Doing the Right Thing for the Wrong Reasons

by Joseph Merlin Bowers

I was first hospitalized with a serious mental illness in 1964. Since then I have watched our mental health care system steadily decline. Because of this, I try to be a strong advocate for mental health reform. To this end, I frequent the web pages and Facebook pages of several advocacy organizations. They are making real progress of late, but some of their methods concern me.

They add to the sensationalism of tragedies involving mass shootings by someone with a mental illness. They tell us that we should improve our treatment of the severely mentally ill because that will make us and our society safer. They also promote reform because it would be cost effective.

Treating people sooner and better would make us and the people being treated safer. When one compares hospital and outpatient costs to costs the costs of imprisonment, emergency room visits and the potentially productive lives wasted on the streets it would be very cost effective. These facts are completely irrelevant. They are not why we should be supporting mental health reform.

We should be supporting mental health reform because it’s the right thing to do, because these people are terribly sick and desperately need our help, because if they had cancer, HIV, ALS or any other kind of disease than the one they have; we would be falling all over each other with compassion, sympathy and offers to help in any way possible.

When we push reform using fear, we add to public fear and stigma. Economic considerations should carry little weight next to humanitarian considerations.

Some say any publicity is good publicity, anything that produces good results is good. The ends justify the means.


I say that we have no certain control over any desired ends. We only control our means. I worry that if we don’t act for the right reasons our ends will be tainted and distorted from what is desirable. I think our reasons matter. Maybe my worries are unjustified. I don’t think so.

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