On recycling people

A friend once told me the best way to understand the mental health system was as a giant recycling program.  I think recycling people is all that keeps many psychiatric hospitals up and going.  It has went from being a sign of treatment failure to being the cornerstone of economic stability and survival. 

If you believe that mental illness is a chronic lifetime affliction that is really resistant to any kind of real progress then recycling is really inevitable.  You “patch people up” the best you can and try to keep them safe (mainly from themselves), but in the end people show a seemingly inevitable tendency to fall apart.  It is treatment as a used tire.  It seems always wearing out or going flat at the worst times.  If mental illness can only be managed then there is no recovery, no real better life, just temporary moments in a life of certain bad times. 

They really dont want people to be independent because that makes them more difficult to deal with or to reach when the inevitable crash happens.  They want to help people find a palatable dependency, something they can live with, that doesnt taste too really bad.  You find yourself in a system with stations suitable for your particular phase of decay.  You can go from the hospital to intensive outpatient to partial hospitalization to individual therapy to case management all many times under one roof.  Hospitals in order to survive have had to diversify and become all things.  Life becomes your place in the flowchart of hospital organization. 

Recovery says things can be and are often very hard.  But it also says that  really hard and decay need not be the same things. It says that bad times may have their own opportunities for growth and not simply signals of coming deprivation.   It says that decreasing problems and building solutions are not the same thing.  It says life is not simply what you do while you are waiting to be drug down, but what you do to find ways to build up.  It says life is about the journey and not simply where you find yourself now. 

What we look for defines the limits of what we can see.  So many people I know who have been involved in the mental health system tell me that the message of likely failure was so present.  No one really believed they could change, would change or even really wanted to change.  And that is what they really hated.  One lady told me, “I hated being told that being realistic and accepting my illness met having a constant fear and a constant sense of threat where “my illness” would take me next.”  Without  a sense of promise there is no hope and for many people the cruelest thing treatment did to them was to tell them that promise was not real in their life and never could be.


One thought on “On recycling people”

  1. Very well stated.
    One thing that I have been taught and I would like to share in response to this stark fact is this;
    With every indictment I make and, I have made plenty, it is wise to offer a solution in order to share the hope that was given to me.
    So, I will partner with you by adding this;

    First there was the wound, then there was the pain but………
    What happened while the scar was formed?

    First there was the punch, then I hit the floor and……
    What was it that brought me to my feet?

    Then I stood far enough away, to see anothers’ pain……
    I still don’t remember their name

    I’m standing at the threshold with a beautiful hope,
    I can’t even believe its me!

    When I’m told that, “It wont last for long”
    Why do I tend to agree?

    Could it be that, simply by helping you heal……
    I CAN truely be free indeed?

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