Quantcast
Connect with us

America’s mental health system may be unfixable. Fortunately, there’s an alternative

Published

on

- Commentary

The mental health system is failing us. Moreover, the way the mental health industry and our culture at large conceives of “mental illness” is designed to fail us. That’s why people are more and more engaging with alternatives to it, using peer support, community, and mutual aid.

Mutual aid is not a new thing—arguably it’s one of the oldest ideas in human history —but our conscious use of it in the context of mental health holds a radically important promise: rather than just coping with and adjusting to society through the mental health system, we can actually heal ourselves and shift the culture.

The biomedical model, which holds that all mental health concerns are the result of some brain imbalance, uses the oppressive tome of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) as its diagnostic touchstone. This gives mental health professionals the right to designate individuals who are suffering within categories of “disease,” which, in turn, often assigns them to a lifetime of ineffective and often harmful “treatment.” This is has become so routine that it’s hard to remember that alternatives to it exist, but people with mental health issues are starting re-imagine wellness. One alternative is the recovery model, an innovative and effective framework with the potential to genuinely heal and transform people who have experienced trauma.

Trauma is a huge category of human experience, ranging from the interpersonal to the systemically oppressive and often they overlap. Trauma manifests itself in various ways within our body-minds that result in types—and some of these types can be hazily recognized in the categories that the DSM describes. But this is not science. There is no evidence that supports the notion of “chemical imbalance” being something that a person is born with; this is speculation that supports a disease model, which reaps massive profits for the mental health and pharmaceutical industries.

This is not to say drugs can’t be one useful treatment among many when used judiciously and cautiously. But a mental health wellness plan that begins and ends with a disease model (biomedical) does not treat the whole person, or the body, where trauma is stored, and in fact, often times causes more harm than good.

ADVERTISEMENT

The primary tenet of the Hippocratic Oath, taken by all physicians, is “do no harm.” Yet that tenet of the oath is broken over and over. These harms can include forced treatment, traumatizing hospitalizations, overmedication, and police brutality, and electroconvulsive therapy. The message of the biomedical model itself does harm to those rendered patients, and it also inhibits the personal and social transformation that could come from the recovery model and if we honored the wisdom of mutual aid.

Harm also comes from an offensive disregard for the insight and self-understanding of the person seeking professional help. There is even a word in psychiatry to denote this supposed lack of insight: anosognosia. We are thought, because of our supposedly “imbalanced” brains, to be incapable of knowing what is best for us, and thus must become compliant or “concordant” with treatment. Doctors are not a priest class, but they often act like it. Mental health professionals should be facilitators’ of each individual’s own wellness. Progress is being made in this direction, but we have a long way to go, particularly with the majority of psychiatrists. But therapists are not immune to these problems either. In addition to the growing recovery model which offers hope that people with mental and emotional struggles can and will learn not only to cope, but to heal and thrive, we need a strengths-based model that acknowledges people who experience a range of emotions and mind-states outside the realm of “normal” may actually possess unique talents and visions, or what some call “dangerous gifts.” Often this requires greater self-care. These unique perspectives we have to offer society should be cultivated and honored, not feared or stamped out.

When I couldn’t find enough healing or hope or meaning in clinics, I found peer support and mutual aid in the form of 12-step community and The Icarus Project, “a support network and education project by and for people who experience the world in ways that are often diagnosed as mental illness” The Icarus Project gave me many things, most importantly friendships, and it also gave me mad pride. I now honor and mind carefully my “dangerous gifts.” This is not to say therapy can’t be beneficial; some of it has been. And at times, it has done me harm. But mutual aid has transformed my life, has helped me heal, and at its best, can transform society. Wikipedia solidly defines mutual aid as “ a voluntary reciprocal exchange of resources and services for mutual benefit. Mutual aid, as opposed to charity, does not connote moral superiority of the giver over the receiver.” In this context, therapists and psychiatrists certainly can (but don’t always) embody a toxic “moral superiority,” whereas people freely holding space for each others’ emotional processes unlocks human potential for all involved.

ADVERTISEMENT

When people share histories of trauma with each other, we can also share tremendous insight. Most importantly, when we create an atmosphere of mutual respect and equality that fosters wisdom and healing. In this way, mutual aid gives us something the biomedical model and the unequal power dynamics between professionals and “patients” cannot. Engaging in the very process of mutual aid itself is an antidote to the biomedical model and the flawed system it has generated.

