A part of me believes that people living with mental illness should be free to live their lives just as normal people do. The problem is, when some people with mental illness try to get by without treatment, they can’t live their lives just as normal people do. It would be great if everyone with a mental illness could hold jobs, pay rent, feed themselves and stay out of trouble. There would be no need for involuntary treatment if this was the case. But it’s not.
Without treatment, many people with mental illness will either end up homeless, in jail or – like Joel Reuter, who was shot and killed in a confrontation with Seattle police last month – dead (“Joel Reuter’s family pushes for change in mental illness laws,” Capitol Hill Seattle Blog, Aug. 11).
I live with bipolar, and Joel Reuter was like me in many respects. We are fine if we’re on our meds. We both graduated college, can hold a job and live successful lives . . . on our meds. I have been hospitalized three times, and I agree with Joels’ father Doug Reuter when he said, “[For] most people with mental illness, it takes two or three hospitalizations before it clicks.”
For me, it took me a third hospitalization (after going off my meds) and two near-death experiences to figure out that when I am not on my meds, I hear voices. These voices are not nice. These voices want me dead and are convincing enough to make me want to die. If I want to live, I have to take the meds that keep them away.
For Reuter, his paranoia and delusions made him a danger to others, but the problem to me seems that he was smart enough to get released without being ready. If he hadn’t been, he may still be alive today.
As a person living with bipolar, I am thankful for involuntary treatment. It was very hard at times, especially when I thought there was nothing wrong with me and everyone else was crazy, not me. But I know without involuntary treatment, I would be dead, too. Civil commitment laws save lives. They provide people with a way to get medication that allows them to live normal, successful lives, like how Reuter’s was before he went off his medication.
If people with mental illness didn’t need help sometimes to get and stay in treatment, these laws wouldn’t exist. I know that the meds can be crummy at times, but they are better than the alternative . . . homelessness, jail or death.
by Natalie, Treatment Advocacy Center