Mental Health as a Political Agenda

I’m a family member of a loved one with a chronic, severe mental health condition–not just a peer “living with.”

Now I have clear, real proof that most mental health staff are clueless in how to treat a person with a mental health challenge. The staff are outsiders who don’t know what it’s like to live with a mental health condition. They often don’t understand why peers think and act the way we do when we’re not well.

The staff string people along in programs–days programs; drug rehab programs–that often lead to dependence and despair instead of a pathway to real hope for a better [peer-defined as personally desired and meaningful] life.

People who have mental health conditions and who have drug addictions are not criminals; not monsters; not morally defective. We’re human beings. I figured out and told a woman why a person with a drug addiction would be tempted to go back to it. She thought what I said made perfect sense.

We know that jails are the biggest mental hospitals. For every exception to the [historical recovery outcomes] rule like I am, there’s still too many of us peers offered no treatment; or poor treatment when we get it; and no hope and no compassion.

You can say all you want about Hillary Clinton (it’s true her husband-as-president aided and abetted the largest U.S. penal system).

Yet you can’t deny that in a Republican state like South Carolina you’ll fare worse in the mental health system and fare worse in its jail system as a person with a mental health condition.

I’m living alongside a loved one who lives on the side of the line in the sand where tens of thousands of forgotten, abandoned, mistreated, and ill-treated people with mental health conditions stand.

You’d better think long and hard before telling me that it’s okay to live for yourself; to act only for personal gain without caring about other people’s fate.

You’d better think twice before telling me that Mr. Toupee–a candidate my best friend calls an “orange toupee’d chimpanzee” deserves to be president.

You’d better look before crossing when you cross over the line in acting like people with mental health conditions don’t deserve dignity.

I’m at the end of my tolerance for business-as-usual when it comes to mental health treatment in America.

I was already at the end of my tolerance when I heard Ted Cruz on TV say that healthcare is “a choice” not a basic human right.

I know. I understand how a person with a mental health condition can think. I know how we can slip up, go back to a behavior that is not in our best interest.

I also know that how the traditional mental health system in America has been set up has historically inherently been set up to fail the people who need help.

I will not apologize for saying this. I will not back down–because I had to FIGHT to be taken seriously in my goal of having a better life. Thirty years later I’m confident in saying that I succeeded despite my time in a community mental health system not because of it.

I didn’t have anything in life handed to me. At the end of the day it was LUCK that I was admitted to the hospital within 24 hours of my episode.

Luck takes a person only so far. After that you have to decide what you’re going to do with your life after you’ve been given this miraculous luck.

I submit: you must strive in every dealing you have with another person to walk in their shoes; to understand where they’re coming from; to offer them compassion and dignity.

I will not kow-tow to the haters and bigots and their stigma of any kind. I will not be silent.

Now is the time for all of us–not just me–to speak out about the things that matter to us as people living with mental health challenges.

I tell you now and I will tell you always: go out and vote. Vote–because I don’t care if you vote for a so-called chimpanzee. Vote for whoever you want to–yet Just Do It–vote in America because you can.

It’s not only your right: it’s your duty as a citizen to vote.

Mental health is a political agenda. Let your voice be heard.

Author: Chris Bruni

Christina Bruni is the author of the critically acclaimed memoir Left of the Dial. She contributed a chapter "Recovery is Within Reach" to Benessere Psicologico: Contemporary Thought on Italian American Mental Health. As well as an author and activist, Bruni is an artist and athlete.

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