If you are thinking that 72 hours is a big ask, that’s the point. You have things to do, people to see, calls to make. You lose your job. Your pets or plants die. Your kids get taken by social services. You lose sleep. You miss opportunities. Bills don’t get paid on time. You might or might not get back the life you left.
This happens to thousands of people every week who get labeled ‘mentally ill.’ A call is made to 911 by someone wanting help. The next thing you know, we are yanked out of our lives. The damage for many — materially, socially, emotionally and spiritually — is irreparable.
So here’s the deal. Before you decide it’s okay for someone else to give up 72 hours of their life so you can feel safer, at least take the time to educate yourself on the facts.
Some Things are Self-Evident
This United States of America was founded on the ‘self-evident truths’ that its citizens have ‘inalienable rights’ and equality under law:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
These truths and rights were self-evident to our founders. Their meaning was readily appreciable by the common person based on lived experience:
- All of us are born equal in certain important ways
- All of us are born with some inalienable rights
- Life is an inalienable right
- Liberty is an inalienable right
- Pursuit of happiness is an inalienable right
- Equality before the law is an inalienable right
We fought a Revolutionary War over these rights. We fought a Civil War to correct our wrongs. We fought two World Wars to defend this vision.
Diagnostic Detention is Un-American
More and more these days, self-evident truths are being replaced by medical and scientific ones. What that means in practice is this:
The average person no longer has a chance compared to expert voice. Only brain scientists, doctors and mental health professionals can understand what is crazy and what isn’t. Average people can’t.
Ergo: Only brain scientists, doctors and mental health professionals are qualified to decide who has inalienable rights and who doesn’t. If they decide you’re diagnosable, then your rights go out the window.
Poof! Medical science and brain specialists have just alienated your rights. You now have the level of rights that healthcare providers decide you are qualified to handle. It’s all a matter of professional judgment. No ordinary person is qualified to refute them. Courts are expected to respect their expertise — and for the most part do.
That’s how it is if you have been labeled ‘mentally ill’ in the United States of America in 2017.
The Damage to Individuals is Self-Evident
Imagine this. It is the worst day of your life. You or someone else calls 911 looking for help. The police show up, tackle you to the floor, handcuff you and yank you out of your life. Maybe you return in a few days, maybe you never do.
- There is no warrant
- There is no probable cause
- There is no police investigation into the actual facts of who did what to whom.
- There are no Miranda warnings. If you say anything it can be held against you.
- There is no right against self-incrimination. If you say nothing it is held against you…
- There is no opportunity for bail
- No formal statement of changes is required
- You have no right to cross-examine the real life people who reported you as dangerous
- You lose your freedom of speech. If you protest, you are likely to be tied down and injected with antipsychotics against your will.
- You lose your freedom of belief. If you insist that you are sane, safe or in the right, it proves that you lack insight to your ‘illness.’
- There is no right to a speedy trial. You may be held for weeks (sometimes months) on a doctor’s say-so.
- If the government is wrong, you are not entitled to compensation.
- The hospital bills you for services you were forced to receive. You go bankrupt if you pay it. Your credit rating tanks if you don’t.
- You come home to a life that is far worse than the one you left…
- No one understands because you got all this expensive ‘help’. You lose your trust in other people.
- You try to talk about it with family and friends, and everyone says, “Have you talked with your doctor. Did you take your meds?”
- You get tired of everyone thinking you are the problem. You lose patience. You lose your cool. You lose friends…
- You stop trying. You lose your job.
- Your spouse divorces you. You lose your kids.
If you didn’t want to kill yourself or someone else before, you probably do now.
I’ll say it again. These are the painful facts of life if you are believed to be ‘mentally ill’ in the United States of America in 2017.
The Danger to Society is Self-Evident
Far be it from me to question expert judgment. But have any of these people ever considered how dangerous it is to abrogate someone’s personhood…?
1. Nothing to live for
The medical model message is that large numbers of people basically have little to live or hope for. Our brains or biology are defective and there is no cure. The only choice is life-limiting medications that we can never safely stop taking.
