Friday, February 8, 2008

Friday's Child - Can They Help It?

I’ve been re-running these Prozac Palace posts with the hope that those who need to read them will find them. It’s occurred to me that readers may wish to comment, but not know what to say. You’re under no obligation to say anything at any time.
If you want to but are at a loss, may I suggest this simple phrase: I read it.
From Friday, May 4, 2007

"She can’t help it."
I heard that remark many times over the years. Once my sister was declared mentally ill then no matter what she did this was offered as the reason. I don’t buy it. Not totally anyway.

She’d never had to take responsibility for her actions when she was sane. Later, having insanity to fall back on made for a lovely soft landing.
Regular people who have limited experience with the mentally ill will often believe that the mentally ill just need a bit of discipline, a bit of order in their lives, and they’ll be fine.

It’s an absurd statement, but it may not be entirely incorrect.

I can only speak for what I saw in my sister’s case. If she’d learned personal discipline and had been made to take responsibility for her actions earlier it may have made a difference. If nothing else, it might have taken her longer to decide the blame for the injustices of her life rests with everyone else.
That’s an aside to my point. What I suggest is she can help herself to a degree. Let me explain.

I agree that she cannot help being mentally ill any more than another can be blamed for being physically ill. But when my sister flat out refuses to take her medication it becomes a different game. She can help it. The help is right in front of her; she is simply choosing to ignore it. She takes the meds, feels better, then decides she’s fine and doesn’t need them anymore. It’s a familiar pattern and hardly exclusive to her.

I think there are times she is scared to take her medication. Usually they come about when she’s been off them a while. Perhaps she can’t help coming to that conclusion, but she still made the decision to stop the medication. She can help that. She can help herself. It’s entirely in her control.

Saying she cannot help it simply feeds her. It provides her with a wonderful excuse to not do anything. Saying that mentally ill people can’t help how they are is as much an excuse for inaction from us as it is from them. Some behaviors can be altered and controlled. The excuse we give for them is really an excuse for the rest of us to turn our backs and walk away.

“They can’t help it” easily becomes “they can’t be helped.”
And that is wrong.


the Bag Lady said...

I have often thought about that aspect of mental illness. Taking their medication makes them feel better, so they stop taking the medication because they think they are 'cured'. Some of these people are highly intelligent, so it makes me wonder about this decision of theirs - do they not see the correlation?
I did hear something at one point (many years ago) that a lot of the side-effects of some of the medications prescribed for certain mental illnesses are almost as bad as having the illness in the first place.
Of course, taking personal responsibility can be very difficult for some people. Isn't it easier to hide behind a label? It can be so very hard to always have to be grown-up and do the right thing.

Leah J.Utas said...

I think the side effects are the big issue, df Bag Lady. You're right, they can apparently be as bad, sometimes worse, than the illness.

Holly said...

I think the desire to stop taking the medication is actually a desire to be "well". As long as a person is taking meds they can never consider themselves "well". Sometimes getting off the meds works ok and sometimes it doesn't. I don't think that a person decides to go off their meds because they want to get back to feeling whatever they felt that got them on the meds in the first place. They think they feel ok so maybe they can still feel ok without the meds, so they try it.

Leah J.Utas said...

You make a good point, Holly.

Crabby McSlacker said...

Like you, I think the issue of mental illness and personal responsibility can be incredibly complicated. Yet people tend to see things in black and white--it's all their fault, or nothing they do is their fault. But I agree, mental illness and personal responsibility don't have to be mutually exclusive concepts.

Leah J.Utas said...

Thanks for the backup, Crabby. It's a tough issue. We tend to be too quick in absolving people of their responsibilities.