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

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. 

I suspect this because the blog targets a vulnerable population, and I flagrantly espouse fascist “nazi” rhetoric. Well, there is nothing flagrant about the way I go about things in the blog. The blog is purposeful and deliberate.

In my opinion, one of the most potent aspects of language is its ability to transform meaning over time. My readers may notice how I make full use of the inherent instability and ‘play’ of language. I make use of transformative metaphors often in my articles. 

The result of all these metaphors allows me to create new meaning. Mix in new meaning with old identities, and the result is a fundamentally changed understanding of history and politics, perhaps the humanities.

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 work towards recovery at all times constantly. 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 significant 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, re-appropriating the definition entirely and turning it on its head.

Instead, Total recovery is the complete mobilization of your resources to maximize 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 show that society crosses paths with the psychiatric patient, most significantly 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 with the image evoked with the original metaphor. 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 collaboration and cooption akin to the fate of today’s peers. 



J. Peters

J. Peters

Max Guttman '08, MSW '12, is the owner of Recovery Now, a private mental health practice. Through his work as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, therapist and disability rights advocate, Max fights for those without a voice in various New York City care systems. He received a 2020 Bearcats of the Last Decade 10 Under 10 award from the Binghamton University Alumni Association. Guttman treats clients with anxiety and depression, but specializes in issues related to psychosis or schizoaffective spectrum disorders. He frequently writes on his lived experiences with schizophrenia. "I knew my illness was so complex that I’d need a professional understanding of its treatment to gain any real momentum in recovery," Guttman says. "After undergraduate school and the onset of my illness, I evaluated different graduate programs that could serve as a career and mechanism to guide and direct my self-care. After experiencing the helping hand of my social worker and therapist right after my 'break,' I chose social work education because of its robust skill set and foundation of knowledge I needed to heal and help others." "In a world of increasing tragedy, we should help people learn from our lived experiences. My experience brings humility, authenticity and candidness to my practice. People genuinely appreciate candidness when it comes to their health and recovery. Humility provides space for mistakes and appraisal of progress. I thank my lived experience for contributing to a more egalitarian therapeutic experience for my clients."
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