Mutual Aid Solutions in Mental Health

Recently, my family had an experience. It was my wedding day, and I had gone to use the communal shower I share with our neighbors. My family lives on a boat, so there are some things we share with our neighbors, such as the shower. My brother and mom and some friends were in town for the small wedding, and everyone was hanging out on our boat, chatting with my now husband, petting our dog Lenin, and generally enjoying a nice Spring day. I decided getting married was as good a reason as any to go have a shower, so I walked up from the dock where we had pulled in to meet everyone, to the building where there are a couple of public toilets, and the shower facilities.

We don’t have many neighbors, and we all have very different schedules, so we’ve never had an issue with a line before, and yet on this day, surprisingly, there was someone in the shower. I noticed on a bench outside was some running gear, so I assumed a runner had found our little shower and decided to get cleaned up after their run. No problem, I could wait. I sat on a bench outside and watched the cherry blossoms fall like snow. And fall, and fall. 30 minutes passed. I noticed that what I had first thought was a person just shifting around, or even talking or singing to themselves, was actually a one sided argument. I also realized I hadn’t heard the water on at all. There began to be loud banging noises. I was concerned.

I finally decided to knock on the door, and the yelling stopped. Suddenly the door flew open, and a naked person ran out, and into the forest. I stood there unsure what to do. The running clothes apparently weren’t theirs. There was nothing else in the shower, but a lot of things had been broken. I decided to shower, and then decide what to do.

Over the next few days after our wedding my brother stayed for a visit, and we had more encounters with this person. They moved in, and stayed in the shower, locked in, for a couple days. We could hear them screaming at voices and hallucinations, banging against the wall, tearing the fixtures and plumbing out. One day, my husband, brother and I had a discussion about it. “Hey, so, that person is still up there, and I kind of need to shower before work.” I said. My husband nodded. “Yeah, me too. And I think Brother would like a shower too. Let’s go check and see if that person is still there.” We checked, and after 3 days, they were still there. We retreated down the hill a little. “I’m worried about them.” I said. “They’ve been really banging around in there, screaming, ripping things out of the wall. I’m sure they’re cut up and stuff. We should check on them.”

My brother looked skeptical. “Dude, you should just call the cops. I mean, I hate the cops, and I hate calling the cops, but what else are you going to do?” My husband and I looked at eachother. “I dunno dude, I feel like that dude in there is not in a good place, and if the cops come, they are going to really hurt that person, but that person is not in a place to actually listen to someone like a cop. Cops are kind of scary, and I don’t trust cops, how can I expect someone who is having a complete mental health crisis to be like ‘Well, yes, cops are scary mofos, but they are here to potentially help in this instance and long as I comply’? Like, that dude would get beaten up at the very least. And its not like they chose to be in crisis right now.”

While my brother and I were discussing, my husband tried to find a community program on Google that would help someone in crisis, and he called a few, but they all said simply to call the police, and if the police felt it was necessary, the police would involve these community resources. He hung up, disappointed.

We stood around for a minute, and my husband said, “Well, let’s all go up there, and knock on the door, and just be like ‘Hey, are you doing ok, do you need anything?’. We can at least do that and start from there.”

So, we did. We walked back up, and knocked on the door, and the yelling ceased, and the person called out “WHO’S THERE?”. “Hey!” I said, “I’m just a person who lives around here, I was walking by, and it sounded like maybe you weren’t feeling ok. Is there anything I can get you or do for you? Are you doing ok? Just wanted to check in and make sure you were doing ok.” “YEAH, I’M FINE, I’M JUST LEAVING SOON!”. And in a few minutes, they did, into the forest again. Sadly, we haven’t seen them since.

I’ve had a lot of experience with mental health services. I have spent the last 20 years or so in and out of therapy for a lot of reasons. I have also worked in a group home setting helping people who for one reason or another couldn’t live on their own. This may have been labeled as cognitive impairments, or severe schizophrenia, or a plethora of other things. I’ve seen how the same structures and medications can cause some people to flourish and others to wilt. I’ve seen folks priced out of the mental health care they need. I myself, members of my family, and friends have been priced out of mental health care and medication for mental health.  So, with that background I saw what happened with this person, and how the only solution was supposedly “Call the police”, I thought, there must be another way. There must be actual community based, mutual aid solutions to mental health services.

To find out if there were, I started asking around on some anarcho-communist groups I belong to. Anarcho-communism is very much about supporting marginalized groups, and that includes people labeled as having mental illness, those who are neurodivergent, and also the homeless communities who are frequently impacted by these issues at a higher rate than non-homeless folks. In fact, many members of the homeless community are part of that community as a result of these exact issues; being labeled a certain way, not having access to mental health care, or even not having access to culturally appropriate or respectful mental health care. One group trying to address many of these issues is The Icarus Project, which describes itself as:

The Icarus Project is a support network and education project by and for people who experience the world in ways that are often diagnosed as mental illness. We advance social justice by fostering mutual aid practices that reconnect healing and collective liberation. We transform ourselves through transforming the world around us.

I encourage folks to check out the resources available here, which are fantastic, free, and flexible. I have friends (and also myself) who use psychology workbooks from time to time to manage our anxiety, depression, or other issues, and they have materials like that here. They also have tools for when you are in more of a helper role, helping someone else in crisis. There are materials relevant to people who might want to know a little extra something if they are ever in situations where they may need to perform First Aid, and helping people in trauma and the mentality of that, or there are things relevant to helping folks who may have just had a family member arrested or deported and are in emotional crisis. There are resources for people who can no longer afford their medication, and coming down off of anti-psychotic medications.

I watched a great webinar from Icarus Project last night, and afterwards I asked them if I could have a video of it, and they sent me a link to all their old webinars, so feel free to watch and share as all of their material is Creative Commons!

All in all there are some great resources here, and if we equip ourselves well, and even form a community of people who are well equipped, our first response when we see someone in crisis won’t be “Call the cops!”, but “I know how to handle this!”, or “We have a group meeting for this right now, lets see if this person wants to go!”. We stop deferring our social responsibilities as we become more and more skilled, and we take back our responsibilities as a member of society. And when we do this, we can truly begin to help eachother.

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