeless.

While we can’t claim any credit for the establishment of this building some 20 years ago, we can say that for the last year, we’ve worked hard to support the people living there (as well as to support people in the broader community who are homeless to apply and access the space). Sometimes, that’s meant helping people who’ve been uninsured for years to navigate the tricky waters of getting health insurance so they can address long standing medical concerns. Other times, it’s meant going to the grocery store, or a lake, or church with someone and supporting them to feel more connected to their local community. On occasion, it’s meant going to housing court to help them fight eviction, or advocating with building management to be more flexible and understanding of why certain conflicts might be arising.

Perhaps more than anything, as with most good peer support, we have used our own personal experiences with homelessness, trauma, psychiatric diagnosis and beyond to help residents learn the ‘games’ of the systems that they need to work their way through in order to achieve a life they want to live. It is through these sorts of efforts – the understanding of the ‘game’ and the knowledge of the choices that are available – that we can also play some role in righting at least certain aspects of the power imbalances that exist. And, it’s also through these sorts of efforts that we can do our best to help shift the trend away from blaming the individual and to an understanding of the responsibility born by the systems and environments around them.

We are very much hoping to expand this project (which has brought many tangible results including a substantial reduction in evictions), and begin work in other low-income housing in the area. While we have been researching and applying for various grants to that end, we also have a more immediate opportunity to bring in funds. Thus, I am using this opportunity to also ask for your assistance.

At the moment, the RLC’s ‘Finding Shelter through Peer Support’ project is actually one of five finalists for the Scattergood Foundation’s Innovation Award, worth $25,000. The winner of the Vote to support the RLCs work related to housing and supporting people who are homeless through peer support‘grand prize’ will be decided by public vote. As such, I am asking for your help in voting and sharing with your networks. Voting is open until 11:59pm on Friday, May 13th, and every vote counts! Just click the ‘vote’ button to vote, and if you’re on Facebook, check out the RLC’s page here for a Scattergood post that you can share with your networks. (And, don’t be thrown off by the initial survey question about ‘primary focus.’ You can select any of the answers that make the most sense to you, and it won’t affect your vote, so long as you also enter a name and e-mail below and click ‘submit your vote.’)

Even if you don’t fully support this effort, note that one of the other finalists we’re up against is ‘Man Therapy.’ ‘Man Therapy’ is one of the most traditionally oriented ‘mental health/suicide prevention’ initiatives currently around (See also: “Suicidal Tendencies: I’m Suicidal Because I’m Mentally Ill Because I’m Suicidal“). Even calling it an ‘initiative’ is a bit of a stretch because (not unlike Mental Health First Aid), it is more of a fancy marketing tool than anything else, designed primarily to drive as many men as possible into the mental health system. In fact, the vast majority of the ‘evidence of success’ that ‘Man Therapy’ claims is simply about how many people took their screening tools or accessed mental health services after doing so (and not about how it actually impacted their lives). So, look at it this way: A vote for us is a vote against more medicalized marketing tools that do little other than route people into what we know to be a broken system.

In the meantime, whether or not you take the time to vote, we hope you will nonetheless help us out by taking time wherever you can to combat the myth that emotional distress is unrelated to or somehow separate from the harsh realities of living in poverty and being homeless. We also hope you’ll share your own experiences below of how you’ve managed to ‘play the game’ successfully, and navigate some of these systems to get what you need without simultaneously being crushed by the weight of them.

“They are playing a game. They are playing at not playing a game. If I show them I see they are, I shall break the rules and they will punish me. I must play their game, of not seeing I see the game”

— RD Laing

* * * * *

Earl Miller, Providing leadership for the WMRLC on the integration of peer support, housing and homeless issuesIntroducing Blog Contributor, Earl Miller: Earl first entered the psychiatric and foster care systems when he was 12. He went on to spend as much of his teen years in the system as he did out, which continued into early adulthood and included experiences of homelessness, hospitalization, and a great deal of trauma. Along the way, he received the message that he should never become a father, and that he should give up making music because it wasn’t good for his ‘mental health’.