To the average person, the damage of such statements, coming from experts, is self-evident. It’s hard to conceive that healthcare providers could fail to appreciate the harm.
Whether or not the ‘disease’ is deadly, the message certainly is. It literally kills. Only last week we lost another dear one. Matt Stevenson of BPD Transformation took his life at age 32. A brilliant writer, blogger and critical psychiatry thinker, Matt’s final writings about the impact of psychiatry on his psyche evoke images of voodoo death and broken heart syndrome.
“Recently, I continued to be extremely terrified of certain psychiatric studies, ideas and diagnostic labels, and could not contain the fear around them. I knew this intellectually but could not change it enough emotionally no matter how hard I tried. I was robbed of my life by these identifications.”
Suffice it to say, the medical monopoly on defining ‘normal’ is robbing us of some of the most creative, sensitive, gifted modern seers. There are many valid ways of thinking and being. As a human race, our diversity has much to teach us. But so many of our emergent ones are locked up and drugged up before they ever have a chance to find their stride. The loss for our collective human future is unbearable.
2. Nothing left to lose
Whatever the reason, if I’m calling 911 my life is pretty much in the toilet. About all I can hear is that giant flushing sound.
The major bargaining chip you have with me at this point is how you treat me. I’m already feeling like the dearth of the earth, and a lot of people in my world are treating me that way. You can either be different and win my undying loyalty. Or you can be the same as everyone else, and become a target for my wrath. It’s about that simple.
If you think I’m an aberration, think again. Some 90% of the people who get caught in the public mental health system are trauma survivors. Overwhelmingly, the trauma starts in childhood and has to do with violence, force, coercion and indifference to basic human needs. We have been invaded, violated and treated like objects or problems to be managed on physical, sexual, emotional, social and spiritual levels.
We are mostly people with nothing to lose. We have every reason to grind the ax. We are calling you on the worst day of our lives. We ask you for help and human aid at our time of greatest need. Then you reinforce the message: You have no personhood. You don’t matter.
The outcomes are erhmm… self-evident.
3. A Literally Vicious Cycle
It gets even worse than that when you look at the big picture. The simple fact is:
The more outsiders we create, the more unsafe we are.
Let me say that again:
The more outsiders we create, the more unsafe we are.
This is not about broken biology or aberrant genes. It is the Catch 22 of the human condition.
Here is the how and why of it:
- None of us likes to feel scared or threatened.
- Feeling at odds with others is scary and threatening.
- Feeling unable to meet basic needs is scary and threatening — and it often goes hand in hand with being a social outsider.
- Human beings who feel threatened tend to resort to one of three responses: fight, flight or freeze.
- When someone calls 911, flighters and freezers usually are not a problem. They run or hide, which doesn’t scare others too much.
- Fighters are a totally different matter. We don’t run, we don’t hide. We go toward the stuff that scares us. And then we take it on and try to bring it down. The more afraid we are, the harder we attack. We don’t stop until the threat is dead or we are.
- It’s also no sense trying to talk reason either. As long as the stakes stay high and we stay scared, the sympathetic nervous system will continue to do its job. It will create tunnel vision and tunnel hearing to keep distractions out. It will make sure our attention stays riveted until the threat is gone or we are.
- This isn’t going to change — not for a long time, probably not ever. The fight response has helped our species survive for thousands of years. There’s every reason to believe that it is genetically encoded. There’s every reason to believe that, for some of us, the fight response is a biological default. A species made up only of flighters and freezers wouldn’t last long. They would cede the turf with every new challenge. Humanity needs its fighters to ‘stick to their guns’ when the stakes are high.
Therein lies our problem as human beings. Think about it:
- A certain percentage of the human species defaults to fight when threatened.
- Being treated as ‘other’ scares people.
- The more we ‘other’ each other the more scared more people are.
- The more scared people we have and the more scared they feel, the more violence we are going to see.
