I don’t know why I haven’t written a post yet on politics and psychiatry. I’ve written about each one separately, but a post over at Mm’s blog about NAMI’s basic mental health primer for politicians started me on a soapbox rant. Most of this post is from the comment I left on her post.
I’ve been spending lots of time lately talking about politics–farmers markets, door-to-door canvasses, phone banks to New Hampshire. I talk about women’s rights, gay rights, healthcare, advertising campaigns, fiscal policy…you name it. But no one talks about politicians’ stances on mental health care. We like to pretend there’s no longer stigma attached, but anything that can’t be discussed openly is still stigmatized. And when there is public conversation about mental illness, its causes and solutions get way oversimplified. We need to have a real, in-depth public conversation about it.
My worry with politicians who have very little knowledge of mental health issues–and even many who are knowledgeable–is the tendency toward forcible and/or coercive treatment. Mainstream psychiatry has a strong tendency toward dehumanizing paternalism–as can governments. Combine government and psychiatry and the paternalism turns into authoritarianism that can do great harm to consumers. See, in politics, money is power, and pharmaceutical companies have lots of money.
Politicians on both sides of the aisle call for mental health reforms every so often. I’m sure many of these lawmakers are well-intentioned, but they aren’t well-informed. They try to take constructive steps like shutting down state hospitals. But then they either don’t follow it through (leaving mentally ill people homeless and without access to treatment) or they just switch to a different flavor of authoritarianism (like outpatient commitment laws that forcibly drug people in the community).
What we need are TRULY informed lawmakers. They need to understand that force and coercion hurt consumers, that meds are not the only or the entire answer, that what helps one person may not be the answer for someone else, that consumers need to be fully informed and fully involved in their treatment. They need to understand that they cannot save us from ourselves–we have to do that for ourselves–but they can help us meet basic needs and help us get access to a FULL RANGE of treatment options.