Nowadays, Earl is the father of two healthy and full-of-life girls who he credits with helping to tether him to this world. He is also a successful musician and poet who has produced several albums including ‘Resting on My Laurels: The Best of Miller’ which can be heard here.

Earl has also worked with the Western Massachusetts Recovery Learning Community for the last three years, and has been instrumental in raising awareness about the impact of homelessness on people’s emotional health and well being.

 

40 COMMENTS

  1. Yes and thanks! I see this linked to the other articles and blogs here recently. We need to have an open and ongoing dialogue between everyone involved. A round table of all.
    Recently the National Catholic Reporter started doing articles on abuse and trauma in general not just related to clergy sex abuse. See this week’s article on ACE’s excellent! It gives a wide view that most likely all of us are dealing with trauma issues in one way or another. However the helping professions have been closed down for decades about personal trauma issues and thus have their sometimes horrific negative affects in providing “help” to others.
    Luck plays such a huge role. IF you are born with a silver spoon in your mouth and have experience with altered states, you may have a small apartment but you will not have a the same chance as becoming homeless as others.
    So many professional just don’t want to see and sometimes I think it is because the trauma is in the mirror but they just don’t know how to face it and push past that.
    Dialogue among all with the ability of all to hear each others voices disturbing and so hard and uncomfortable as that may be is the only answer worth looking into and pursuing.
    Legislative work that provides power to psych survivors and trauma victims as key players in a new system is also needed. If Germany can change so can we!

    • Thanks for your reply! Privilege plays such a large part in all of these intersecting systems and housing is no different. One of the things that has been reinforced for me is the reality that homelessness alone is a huge trauma and for everyone I have encountered, it was an addition to a long list of traumas. I am optimistic that through our work, we are supporting folks in power to start to see folks as whole people with a present that is informed by the past and deserving of humane and respectful treatment.

  2. Well, this is a most fruitful area to explore. Where I am, I am involved in community groups and we do deal with many of the poorest of the poor, and the homeless, and with those in and out of jail and the mental health system.

    As far as I am concerned the main problem is this concept, “Recovery”, because it is telling people that they are responsible for their own misery. And of course this is closely related to the religious idea of Original Sin, and also the middle class family doctrine of Self-Reliance. And this realm is saturated with evangelical church groups. Most of the volunteers in these groups have at least one sibling and a grown child of their own who are the designated blacksheep. They no longer have the ability to control the lives of the blacksheep, so they put on such ministries so that they can do the same things to the blacksheep of other families, while seeking their own vindication.

    I am always telling people my own view, “If someone has been treated with dignity and respect, and given the chance to develop and apply their abilities, it is very unlikely that they will ever develop a serious problem with alcohol or drugs. So then the concept of Recovery and all the Recovery programs are just another layer of abuse.”

    But far too often no one understands this, and so a life of alcohol and street narcotics, further deteriorates to Born Again Christianity and prescription psychiatric narcotics.

    It was indeed one such man I helped put into our state prison. He was blacksheeping his eldest daughter, and this included sexually molesting her. As I would go on to write to the Court and the DA, he did this in order to make her like himself and the other members of his church, feeling that she and her sexuality were dirty. And his entire church was standing with him, saying that all three daughters were lying, and besides they were also supposed to follow Jesus and forgive, and “the thing about God is he can make you clean like a virgin.”

    This man had started out his young adult life on alcohol and street drugs. And he has never tried to understand why this was so. Then he made the mistake of listening to campus evangelicals, and by following them he was able to advance in his addictions to include Born Again Christianity, and so he no longer needed street drugs.

    Then once he made the pledge, “I am a Christian”, he was introduced to the woman he would marry and they started making babies. A very smart guy, but his education was ended prematurely. But then a decade later it all came out in a mid-life crisis and a nervous breakdown. Listening to the campus evangelicals was his first mistake in life. The second was listening to the county white coats, telling him that he had a brain chemical imbalance and so he would need to spend the rest of his life held together by the scotch tape of mind destroying prescription narcotics. So he listened and his addictions advanced, so now prescription meds replaced alcohol.

