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Mental health demons: It would be easier if there was sometime to hate in all this mess

Where are all mental health demons ruining our care?

Brian Gallmeyer, the most peaceful guy I know, at Bicycle Pedestrian advocacy day. He avoided all mental health demons.

Brian Gallmeyer, the most peaceful guy I know, at Bicycle Pedestrian advocacy day. He avoided all mental health demons.

I met with Consensus KC yesterday. I thought I could kill some mental health demons, but they just turned out to be people, too. Consensus KC is a group that takes really hot, divisive issues, brings everyone involved to the table, and comes to some kind of agreement based on commonalities for all groups. I’ve been to their meetings on public transportation and I remember one of the questions was, “What’s the biggest waste of money project in the whole city?”

I got up immediately and said, “The Grandview Triangle.” For folks not from KC, this is one of those mega interchanges where four highways come together and have lots of traffic and slow downs. But bicycle-pedestrian advocates know that you can’t build your way out of congestion because you more you build the more people drive. Cities that have made out-building congestion a policy, like Dallas and Phoenix, eventually come to a standstill on congestion. Our saying is, “Building more highways to cure congestion is like loosening your belt to cure obesity.” Just like our war cry for slaying mental health demons, “Nothing about us without us.”

But in this Consensus KC meeting a couple of years ago a trucker got up right after me, saw my bike gear, and said, “No, of course the biggest waste was the Trolley Track Trail.” Never mind that this trail cost less than 1% of the Grandview Triangle Project. Never mind that real cyclists stay off that trail because of all the joggers, the gravel surface, the stop signs, and the curves. Never mind that the Trolley Track Trail gets heavy use from all the neighborhoods around it and has helped to revitalize the Brookside and Morningside neighborhoods.  This trucker guy had to have something to hate, and I guess I was it. This is the main reason that budget cutting advocates right now are targeting bicycle funding, so they can give their followers someone to hate, a minority group that they think doesn’t have much political power. Like government budget cutters want to make mental health demons out of people who receive services. In Great Britain they were called, “Benefit grubbing slackers.”

There are tons of mental health demons on our field: lots of people to hate, big pharma, doctors who bought into pharma, hospitals who fight peer crisis programs, big pharma, nursing homes warehousing people who could live at home, big pharma, budget cutting advocates who can’t see the need for social services, jails that working to increase their populations. And big pharma, the worst mental health demons of all, just in case I forgot to mention them.

1 boring old man says the mental health demons are missing

It would be so much easier if we could find the mental health demons to hate

It would be so much easier if we could find the mental health demons to hate

One of my favorites blog authors, Mickey from, points out that when you look into people’s lives, there are very few real mental health demons:  The vast majority of doctors and social workers and nurses and peer specialists are doing the best they can with very quickly shrinking resources. Mickey says even most of the pharma reps are just gung ho cheerleader types who think they are selling drugs to help people, not harming them. He says there are very few real mental health demons in the industry, people who know they are harming others, know the extent of the harm, and keep doing it anyway because the payoff is so big.

I even met a guy from big pharma on a plane one time who was involved with psych med clinical trials, and he’d never heard of recovery or the mental health civil rights movement. He listened to my story with glee the whole flight and then talked to his bosses about what their company could do to further recovery. When I called him back a few days later, he said his bosses told him that they weren’t interested in recovery, that he wasn’t allowed to talk to me any longer. He had this absolute sound of horror in his voice. I said, “If you don’t want to break your heart, you better forget you even met me.” Even people who are pretty high up in big pharma aren’t all mental health demons. There are a lot of innocents caught up in our mess.

Most of the people in the mental health system are just doing the best they can. Most providers have lost 50% or more of their budgets in the last five years, at a time when costs are actually rising. Very few public mental health programs can still serve all the potential clients in their catchment areas. Providers are scared for their lives and holding on by a thread.  And it’s very hard to try new ideas in that kind of environment of complete terror.

My mother is a healer trained in the native American tradtion, a shaman. Specifically she is a marakame in the Huichol tradition. This is as well as being a medical doctor. She said the providers need to do a workshop to feel their fear, to get deeply into the emotion. The only way to move beyond being stuck in an emotion is to actually feel it, to look at and love it and wonder where it’s coming from. I just laughed, because some of these people are so afraid of budget cuts they can’t even hear people in recovery talk about their needs. The panic is palpable whenever a group of them get together.

National Empowerment Center's 2011 Creating Connection conference in Boston

National Empowerment Center's 2011 Creating Connection conference in Boston

I used to feel that fear, too. There is a longer story about all this that involves lots of poems and is why I started my own business. The short version is that I stopped worrying about mental health program budget cuts when I realized that mental health systems just tell people that deep emotions are symptoms, a disease. The goal is to make the emotions go away instead of experiencing them.  But this is a system level problem, and not unique to particular mental health demons. It would be so much easier if there was sometimes to hate in all this mess. But there isn’t – we are all being screwed together. We are all victims in one way or another.

How I learned to stop looking for mental health demons:

I got more hopeful when I figured out the key bottleneck for increasing mental health recovery. All of the problems of the mental health system can be summed in one word: medicalization. The answer can be summed in two: peer support. And once we can provide peer support as a market based interaction that completely bypasses government and charity funding, we’ll have it made.

I’d like to someone to hate, an enemy to fight, somewhere to blame my losses, but at least I have a solution to make it all go away. That’s a little sweeter anyway.

 Did you ever hate someone and then find out they weren’t one of the mental health demons at all?

6 comments to Mental health demons: It would be easier if there was sometime to hate in all this mess

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