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We Created the Mental Health Crisis

We Created the Mental Health Crisis

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There are so many articles on changing the mental health system and the great crisis in mental health today. Well, I haven’t been practicing forever. I am relatively young, but it seems as if the situation in mental health has been upon us since I first understood mental health as an entity, thing, or discourse.

The crisis is now decades-long, and I am beginning to see the situation as something very different. Perhaps there is no crisis, I would hazard to say, with some pause and disclaimers that this does not say things are going the way they should for many people needing help with their condition. Thus, the crisis is not rooted in available treatment, access, best practice, or quality of care. Sure, these aspects of mental health are vital and integral parts of the entire picture. But, are these the realms that are indeed suffering? Are these the layers and intersections of mental health that need a radical course correction?

I am going to go out on a limb here. I will suggest that the crisis is how we, as a culture, understand madness, illness, and disorder. This is going to sound rather sociological or Foucault in theory. Let’s really think about this for a minute. For centuries, before institutionalization, mental illness or madness wasn’t talked about in mainstream culture. The rage was hidden away, concealed, and very taboo. Now, in comes the age of pre-institutionalization, and early forms of treatment, right through the very heights of great psychiatric warehouses. Still, madness was tucked away, with the slight adaption and shift in language. From sickness to illness, we have now birthed the modern mental health disorder. We are coming to understand these disorders as aberrances in health and wellness.

These trends, shifts, and ways of talking about mental health can be located in more than just the day’s language. These shifts are visible throughout the discourse, and every intersection that society crosses path with the psychiatric patient.

Significantly, the treatment of the disorder. From an illness of the soul to the mind, and all ways, medicalization has crept into mental health. My point with all this change talk is that when it comes to the great crisis. There is no crisis! Well, the problem is really how society shapes the discourse. The concern is embedded within the ever-moving social apparatuses that hail each of us as healthy, contributing members of the community.

Conversely, these apparatuses identify, mark, and point to parts of our population that aren’t congruent, that just don’t fit. The crisis in no one thing and will not be solved by changing one or even multiple aspects of the mental health system. Maybe this can be best proven by talking about the evolution and beginnings of the crisis. When did it start?

So, while for centuries, the way society understood mental health went through radical course corrections, the crisis only began a few decades ago. Why? Because now mentally ill people are out among us, with us, they are everywhere. This is the first time except for indigenous cultures in South America and Eastern stretches of Western civilization. People with a mental health disorder are allowed to roam the streets with other people without a mental health disorder and mix ‘freely.’

The crisis must, therefore, be fear. The problem is the unknown, and the dangers lurking just ahead of when someone with a mental health disorder creates a ripple in the norm. When someone labeled as different, they also attention from the media and apparatus structures in culture. In turn, this creates panic and needs to continue to label, mark, and treat this population differently, given the danger just underneath society’s surface.

In doing so, the crisis is really man-made. We created it. Who are we? Society, and the apparatus forces governing the expression of culture. This force is the semiotic locus of the crisis. From this locus, extends out to the radius, and periphery: fear. This fear is thus preemptively manufactured.

I am also theorizing that this fear is caged concerning people’s health with a condition to “help them.” Still, in reality, it is to hurt them, mark them, and label them as potentially dangerous. When you begin to map these changes or shifts in the law and how the treatment is regulated through the law, the real crisis becomes apparent. This fear allows society to supersede and transcend the law at times, e.g., forced treatment laws. The fear, the so-called problem, is just another ploy to create new law and order around disorder until dysfunctions function throughout the culture.

About the Author

J. Peters

Bold 10 Under 10 award recipient Jacques Peters ’08, MSW ’12 . Through his work as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), therapist and disability rights advocate, Mr. Peters fights for those without a voice in various systems of care, such as the New York City Department of Social Services, the New York State Office of Mental Health or the city’s Department of Corrections. Jacques is the author of University on Watch: Crisis in the Academy, which he published under the pen name J. Peters in 2019, and First Diagnosis, published in 2020. Jacques refers to his stance on recovery in his journal articles as “Too big to fail.” No obstacle too big, no feat out of reach, Jacques let nothing stop him in his path to recovery and healing.
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