:: Did you know that being a person with psychiatrical disabilities (PPD) is annoying? Wait. Let me rephrase. Did you know that the WHOLE WORLD makes it really annoying to be a PPD?
Here are some recent examples.
I decided to sign up for TSA Pre-Check. Mostly because I wear some really amazing shoes that are amazingly difficult to remove. Also I find it completely disgusting to walk around airports barefoot. Yes, I paid some ridiculous sum of money and did all this silly paperwork so I don’t have to take my shoes off in airports.
Judge me. I’m okay with that.
To get TSA Pre-Check certified, you go to this place where you wait in line—think DMV, but federal—and they take your fingerprints, and then they ask you some questions, including this one:
I mean, OBVIOUSLY my medical history has a lot to do with whether my Via Spigas need to come off my feet in an airport. Fucking fantastic.
Questions 1-5 that preceded Question 6 above all have to do with a person’s criminal activity. You can view a PDF of the full questionnaire here.
Let me explain to you what this question—”Have you ever been involuntarily committed?”—does to a PPD, say a person like me who has actually never been committed, involuntarily or no, but who has friends who have. Friends who are wonderful, non-terrorist-like PPDs.
Because most PPDs are never violent. And of the minority of PPDs who are violent commit violence only against themselves. These are facts. They can be proven.
The question also gets wrong what it means to be involuntarily committed. For one thing, people are involuntarily committed for reasons that don’t necessarily correlate to their degree of psychiatric disability, and certainly not to the permanence of it. A person might have a common adverse reaction to a steroid prescribed for, say, for poison ivy or a bee sting—it’s called “steroid-induced psychosis.” A person might have an autoimmune reaction that causes temporary psychosis. A person might be involuntarily committed because he is poor, a person of color, or has no family or other support system—although, these days, this last group is far more likely to be arrested instead. (Oops, now THAT person can’t do Pre-Check because of Questions 1-5.)
The difference between involuntary commitment and voluntary commitment, so much of the time, is simply having someone tell you these words: “Just go voluntarily because otherwise you will have this on your record.”
To make matters worse, these days, everyone and their mother is arguing for lowering the due process standards for involuntary civil commitment. Which means that more people will be involuntarily committed. This is done under the auspices of a “need for treatment.” But if we’re involuntarily committing people because it is in their best interests, because they need treatment, why does that treatment permanently stain their records?
The point is, filling out this list of questions makes you feel that having a psychiatric disability is the same as being a criminal.*
We need to stop criminalizing psychiatric disability.
USAA, which is, in case you don’t know, A MILITARY CREDIT UNION, sent me a mailer that I should call them to sign up for life insurance. I think, okay, let me give them a ring. I don’t smoke, I’m super healthy, I’ve gotten certain aspects of my health (i.e., my psychiatric disability) under control, and I have small kids.
Let’s do this life insurance thing.
I call them on the phone. The lady is super nice. She says, “I’m just going to ask you some super preliminary questions to get you a super preliminary quote blah blah preliminary preliminary blah blah.”
I say, “Okay.”
She says, “Do you smoke or use tobacco products?”
“Do you have depression, anxiety, or PTSD?”
Me: “What I’m about to say isn’t about me anymore. I’m about to talk about your questionnaire.”
“Don’t you serve veterans?”
“In your preliminary interview of these veterans, do you think it is a good idea to ask them if they have depression, anxiety, or PTSD? Don’t you know that your very question is going to make them NOT SEEK TREATMENT IF THEY EVEN SUSPECT THAT THEY DO HAVE PTSD? They’re going to avoid treatment because they want to PROTECT THEIR FAMILIES.”
To be fair, she listened to me. But, she also defended their questions with this: “Well, we have to make sure someone isn’t at risk of dying.”
Indeed. But insurance companies know how to do that. They have suicide exception clauses. Time-clauses that limit payouts within the first two years of policy issuance. They have combinations of both of these things. Dealing with mental health in life insurance is neither new nor difficult.
Besides, doesn’t USAA insure soldiers who GO TO WAR? (A GOOD thing.)
Does no one pay attention to this stuff?
Our society is terrified of people with psychiatric disabilities.
We don’t understand psychiatric disabilities.
We criminalize people with psychiatric disabilities.
We treat people with psychiatric disabilities as pariahs.
And that’s the only thing making me sick right now.
*Big fat footnote: We also need to stop permanently criminalizing folks who have committed crimes in this country. We need to believe—for real this time—in rehabilitation. But we don’t. Folks wear that scarlet C forever.
If you enjoyed this piece, you will enjoy my book, LIFE OF THE MIND INTERRUPTED: ESSAYS ON MENTAL HEALTH AND DISABILITY IN HIGHER EDUCATION, available at lifeofthemindinterrupted.com. Buying my books is a great way to support the online writing that I do for free.