Writing about what I have been reading and encountering in the media.
MSN News, The Atlantic - Saturday, June 13, 2015
"America's Largest Mental Hospital Is a Jail"
This is an excellent description of the current state of mental health intervention in America. It includes a three page concise history of mental health intervention in the US showing how it got to be where it is today. It also describes innovative efforts at the Cook County Jail to improve the situation. The article includes quotes from inmates about the situation, as well as from the Cook County Sheriff.
In spite of a lot of attention paid to the brain trauma and its aftermath suffered by football players, we still have trouble equating mental health with brain health, and with physical health. We have trouble understanding that we are what we eat. We have trouble seeing ourselves as interdependent in the USA due to the high value we place on individuality. We value team sports, but the media lauds individuals on the teams as heroes more than entire teams. We also have trouble making basics a priority. For example, parents buy teenagers cars and let them go with the cars when their teens are still having trouble picking up after themselves, completing homework and taking responsibility for their own choices. We go to war and support the war without increasing taxes to pay for it. You might ask “what does this have to do with mental health?”
We expect people to function equally well, and blame them if they don’t. Blaming is one of the most common activities in public discourse. Congress blames the current President regardless of what the last President did. The President blames Congress. Everyone blames the coach, the governor, the police, etc. We Americans are highly skilled at scapegoating. When Jesus worked toward reform of animal sacrifice, he was trying to end literal scapegoating, that is sacrificing a goat to atone for mistakes called sins. So what did his followers do? They made him the scapegoat saying he died for our sins. And thus, the habit of letting someone else suffer the consequences of our bad choices continues. It is the teen’s fault if they wreck the car, not the parents for buying the car. It is the sick person’s fault for being sick, not the food manufacturer who loaded their foods with salt and sugar to sell more. It is the consumer’s fault for using those foods. On and on.
What if the blaming is the problem? What if when someone on the street looks miserable, we smile at them and ask what they need and try and get it to them? What if we build a mental health system that can actually apply what we know about how mental health works in ways that actually ameliorate symptoms? What if we each agreed to pay a realistic amount of money to make that happen? What if we acted as members of an effective team/community/extended family rather than a cowboy alone on his horse singing to the cows?