Friday, July 9, 2021

"No One Cares About Crazy People" by Ron Powers--Nonfiction Review

No One Caes About Crazy People” by Ron Powers is informative—often disturbing—and nonfiction, making it all the more pointedly sad. In this book, Powers tells the story of mental illness in America in more ways than one.

Ron Powers

What I love about this book:

This book is a fearless and candid look not just at how poorly mental illness is handled nationwide but what our collective neglect looks like on an individual level. Powers gives you the history of how the mentally ill were treated globally, domestically in the United States, and finally, what that looked like for his sons, who both struggled with schizophrenia. One of which, sadly, did not survive his struggles with depression and schizophrenia. That’s what makes this book so brave. He invites the world into his home, to his family—and to their pain.

The title of this book is an actual quote from a government official, and it’s a perfect distillation of a pure lack of empathy. She wasn’t saying it to lament the idea that there isn’t enough care and consideration for the mentally ill—it was a statement of she—and how she perceived the rest of us feel about the mentally ill. That’s why Powers made that statement the title of this book because it’s revolting. No matter how functionary or bureaucratic one’s job is—if they hold such opinions and are employed by the government, a light needs to be shined on them—for that is how we start to chase the cockroaches out.

Powers gets right into the nitty-gritty details of mental illness—primarily schizophrenia—he talks about the medications, the treatments, the biology, the pain, and most of all, the stories of its sufferers and their families. It’s a hard subject. But one that can strike anyone.  

Reading about the wrenching injustices, which sometimes, and often, led to the deaths of mentally ill people, while not enjoyable, I feel it is vital. For change to happen, discomfort is necessary. Powers includes a story where a mentally unstable person was shot to death while brandishing a screwdriver. It was said to be an icepick, but it was a screwdriver, and while that individual needed to be dealt with—I hardly believe bullets were the only or even the best option.  

What I don’t love about this book:

One of this book’s greatest strengths to credibility is Ron Power’s lived experience with both of his sons’ illnesses. However, I feel, out of the catharsis of writing down his lived experience and the tragedy of losing his son, the book strays a bit too far into the memoir. I don’t know what it’s like to lose a son, and I hope I never do—and this critique is hard to write, but still, I feel valid.

Mostly, and this isn’t the book’s fault—but the subject matter—I’m really wearied by the world when I read about such apathy. It’s a reminder that people of excellent mental and physical health often just don’t care. Really, the mental health crisis in America is just another symptom of the greater generalized health crisis in America. The rich may get the best care in the world, but everyone else needs to either risk bankruptcy or agonize over incredibly convoluted health insurance.

The mentally ill just have it worse because of the lack of promising programs and facilities to meet their needs, and the ones that do exist—could be better—is a vast understatement. So I don’t love how sad and angry this book makes me, but sad and angry is what is needed for things to get better.

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Parting thoughts:

This is another one of those books that reinforces the idea in my mind that the greatest evil of our day isn’t malice or even hate, but simply not caring. Apathy is the root because it allows all of the other ills, such as hate, racism, greed, et cetera, to run unchecked. The cliché is—and I’m paraphrasing—when good people do nothing, evil triumphs. I would also offer that they also aren’t all that good for standing by and doing nothing.

We live in a world, unlike anything our ancestors ever knew. The poorest of us can often still find a way to communicate across the oceans with other people—instantly. Two hundred years ago, that wasn’t even a power the mightiest of kings and queens dreamed was possible. As a species, we taught ourselves to fly in the air, and less than seventy years later, we landed on the surface of the moon. So the idea that it isn’t within our collective power, from a monetary or technological standpoint, to care for the most vulnerable amongst us isn’t just archaic—It’s ludicrous.

I think the first step in solving our societal ills is—much like how we lost our respect for and love of kings—we need to stop worshiping our modern-day demigods, the billionaires. No one should have that much power. 

At the time of this writing, a gallon of gasoline in Pennsylvania costs, on average, $3.13. Google cheerfully informs me that, at a perfect conversion—and I get that’s impossible in the real world—a gallon of gas produces thirty-six kilowatt-hours. A human on a specialized treadmill can generate one kilowatt-hour in five hours. So a billion dollars can work out to, rounding down, to 319 million gallons of gasoline, which converts to 11.4 billion kilowatt-hours, or about 6.5 million years on that treadmill—and Elon Musk has 169 times that—again, rounding down!

And I get it—the world is a complicated and often overwhelming place to live in. But it is the only place we got. So my most salient piece of advice is; if someone suggests, or if you happen to think “who cares” about someone’s or something’s pain. That’s wrong.

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