Why I Choose to Remember the Abuses Mental Patients Had to Go Through in the Past

I’m currently on my last semester of psychology, and taking courses in the Clinical Psychology Master’s program. In one of those courses, just a couple of weeks back, we were exploring the advances, or better, the road of mental health and its treatments.

As we watched a documentary that spoke about the conditions of the first psychiatric centers, I couldn’t help but shiver when they talked about the abandonment, malnourishment, torture and captivity of those who were catalogued as “possessed by demons,” “witches,” or “animals.” I couldn’t help it because I’ve had depression and anxiety for as long as I’ve lived. And I’m very familiar with how my behavior can be for others, or what their facial expressions look like when I tell them what caused my panic attack. I know, for others who don’t live in my mind, I don’t make much sense. I’ve felt like a burden, because I’ve needed intense care and 24/7 vigilance.

In my worst moments, I haven’t even been able to recognize myself in the mirror, or to speak coherently. And even though I’m used to it, I know what is like to feel like a “freak.” To be treated like a freak. To feel like this world wasn’t meant for people like me.

And I recalled those paintings of the psychiatric facilities, with people chained in basements, all types of mental conditions mixed, and those “healthy, normal and wealthy,” going to observe. Like a circus. Like patients were circus freaks held for their entertainment. Once again, as I thought of them, and I thought of myself, I could feel their pain. I could feel the same — the confusion, the horror, the blame that comes within having mental health disorder symptoms.

I could only imagine what I would feel if, in addition to my anxious and depressed thoughts, I was chained, isolated and observed like in a zoo for the amusement of those who had the mental health I craved so deeply.

I remembered my trip to Berlin, a couple of years back, and my horror when I saw the description of what they used mental health patients for. I can’t even begin to detail it, as it is way too gruesome. Once again, as I recalled that, I couldn’t help but think, they were people like me — people like us. And how unimaginable it is to add to the struggle a mental health condition already brings itself. The injustice of being seen as a lab rat, a “lower quality citizen.”

And as I thought about the history, or what I know about it, I felt lucky. Yes, there is still a whole journey to cover up and so many things to correct. My skull isn’t cracked open to lower my symptoms. I’m not a circus freak whose suffering is watched by entertainment purpose of others. I’m not chained.

I have a lovely family who are the main reason to be alive. I have amazing professionals who, yes, use diagnostic terms in order to communicate, but who’ve never seen me as a label, as a category, as anything besides a whole human being full of capacities and possibilities. I use medications that, indeed have horrible side effects, but that aren’t half as damaging as the ones before. God, I have the possibility of living a full life.

So to all of those who had to endure those years, and those treatments: I remember you daily. I feel for what you had to go through. I thank you, because in some way, it was that awful path that lead to the improvements I can now take advantage of. I wished there was something we could’ve done to make your journey easier, and many decades later we still struggle with stigma, isolation and discrimination. But it’s getting better, and I’m sure it will keep going that way, so my children or grandchildren won’t have to look down when they ask them about their illnesses or conditions, or that won’t feel guilty and have to cry themselves at night or in the shower because others won’t get it.

So thank you, thank you, thank you, all of you who went through this path before. May we never forget you, and honor you forever.

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