Essay: Ice Pick: Mental Illness in America

You can push an ice pick through your tear duct and still live. Did you know that? Lift the eyelid, place the point of the ice pick, and tap tap tap. Instant peace of mind. That was Walter Freeman’s intention when he invented the procedure in 1946. Technically, we can thank Egas Moniz for the first lobotomy, or leucotomy, in 1935. Won a Nobel Peace prize for easing the plight of madmen the world over. But our friend Walter brought it to the States to pacify the many psychos chained up in institutions. The perfect solution. No more drilling of those nasty little holes. No need for anesthesia, even, so long as you have an Electroconvulsive machine to knock them out. Insert the device, wiggle around, and your psychopath, hallucinating maniac, or screaming Bloody Mary is a doe-eyed model citizen. If you’ve got a really tricky case, it’s okay. You can still drill some holes and go poking around the prefrontal cortex. Sure, a few of the patients died. That’s to be expected in any medical procedure. And yes, a good number were turned permanently into vegetables. Just ask Rosemary Kennedy. But, hey. Over 50,000 satisfied customers can’t be wrong.

While we’re on fun facts, here’s a killer. Between 1907 and 1981, over 60,000 people were forcibly sterilized. Some in mental hospitals. Some simply as a surprise addition to their normal hospital stay for childbirth or the measles. Where did this happen, you say? If you’ve guessed Nazi Germany, you’re both historically challenged and, well, wrong. No, this all took place in the good old U.S. of A. The land of freedom and equality—unless you’re mentally ill, homosexual, deaf, blind, a racial minority, or otherwise unsavory. Burden being on the crazies, of course. Who wants to reproduce with someone so broken anyway? And what if some of them seemed too normal and accidentally found themselves raising a family? No, better to nip that in the bud—or in the vas deferens, I suppose. Assuming your standard replacement rate of 2.1 children per family, that’s 136,500 children that were never born. Well, good riddance. They were all bound to be genetically deficient drains on society or violent criminals anyway. Like those whack-a-doodles Kurt Cobain and David Foster Wallace.

Don’t worry. For the faint of heart clutching your breasts in horror right now, we don’t do that anymore. (Not in the States, anyway, and who cares for the rest of the world?) We’re doing pretty damn good. Suicide is only the fourth leading cause of death for adults and the third leading cause for people aged 15 to 24. For any given year, only 26.2% of adults and 46.3% of children and adolescents will have some kind of mental disorder. We only spend about 317.6 billion dollars a year from disability benefits, health care costs, and loss of earnings due to mental illnesses. Assuming your insurance will cover it.

But it’s okay. These people all just need to buck up, suck it up, and get themselves back on their feet. And if they really are suffering, so what? Talk therapy is for the weak. Just pump them with Xanax, Prozac, Thorazine, Aderall, Ritalin, Olanzapine, Lexipro, Ambien, Lithium, or Ipramine until they burnout or die. Maybe they’re only 18% more effective than a sugar pill. And maybe they only work while you’re shelling out cash to take them, while talk therapy can make you feel better long after you’ve stopped going. But who cares? Someone has to keep the 650 billion dollar pharmaceutical industry in business.

You may get a few tremors, diabetes, or sudden death from your drugs. You may die up to 25 years earlier than your nondisordered friends. You may spend every day torn between begging for happiness and wishing you’d never wake up. You may feel alone and ostracized from all the people who’d treat you like a freak if they knew your diagnosis.

But, hey. No one is going to shove an ice pick into your brain any time soon.

We’re much more humane.

If you are in a crisis and need help right away: Call this toll-free number, available 24 hours a day, every day: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You will reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a service available to anyone. You may call for yourself or for someone you care about. All calls are confidential. 

More mental health facts.
National Institute for Mental Health.
Recovery is Possible! A video.
The Truth About Schizophrenia.

1 comment:

  1. Best opening line ever.

    I had no idea that so many people had lobotomies. I did know that people died from them and that many of them were reduced to vegetables. Creepy. This gives me an interesting idea for a story...

    And I'd definitely rather be depressed than have someone shove a foreign object through my brain. Gah.