Just about everyone who knows me has heard me lament about the fact that my abuser has managed to effectively evade the criminal justice system, while my behavior is constantly policed. Now, I have never been convicted of or even charged with a criminal offense, so what is the terrible, criminal act it is perceived that I committed? A psychiatrist determined that a medical diagnosis I had received from multiple physicians was “not a real disease,” and that I was delusional (see “I Am Justina Pelletier” for more information on what led to my hospitalization for this reason and how the involvement of a patient advocate led to my quick release), regardless of the ample evidence to prove the truth in the statements I made to him, and here in the “land of the free,” a diagnosis of a “serious mental illness” warrants someone losing more rights than someone who was accused of a violent crime.
My abuser can speak about the mistreatment he experienced at the hands of his own caretakers without fear. He can use their actions to attempt to excuse his own behavior and play the victim. I don’t maintain this right, as I have been repeatedly threatened with legal action or involuntary hospitalization if I take any further, official action against this individual. When I am having a difficult time dealing with the incredible injustice of this and the ongoing threat this person poses to me, and make any statement that could be perceived as having suicidal intent, I will immediately be locked up without question, as I am “mentally ill” and have attempted suicide before in a desperate effort to escape from this abuse. The first amendment applies to rapists, but not to those perceived to be mentally ill.
I am not legally allowed to own a gun. Now, to be fair, I hate guns and have no interest in owning one, as I know that statistically, those who buy guns as a means of protection from abuse are more likely to be killed by their own weapon than to be able to effectively use one in self-defense. However, my rapist can legally purchase a gun, and this distinction infuriates me. I have been involuntarily hospitalized, and this puts my name on the same registry of people prohibited from purchasing weapons as convicted rapists and murderers. The fact that the hospital in question was, essentially, forced to release me thanks to the involvement of a wonderful patient advocate, has no bearing on this fact or on the massive discrimination I have faced when trying to seek help. The second amendment applies to rapists, but not to those perceived to be mentally ill.
My abuser is protected from “cruel and unusual” punishment. Even if he had been convicted and imprisoned, he would be legally entitled to medical care. While hospitalized, all it took for the psychiatrist on staff to refuse to speak to my medical doctors and deny me the medical care I desperately needed was his arbitrary determination that I was not really medically ill, and was just delusional. As my health quickly deteriorated and I began losing the ability to walk, he was well within his rights, based on the unchecked diagnosis that he had made, to insist that I was simply choosing not to walk. The eighth amendment applies to rapists, but not to those perceived to be mentally ill.
If my abuser had been charged for any of his crimes, he would have been legally entitled to a trial, at which point he could have testified on his own behalf and had an attorney to present witnesses and evidence supporting his supposed innocence. I was not visited by an attorney until five days after I requested to speak to one, and was repeatedly told that the psychiatrist would not speak to my therapist, my doctors, or anyone else who might be able to prove that I was not actually delusional. The fourteenth amendment applies to rapists, but not to those perceived to be mentally ill.
Why do we, as a society, dismiss or vilify those who have received a psychiatric diagnosis? Why do we give so much credence to psychiatric opinion when psychiatrists regularly admit that they make the wrong diagnosis about half the time, and diagnose autoimmune patients with some form of psychosomatic illness approximately 40% of the time (for a handful of particularly misunderstood or difficult-to-diagnose conditions, this can rise to at least 85%)? Why do we fear those who experience emotional distress, and refuse to hold the people who traumatized them and caused this distress accountable? I am unwilling to accept even more rights violations due to politicians like Tim Murphy using the Santa Barbara shooting to perpetuate fear of the so-called “violent mentally ill,” when those with psychiatric labels and no co-occurring substance abuse issues are not, statistically, more likely to commit an act of violence than any other citizens. Regardless, if the psychiatric treatments on offer from the systems that force “mentally ill” individuals into treatment are so effective in preventing violence, why is it that virtually every mass shooter in recent American history was taking or withdrawing from one or more psychotropic drugs at the time of his attacks? My message to Rep. Murphy and those who agree with him is to stop scapegoating people who are already suffering, and instead of focusing on forcing more people into the mental health system and causing even more trauma and injustice, please, focus on the universal support and acceptance of our fellow man that will decrease suffering and violence, as well as on protecting victims and appropriately punishing those who choose to act out violently.
Note: I have focused a great deal on my having been misdiagnosed, and the horrific results of this misdiagnosis within my interactions with the mental health and criminal justice systems. However, it should not have mattered if I was floridly psychotic when entering that hospital. There is no justification for depriving someone of freedom (who has not committed a criminal offense) or protection from an abuser, regardless of what psychiatric labels that person may have received. In fact, an enormous percentage of those determined to be “seriously” mentally ill are survivors of horrific trauma, and I truly hope that my continued focus on the injustice of having been misdiagnosed does not, in any way, appear to negate the very real traumas endured by people who experience psychotic states, both in and out of the mental health system.
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