People With Mental Illnesses are Not Culpable for Those Illnesses

Joseph M. Bowers

A blog I follow regularly is Mind You usually written by Marvin Ross or Dr. David Dawson. In a recent blog Marvin pointed out that society has more compassion for and better treatment of elderly people with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia than for people with schizophrenia. A person who commented on this blog believed that many people feel that somehow people with schizophrenia are culpable for their illnesses.

In a later blog Dr. Dawson speculated that this may be in some part because of mental illness and substance abuse being to such a degree lumped together. There is choice involved in substance abuse. There are many reasons why people become addicted to cigarettes’, alcohol, opiates and other addictive substances. Often it doesn’t feel like much choice is involved, but people can and sometimes do choose to get clean and stay clean. One can not choose to try mental illness or to recover from it. Some can with help learn how to keep symptoms at bay and deal with them effectively. Some can not improve much with any currently available method of treatment.

I think there are more reasons for many feeling little compassion for the severely mentally ill.

The thought of one’s brain seriously malfunctioning is very scary. Some assuage this fear by telling themselves that they are better than those with severe illnesses. They have more will power, stronger character. A coworker whose job was in jeopardy once told me that I had never experienced anything as bad as what he was going through. When I mentioned being institutionalized with severe mental illness, his comment was that he had never let something like that happen to him.

Many of these superior people will never experience a challenge as daunting as what many with severe mental illnesses deal with every day.

Then there is the belief among some that people get what they deserve in life. Good things happen to good people and vice versa. Wouldn’t that be nice! When going through more than twenty years of recurring psychotic episodes, I sometimes wondered if I was being punished for doing something just God awful in a previous life. I couldn’t think of anything I had done in this life to deserve what I was going through. Most of us I suspect have seen people get undeserved good or bad fortune.

I maintain that those of us with severe mental illnesses are not culpable and deserve as much compassion and care as the elderly with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Both conditions are tragic and undeserved.

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