Outside of the lives of those of us who have experienced it, it is little known what a life of poverty and “mental illness” can do to a person. After experiencing terrible credit-card debt with an insufficient income, I began taking antidepressants after a suicide attempt. After eight years on Zoloft, my psychiatrist switched me to Lexapro, which made me psychotic. This got me committed to a mental hospital, where I was forced to take psychiatric drugs against my will and where I began receiving SSI Disability, which pays below the poverty line. Such experiences of “mental illness” and financial hardship lead to lives of isolation in many ways.
I haven’t been able to go out to dinner with the few friends that I do have for years because of my financial situation. All I do, for the most part, is go to the grocery store and to the psychiatric clinic and try to write something worth reading. This is long before the coronavirus appeared.
Psychiatric drugs are believed to shorten people’s life span by 15 to 25 years. Antipsychotics are considered especially dangerous. I have taken antipsychotics for almost a decade. I have always worried about my elderly parents dying. My older sister died when she was nine-and-a-half and I was seven, so I have long known how precarious life is. These new fears people are experiencing about losing loved ones and their own mortality are not new to me.
People’s newfound anxiety and depression, which can result from isolation, are common among the poor in America, especially those of us who have had the misfortune of falling into the grip of the mental health industry. The recent $2 trillion-dollar federal bailout offers financial benefits only to taxpayers and newly unemployed workers. The very poor, often those of us who have been entangled in the mental health industry, get nothing. Big corporations felt needy and wanted financial help. They got it. Why not, instead, get them to take antidepressants and therapy as I was told to do when I first started having significant financial problems? This pandemic, and the bailout package, have been predicted to widen America’s already stark wealth divide.
As for spiritual crises, newly alienated Christians have a community to return to when this is all over. The mainstream churches that I have experienced mostly cater to the middle and greater classes. They are not a source of comfort and community for people who do not fit in.
One thing I know from my experiences with the mental health industry is that it is the last place people should look to in dealing with this pandemic. Anyone experiencing financial hardship should be helped financially. The fact that that isn’t happening speaks to the disordered values of our country. This pandemic is making known both good and ugly truths about who people really are.
Some people becoming newly acquainted with life online and through their phones are having difficulty adjusting. For psychiatric survivors, this is often one of the few resources we have ever had. We who have internet access and a phone are the lucky ones. Many poor “mentally ill” people have no such luxuries. The very poor, “mentally ill” or not, have no such thing.
The rich, the middle-class, and people with lively communities—normal people—have long had lives filled with personal meaning. One of the worst things that the mental health industry has largely done to me and has long wanted to do to an even greater extent, is to rob so much of my life of meaning. I have been entangled with the industry for nearly two decades, and those decades have been largely wasted. Instead of meaning, the industry gives people psychiatric drugs, therapy, and a role as a mental patient. It is within that framework that you are expected to merely exist.
As I have been so suppressed and oppressed by the psychiatric drugs, my role as a life-long mental patient, and financial difficulties, I have long tried to find meaning in little things. A little volunteer work for the truly destitute. Helping my parents. Through prayer and faith. And now, with my writing.
Now that I am finally, gradually, starting to come off of psychiatric drugs with the hope of a better life, I face a daunting task. How do you begin a life when you are older? So many lost opportunities. Decades that can never be brought back to life. People who experience only temporary hardship as a result of the coronavirus are the lucky ones.
I have, to some extent, become accustomed to isolation. I like to read and write despite nearly two decades of psychiatric drug use. There are others who have been caught up in psychiatric treatment who are not even so fortunate. I have a friend who has long been enmeshed with the mental health industry. She used to be a voracious reader, but no longer has the attention span to do such things. This is likely because of psychiatric treatment.
There is such shame and social punishment around experiencing extreme states of mind and being given a psychiatric label that is itself profoundly isolating. This is a kind of isolation that people who are merely practicing social distancing will probably never know.
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.