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Re: Do you think its just the age in which we live????

Posted by Mark H. on April 17, 2000, at 20:44:55

In reply to Do you think its just the age in which we live????, posted by sick of it all on April 17, 2000, at 18:02:05

I'm sure there's truth to what you say. On the other hand, I once bought a bound volume of The New Yorker from the first half of 1841, when it was a weekly newspaper published by Horace Greeley (not yet the weekly magazine).

What surprised me most was all the things they worried about then that we still worry about today. I even read a great story about a manic-depressive (no such label existed at the time) who boarded the train in Boston, was extremely agitated, talked rapidly, and was giving away money. The police were called aboard the train and took him away. Nevermind that they knew nothing about manic-depression; they knew something was wrong with the poor man.

The concept of illicit drugs is relatively new in our culture. Many people self-medicated with everything from alcohol to laudanum to cocaine, as they do today. The effects then were the same as they are now, but the consequences more often involved social stigmatization rather than criminal prosecution (unless, as now, crimes of property or person were also involved).

I think that every age has had its stresses and excesses. "Madness," according to Jamison, was what they called mania; "melancholia" was depression. Then as now, some managed to flourish despite (or even because of) their illnesses, while many slipped between the cracks of society and were quietly lost, just as they are today.

In California, there are no more public insane asylums for ordinary nuts. The mainstreaming movement under Governor Reagan closed most of the facilities and put the mentally ill on the streets as what we now call/think of as "the homeless." What few public facilities remain are reserved almost exclusively for short-term stays, those in near-vegetative states (ironically, one state hospital worker told us most of her new admittants were -- believe it or not -- hot tub drownings), and the criminally insane.

Most of the incompetently insane today, because they have broken other laws, are warehoused in our overcrowded prisons, bereft of treatment, proper medication, or even minimal sanitary care. Our nation bears a terrible burden for this injustice, which is a reflection of our having put a priority on unlimited market-economy greed under President Reagan in the 1980s. It is estimated that as many as 25% to 30% of the prison population in our country are in fact mentally ill and belong in non-punitive care facilities, not prisons.

There is much to be said against the stress of an age in which we are encouraged to be isolated from one another and from the natural environment, but I don't think what we face today is necessarily unique.

Still, it is good to remind ourselves of those values that help to sort out those things that are worth worrying about and those things that are not.




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