Donald Trump gave me the clue.
Even more than AOT or any other policy idea Tim Murphy is selling something far more visceral, far more compelling and far more appealing. Like Trump he is selling anger to those who feel like they or their loved ones have been hurt by a system that often doesn’t help very much. Like Trump he is selling justification and direction by telling them who is to blame. Like Trump he is selling redemption and hope by telling them if they just follow and support him he can change it. His message is one of quest and crusade and rescue of those hurt and victimized.
Like Trump he has never let the facts get in the way but that is not the subject of this post.
Murphy has tapped into something very real. It is far more than a few overcontrolling parents frustrated with their kids. I sat one night with one 72 year old man talking about his 38 year old schizophrenic son. The pain and outrage was real. His son had been attacked by police in a parking lot who thought he was drunk a couple of weeks before he sat down with me. He had been tased more than once and they thought some damage to his legs might be permanent. He was furious at the police but equally furious at a system that had never been there for his son and furious….well just furious that the son he loved was seemingly stuck in the life he had. I remember listening to a mother describe the day she screamed and begged the police not to shoot her son. He had a towel wrapped around his hand and they thought he might have a gun. I have heard a hundred more stories.
It is not so very different than the rage I hear when I hear people talk about the damage they feel the system has done to them. It is the rage of the 22 year old girl with no history of diabetes in her family who now, courtesy of the medication a psychiatrist had prescribed her, had just found out she now had diabetes. She screamed at me….”What the fuck am I supposed to do now?”
It is my rage. My nephew one night laid down in front of a train and died. He believed that treatment was for crazy people and he could think of few things worse than being crazy. He believed what the wider society told him about “mental illness.” He didn’t want to be embarrassed. He didn’t want to stick out. He tried to hide his desperation. He tried to macho his desperation. Finally he decided to kill it.
The rage is real. It may express itself different for different people but it is real.
I think people can find better lives. My nephew, my friend’s son and literally hundreds of thousands of other people deserve something better. And it literally makes me want to scream and scream and scream that so many never find it. It makes me want to scream when people are treated as less than people. It makes me want to scream when the only options people have are things that have already not worked. And it makes me scream when people in their zeal to control symptoms destroy the quality of the life they are trying to save.
Murphy is not going away. The rage is real.
I think back often to something I heard Robert Whitaker say once. He wondered if we would ever have an honest mental health system. What if it was just about what worked?
What if it was?
Maybe in the end that is the only real answer to the Murphys…