    So now he was psychologically and sexually abusing his daughters, going down the line.

    And as I would end up writing in so many essays to the DA and Court, he never said anything to me which directly indicated guilt, but I was always blown away by the extreme emotional energy he had bound up with blacksheeping his eldest daughter. And of course it was just like with all the other blacksheep children in his church, alcohol and drugs, and the blacksheep being female it was also sex.

    So anyway, usually local government is complicit with the Recovery programs, with County Mental Health having all day long summits with religious Recovery ministries, and proclaiming that Recovery is a central component of all their work. And then of course anyone in jail or prison has very little choice but to go along with it. And Rick Warren’s Celebrating Recovery is used in the prison systems of so many states.

    And then neo-liberal politicians set it up so that the same corporations which are backing them, are also backing Recovery projects. These don’t offer jobs, they offer job readiness programs, ritual humiliations of the poor and homeless, as this spectacle helps keep the public employee unions docile.

    And they influence religious programs, using back channels to bring in conservative pastors with a history in the privatization of gov’t health and human services, from way across the country. And then they close down neutral meals programs and replace them with Recovery programs where clients will have to submit to case management, designed to use humiliation and denigration to enforce Recovery / Self-Reliance.

    And then I listen to the volunteers with the Born Again programs talk about their own family blacksheeps, usually on street drugs and alcohol, just like the parent was before they Got Saved. And I listen to the parents talk about the blacksheep getting the “help they need”, which of course means a psychiatric hospital and prescription psychiatric narcotics. And I listen and listen and I know that what the parent would really like best is if their blacksheep would commit suicide, because that would give them their ultimate vindication, the ultimate proof that they were right.

    I say that what must be done is simply to hold the parents accountable. At a minimum it would be like what most every other industrialized country has, a prohibition on disinheritance. But there should also be some sort of a property settlement for an earlier divorce from one’s parents, and there could be compromise solutions of trust funds, and then just straight up abuse law suits, and then also criminal prosecutions. We must destroy the self-reliance ethic, because it too is derived from original sin and designed to exonerate parents.

    Thank you for such an outstanding article!

    Nomadic

    Suicide—The Trap of the Family System
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wkf7n0Wdy7k

    Daniel Mackler does not go far enough because he is still promoting Live and Let Live, instead of holding parents accountable. An earlier video of his used to say, “Suicide is the Ultimate Victory for the Family System.

    Who likes my idea?
    https://www.madinamerica.com/forums/topic/foster-care-an-idea/

    • One major difference between this and the doctrine of Original Sin is that that doctrine is at least supposed to be a great equalizer among all people of different races, classes, and walks of life, including the kinds of sin they prefer. Since we are all sinners we should all be humble and help and love one another. With the idea of the Broken Brain, there is the idea that only some of us possess the Essence of Evil and therefore, being born with this evil essence should feel honored to be allowed to exist on the fringes of society. Think Hannibal Lecter and Norman Bates. This enables others to feel good about themselves by scapegoating the “mentally ill”.” We are Evil while they are sane and normal and therefore good. We are un-redeemable while they need no redemption.

      • Thank you RachelE for you insightful comment.

        Oh well, Hannibal Lecter and Norman Bates have shaped the public consciousness.

        Anyone seen any of:
        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OfQUq31hTvY

        Many of us live in areas where the homeless are, and as I see it, it mostly comes down to alcohol, drugs, born again Christianity, and psych meds. These are the things that plague the homeless. But what causes it? It’s of course Capitalism and the middle-class family. Everyone wants to do well, though they might not agree with how our system works. But they want to do well anyway.

        So when they aren’t, we need to look for what is just completely wrong with our system.

