History. It is the story of where we’ve been. In the Broadway hit Hamilton, we are told that “history has its eyes on you.” If that is true, what will it see when it comes to society’s treatment of mental illness?
On the one hand, our record has improved greatly from the dark days of asylums, forced lobotomies, etc. For a good view of what once was, check out Sick: A Documentary, by Liz
Johnson. We pulled away from such horrid conditions, thanks in part to things like the Lunacy Act of 1890, which put legal protections against involuntary institutional abuses, the undercover work of Nelly Bly, and other spotlights on the dehumanizing practices of early asylums. The graph to the right shows how much institutionalization has gone down since the early days of mental health care. Yet how far have we really come?
There is still a terrible stigma surrounding mental illness. Even as recently as this year, those with mental illness faced possible discrimination. Some states, like Alabama, wanted to ration care for Coronavirus positive patients, discriminating against those with mental illness. This approach was changed after being challenged in a lawsuit and rejected by the U.S. Civil Rights office.
Individuals with mental illness face possible discrimination when adopting children, despite the fact that there is zero evidence that mental illness generally can prevent someone from being a great parent. Getting insurance to cover mental healthcare can be an uphill fight in places like the U.S. that have private insurance systems. It can be an anchor holding back those seeking work if they choose to be open about their battle. Do I need to go on?
In fact, all the stigma and all the bullshit that individuals with mental illness have to go through makes me wonder if history really has its eyes on those of us battling in the darkness against demons, demons that are no less real despite being in our own heads. And if history does have its eyes on us, what will it see?
Will society 10, 20, 50, or 100 years from now look back and be just as horrified at our view of mental illness as we are of asylums? I for one sort of hope so, because that will mean that maybe the stigma surrounding mental illness will also be a thing of the past. Until then, all we can do is continue our own internal battles as well as the battle with history and society’s views. But if you are caught up in such battles, know that you are not alone. I am there battling too, as are so many of us battling in the darkness. Hopefully, history indeed has its eyes on us and will view our fights with favor.