In peer support or mutual aid, both parties look at their stuff. It seems like a no-brainer that this would promote deeper, more radical growth. It is only because we are taught not to value community that it isn’t. We all know the best intimate relationships of our lives, be it with dear friends, romantic partners, or family, can make or break us—and at best can lead to profound spiritual changes. In All About Love: New Visions bell hooks defines love as the conscious decision to aid in the spiritual development of ourselves with another human being.

When we are in a relationship of mutual respect and equality, when the connection is between two peers struggling along the same road together, working to love one another, we can become powerful and beautiful beyond measure. I believe that mutuality can transform “patients” into people and restore health beyond expectation. More than this, I also believe that as people come into wellness and self-love, society can be transformed. As Shery Mead, founder of Intentional Peer Support writes, “As peer support in mental health proliferates, we must be mindful of our intention: social change. It is not about developing more effective services, but rather about creating dialogues that have influence on all of our understandings, conversations, and relationships.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Our healing journeys are not just about individuals. They are about transforming society and shifting the culture. The Icarus Project asks: What does it mean to be labelled “crazy” in a world gone mad? And it asks if we in fact, as “mad” people, could take that label on with pride. Maybe we shouldn’t adjust to this world. Maybe we should change it, not only to better serve our own needs; mad folks should support each other with mutual aid so we can better use our “dangerous gifts” to carry out visions of a just and safer future for us all.

Part of being radical involves being the best human you can be in a world not designed for love, in a world that trains us to be competitive, individualistic, selfish, hierarchical and discriminatory. Every act against that norm is a radical act. Mutual aid embodies those acts, and that is its simple yet revolutionary power.

# # #

ADVERTISEMENT

L.D. Green is, along with Kelechi Ubozoh, co-editor of “We’ve Been Too Patient: Voices from Radical Mental Health.”


Report typos and corrections to [email protected].
READ COMMENTS - JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Continue Reading

Breaking Banner

Dear NeverTrumpers: Either help or STFU

Published

on

Bill Kristol Max Boot David Frum
Over the past few weeks, you may have noticed that the NeverTrumpers — repentant Republicans and conservatives — have been offering up lots of advice for how the Democrats can win the next election. Their jackhammer advice has basically been limited to urging the party to disavow its activist, progressive members in order to secure the contrarian swing voters who cast ballots for Barack Obama twice, then switched to Donald Trump in 2016.

Before I offer up a come-to-Jesus moment for the NeverTrumpers, let me say that as many of you know, I’ve defended members of this exiled faction in the past, and continue to stand by the idea that we need to form a coalition to close the loopholes exposed by Donald Trump’s malfeasance as a means of preventing another, perhaps more dangerous monster from sashaying through the Trump-shaped hole in the wall. To be clear: I’m not talking about conceding on policy or platform planks. I’m merely suggesting a detente between voices who all agree that Trump is a menace and his presidency is an existential national crisis.

Continue Reading

Breaking Banner

Last chance for impeachment: Next week Robert Mueller will shape history — but how?

Published

on

When Robert Mueller comes to Congress next week to field questions — "answer" is too optimistic — about what he learned in his investigation of Russia and Donald Trump, it’ll be his and our last chance to get it right; to inform the American people of the enormity of Trump’s offenses and our sacred duty to impeach him. If he doesn’t want to, or can’t be made to, we may all say, in unison with Mitch McConnell, “case closed” as all hope of impeachment will have died.

It seemed as if our chance had passed; that due to the misfeasance of Robert Mueller and some Democrats, impeachment was all but dead. Trump’s latest racist tantrum — his noxious series of tweets directed at four progressive Democratic congresswomen — revived it simply by reminding Congress that he is morally unfit to be president of the United States. He is the greatest proved liar in the history of American public life. He runs the most corrupt administration in the history of the American presidency. He helped rig one election and now invites the rigging of another. He not only admits to being a serial sexual predator, but brags about it. But all that we knew.

Continue Reading
 

2020 Election

Pelosi’s war on progressives risks another Trump victory

Published

on

There are three reasons Trump won, and some of the leading Democrats don't seem to understand any of them

If Trump wins in 2020—and right now, he stands a good chance of doing it—you can thank Nancy Pelosi and the rest of the neoliberals in charge of the Democratic Party.

At the moment she and her allies are waging a war against progressives in order to hold onto a mythical centrist majority that doesn't exist. This threatens to repeat the mistakes of 2016, while ignoring the lessons of 2018.

Continue Reading
 
 
 

Copyright © 2019 Raw Story Media, Inc. PO Box 21050, Washington, D.C. 20009 | Masthead | Privacy Policy | For corrections or concerns, please email [email protected]

close-image