Those of us who firmly believe in bringing human rights to mental healthcare have been gravely concerned about the widespread, bipartisan support of H.R. 3717 (see this article for more information on H.R. 3717). Much of the mainstream press has hailed it as a desperately needed series of reforms to our broken mental health system, and only appears to value the perspectives of a handful of mental health professionals and parents of adult children with mental health challenges who believe that they should have more legal authority over their family members. Mental health consumers, survivors of forced psychiatry and other mental health advocates have always seen the bill for what it is- a regressive, inhumane set of “reforms” that would bring us back to a time when any behavior that others found to be strange was a life sentence, and when abusive relatives could assert complete, legal control over their victims so long as they accused them of being “mentally ill.” However, the movement for human rights in psychiatry has been pushed far out of the mainstream, and it often seems as if we do little more than preach to the choir.
I have been involved in quite a few human rights movements, and have never seen anything quite as remarkable as the grassroots efforts of this incredible movement that has been so disheartened with the increase of rights violations in recent years, such as the spread of forcibly medicating people in their own homes. We lack the money, political ground game, and professional credentials of many of our opponents, yet we managed to effectively defeat the Murphy Bill with the power of our own voices and our own stories of oppression. We refused to allow our voices to fade in the background as our few remaining rights were stripped away, and we contacted politicians en masse. We told our stories, and demanded to be heard. It worked. Republican lawmakers will attempt to pass the pieces of H.R. 3717 that are not considered controversial, such as increasing research and training in mental health, but the comprehensive legislation, including the provisions for increasing forcible treatments and stripping rights and protections from individuals with mental health diagnoses, appear to be off the table. This is an incredible victory for mental health advocates and people who are at risk of forced psychiatric interventions, and truly demonstrates democracy and people power at their finest. We must remain vigilant and keep a close eye on all the relevant proceedings to ensure that no measures that strip people of their rights and help they truly want slip through, but this is certainly a time to celebrate, as well.
When I was involuntarily detained in a psychiatric unit on the grounds that one psychiatrist believed that a medical condition I had been diagnosed with does not exist, and that this meant I was delusional (see this article for more information on my hospitalization for this reason), I repeatedly informed the staff that they were violating the law by holding me there. I stated that they had every right to believe I was not medically ill and that my health challenges were psychosomatic, but I was not alleged to be a danger to anyone, and they had no legal grounds for holding me against my will because of this opinion. I was ignored, but I was correct. I am thankful that if any such circumstance was to reoccur, I would, at least, be legally justified in making the same argument. I truly hope that I’ll live to see the day when emotional distress can never be an excuse to lock someone up or drug them against their will, and when community supports for such individuals will be so comprehensive and effective that nobody can claim the necessity in doing so, but for today, I am proud of this significant achievement. I am proud to live in a country where voices rising up in protest of systematic injustices do matter. I am proud to live in a country where H.R. 3717 will not be the law of the land.
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