Defining What It Means to Care | Leah Harris


From The Progressive Magazine: “We want to think of mental health facilities as safe, compassionate places to get help in a crisis. Yes, there are caring workers doing their best to support patients under less than ideal circumstances. But unless you’ve been a patient in one of these places, it can be difficult to grasp just how carceral and punitive they often are.

Involuntary treatment is typically experienced as traumatic, especially when combined with invasive practices like seclusion, restraint, and forced medication. Involuntary hospitalization runs counter to effective therapeutic relationships with providers, and can cause people to refuse care in the future.

Paternalistic assumptions that disabled people lack the capacity to make their own treatment decisions—and therefore must be forced into care—have been disproven. Wisconsin leads the nation in involuntary commitment, although collaborative alternatives to force exist, such as supported decision-making and psychiatric advance directives. The United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities views involuntary treatment as a human rights violation.

While my mother and [psychiatric survivor and activist Alberta] Lessard were both white, racial disparities in psychiatric care are glaring. Black and brown people are more likely than their white counterparts to face forced inpatient and outpatient commitments. They also are more likely to receive carceral and coercive interventions while under psychiatric care, and to be denied access to voluntary community support.

Compounding the crisis in Wisconsin and across the United States is an ongoing shortage of qualified mental health professionals. Granite Hills, open for less than a year, is already getting terrible reviews online—such as ‘Just don’t’—from workers who allege that it is understaffed and unsafe.

A growing chorus of voices, led by the disability justice and abolitionist movements, are calling for public health-based policy changes to break long-standing cycles of racial injustice, and to support human needs for community and care. Central to their demands is housing justice.”