I was pleased to see Elyn R. Sak’s article in the New York Times today. Her story opens a new dialogue about mental illness. Instead of cultivating “patient” status and transforming people into fractions of who they could otherwise be, treatment for serious mental illness should focus on the management of symptoms. In this way the exact symptoms of mental illness can become sources of strength if not talent.
Time and time again I have seen even well people transform themselves into less functional versions of themselves because they lose the ability to see themselves outside of their symptoms. From a cultural and anthropological perspective – not all people are born into their world with the same minds or bodies. People vary in their ability to regulate stimulation, affects, and moods. Our society only loses when we don’t enable those who live on the outer edges of normality’s continuums to become full and responsible participants in the world of which they are part.
Saks mentions the helpful benefits of medication and psychoanalysis. Of course. Both resources that can aid a person’s deep understanding of themselves so that they can better take care of their symptoms – signs that a person’s regulatory processes have gone out of balance. Helping people become the boss of their symptoms increases a person’s chances of living most fully as who they are.
I couldn’t agree more with Saks, ” ‘Every person has a unique gift or unique self to bring to the world,’ said one of our study participants. She expressed the reality that those of us who have schizophrenia and other mental illnesses want what everyone wants: in the words of Sigmund Freud, to work and to love.”