        But unfortunately most of the perceptual power brought into this realm is being completely distorted by concepts like Bad Brain, Recovery, Addiction, Moral deficiency. And yes, these are all derived from Original Sin, and this is what Capitalism depends upon, and in the middle-class family it is expressed as the Self-Reliance Ethic.

        As Deleuze and Guattari say, Capitalism works by overcodings. It scrambles existing social codes, but then it also applies it’s own codes. Self-Reliance Ethic is just such, an overcoding.

        So just as primitive societies initiate with sharp stones and hot coals, our middle-class family initiates by enscribing with the Self-Reliance Ethic. It turns Einstein’s, Mozart’s, Andy Warhol’s, and Elon Musk’s into Homer Simpson. And then as Bad Faith is involved, expect all sorts of irregular developments.

        So we have to protect children. And we who have survived the middle-class family need to organize and provide alternatives.

        So we can talk and talk, and that is okay. But it is still just online Therapy and Recovery. What we really need to be doing is striking back, finding points where we can initiate and escalate conflict. So I say we attack, 1. Middle-class family, 2. Capitalism, 3. Psychotherapy / Psychiatry.

        Nomadic
        http://freedomtoexpress.freeforums.org/bad-brain-original-sin-t230.html

  3. Sera:

    Excellent blog as always.

    I want to share with you that my community of Eugene, Oregon is taking a very, positive pro-active approach to the problem of ‘sleepless in Seattle’ whereby it’s illegal to sleep or go to the bathroom if one is unhoused. This has profound ramifications on many levels.

    Cities are loathe to host unsanctioned campgrounds because they historically have incubated crime against the most vulnerable, especially people discharged from the hospital, the disabled, women fleeing domestic abuse, transgender/gay individuals, and blatant disregard for the environment, thus reinforcing stereotypes about the unhoused which leads to a chronic cycle of ‘Not in My Backyard’ (NIMBY)

    Occupy Eugene, a local project following in the footsteps of Occupy Wall Street, had in influx of unhoused individuals who were facing a lot of emotional and mental challenges. Some had very few skills in living successfully in a community, including encampments due to living for years, sometimes decades on the margins of society. Some occupiers were in and out of crisis and this had a tendency to drain the energy of Occupiers. But then, a beautiful thing happened: cross fertilization. Psychiatric survivors, chronically homeless individuals, individuals struggling with addiction or mental/emotional issues made it clear that most of the barriers they were facing were the same social injustices being fought by Occupy leaders. Occupiers thereby couldn’t turn their back from the need to walk the talk, exhibit inclusivity and foster communication between the privileged (many Occupy leaders are privileged) and the unprivileged. A tall order.

    Occupiers collaborated with emerging leaders of the unhoused communities with the result that problems faced by unhoused became increasingly articulated in such a way that they could be presented effectively to the media, beaurocratic housing authorities, citizen task forces, municipal government leaders, etc.

    At first, occupiers split into several action committees, from which no less than three distinctly different non profit organizations sprang up, each offering distinctly different but effective solutions some of which are now national models.

    If folks think that Occupy Wall Street just withered away, you are wrong! It morphed into different interesting directions. I wish I had more time to present some of the interesting projects and directions here but since this article focuses mainly on homeless, here are some of the concrete organizations that sprang up in our community to deal with homelessness

    1) Community Supported Shelters

    (based on the Housing First principles and creating SANCTIONED encampments in which there are heaters, places to cook, security services, garbage and waste disposal (bathroom) services paid for by philanthropy and partnership with city government, private/public utilities, etc.)

    http://communitysupportedshelters.org/

    2) Square One Villages

    Solutions Through Tiny Houses Based on the Asset Development Solution to Poverty (such as Habitat for Humanity but featuring a much lower $$ up front investment threshold, catering to single folks, and dedicated to changing archaic city building codes and overthrowing NIMBY)

    http://www.squareonevillages.org/

    And finally, my personal favorite:

    3) Nightingale Public Advocacy Collective

    http://respectexistence.org/

    A model recognizing that it has become illegal to camp, thus it is illegal to exist. They provide free legal aid to those who are cited for illegal camping (aka existing) and they work to overthrow statutes and laws making it illegal to camp.

