Sadly, in many communities across America, people still feel it is perfectly acceptable to discriminate against people with a mental illness.
Now in a small town north of San Luis Obispo, California called Templeton, residents there are saying no to a voluntary inpatient psychiatric hospital that a company would like to build — adding to the town’s tax rolls and job base.
Would they be equally likely to say no to a regular, medical hospital? Or is there something specific about a psychiatric inpatient hospital that the residents of Templeton object to?
John Allan Peschong, writing in The (San Luis Obispo) Tribune, makes it clear the residents object to the idea that “crazies” might be in their town with the freedom to walk out of the hospital at any time:
The voluntary basis of this hospital means that at any time during treatment, patients have the right to simply walk out the front door onto the streets. Concentrating a population of willingly housed, mentally ill patients in a neighborhood would weaken that coveted public safety foundation and inevitably create feelings of anxiety amongst families and residents in the area.
Now, you have to read between the lines here, because Peschong has worded his prejudice and discrimination very carefully. “Public safety” is referencing the police and inferring that people who are mentally ill are more likely to be violent — a lie repeated by those who want to scare people about the reality of mental illness. People with mental illness are far more likely to be victims of violence — not perpetrators of it.
So the only reason families would have anxiety about patients in a psychiatric hospital is because of unfounded lies and irrational fears that scientific research has clearly demonstrated have no basis in fact. Should we also be denying building a new medical facility due to fear and lies?
If the discrimination and prejudice Peschong shows isn’t enough, he’ll appeal to the idea that every small town in America is “special” and deserving of a special right to discriminate against whomever it wishes:
Templeton is a place where a little piece of traditional America lives on. Kids still walk to school, the local market is still a bustling hang-out spot, and the farmers market and summer concert series are staples in the park. Families are at the core of this community and the safe comfort of our town is easy to feel. The uniqueness of Templeton’s tight-knit community is built on a foundation of public safety.
Yes, that’s right. Templeton is just like Mayberry — a little slice of Americana preserved for all time under a big glass bubble of safety.1 The “mentally ill” would — in Peschong’s myopic, distorted worldview — put that public safety at risk. Despite there being virtually no connection between mental illness and violence. Despite the fact that people with mental illness are our mothers and fathers, our brothers, sisters and friends. It is not a group of “they” — it is a group that includes all of us. (If you don’t know someone touched by mental illness, you’re either living in denial or a very special world of your own.)
Back in 2013, the residents of Gilbert, Arizona successfully fought against building a new psychiatric facility in their town, due to no reason other than fear and prejudice against those with a mental illness. Sadly, it appears that the group we Americans can all agree it’s okay to discriminate against today is people with a mental illness.2
Don’t residents get to vote on whom they want to discriminate against? This is a democracy, right? Absolutely!
So folks, please, don’t put a mental hospital in my backyard. Because after all, you’d definitely want your sister, brother, mother or father who is suffering from a mental illness that may require hospitalization to be shipped as far as possible from your home.
For further reading…
- As though in most of America, kids don’t walk to school any more, or people don’t hang out at the local coffeeshop. Peschong needs to get out more often and see that most small American towns are very similar. [↩]
- Imagine how ludicrous it would be for me to be writing this same story about a regular hospital? Who wouldn’t want a brand-new, state-of-the-art medical facility in their town?? [↩]