Welcome to the Mental Illness Conversation, Missoulian Editorial Board

by lizard

The Missoulian editorial board thinks it’s time to start talking about mental illness. Since newspapers still have significant power in framing what issues we talk about, it’s good to see some awareness being generated by the Missoulian.

The editorial is just barely scratching the surface, though.

Focusing on the cultural barrier of “silence” is an easy one for a newspaper, because simply by virtue of printing this op-ed, they (the editorial board) are making a much bigger stride in addressing that particular barrier. A much more significant factor, I would argue, is the socio-economic factor—put more simply, who pays?

I wrote a post in September about how the system is failing those with mental illness. That post links to an article describing the decades-long shift from treating mental illness in asylums to warehousing people suffering from mental illness in jails and prisons.

The problems with jailing people in psychiatric crisis are myriad. In fact, there was an incident in Missoula County’s detention center 7 years ago that the Missoulian did a really shitty job covering. Jay Stevens even wrote a post about it at 4&20 Blackbirds, which you can read here.

The Missoulian’s editorial ends with this:

There’s every reason in the world to start talking about mental illness. The more it’s brought into the open, the more those who have some form of mental illness will feel encouraged to bring their problems out of the shadows – and get help.

Yes, let’s bring this problem out in the open, including what happens to the people who can’t pay to get help. Let’s talk about state funding, and health insurance, and co-occurring substance abuse barriers, and judge’s who think treatment courts are cadillac programs we can’t afford (don’t vote for Jenks!). Let’s talk about why more officers don’t have crisis intervention training, and why it takes so long for a mental health professional to respond to psychiatric crisis in the ER.

And let’s talk about how jails and prisons continue to be warehouses for people with mental illness.

Some of us have already been talking about this, because things are not improving. The need seems to be increasing, especially among the population highlighted in the op-ed, veterans, but the resources are not keeping up with the need. I’ll say it again, denying Montanans medicaid expansion continues to be one of the cruelest, costliest decisions made by Republican ideologues who really don’t get it. Or if they do, they don’t care.

Luckily there are people within the system who know better than anyone what’s not working, and what needs to happen to improve things. Crisis can be a catalyst for change. I just hope when it comes to the more difficult parts of this conversation, the Missoulian will continue to help inform its readership about the many barriers to getting help.

  1. Why are there more mentally ill people today? Has reporting gotten better or society worse?

    Why do we have more corrections personnel than we do mental health professionals?

    How much money did prisons bring into their communities each year, how much do shrinks?

    And remember, when a mentally ill individual gets in trouble they’re putting even more money into the economy (fines, overtime, corrections jobs, related industries), and to many, this is the only value they’ll ever have.

    Hey, I don’t like it, but I sure the hell don’t see it changing anytime soon, at least not in this state. Why would it?

    • JC

      Why? One word: capitalism.

      And let me get this straight: you think that economic development via capitalizing on mental illness is a good thing?

      “I sure the hell don’t see it changing anytime soon… Why would it?”

      Because the current socio-economic and health care systems are unsustainable??? Ever read about the Dark Ages and what precipitated them? That might give you and others an incentive to avoid a repeat… that is if we are not already on a collision course with a 3rd Millennium version of the Dark Ages, no matter what we do.

      • I didn’t say it was a good thing I said it was a fact. Lots of things in this country and around the world are unsustainable, but I think the majority are trying their darndest to keep them going as long as they can. Most people just don’t care. I mean, football’s on.

        Yeah, I read A Distant Mirror. I have a degree in History so I know most people don’t study it or learn from it.

  2. JC

    Well, I’m glad the Missoulian has decided to say something, even if it points to a bit of misunderstanding and inability for the editors to communicate effectively (so what else is new…):

    “One of those major barriers is silence.

    Despite much progress made in the understanding and treatment of mental illness, many people still wrongly associate mental health problems with personal faults and weaknesses, often leading to unwarranted feelings of shame. The best way to combat those associations is with relevant facts and information…”

    Just who is the Missoulian referring to when they say “many people”? If they are talking about people who are mentally ill, and then suggesting to them that feelings of shame are “unwarranted”, then they’ve just invalidated the feelings of those they purport to want to help.

