Shaken Trees. Shaken Lives.

Posted: October 10, 2007 in Bureauacracy, Homelessness, Mental Health, Misconceptions, Morality

On Monday morning after I published my post, I picked up a copy of the San Luis Obispo Tribune and, there in the headlines, I read: "Mental Illness: A True Story." The news article spoke about a documentary film, The Shaken Tree, which seeks to dispel the misconceptions and stigmas surrounding mental illness and shed some light on the effects that mental illness has, not only on the person who suffers from it, but their families as well.  

As it turns out, I know the film’s director, Mary Garcia-Lemus, who works in the Psychology and Child Development Department at Cal Poly University. She and her husband, local architect José Lemus, produced and directed the documentary film Suckerfish – which was the impetus for this blog and premiered at the SLO International Film Festival in March of last year.

While I was happy to see the film receive recognition by the press, it may have been too little too late.

On Friday, August 24, 2007, Governor Schwarzenegger cut some $55 million in funding to California’s AB 2034 – a state measure designed to help fund mental health organizations, such as SLO County’s Transitions Mental Health Association, around the state. By doing so, the Governor helped speed up the decline of mental health services – and has condemned many with mental illness to becoming homeless.

Not all is lost however (Yeah, right!). The state Legislature did manage to preserve tax breaks totaling $45 million for the wealthy that will save them money when they purchase yachts, planes and RV’s.

But they’re not the only one spending money foolishly.

On the NBC Nightly News that evening, there was a segment called: The Fleecing of America. It mentioned that the Federal government is going to be spending some $27 million (in taxpayer money) in an attempt to FIND and save the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker from extinction. Here’s where the American people really get their faces rubbed in it through: no one knows if the bird actually exists!

In the meanwhile, there are 3.5 million homeless persons in the U.S. (400,000+ of them who have some form of mental illness) who can’t seem to find the necessary help to get them off streets because there is a lack of funding.

Those homeless who do suffer from mental illness, often times find themselves being victimized not only by other homeless persons with little or no scruples, but by members of the mainstream community as well, who see them as "easy prey." Homeless women who have mental illnesses often can find themselves becoming involved in relationships that are emotional and/or physically abusive.

Worse yet, is that many homeless who suffer from mental health issues are often times overlooked, not only by society at large – who have little or no understanding regarding mental illnesses and seemingly are all too ready to stigmatize those who do –  but by the very system that should be seeking to help them.

It’s time we let go of our ignorance regarding mental illness. It’s time we become willing to discover the devastation that it can leave in its wake. It’s time for us to open up our hearts and find the remnant of human compassion within ourselves: compassion that can and should move us to action.

If we don’t, we’re going to find more and more persons who suffer from some form of mental illness forced to live out in the cold.

  1. Brilliant, thank you for putting things into perspective.

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