Arbeit macht frei, or “Work will set you free”

People often get confused when reading the title of this blog, “Mental Health Affairs,” specifically the tagline “The Final Solution to the Mental Health Crisis.” Folks often get stuck with “Final Solution.” Sirens, red flags, and even bells go off, I suppose, for some folks. I suspect this because the blog targets a vulnerable population, and I am flagrantly espousing fascist “nazi” rhetoric. Well, there is nothing flagrant about the way I go about things in the blog. The blog is purposeful and premeditated.

In my opinion, one of the most potent aspects of language is its ability to transform meaning over time, its inherent instability, and ‘play’ as Literary theorist Derrida and Saussure would note, to ebb and flow, borrow, or supply a deficiency. Since the nature of language is dynamic, people have the power to document, record, and create new meaning over time. 

The creation of new meaning, new definitions of the same word can be out of necessity. Recent reports can also be too expansive and extend the borders of history to enrich and encourage its message. Either way, depending on the status of society, where we people want things to move in the future generally decides how terms are used. 

I don’t represent the larger society. 

I am just a person with lived experience with a mental health disorder, a therapist, clinical skills, and training, and I have experienced the backlash of living in two worlds. Sure, there are other ‘pieces’ or shades of my identity which I relate with and inform my reasoning. Still, these two substantial cataclysmic folds generally map out my day to discord with the mental health community, its language, and how I feel about who I am, the words I use to represent my experience. 

Speaking of other pieces of my identity, I am a Jewish man as a Jewish man who knows a thing or two about holocaust studies and how NAZIS carried out the organization of the final solution. I was quick to observe similarities that were all too obvious when I began working as a peer with all these other complex pieces of my identity, raising substantial red flags for me about the mental health system. 

The way I typically understand my illness of Schizophrenia, when it comes to my recovery, is one of survival against the odds and sometimes the per illness nature of activated and mismanaged symptoms. 

While the Jews during the holocaust weren’t sick (some suffered even more tragic circumstances) or ‘symptomatic,’ their way of life and living during the holocaust was one of survival and survival. 

The only way to do so was to work, as the gate to Auschwitz bears a now-widely familiar inscription: Arbeit macht frei, or “Work will set you free.”

The only way to survive life with severe mental illness is to constantly push back against it, and work towards recovery at all times. I have experienced this first hand as a person in recovery living with a severe mental health disorder and a clinician who has experience treating people with major mental health disorders. To describe this, I borrowed from the Nazis again. Joseph Georbells, when describing the enormity of the task ahead to win the war against the allies, called for Total War.

Here is where Mental Health Affairs shifts from reclaiming the message, tone, and ethos and re-appropriates the definition entirely, and turns it on its head.

Instead, Total recovery is the complete mobilisation of your resources to maximise the potential for your gains in healing. To truly make gains when our bodies are pitted against death or risk of serious illness, experiencing improvement in our health condition may indeed mean there can pose no obstacle in your path to recovery. Mobilize all your resources to achieve your goals. Total health and healing, natural recovery means taking all the unknowns and revealing them as markers and meter sticks to measure our gains and decrease the risk of relapse.

Here is where folks get even more uneasy and apprehensive about our Final Solution. Positive or negative trends, shifts, and ways of talking about mental health, like the fascist lingo here at Mental Health Affairs or more flowery prose of Pat Deegan in more than just the day’s language. 

Throughout the discourse and every intersection, these shifts are visible that society crosses paths with the psychiatric patient, most significantly in treating the disorder.

From an illness of the soul to the mind, medicalization has crept into mental health in all ways. My point with all this change talk is that when it comes to the great crisis…there is no crisis! 

The problem is how society shapes the discourse. 

The concern is within the ever-moving social apparatuses that hail each of us as healthy, contributing community members.

Conversely, the apparatuses identify, mark, and point to parts of our population that aren’t congruent—the ones that just don’t fit. The crisis is not one thing and will not be solved.

And, what doesn’t fit? For quite some time, the ‘peer’ or psychiatric survivor did not fit. The truth is quite axiomatic and straightforward at the root of it. Reform movements taking money from the government also carry with them baggage. Some call this red tape, but as I said, the truth is a little darker than overregulation. Our peers have become part of a standing reserve.

We have been co-opted. We have lost our voice, and in turn, lost our power! Even worse, complicit with the medicalization and oppressive nature of psychiatric hegemony. When we are complicit with inhuman systems of care and governments designed to oppress populations, even kill them, if not with medical experimentation, then with living conditions incapable of supporting essential life functions. Now, we again evoke shades of the Jüdische & the Judenrat.

Today’s peer professionals in mental health care systems share a similar psychological bend with the Jewish Ghetto Police or Jüdische Ghetto-Polizei. This unit was an auxiliary police force organized within the Jewish ghettos of Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe. Members of the police force appointed by the Judenrat, local offices operated by high ranking members of the Jewish community under the auspices of the Nazi Office for Jewish (Mental) Affairs 

As the war raged on, conditions in the ghettos worsened. Before the ultimate liquidation of the Ghetto was a rich history of collaboration, resistance, crime, & the instinctual survival of the Jewish people. Conditions in the Ghetto, similar to the first U.S operated state-run hospitals and later, ‘Supported Housing’ units are deplorable. Confinement of an entire population fated to be locked away & isolated from the world at large was only the beginning of the nightmare and a slippery slope down the road of complicity and cooption akin to the fate of today’s peer. 


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