Compassion is Needed for the Mentally Ill
I have heard a phrase repeated by some in the mental health community. “We just want to be treated like everyone else.” Really? I don’t. Why? Because I certainly am not like everyone else and if you apply their standards to me I lose.
Another thing I’ve heard. People with mental illness should be held accountable for their actions just like everyone else—there it is again, “just like everyone else.” I understand the sentiment. It may be what they’re saying is “we don’t want to be discriminated against. Treat us like everyone else.”
Whatever the case, I believe we must accept that the mentally ill, as a people group in our society, are unique in our society.
I’m not advocating that mentally ill people not be held accountable for their actions. I reject that. What I’m saying is people with mental illness deserve to have others in society show some compassion and acknowledge the plight of the sufferer.
Society Has a Compassion Deficit
I believe our society has developed what I call a compassion deficit. It seems to be the prevailing attitude of a majority of people that each of us should be treated like everyone else. That largely precludes compassion, because if we’re all the same, why would we even need compassion at all?
This compassion deficit can be seen in some situations mostly all of us encounter at some point. For example, you put in a hard day’s work, then stop by the grocery store to pick up some things. While in line, you see a person with a bunch of unhealthy food. Maybe they are purchasing a pack of cigarettes or a six-pack of beer. When it’s time to pay, the person pays for the food with food stamps.
I’ve talked to so many people who’ve been in that situation, and most invariably say the same thing. “I work my butt off so this loser can buy junk food and beer? What he needs to do is get a haircut and a job!”
I’ve certainly been in that situation myself and reacted just that way, instead of thinking, “it must be hard to have to be on food stamps in order to feed yourself and your family. I wonder what his story is.”
Some of course will say the one to have compassion for is the person who works all day to help pay for the food stamp guy. Understandable. It sounds so righteous, but really, who are we to judge?
We have absolutely no idea what this person has experienced in their life, what illnesses they might have or have had, what their family situation is, the traumas they’ve suffered, nothing. All we know is the person uses food stamps.
Improvements Made, But Still a Long Way to Go
How might this compassion manifest in society? We’ve already seen some positive movement in the U.S. legal system.
Several states, including my home state of Washington, have developed a separate court to deal with those mentally ill people who have found themselves in trouble. A Superior Court Judge and attorneys actually visit a mental health facility and hold court in the dayroom. They also have a drug court where people with substance abuse problems can have their charges dismissed if they successfully complete the program. They’ve also created a Veteran’s court for veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other adjustment problems.
These improvements should be hailed and celebrated. They show compassion. They acknowledge mentally ill people have challenges others don’t have. There is still a long way to go, but these changes give us hope that maybe society isn’t always void of compassion after all.
Ehrmantrout, M. (2014, May 14). Compassion is Needed for the Mentally Ill, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, June 16 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/recoveringfrommentalillness/2014/05/compassion-is-needed-for-the-mentally-ill
Author: Mike Ehrmantrout
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