This is not because marginalized people are violent. We’re not any more violent as a group than anyone else.
But we are a whole lot more threatened. And the more of us who are threatened, and the worse we feel inside, the more fighters you will activate and the more violence you will see.
It’s a simple matter of statistics, percentages and computing the odds.
As a case in point, look at the public health data on four groups that society loves to hate: mental illness, addictions, corrections and homelessness. There’s a common denominator staring us in the face. It’s not only ‘the mentally ill’ who have trauma. No, no, no. Widely-accepted government research suggests that roughly 90% of those who get caught in any of these systems are trauma survivors.
In other words, there are a lot of marginalized and very scared people out there.
Like was said before. The outcomes are erhmm… self-evident.
‘Mental Illness’ is Not What We Need to Be Aware of
Every October in the United States, the ‘mental illness’ treatment industry and its allies argue that our government should fund conventional medical model services better. According to them, we need to offer people more and more opportunities for medical model screening, diagnosis and treatment. To contain costs and manage risks, they also say we need more resources to educate (and sometimes force) people to accept what experts ‘know’ are good for them.
I absolutely agree that the good people of America need something. Far too many of us in too many places are in over our heads. We need and deserve more support. This includes families and neighbors too, not just designated ‘people of concern.’ The stress of living is palpable these days. And, frankly, that’s bad for all of us.
Where I disagree is what to do about it. I don’t believe we should silo citizens into categories like ‘mentally well’ and ‘mentally ill.’ I think that’s a false dichotomy. It creates a perpetually threatened class and a perpetually threatening one. That’s a recipe for bringing out the worst in human nature, not the best.
Here is what Matt thought we should do:
“The message should be that serious mental distress, including psychotic and borderline states, is primarily caused by adverse psychosocial events, not primarily by faulty biogenetic factors, and that people can mostly or fully become free from these states with support and sufficient hope, that key thing I couldn’t feel at the end.”
Matt’s last words to us highlight for me the importance of a human rights framework to creating individual and social well being (mental/behavioral health). Instead of killing hope for social outsiders, human rights create it:
- Human rights focus on human values and commonalities that all of us share.
- Human rights reinforce (and insist on resourcing) our commitment to each other.
- Human rights expect us to hold faith in each other’s dignity and worth as human beings.
- Human rights insist that we stop ignoring and marginalizing each other’s voices (madness).
- Human rights pay attention to real life needs — material, emotional, social, developmental — that all of us have and that many of us can’t find a way to address.
- Human rights require us to learn to navigate human differences gracefully and with everyone’s rights intact.
- Human rights invite us all to the table to talk about this stuff as people of conscience.
72 Hour Hold for Personhood Awareness
Starting today, Friday, September 29th at 5 PM, Eastern Standard Time, a peaceful, voluntary 72 Hour Hold will commence with regard to these issues. Every hour on the hour for 72 hours, I will post a shareable image or writing to highlight the importance (seemingly self-evident) of personhood to mental health. You will be able to find it here:
- On Facebook: Wellness & Recovery Human Rights Campaign, https://www.facebook.com/groups/WellnessRecoveryRights/
- On Twitter: RecoverHumanRights, @right2bu, https://twitter.com/right2bu
- On Blogger: Peerly Human, peerlyhuman.blogspot.com
I will also be publicizing these messages to friends, family, organizations and public officials throughout the 72 hour period. The hope is to hold public attention on the difference that the human right of full personhood can make for all of us. It is also to honor people like Matt, who we have lost to medical inhumanity. It is a way to carry on their work, keep alive their spirits, and to try to create the kind of hope for others that might have made a difference for them.
If any of this speaks to you, I hope you will join me in your own way. You can share stuff I post or something else that fits for you. You can tell whoever you want to tell how you feel about these issues or how they have impacted you.
The take-home message:
It’s time to recognize inalienable personhood. Social ‘othering’ is deadly for all of us. As a species, we can’t afford it. Once you know the facts, the need to respect each other’s human rights is a self-evident truth.
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.