If you are reading this post there is a chance that you are a member of one of the largest groups in this country and may not even know it or if you do know about the group only vaguely identify with it and not realize the possible significance of your membership. Their are 57,000,000 people in this country that in one sense of the word or another fall into the category of disability making it one of the largest and potentially most influential minorities in this country…. If it spoke with anything close to one voice. This includes people with “psychiatric” or “mental health” disabilities.
If you are disabled you are disproportionately likely to be poor, to lack adequate employment, to lack a decent place to live, to be hungry, to lack adequate transportation, to have adequate healthcare, to be a victim of discrimination and prejudice, to be a victim of violence and finally disproportionately likely to die earlier than people without disabilities. Many people with disabilities could and frequently are labeled as having more than one disability. Many are told that it is likely or even certain that because of their disability that the quality of their life will be no where close to that of people not disabled. Many are told that in very real and concrete ways they are nothing but their disabilities.
Despite many very real differences in challenges and needs people in this group share a common role in this society and because of that role some degree of common experience. Yet they largely have no common voice. People tend to be involved in insular groups reflecting the needs and position of their specific disabilities. In many ways they compete for limited resources, limited attention and limited commitments.
Mental health issues are a point of common intersection yet very few mental health groups try to connect with the larger disability community. Many of the people in that community know directly what it means to be injured, to be hurt, to be traumatized. Many of them have psychiatric labels secondary to whatever other labels they may have.
To be labeled disabled means to be labeled a person with problems that most frequently impact your ability to function successfully in everyday life. It is for many people a spoiled identity. It is the gateway to the experience of discrimination and prejudice. It is a place those with psychiatric labels know too well.
I believe the mental health community, the community of those with lived experience has many natural allies in the wider disability community. I know there are enough people there to make a difference. Things like the Murphy Bill that attack the legal rights and human standing of one group of people (and so many people in that larger community would potentially be affected by the Murphy Bill) attack and endanger the rights and human standing of all people. I suggest and strongly support efforts to build coalitions with the larger disability community. I am sure such efforts are already being made but I simply am not aware of them. I think others share my ignorance because I rarely hear the subject talked about.
Decisions about mental health reform in Congress it looks like may be reaching a decision point in the spring of next year. Perhaps it would be a good time to identify potential natural allies and to try to build relationships for the battle ahead.