Mental illnesses have historically been viewed, studied and treated as behavior influenced by one’s environment. Only recently has society begun to understand that many such illnesses are biological in nature and not simply the result of an individual’s choice to behave in a socially unacceptable way.
However, people with mental illnesses continue to be stigmatized by society. It is a complicated subject, and despite the fact that nearly one in five people experience some sort of mental illness in their lives, it remains a subject most people know little about.
According to clinical psychologist Dr. Ronda Hampton of Diamond Bar, education, dialogue and increased awareness about signs and symptoms are essential to reducing the stigma commonly associated with mental illness. “In recent years, there has been a shift in our understanding of the etiology of mental illness, and there is a recognition that many disorders have a biochemical basis,” said Hampton. “With this understanding, there has been an improvement in medications to treat psychiatric disorders and improved psychological interventions to assist individuals and their families in dealing with psychiatric disorders. When we begin to view mental health as a part of our overall health, the stigma associated with mental illness will be reduced and individuals will not be ashamed to seek evaluations for mental health conditions.”
Separating mental health and physical health is also detrimental because, historically, mental illnesses were not seen as health issues that required treatment. This has led a large number of people to self-medicate.
Aurora Las Encinas Hospital in Pasadena has been dealing with both mental illness and drug dependency for the past century. With 118 licensed acute care beds, plus 38 residential treatment beds, Aurora Las Encinas offers a wide range of behavioral health care treatment options to patients with psychiatric problems, chemical dependencies, or co-occurring disorders. Psychiatric services include inpatient, partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs. Chemical dependency treatment is available for adults, and includes inpatient detox, rehab, residential treatment and intensive outpatient programs, according to the facility’s Web site.
Aurora Las Encinas Hospital is at 2900 E. Del Mar Blvd., Pasadena. For more information, call (626) 795-09901, or visit lasencinashospital.com.
“As a psychologist, I will always ask if there is substance abuse,” said Hampton. “Sometimes that’s masking a larger health problem. Drugs and alcohol dependency isn’t always about addiction. People are ashamed of mental illness because society is not accepting of it.”
It’s important to realize that within the major categories of anxiety, mood, schizophrenia, somatoform and personality disorder there are more than 300 different psychiatric conditions, each calling for different treatment approaches. Hampton believes it is very important to recognize the wide range of mental illnesses that exist, as opposed to lumping them all into one category.
Beyond that initial approach, there are several misconceptions about how mental illnesses affect people. One of the biggest, in Hampton’s view, is that people with mental illnesses cannot lead productive lives.
“Just like any health issue, there are various forms of treatment for those who have mental illness, which can range from improved diet and exercise to a combination of medication and psychotherapy,” she said. “Most of the time, you don’t even know who has a mental illness. Only 2 percent of those who suffer from psychiatric disorders are so mentally ill that they can’t ever take care of themselves.”
Another misconception that Hampton has noticed, especially after the horrific shooting in Newtown, Conn., is that all mentally ill people are violent and dangerous. She said that while the public tends to link violent acts with those who suffer from mental illness, they are more likely to inflict harm on themselves rather than other people.
“The bottom line is that we need to have an increased understanding of mental illness so that people will seek help,” said Hampton. “One in five Americans have or will suffer a mental illness at any given time and there are treatments available, so it is not necessary for people to suffer.”
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the nation’s largest nonprofit mental health education, advocacy and support organization, is located right here in Pasadena, providing countless resources for people to learn about the signs and symptoms of mental illness.
Visit nami.org for more information.
Changing the conversation
The corporate media and established political class complain that the Occupy Wall Street movement has no clear demands. In response, Dahlia Lithwick, in her brilliant editorial in Slate last month, “Occupy the No Spin Zone,” points out that the movement refuses to fashion its message for the political and economic elite, who daily demonstrate their refusal to hear anything that does not fit their formulation of reality.
Emphasizing that the message of the movement is clear to anyone who does not expend enormous mental energy trying not to hear it, she sums up one hope of the movement beautifully: “Maybe the days of explaining the patently obvious to the transparently compromised are behind us.”
This refusal to meet the establishment on its terms, to make demands that implicitly affirm the current system that has impoverished so many, constitutes more than stubborn protest; it arises out of a desire for a different kind of world.
The movement has focused not on demands, but on occupying space. By reclaiming and occupying physical space, we can clear the mental space we need to re-imagine the world and reform our own minds.
For generations, our minds have been formed and occupied by the values and ideology of a market-based economy and culture. To make this mental occupation possible, our communities also had to be geographically formed around market interests. The final outcome in the US is a society in which the commons are quickly being taken over –– occupied –– by the corporations, and much of daily life is dictated by commercial forces.
Globally, the past two decades have seen aggressive attempts by corporations to take over schools, libraries, parks, energy and water systems and anything else they think they can squeeze money out of to add to their already gargantuan wealth. Some of these attempts have been successful and have led to disastrous consequences, such as in Lima, Peru. There, the poor wound up having to pay private vendors $3 per one cubic foot of water, which was contaminated and which they had to carry, while the affluent paid 30 cents for clean tap water.
Other attempts at corporate takeover have failed, such as in Cochabamba, Bolivia, where the people organized mass demonstrations that drove Bechtel Co. out of the country.
Here at home, we have experienced similar disasters of privatization, such as the failed attempt to privatize the electricity market in California. The attempt failed, but not before corporations absconded with more than $40 billion of taxpayer money.
Despite all of these failures and disasters, privatization ideology continues to capture the minds of much of the political class, such as Obama’s Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, who aims to transform the public school systems of the nation into profit-making ventures for corporate elites.
The Occupy movement has arisen as a counter-offensive to reclaim physical and mental space to retrain our minds and transform our society into one of cooperation rather than competition. That is why our encampments have formed egalitarian communities with general assemblies operated by consensus. In a culture accustomed to sound bites, fast food and all manner of instant gratification, this whole project appears too slow and unfocused; and to be honest, the movement has encountered many problems and is still shaky in terms of sustainability. But the Occupy movement has already changed the national conversation, previously dominated by a fake budget crisis, and it is the only movement to come along in many years that has attempted to strike at the heart of the beast in the hope of making another world possible.
I recently joined the new Occupy Pasadena branch of the movement. We have not yet started an encampment and do not know if we will, but we have initiated an outdoor general assembly and street actions that reclaim space for democracy and free speech.
Our Web site, http://www.occupypasadena.org, lists our meetings and actions.
I joined not out of a firm confidence that we will be successful in achieving any specific demands, but rather out of a firm conviction that the only way out of the political, economic and environmental crises of our times is to re-form ourselves and our society.
Bert Newton has lived in Pasadena for 20 years, attended Fuller Seminary, attends Pasadena Mennonite Church and participates in Occupy Pasadena.