Rethinking Mental Illness: Are We Drugging Our Prophets and Healers?

 April 10, 2018

Rethinking Mental Illness: Are We Drugging Our Prophets and Healers?


There’s only the pain and the desire to get rid of it. Hence, the ledge.

So what do we do? Where do we go? Where could Ken have gone and whom could he have talked to about his experiences? How could Sylvia Plath have used her gifts without them killing her in the end? How can the thousands of people in our culture who are suffering from mental and emotional distress get some genuine support, some help, some respect?

How can we turn our mental health centers into places of healing and growth, rather than confinement and apathy? How can we nurture the experiences of people who are perceiving differently from us in such a way that they can become stable, and we can become wiser for having taken their perspective?

How can we all come together and build the sort of society that Dr. Somé speaks of, the sort of society that already exists somewhere—one that respects people, no matter what they act, look, or feel like?

Most importantly, how can we take mental illness activism past this stage it’s stuck at now where we say “it’s not like cancer, don’t say get over it,” but the ones who go through it still suffer, still perceive it all as “bad,” still face a lower quality of life? Basically, how can we stop treating these experiences as diseases and start accepting them as gifts?


How can we recognize the healers in those who are, themselves, healing?

How can we all come together and make a world where we connect from our deepest core, from our interconnected, limitless potential? How can we learn to see beyond differences of habit and thought into the beautiful center that resides within each of us?

How can the scientists, the spiritualists, the philosophers, and the dancers all come together and speak of their unique perspectives, each learning from the other? How can the manic, the depressed, the bored, the generous, and the needy come together, dropping their labels, and learn from each other?

How can each human life be allowed to matter? How can we build a world where no one has to rot in a hospital or a cage? How can we build a world where everyone simply wants to be good and do good? How can we stop arguing, for a second, so that we can hear ourselves agreeing?

Honestly, I don’t know. I don’t. But this is not really about answers. This is about questions.

I read in an old book once: “Confusion is the beginning of wisdom.”

Not knowing is the beginning of knowing.

And that’s what this is all about. This is about asking, and continuing to ask, until we make it work. This is about standing up and pointing out that the current state of our mental “health” care is not human, it’s mechanistic. As we’ve seen in cases like Ken’s, it’s cruel. And, as we’ve seen in cases like Robin Williams, it doesn’t work.

I hope no one takes this personally, because even if you’re working every day to support the system and doing your best, you are not the system. None of us are the system. There is no system. There’s only us—human beings—doing our best.