    This interesting collective split into another interesting project which has the potential to promote some of the principles of Sancturary promoted by Dr. Mosher through the Soteria movement:

    Nightingale Health Sanctuary

    http://respectexistence.org/nightingale-health-sanctuary-project-description/

    Recentlly, I worked with an attorney to write a grant to fund no less than forty peer counselors to live and work at these encampments.

    Much has been learned along the way. I encourage any readers at this blog to check out the innovative projects in your community that are working to solve the inequities leading to houselessness and give generously of your time and treasure!!

    • Wow, madmom! That’s extraordinary! I was one of those people who thought the Occupy movement just died out when the economy improved and a number of those Occupy protesters went back to work. The reforms they launched are exactly what Mad people need. It’s such a relief to know that Mad people may not have to “abolish” psychiatry in order to protect themselves from it. If these reforms become ubiquitous, they’ll be highly successful at imposing clear, strong, and permanent limits on psychiatry’s power to decimate Mad people.

    • I was curious about the “tiny houses.” I lived in such a house not long ago. This was actually a slum. What it consisted of was a tiny plot of land where one single house should have been built. But what happened was that the builder, wanting more rental money, decided instead to build “casitas.” This was so, so detrimental to the tenants I cannot begin to tell you.

      On one tiny plot he built three one-story structures. These were concrete and uninsulated. My unit was no more than 200 square feet if that, more likely closer to 150 sq ft. I had no closet nor any cabinets. With no insulation, i heard all the noise everywhere. Next door was a family with three toddlers and soon enough, I learned that the mom was beating them. I heard this daily, but couldn’t do anything, for fear of retaliation. The homes were so close together that the family was stealing electricity and Internet from me as soon as I moved in via wiring and stealing wireless signal. On the other side, the couple ran their TV all day long at full volume. I heard the guy snore at night and heard all their parties and conversations. My roof leaked badly for two months. Come summer, the temps outdoors were a pleasant 70’s and 80’s, but indoors, temps rose to 100 by noon, and higher for the remainder of the day.

      At 100 degrees, higher than body temperature, the normal body sweats 1.5 liters per hour. I couldn’t get anyone to take me seriously. By the time I knew what was happening, dehydration had badly affected my short-term memory and it was like post-ECT all over again. I wasn’t even capable of packing my things. However, I had no choice. I took off, and Puzzle and I went homeless.

      My guess is that I was on the incoherent side for those three days, but I only appeared to be a foreigner who didn’t know Spanish very well. My wallet and my jacket got stolen by a kid who appeared to be “helping” me. At that point, I had no drinking water for me and Puzzle. I tried to appeal to a couple from USA who lived in that town, which was an hour’s drive from anywhere, but they slammed the door in my face. I think the man was about to get his rifle if I didn’t split fast. The police were kind enough to fill some Pepsi bottles for me. A few hours later, the Army found me, and drove me back to my uninhabitable home. They said I might as well have a roof over my head.

      A week later I found another place. Living in “cute house” almost killed me. I left a note in my best Spanish informing the landlord and real estate lady that they had been well aware that the home could not be rented, and that they had knowingly ripped me off.

  4. Yes, having a safe reliable place to live is absolutely crucial for emotional wellbeing and security. It’s obvious but it bears repeating, given the fears that “major depressions” are skulking around run down parts of town, “schizophrenias” are lumbering down dark alleyways, and “bipolars” are haunting the dilapidated houses in the bad part of town. Most serious distress is heavily contributed to by stresses of living, of which not having a reliable affordable play to stay is one of the most basic.

    Winnicott and Searles wrote about how before a therapeutic trusting relationship could be developed, an “average expectable envnironment” or “good enough mothering situation was required. In practical terms that means a safe homelike environment without undue financial stress.

