For some weird reason, we think the mental health system today is more logical, humane, and helpful than the days of Lobotomy, Ice Baths, and Cold Blankets.
For some weird reason, we think giving someone muscle relaxers before hooking up electrodes to someone’s temples is more humane than just zapping them and watching their body convulse. For some reason, we repeatedly confirm that we have no idea if E.C.T does anything useful, and yet it gets recommended–and very often.
Let’s look at what came out of the Lobotomy era: Thorazine, that’s a pretty big one. The notable “Chemical Lobotomy” put the ice pick rearing mad scientist out of business. In fact, it put all that nastiness into the hands of the pharmacy companies. The only difference is you don’t get a black eye after you swallow a pill. Your organs do, but whatever, no one sees that so it’s okay.
So what went wrong? We go from believing mental health issues come from spiritual unrest (which I’m not going to argue against) to believing it’s hardwired into our system before our birth (which I’m also not going to argue against). That’s a pretty big leap.
I’m not going to argue against or for either option because arguing gets us nowhere. What I’ve noticed in the progression of how mental health is viewed in society (western society, mostly), is that it’s a social construction, much like Gender is considered. It changes with time. Homosexuality used to be a mental disorder. Now it’s not. There you go, simple as that. It’s taking terms and calling it one thing or another. That’s all “mental illness” is. It’s a social construction. What we call depression now might not be called that in fifty years, either due to science or enlightenment or whatever. And the funny thing will be that how people experience depression will change with it’s name–not because we’re changing it, but because we believe we’re changing it.
From what I’ve heard from some LGBT communities, is that things aren’t as bad as they used to be. They’re still pretty horrendous, especially for people who identify as Transgender, but . . . the more acceptance there is online, in communities, and in families, the less of a surprise it is nowadays to hear someone is bisexual or lesbian or gay. Chances go up a good half a percent that someone you interact with won’t hate you for your sexual orientation. What kids in our future, provided acceptance continues, experience underneath any gender spectrum label will be ten times different than what kids today do. Not because the facts of the gender spectrum change, but because we see it differently. We treat people differently, so they treat themselves differently.
Now, if you’re experiencing psychosis for the first time and you get locked in a facility where people are grabbing you and forcing you onto cots and injecting you with things you don’t understand–you’re getting a very clear vision of what people think of psychosis. You might not know it at that moment because creatures are crawling out of the floor and nibbling on your toes, but the aftermath, the lack of support for many, the way you’re treated, what you’re told (you’re sick for life, no way around it, sorry): it says it all. It increases a sense of being trapped, controlled, which doesn’t help anyone if they struggle with paranoia or voices. It increases fear and psychosis feeds off of fear.
So what if how we view these experiences we like to call “mental illness” more like a brain’s distress call–kind of like someone giving you all their belongings, and a sealed envelope you’re not allowed to open until they’re “far away from here”. Would you tackle them to the ground and scream “you’re sick, you’re fucking sick! You need help, you psycho!” in their ear?
If we treat these experiences like a distress call, if we see it as an experience that deserves unique attention because each person’s experience is unique, it doesn’t matter whether the person has a “weird brain chemistry” or if they’ve been through trauma or if they’ve damaged something with drugs–whatever. It won’t matter because we’re not looking at what we think their problem is, we’re paying attention to what they experience, and respecting that. Respecting their despair or fear or anxiety or compulsions. We’re respecting their past, if they have gone through trauma, and we’re respecting their shock if their life has been generally good and they suddenly woke up with God talking to them through a walkie-talkie.
For those of us with these struggles, this goes for us to: we have to respect our experiences. I don’t think it’s healthy to fight ourselves. I don’t think it’s healthy to limit ourselves to that kind of existence. I think it hinders our ability to grow and our ability to function.
What do I think went wrong? I think we got too obsessed with wanting answers to everything. I think, as humans, we get so caught up with believing everything must have a reason and that everything in life that isn’t a pleasant experience needs to be made into one. If negativity didn’t have a place in life then it wouldn’t exist. Then positivity wouldn’t exist. Then we’d all just be zombies wandering around the streets aimlessly, taking bites out of each other’s bodies every now and then because what the fuck else are we going to do? We’re propelled by our biological instincts and that’s it, right? Hunger will be our main experience. Looking forward to it.
When I say “mental illness” is a social construction, I am not saying these experiences don’t exist. If I said that, I’d get pounded into a bloody pulp by the comments and I’d be a lying liar. Instead what I’m saying is these experiences that are very real are being described and made into something they might not be.
I’m 21 years old. I could wake up tomorrow with ten times worse hallucinations than I currently have. I could wake up 24 years old at the mercy of delusions that last longer than a few weeks or a month–they could last six months or a year. I could wake up so far gone in my head that I forget my head even exists. But I’ll never call myself sick or ill. Never have, never will.
Food for thought, everyone.