    If they are referring to people who aren’t mentally ill, then they are suggesting to them that if they just knew more, then the mentally ill wouldn’t have to feel shame.

    Guilt and shame are two of the biggest killers when it comes to mental illness and addiction. It is normal for a mentally ill and/or addicted person to feel shame and guilt … no matter what the rest of the world thinks, says or feels. It’s part of the disease. Part of the recovery process from mental illness and addiction is for the recovering individual to learn about their disease, and how to deal with their feelings in more appropriate and healing fashions.

    So besides the Missoulian op ed showing a serious misunderstanding of the disease of mental illness, and how to communicate effectively about it, it sidestepped several serious points, one of which you rightly point out: the socio-economic component.

    But the elephant in the room is more than the culture of “silence.” It is the culture of victimization that is rampant in our society, where it is ok to victimize those that aren’t “just like the rest of us.” From our earliest days in daycare, we learn to compete in our society by picking on those who are the least able to defend themselves. And as we grow into adults, we continue to belittle those who somehow are “responsible” for the actions they took (or didn’t take) that led them to lives of mental illness and addiction. If those people would just make different choices they could be like us, but they don’t so therefore they are lesser beings deserving of our scorn, condescension and give-a-shit attitude. They turn mental illness and addiction into a form of moral expression of the afflicted, that we rightly respond to with punishment.

    To put it simply, if we want to have a conversation that will help the mentally ill and addicted, then lets talk about how we as a society — with a culture of ignorance and victimization — are responsible for much of the reason we have rampant illness, and thus we have the responsibility to change our attitudes towards the mentally ill, the responsibility to offer solutions that truly help, and to change the socio-economic system that breeds mental illness and addiction into our families and infants, beginning even before conception.

    Is that a conversation the Missoulian editorial board is ready to have? I think not, as their words are convoluted, and seem to think that it is the province of NAMI and the mentally ill to boldly step forth and proclaim their coming out of their closet of silence to capture their rightful place in society of equality and justice. Until I hear a Missoulian editor claim some small amount of responsibility for the sickness in our society, I just hear the same-ole-same-ole, with a bit of warm fuzziness and sugar sprinkled on top.


  3. Big Swede

    Predictable answer JC. Capitalism.

    I yearn for the good old socialist/communist days of the 20’s thru 50’s when only one out of 200 was nuts.

    But now in this right wing capitalist tea party 21st century mental illness abounds.

    Maybe the blame lies elsewhere. http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/comorbidity-addiction-other-mental-illnesses/why-do-drug-use-disorders-often-co-occur-other-mental-illnesses

    Just maybe you should be drug testing your kids instead of blaming your boss.

  4. Capitalism creates a lot of problems, but I think people have been going crazy since the dawn of time.

    China’s a communist country, although it seemed more capitalist than this one. They say they have “communism with Chinese characteristics.”

    Anyway, people would lose it occasionally, and that’s not the place to do it. I’d hear stories of Chinese people flipping out, going outside and shouting in the streets about the government. They’d just be gone a day or so later.

    One time I was walking down the street and this Chinese guy was in the street with his shirt off and busily smashing passing cars’ windshields with a hammer. If they saluted him he’d let them pass, if not, ka-pow! Cops came and pepper-sprayed him and took him away.

    And I’m sure some of you have read about those guys going into kindergartens with butcher knives a year or so back. Sparked a wave of these guys and about 4 of them went a’ hacking.

    And countless more stewed under the quiet weight of their own misery, no one ever finding out. Millionaires go crazy and kill themselves sometimes too, and they also abuse drugs, have sex problems, and eat too much.

    We certainly report on these things more, and I think things have gotten better. We’re not burning people as witches anymore, gays are no longer mentally ill, and even shock therapy won’t preclude you from a spot on the Vice-presidential ticket, at least until it’s found out.

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