    The United States appears to be particularly bad for developed countries in terms of lack of support for vulnerable homeless citizens, especially children. In a county where 50% of the wealth is owned by 1% of the population, it’s not surprising so many are struggling. The misallocation of resources involved in this type of inequality is very severe; almost all homelessness could probably be eliminated by social programs depending on higher taxation, and the rich could still live quite well.

    I have never been homeless but have in the past been under significant financial stress and feared I would fall through the cracks… it is terrifying; it makes your existence as a coherent person feel threatened. Especially when you realize you are living in a capitalistic country in which there may be no safety net at all to catch you… welcome to the jungle. I had to resort to crime (theft) at some points to not enter a truly precarious situation where I couldn’t survive day to day. I’m not ashamed of what I did, and I would do it again. I saw myself as a Robin Hood like figure doing whatever was necessary to survive. And I was the best type of thief – the one that doesn’t get caught.

    This link is broken – http://www.sumanfernando.com/Birkbeck%20Talk%2024%20April%202015%20script.pdf

  5. On this site, when we refer to the ‘system,’ we are most often referring to the mental health system …. Yet, society as a whole is made up of so many different intersecting systems that, unfortunately, share many beliefs, biases and ways of being, and ultimately are what make ‘systemic oppression’ so real and inescapable.

    When I say “the system” (unless I specify the psychiatric system or it’s obvious that’s what I mean) I mean capitalism, or whatever term you prefer for the totalitarian oligarchic rule of the .1%. All the other systems function on their own but also intertwine to serve the interests of the bourgeoisie, same as ever despite new permutations. The bottom line of this rule is not beliefs or votes, but violent repression, domestically and around the world.

    I’m staying abstract here, as I’m currently too overwhelmed by the smorgasbord of functions served by such a wide array of people identifying as “peers” to comment further intelligently. Until I get a better grasp of peerdom the only thing I think I know is that the term as currently (mis)understood represents too many different things to different people to be useful. I think it sounds seriously stilted; the only term that doesn’t seem that way to me is “people.”

  6. I worked at a drop-in center briefly where most of the individuals did not have stable housing or access or regular meals or hygiene products. Many individuals voiced jumping at the chance to access these resources. Others were simply not interested in any sort of assistance, for reasons known only to them. I have one friend who is quite content to live outdoors, eat at the soup kitchen and bath every few weeks. He doesn’t complain, except to the television (loudly) when watching the news, looks after himself in unsafe situations and never asks for a thing. He’s had his basic needs met before, has an extended family who is waiting to offer support. He doesn’t want it. Not how I would live my life, but it’s not mine to live!

  7. I want to try and continue this discussion here, as the way it is threaded makes it easier:

    https://www.madinamerica.com/forums/topic/abandoned-and-condemned/

    https://www.madinamerica.com/forums/topic/foster-care-an-idea/#post-76822

    I know that many criticize Daniel Mackler, saying that he blames parents. Well, the first step towards sanity for all of us is just to be able to see the truth.

    But this is also where Daniel fails, because just like Alice Miller, he claims to see the truth, but he doesn’t want to do anything about it.

    All knowing is doing. All doing is knowing.

    There is no one seeing truth who is not doing.

    The smallest part of the pain of familial abuse comes from the incidents themselves. The largest part is only felt when one sees how our society not only condones familial child abuse, it demands it.

    Just like with the Pentecostal Molester, as I wrote to the D.A. and the court, he was only doing what his church demands, making his daughters feel that their sexuality is dirty, and so it has to be restricted to procreation and monogamy. And then the Self-Reliance Ethic demands that they accept this without complaint.

    I have talked with Daniel Mackler. He is completely opposed to any attempts to hold parents accountable. He says that legal efforts would fail.

    He might be correct, but what he really means is he is against trying. He takes this view because he does not want to face how abuses limited his social and developmental opportunities. He is willing to deal with something quite abstract, the concept of abuse. But he is not willing to see how it has shaped his life, and how our society is committed to it.

