Why This Issue:
Like many other Catholic Worker houses, we have many guests that live with mental illness. There are as many
different presentations of illness as there are diagnoses. People with depression. personality disorder, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder live with us. Some want help. Some, because of the very nature of mental illness, find it
difficult to accept help. All of these women are very different, but what they ALL have in common, regardless of
their particular situations, is that it is very difficult, if not impossible for them to receive mental health care.
Living at Karen House, I've learned that mental illness, like some physical diseases , can strike anyone at any
time. All our accumulated wealth, education and experience cannot defend us - we've had guests with Master's
degrees, professional experience, and incredibly wealthy families. The stigma of mental illness is described well in
Alice's article. Unlike diabetes or high blood pressure, or even alcoholism, the illness these people live with is
considered so fearful, and so repugnant, that they are judged to deserve their fate. People with mental illness could
be described as twenty-first century lepers, or maybe in the words of Peter Maurin, ambassadors of God.
Often, we will ask a guest to consider getting mental health care if she may be dangerous to herself or albers, or
if she is unable to care for herself. In the past few years, we have noticed a dramatic shift in the number of options
available to our guests with mental health issues. Because of funding cuts, even the last safety nels are frayed. Even
outreach services focused on mental health care for homeless individuals are largely unable to serve people without
Medicaid . When one of our recent guests told us she had a plan to kill herself but didn 't know if she wanted to go
to the hospital, the ambulance wouldn't take her - they weren't convinced that she really meant to kill herself, and
they didn't want to " violate her rights".
This issue is a discussion on the issue of mental illness- we hear personal stories from Alice Adcock and Bill
Gruhn. Teka Childress, Lou Kimmell, and Annjie Schiefelbein address the issues of access, medical treatment, and
helping relationships around mental health, w hile Jim Allen describes one more disgrace related to our war on Iraq: the
multitude of untreated U.S. veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
In the wealthiest country in history that possesses the most advanced medical technology in the world, it's
infuriating to witness the yearly decrease in funding for social spending and mental health services. As a society,
we continue to marginalize "the least of our brothers and sisters" (Matthew 25) and their needs. Our priorities
maintain a preferential option for the violence required to satiate our materialistic thirst for the latest Ipod, cheap
oil, bigger and bigger SUVs, and upward mobility. At Karen House, it's both maddening and heartbreaking to
witness the consequences of these priorities.
You'll find the word "relationship" in many of this issue's articles. Whether in family, friendship, or helping
relationships, I think one thing that saves us is our love for each other.