I once spent two days and a night wandering the streets of Los Angeles in a state of psychosis. I was extremely vulnerable as I walked through some gang-controlled neighborhoods. I was also vulnerable because voices were hounding me. I had delusions and hallucinations. I wasn’t thinking rationally, so I had no way of making decisions about keeping myself safe.
I was reminded of my experience when I read an article today. In the article, Sick Woman Theory, the author writes about how many people can’t show up at political rallies or protests because they are physically or mentally incapable of attending. Many people with a mental illness can’t write a letter to their senators or representatives about changing the mental health laws or policies. Many people with a mental illness are homeless or in prison. In other words, the people most impacted by our current policies, laws, and practices often can’t be a voice for change.
That is where those of us with a mental illness who are not currently in crisis, can be the voice of those who can’t speak for themselves. We have to be the ones to show up and make phone calls and write letters. In reality, the families of the mentally ill are usually the ones who have a bigger influence on policy than those of us who have a mental illness. I don’t know if it is because policymakers tend to dismiss those of us with a mental illness, or if the families of mentally ill people are just better at organizing, writing letters, calling lawmakers, meeting with government officials, etc. It could be that many of the highest functioning people with a mental illness are hiding their illness due to the fear of stigma, discrimination, job loss, etc.
If you walk down the street in any major city in the United States, you will see evidence of a broken mental health system. There are thousands of mentally ill people living on the streets of America. If you search Google, you will find that a high percentage of prisoners have a severe mental illness. If you have been in a psychiatric crisis and needed to go to inpatient treatment, you may have encountered a lack of available beds.
Many of the people, who need the most assistance to manage their mental illness, are voiceless and invisible to large segments of society. Because these people are not easily visible in our daily lives, it is easy to get caught up in our treatment issues and forget or ignore where we could easily be.
If it weren’t for the persistence of my husband in not giving up on getting me treatment, I could easily be in the street. Living in the street could easily lead to prison for one reason or another. I write this as a reminder to myself and others that we must be the voice of the people who wear the same color of hats that we do. They are in need of our attention and care. Those of us who are able must be louder and stronger because we are speaking not only for ourselves but for large numbers of people who we rarely see and almost never hear their voices.