    Daniel Mackler does not want to challenge The Family. So instead what he does is promote the Holy Family, something so elevated that it is impossible to reach. He does not want to say that The Family was designed from the beginning to scar and maim, just like the sharp stones and hot coals used by primitive societies.

    Daniel Mackler lives in a state of Religious Nihilism, believing that there is some more elevated world which is needed to justify this world.

    http://sites.williams.edu/awhite/files/2013/01/White-1990-Within-Nietzsches-Labyrinth.pdf
    more to follow

    Daniel Mackler promotes the primary evil of psychotherapy, the denial system known as Live and Let Live, believing that the solution to injustice lies between your own two ears.

    Nomadic

  8. Sera it is true that the Welfare system is done unevenly. In public housing, across the hall from me was a vacant apartment. Apparently, the family got the apartment for the man but he never made it out of the nursing home. They held it for him for years but it stayed vacant. I am positive that the Watertown Housing Authority was well aware of this, but since they were receiving rent from this family, turned a blind eye. I did see a box or two in there now and then, but never a resident…for years, all the while I knew a homeless person could have been living there.

    Next door to me was a lady whose family NEVER visited. One day, I had one of those friendly “cop” visits, a “wellness check.” One of the cops who came told me casually that it was his mom who lived next door. I told myself, after he left, “Wow, dude, why don’t you visit your mom more often, I think she wants to see her grandkids.” The poor woman spend day after day alone, and hearing only got worse. She began to play her TV louder and louder from sheer loneliness. I tried to tell her, but she couldn’t hear me. Finally I had to complain to the management about the noise level. The management couldn’t do anything, either, and the family, a town cop apparently, never came by. That is a sad story of poverty, loneliness, and neglect.

    At night, every night for months, a young woman came to our floor at maybe 3am shouting, “He’s going to prison, he’s going to prison!” or some such thing. I was never quite sure. She’d carry on, yelling and yelling, then leave. I think she was being beaten.

    The lady a few doors down, in her 80’s, suffered from exercise addiction. She paced herself to the ground each night. I worried that she would wear out her knees. I felt sorry for her. Every day, as soon as management left, her daughter came and yelled at her nonstop, in another language, I think Armenian. I know that when you do not know the language, you hear much more clearly the intent in the tone of voice. Yes, this was vicious and it was very definitely malicious verbal abuse. The frail older woman could do nothing to defend herself against her more powerful daughter. No one came to help her.

    One day, she fell. I heard the ambulance come. I heard them yell at her in English, threatening her and telling her if she did not respond to them IN ENGLISH they were leaving. They continued to berate her and threaten.

    With so many townspeople who speak the wonderful language of Armenian, why did the town not have first responders who spoke Armenian on the force? For shame.

    These were the same first responders that the other townspeople called heroes after the Marathon bombing in 2013. I don’t think all the townspeople felt that way. Unfortunately, those of us who spoke up were persecuted.

  9. I should also say that since psychiatry takes so many adolescents, it seems they never examine the lifestyle of high school and college students. In these years, the curricula are demanding, the sheer amount of work that the students have to do is truly overwhelming. Add to that the extras such as sports and demands of work study jobs, or extra hours they are expecting kids to do at schools, plus long commutes and demands at home….Plus adolescents during this time period need MORE sleep, not less (they say nine or ten hours due to rapid growth). Hello, sleep deprivation.

    I think it’s extra important to stress to kids NOT to pull all-nighters, and to teach kids to pace their studies. They simply do not know if they weren’t told. I recall when I first started college, common sense told me to start each assignment as soon as it was given to me. I noticed, though, that most students didn’t do this. They waited until the last minute, then stayed up all night the night before the test, and then, did the test on no sleep at all. This freshman year was the year that many started drinking coffee for the first time, and some found that they couldn’t drink it or didn’t know how to handle it. We also tried booze for the first time as it was now “legal” for us. We were not supervised by parents nor any adult. A friend of mine tried speed. Many tried pot as well, and hash, too.

