On Mental Health Metalanguages: From New York to Newtown

Names of the Newtown Shooting Victims

 

 

I just wrote about violence. And I don’t want to add to any of the media hype surrounding recent events.

I only want to say this:

We need to get clear about what we call for when we call for mental health reform.

We need to be careful.  Because it sounds like we are putting it in the same category as gun control and school security.  And that is a dangerous correlation to make.  Putting those three things together constructs a symbology of state violence we are not being proactive about deconstructing.

Reforming mental health services–what does this mean to you?  Does it mean we see someone walking down the street, talking to themselves, and we call the police who lock them up–just this time in a facility and not a jail?  Does it mean we target the young, white boy wearing a black trench coat or the hyperactive black boy running around the room or the too skinny girl sitting in the corner gazing out the window?  Does it mean we create holistic, community-centered alternatives to institutionalization and overmedication?  Does it mean we build higher, thicker walls around our schools, workplaces, and homes to keep out “the crazies” but forget to deal with the fact that mental illness is, as Rha Goddess once said, literally in the damn water.  What is treatment, recovery, and rehabilitation in a world where we tie mental health reform to jail and the police aren’t always friendly to those of us who are black, brown, queer, poor, homeless?  We want to feel safe but how do we create safe spaces and community acountability without setting up new and even more dangerous stigmas?

I don’t believe my son belongs in jail. The chaotic environment exacerbates Michael’s sensitivity to sensory stimuli and doesn’t deal with the underlying pathology. But it seems like the United States is using prison as the solution of choice for mentally ill people. According to Human Rights Watch, the number of mentally ill inmates in U.S. prisons quadrupled from 2000 to 2006, and it continues to rise—in fact, the rate of inmate mental illness is five times greater (56 percent) than in the non-incarcerated population.

We had better get really critical, really quickly, because we are not all speaking the same language.

We don’t want another drug war.  We know who will suffer–is already suffering–first.

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