Mental illness views: Europe and the U.S. compared

I really enjoy reading what Pete Earley writes.   He’s a journalist, but I think it’s his heart for the plight of individuals with mental illness and the least fortunate that really make his work interesting for me. His latest blog post wonders if Europeans view mental illness differently than we do here in the U.S.

Honestly, after reading the posts as well as knowing some people from Europe, I think that it is both the case that they view and treat people with mental illness differently.  One of the things that struck me the most reading the opinions of those Pete posed the question to was the perspective that in the U.S. it is feeling that, “Everyone must pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.”  I have to say that I wholeheartedly agree that here in the U.S. my view is that overwhelmingly people feel that way, and it makes me very sad.

We stigmatize, we point fingers, we do many things to avoid being truly, meaningfully helpful to others.  It is always “someone else’s problem.”  Now, of course, I am not saying that everyone feels this way, but when I look at comments on news stories, especially anything to do with the welfare system or stories like that of Kelly Thomas it is apparent to me how very far we have to go in this country regarding empathy and compassion.

Having a child (or more than one) with a mental illness is an incredibly difficult and overwhelming prospect.  Once they get to be teenagers, it becomes doubly so. Families are faced with the prospect of a child turning 18 and then, for all purposes regarding care, being “on their own.”

One of the interesting comments Pete received was that Europeans, “are more comfortable with a “need for treatment” commitment standard….rather than only dangerousness.”  I wish, here in the U.S., we were more focused on a need for treatment standard.  Pete said that he received jaw drops when he mentioned, “The largest public mental health facility in the U.S. is a jail….”  That fact is really something that should make everyone’s jaw drop.  That is absolutely an unacceptable standard.

I’ll leave you with the ending of Pete’s article, which I thought was very poignant.

“What I can say is that every foreign crowd who hears me talk about how our jails and prisons have become our new asylums are stunned. How can a nation that values individual freedom so highly take away the freedom of  individuals who are ill and need help?

They expect more of us.”

Thanks, Pete.  I always count on you to have something very valuable to contribute.




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