    Hey, shrinks, if you need more clients, go fishing in the college dorms. I think you’ll find plenty of fish there, and your business will never run dry. (Don’t bother to ask about life circumstances.) By the way, the first dormitory “epidemic” I recall was a mass allergy to Tide laundry detergent. Go Fish.

  10. Sera

    I have been homeless and I feel that you’ve accurately described many of the problems that surround a person who has no place to go for shelter and safety. Being homeless was traumatizing for me and was partially responsible for my attempt to take my own life.

    I also looked into subsidized housing for the elderly poor. The packet of forms to be filled out was almost an inch thick and required things that are almost impossible for a homeless person to gather and collect. If you’re homeless where do you get an original copy of your birth certificate? Original copy seems like a contradiction to me but that’s what they demanded. I eventually gave up trying to slog my way through the entire mess. It’s almost as if they try as hard as they can to make it impossible for people to actually qualify for an apartment at their establishment. And then if you ever do make it in there are page after page of rules that you must follow strictly. You could have two pets; two cats, two dogs under 20 pounds each, or a cat and a dog (under the 20 pounds). But, if you take them out for a walk you must push the dogs in a buggy through the hallways because the dogs are not allowed to walk on their own!

    One interesting thing is that I did end up in a homeless shelter. It is one of the most unusual shelters you’ll ever see because you must find a job within 14 days of being admitted to the shelter. You pay $17 per week rent and then must bank 35% of your check each payday. You can stay there for two years or until you’ve saved $10,000. They have a section for families as well as an educational program for adults and children. They have daycare for the mothers and after school care for the kids. They have programs on parenting and how to use your money in the most economic manner as well as 12 Step programs etc. They have rules that you must abide by but nothing like the ridiculous kinds of things that most other shelters demand of people. They do not tolerate fighting, drugging, or drinking. Those three things get you an automatic bounce out the door. This shelter actually supports people in useful ways that help them get back on their feet while being able to maintain their dignity. They have social workers on staff as well as people who train you about how to do job interviews and about how to be successful at your job. It is absolutely amazing and not your run of the mill shelter which will let you stay the night but only if you’re willing to attend their “prayer service”.

  11. There is a little-know fairy tale, oddly, that was one of my childhood favorites that summarizes the story of many Jewish girls like me, Princesses who were captured by psychiatry.

    Three Princesses are asked to please their father, the King. The first two do fine by telling him they love him as much as they love riches and jewels. The third tells him she loves him as much as meat loves salt. The shallow-minded King throws her out. She lives for many years in dire poverty, dressed in rags. He cannot understand the beauty of the analogy she has created. She is a misunderstood girl, a fallen Princess.

    Later, she is hired as cook by the same King. Only she’s a poor girl, and he doesn’t even know she’s his daughter. She’s a clever girl, just as she always was. She serves the meat without salt. He is enraged.

    Then, he remembers the daughter, the Princess he threw out many years ago. He begins to weep. The girl in rags reveals herself to him. And….They Live Happily Ever After.

    When I was a child I had no clue I’d end up poor. The irony is just too screamingly funny. Living in public housing with a last name like mine, that was Anglicized and does not reveal that I am 100% Jewish (my true Princess background) was one of the most contradictory things I have ever done. As we speak, my suviving family denies the entire thing. When my mother died last year, it was if she there were two surviving sons, and the daughter, the first-born, had not existed.

  12. When I was 21 I spent 40 days hitch-hiking and sleeping out in the open. This was in 1979. Ah, such magic! I was with my dog, my Belgian named Hoofy, under the stars and free to think and believe whatever I wanted. I felt much safer there than I did later on in mental hospitals surrounded by dangerous staff with the locked doors, threats, scare tactics, drugs, punishments, coercion, diagnoses, demeaning insults, unnecessary rules, double-speak, silencing, isolation from the outside, demands that we worship the authorities, and no end in sight.