Those of us who have suffered the Hell of untreated mental illness, lived to tell about it, and learned how to manage or arrest it, owe a deep debt of gratitude to all of our teachers, therapists, spiritual advisors, peers, and Higher Powers who kept us alive when we were hanging on by the slivers of our fingernails.
We can cover that debt by paying it forward.
And there are plenty of people in our society here in the US who need our help. So much excruciating pain and suffering. And much of it unnecessary.
A third of the 500,000 homeless people in the US are mentally ill.
The US incarcerates about 2.2 million people. 55% of the male prision population is mentally ill. 73% of females are mentally ill.
1 in 5 Americans are mentally ill.
43,000 people died by suicide in the US in 2016. There were 383,000 visits to the ER for self-inflicted injuries.
We live in a hyper-competitive, atomized, hyper-individualized, Socially Darwinistic, Dog-Eat-Dog Culture of Entitlement, unmasked and amplified by the those currently in power. The untreated mentally ill have little chance of thriving, or even living, in such a brutal, Hobbesian system.
Our mental health care system is seemingly broken, (but hopefully not) beyond repair. The will, if not the means, to repair it, is certainly lacking.
When Reagan cast the institutionalized mentally ill people onto the streets in the ’80’s, community mental health care was supposed to fill the void. But funding for that never appeared.
To this day, those with mental illness are left to fend for themselves, sleeping wrapped in newspapers and the same set of clothes for weaks, eating from dumpsters, hoping to occasionally get a coveted spot in a shelter, foraging, begging, falling prey to addiction and disease. In short, experiencing a living Hell of pain and deprivation in the wealthiest nation on Earth.
Or they are relegated to the “new” mental institutions. The Prision Industrial Complex. Where they are held like chattel, untreated and miserable in Hells on Earth, by private, for profit prison entities.
And if they are fortunate enough to have homes and families, the stigma of their illness often costs them jobs, social standing, relationships, and, ultimately, the will or ability to get proper treatment. Pushing them to homelessness, prision, or suicide.
There is always HOPE though. Our hope in the community of the mentally ill does not flow from the government or society writ large. Our voices and lobbying power are still too weak to ignite legislative action. Stigma is so powerful that it prevents many people from caring, as they consider us dangerous or weird, and cast us aside like rotting fruit in the vegetable crisper.
Our HOPE does flow from compassionate groups and institutions like AA and other 12 Step groups, the Salvation Army, the UMC and other churches, and thousands upon thousands of state and local groups that provide food and shelter for the homeless, counseling and medication for the indigent, counsel for the falsely accused, peer support, suicide hotlines, prison visitation, job programs, and more.
Many of these groups are staffed by volunteers who have suffered untreated mental illness in some form, or who have a loved one who has. They are covering their debt by paying it forward.
If you are one of the 20% who is fortunate enough to have found stability, managability, and/or a way to arrest, your illness, please pay it forward by being of service to those who are still suffering.
If you don’t know how to get “plugged in,” Google and a phone are the only tools you need!