During the first week of October, mental health advocates around the country will gather to celebrate Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW) by shunning the seriously mentally ill. The most egregious example of this "celebration" will take place this weekend at the Alternatives 2010 conference in Anaheim, California.
The Alternatives 2010 conference is a gathering of "consumers and survivors of mental health services." They use that language, because many in the leadership believe mental illness doesn't exist and is merely a label society uses to control them. By failing to include "people with mental illness" in the list of 'consumers' and 'survivors' who are invited, they are sending a not-so-subtle message: mentally ill not welcome. The term "mental illness" isn't even allowed in the program.
For the 'labeled' participants, there will be a workshop on how to go off medications. That could be a dangerous, if not deadly, 'alternative,' should someone with schizophrenia who needs medication to prevent them from deteriorating decides to do it. (See note below-ed). The keynote speaker wrote, "Antipsychotic drugs do not fix any known brain abnormality nor do they put brain chemistry back into balance." One wonders if he ever met anyone with schizophrenia when they were on and off medications.
While proclaiming mental illness doesn't exist, the Alternatives 2010 leadership purports to speak for people who have it. The 'celebration' is funded with our taxes by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Agency (SAMHSA). Dollars meant to help people with mental illness are instead going to people who deny its existence.
This may all be fun and fine for the high-functioning professional consumers ("Consumertocracy"), but what about the others? People who aren't merely 'labeled' mentally ill, but are.
People like my sister-in-law, who suffers from the most devastating and debilitating mental illness: schizophrenia. Will you see people like her in MIAW public service announcements or being welcomed at the Alternatives Conference? How about the homeless or those actively hallucinating and experiencing psychosis? The mere existence of very symptomatic people is inconsistent with the MIAW and Alternatives narrative that people with mental illness are just like you and me.
In California, these groups are fighting implementation of Laura's Law. Laura's Law allows courts to order certain historically violent mentally ill individuals to accept treatment as a condition for living in the community. A similar program in New York reduced homelessness 74%; suicide attempts, 55%; hospitalization, 77%; arrests, 83%; and incarceration, 87%. (A new independent study showing even more benefits will be released on Friday. Like with past studies, the Consumertocracy will attack it).
When New York's version of Laura's Law was set to sunset, the legislature stepped in and almost unanimously voted to extend it. Researchers found people with mental illness who were enrolled in the program--who one would expect to be the most vociferous opponents--were overwhelmingly in support of it.
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Laura's Law requires an acknowledgment that mental illness does exist and that some people with serious mental illness, off medications, lose the ability to act rationally. They are, as Herschel Hardin said, "imprisoned by their psychosis" and sometimes act violently. Everyone, except the MIAW and Alternatives celebrants, seems to know this.
Carla Jacobs, one of the leading advocates for people with serious mental illness in California, has an alternative to Alternatives. "We should help people who are seriously mentally ill, save money, reduce violence and suicide. We can do it all by passing Laura's Law."
"Where will the money come from?" Alternatives leaders ask. Next year's conference would be a good start.
Updated 10/2/2010: The following section was inserted: "For the 'labeled' participants, there will be a workshop on how to go off medications. That could be a dangerous, if not deadly, 'alternative,' should someone with schizophrenia who needs medication to prevent them from deteriorating decides to do it".
It replaces a section which previously read, "For the 'labeled' participants, there will be a workshop on how to go off medications. That could be a dangerous, if not deadly, 'alternative,' should any people with real mental illness be in attendance.