As an adult with mental illness and progressive values, my primary focus is not on national politics or getting Trump out of office. My main concern is about the treatment of people who live with mental illness and our lack of opportunities to better our conditions. People should realize that apart from the National Alliance on Mental Illness, primarily consisting of parents of persons with psychiatric disabilities, this group does not have any political clout. Thus, we do not get a mention in any political speeches. Doing so would be counterproductive for any politician.

Abstract drawing of a girl with freckles surrounded by roses and eyeballs.
Ava Blue/Youth Spirit Artworks

What I’d like to see is a playing field that allows people with psychiatric disabilities to participate in the workforce, in a manner that is not degrading and that is realistic, given our abilities, needs and limitations. This would do wonders for our self-esteem and our living conditions, as well as our prospects for a future.

People with mental illness are much more than a group to be maintained and restrained. The industry of providing care for mentally ill adults does not have an incentive to promote the success of neuro-atypical people. Instead, they make their living at documenting and measuring our illnesses and our deficiencies, at using techniques and methods for keeping us under control, and at insulating the greater society from having to deal with us.

The caregiving industry does not have an incentive to help us have longer, healthier lifespans, except where health problems incur healthcare costs. They do not have an incentive to dangle out any kind of hope for the future. Instead, they are invested in helping us dismiss any kind of ambition or hope. Caregivers do not want to see power in the hands of neuro-atypical people, because they perceive this as a problem.

Politicians are incentivized to please the greater public and especially the wealthy who can give money to their reelection campaigns. Since the general public is uninformed and fearful about people with mental illness, and may even be hateful of us, it incentivizes politicians never to utter a word in their speeches concerning helping this group.

In some ways (not in every way, certainly) people with mental illness are at the same point where people of color were forty of fifty years ago. Except that it is not practicable for mentally ill people to mobilize, to do demonstrations, to organize, or to raise funds. All of this is hindered via the disabilities themselves or through the meds we must take to control the disabilities. And this leaves us stuck. 

Many companies don’t want to hire people with mental illness due to the availability of workers they perceive as more efficient in comparison. This, they probably perceive, makes neurotypical people more competitive and more profitable. Countering this with tax credits could make it easier for a quota of neuro-atypical people to be hired.

Republicans aren’t the only source of intolerance of mentally ill people. Plenty of liberal Democrats are intolerant of people with mental illness. The lack of understanding flies in the face of how they wish to be perceived and is a gaping hole in their philosophy of kindness. 

Not only are mentally ill people not represented in politics, but many have compared the President to a mentally ill person, intending to insult Mr. Trump. What the satirist doesn’t realize is, when they use mental illness as a slam, it shows disrespect for people with mental illness. If Trump were mentally ill, such a thing would not be dishonorable for him.

I would like to see a world in which mentally ill people could be encouraged and helped to participate in the business community, to work at good paying, intelligent jobs, and to become a visible, accepted, valid part of society. We have the potential to do this–it is not a case of mentally ill people stopping ourselves. There is the constant, silent barrier we deal with, that refuses to open a door.

No one has an exclusive key to reality; not mental health caregivers, not Democrats, not Republicans, and not those with mental illness. Remember the story of the three blind men encountering an elephant. Each had a completely different description of it. All were correct; they were encountering different parts of the animal.

Jack Bragen is author of “Revising Behaviors that Don’t Work,” “Instructions for Dealing with Schizophrenia,” and “Jack Bragen’s 2021 Fiction Collection,” and lives in Martinez.