Friday, November 25, 2011

The Need for Compassion in Mental Health

By Luc (Awtar Singh) Watelet

The story of Clifford Beers is an uncommon testimonial of someone who suffered suicidal ideation, delusions, hallucinations, paranoia, periods of elation and depression (i.e., schizophrenia and bipolar disorder). He recovered and told his story in a book called: A Mind That Found Itself, published in 1908. He went on to start the Mental Hygiene movement in 1909. This movement became international. 

While talking with Hari Simran Kaur about her story, we both thought it might be important to remember Beers' requests for improvement in the care of the mentally ill. The key message from Beers was that a person suffering from a mental illness may easily misunderstand and misinterpret, but still feels very deeply and compassion is the best way to help such a person overcome paranoia and delusions so they can trust the world again.  

Beers describes his internal battle: 
The biographical part of my autobiography might be called the history of a mental civil war, which I fought single-handed on a battlefield  that lay within the compass of my skull. An Army of Unreason, composed of the cunning and treacherous thoughts of an unfair foe, attacked my bewildered consciousness with cruel persistency, and would have destroyed me, had not a triumphant Reason finally interposed a superior strategy that saved me from my unnatural self. (p.1)

Beers describes the process of his recovery: 

Few have ever had a better opportunity than I to test the affection of their relatives and friends. That mine did their duty and did it willingly is naturally a constant source of satisfaction to me. Indeed, I believe that this unbroken record of devotion is one of the factors which eventually made it possible for me to take up again my duties in the social and business world, with a comfortable feeling of continuity. (p. 52)    
For over two years I considered all letters forgeries.Yet the day came when I convinced myself of their genuineness and the genuineness of the love of those who sent them. Perhaps persons who have relatives among the more than a quarter of a million patients in institutions in this country to-day will find some comfort in this fact.To be on the safe and humane side, let every relative and friend of persons so afflicted remember the Golden Rule, which has never been suspended with respect to the insane. Go to see them, treat them sanely, write to them, keep them informed about the home circle; let not your devotion flag, nor accept any repulse. (p. 53)

Beers felt some caretakers to be against him and then constructed, in his mind, conspiracy stories about them. But he also felt the kindness of others. He was very reluctant to follow guidance from those he suspected to be a part of a conspiracy against him, but was very willing to follow guidance from those who showed kindness to him.

Within a month of his first discharge from mental hospitals, Beers first thought of studying art, but his business instincts prevailed. He describes how he was able to "secure a position of trust."

During the negotiations which led to my employment, I was in no suppliant mood. If anything I was quite the reverse; and as I have since learned, I imposed terms with an assurance so sublime that any less degree of audacity might have put an end to the negotiations then and there. But the man with whom I was dealing was not only broad-minded, he was sagacious. He recognized immediately such an ability to take care of my own interests as argue an ability to protect those of his firm. But this alone would not have induced the average business man to employ me under the circumstances. It was the common-sense and rational attitude of my employer toward mental illness which determined the issue. This view, which is, indeed, exceptional today, will one day (within a few generations, I believe) be too commonplace to deserve special mention. (p. 171)   

We are still waiting for Beers' prediction to come true. Before concluding, Beers has these words:

"After all," said a psychiatrist who had devoted a long life to work among the insane, both as an assistant physician and later as a superintendent at various private and public hospitals, "what the insane most need is a friend!" (p. 204)

"These words spoken to me, came with a certain startling freshness." (p.204)

Beers ends with a quote from the bible about the life of Jesus, leaving no uncertainty as to his wish that love be the central part of our care of the mentally ill.

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