by Jack Bragen

[dropcap]M[/dropcap]ost people living in the United States probably take as a given that they are motivated to seek and find work. Whether you’re talking about the person behind the intercom at the Wendy’s drive-thru, or, on the other end of the spectrum, some of the better members of Congress, many people have jobs and try to do them well. Meanwhile, most who are unemployed, if given a fair chance, would be at work if they could.
Bringing home the bacon furnishes a purpose for life, other than merely being fed and housed. Without employment, or without some kind of activity that resembles work — and this includes panhandling (that’s a job, too) — many people would be at a loss as to what to do with their time.
And by the way, panhandling is intrinsically no less honorable than many socially acceptable professions, such as working for financial companies that offer predatory loans to desperate people.
Another example of a job less honorable than begging is telemarketing for supposed charities that might donate only ten percent of their proceeds, the rest going to the telemarketing company.
Another dishonorable, but respected job is inventing weapons in the aerospace industry that could one day facilitate the demise of life on our planet.
Thus, hatred towards people who are begging for a living is hypocrisy. If they had any other means of survival, I am sure they would be doing that. I am sure most homeless or desperate people find bits of work wherever they can. The assumption that people choose to be homeless because they are lazy and no good is an arrogant misconception.
But now let’s consider these issues in the lives of people with mental health issues. If we look at persons with mental illness who are given a meager income by the government and who may attend some kind of rehabilitation services, we might see a missing sense of purpose.
The mental health treatment system is set up to convince us that we aren’t capable of anything. We are experimented upon, and we are used to test the effects of pharmaceuticals. Persons with mental illness are discouraged, not encouraged, to be productive with our time.
The system has been set up to keep us relapsing, and to prevent us from interfering with the orderliness of mainstream culture. If someone becomes too successful, ways exist to make them crash and burn.
In my case, when I couldn’t work, I have generally tried to do some type of self-employment, or some type of work activity on an informal basis. Some of these activities required a fertile imagination concerning the types of services I offered. At the age of 30, at a time when I was somewhat down and out, I offered help with domestic chores to people in my apartment building.


“Will Work For Food.” Painting by Christine Hanlon.
“Will Work For Food.” Painting by Christine Hanlon.

Attending a rehabilitation clinic should not be the whole of a person’s existence. This is an incredible waste of human potential. Yet the job market is set up in such a way that there are no employment positions for people who might be a bit slower, who might become confused at times, or who might not always behave in a “socially acceptable” manner.
Treatment practitioners incessantly drum into us that we are stupid, intellectually inferior, and made of lesser material compared to someone who has a license to practice psychology. When I attended a “day treatment” program, an intern assumed that I would not be able to bake a cake from a cake mix without her help.
When a person with mental illness shows that they have capabilities, it is viewed as an anomaly. Such a person is subject to either ostracism behind their back, or perhaps sabotage. Am I speaking from a perspective of paranoid imagination? I doubt it. When someone becomes branded as chronically mentally ill, opportunities dry up, and the person is blacklisted from most avenues of success.
During the decade of the 1980s, if you wanted a job you could generally get one. With the advent of the Internet, social media and cheap, fast background checks, it is a lot easer to be excluded, and that exclusion is more complete.
As with homeless people, whose encampments are periodically bulldozed, many persons with mental illness could just disappear off the face of the earth and wouldn’t be missed by those who are more materially successful.