Promoting Mental Health Week in Your Community
What is discrimination to a mentally ill person? It can be many things, both subtle and obviously wrong.
Jane* is a short, quiet woman who is cautious about who she decides to trust. She is so used to being taken advantage of that she never stands up for herself and will tell me she no longer cares when a new experience occurs. Unfortunately, Jane’s speech and manner make it obvious to everyone that she has issues, but she lives independently. And it is not just mistreatment at the hands of a few individuals that she talks about after I have gained her trust. She tells of going to a well known local furniture store to buy a table for her apartment and paying cash for it. Also, she paid a little extra to have it delivered, but the table never came. Ever. Jane will ask me if that is right and why do people do that.
Jack* is a middle aged man who is slight of build and has some permanent damage from a bad car accident. Like Jane, it is clear when you meet Jack that he also has mental health issues. One night Jack called the police to report he had been threatened and two policemen responded to his apartment. He was so upset by that time that his voice was loud and he spoke so fast that the officers could not get the facts of what happened from him. In frustration one officer grabbed Jack by his throat and shoved him down on his couch and told him to shut the f— up. They left and the distraught man came to my door feeling helpless, afraid and vulnerable.
From my own experiences of dealing with individuals at a time when I was untreated for schizophrenia, there was a man I knew who was aware I had not eaten for a few days who invited me to breakfast at a restaurant, on him. At breakfast, only his meal was ordered. When I pointed out that he had invited me there to eat, he calmly said he had decided he couldn’t afford it, but wanted me to sit and keep him company while He ate.
Years later, under treatment and on disability, I had thoughts of taking on a job, at least part time. I went to an agency in town to apply for a course in job hunting and résumé writing, an agency which receives funding from government agencies. They refused my application because, as a schizophrenic, I would need special help and supports that they do not provide. Even after having a social worker call them to debate the decision and make it clear that I was not so disabled as to need special help to take their job finding course, they stood firm on their decision that they were refusing me their services because of my mental illness.
When a denturist did not offer to refund my deposit after a government agency pays the full cost of my dentures, I needed to ask for that deposit back. The dentures cracked within a month and he offered to replace them if they cracked again, but he did not replace them and did another repair saying he needed to discover why they were breaking. The reason for the cracking was immediately obvious to a second denturist I had gone to, and from whom I had concealed my illness, as soon as he saw the denture and I am now paying him cash to have the denture fixed.
And perhaps hardest of all to deal with are simply the well meaning, and sometimes not so well meaning, patronizing responses and attitudes the mentally ill get when we are trying to talk to someone who knows we have a mental illness and they don’t want to ‘upset us’. With all of the condescension they would show a child, they compel us, as adults, to endure our encounters with them because getting irritated would….well…be taken as a symptom of our mental illnesses.
Sitting with a group of mentally ill people, everyone begins to laugh knowingly as I comment that one of the great hardships of being mentally ill is dealing with all the healthy people. It is a telling moment. I know with certainty it is best to use a pen name for a story of this kind, and to use fictional names for the others I have referred to in it, because more than enough people already know we are mentally ill, and that is not a good thing.
What is discrimination to a mentally ill person? It is their lot in life.
Jane* and Jack* and Peter James*: real people but fictitious names.