A Letter to the Future, From Someone With a Mental Illness
Dear Americans living in 2100,
I am writing you from the year 2015. Those of us living now often look back on the past and wonder, “How could people live like that?” “How could people do that to one another?” or “How could people have believed that?”
Since you’re reading this letter 85 years after it was written, I’m sure you have some of the same questions for those of us living now.
First of all, I want to tell you that we are not bad people. Most of us are not cruel, hateful or lacking in compassion. It’s not that we’re ignorant either — we have access to information from all over the world 24 hours a day.
But I’ll try to explain to you how we came to treat our fellow human beings in such despicable ways. One thing that might shock you, if you look up pictures from this period, is that most dogs and cats are treated better than some of our citizens. In fact, if a dog or cat is abused, it’s called animal cruelty and people can go to jail for it. But yet, we still have people living on the streets. Yes, we have people without homes living on the street. It is not just a few people either. The population has been steadily increasing since the 1970s, and about one-third live with a various mental illness.
I want to talk to you about those people who have a mental illness, like me. Some things have changed for us over time — we no longer stick what looked like an ice pick in someone’s eye socket and sever part of their brain – a widely accepted practice in the late 1940’s and 1950’s. We also have stopped strapping people into baths, giving insulin-coma therapy and forcing chemically induced seizures.
We used to have asylums to house the mentally ill. Asylums were like hospitals, but it was discovered that people were being mistreated in these large institutions. These asylums were closed in a mass movement starting in 1955. But the problem was we didn’t have an alternative plan, and now, many of those people are now living in the streets or are in prison. There are now more people with mental illness in jail than in hospitals.
What I want to tell you is the why it happened, and why it is still happening. People with mental illnesses have been systematically marginalized and dehumanized since before this country was founded, and the implications of that marginalization and dehumanization have not made their way out of our culture yet. For instance, people use language on a daily basis that is degrading to the mentally ill. The use of this language is so widespread that it is even found in art, literature and in comments from politicians. Recently, a politician said that people who wanted God out of our country are schizophrenic. In 2015, while I believe no one would make a derogatory remark about cancer or diabetes, there are people who dress up as mental patients to celebrate Halloween.
Right now in America we have a crisis with guns. Basically, the problem is they’re being used to kill people every day. It is common to blame these shootings on people who have mentall illness, another tactic that not only dehumanizes people with mental illness, but demonizes them.
So, you can see that our negative treatment of people who have mental illness is a longstanding one. That’s why I’m writing to you, in the hope you don’t carry on our beliefs, our discrimination, our jokes or our derogatory language.
You are the future — a future of cures and hopes. We have failed in so many ways. Please don’t be like us. Please rise above us and be better. We are counting on you.
All rights reserved. A version of this article originally appeared on PsychCentral.com as “Letter to Future Americans.” Reprinted here with permission.