Compassion is Needed for the Mentally Ill

May 14, 2014 Mike Ehrmantrout


I have heard a phrase repeated by some in the mental health community. “We just want to be treated like everyone else.” Really? I don’t. Why? Because I certainly am not like everyone else and if you apply their standards to me I lose.

Another thing I’ve heard. People with mental illness should be held accountable for their actions just like everyone else—there it is again, “just like everyone else.” I understand the sentiment. It may be what they’re saying is “we don’t want to be discriminated against. Treat us like everyone else.”

Whatever the case, I believe we must accept that the mentally ill, as a people group in our society, are unique in our society.

I’m not advocating that mentally ill people not be held accountable for their actions. I reject that. What I’m saying is people with mental illness deserve to have others in society show some compassion and acknowledge the plight of the sufferer.

Society Has a Compassion Deficit

I believe our society has developed what I call a compassion deficit. It seems to be the prevailing attitude of a majority of people that each of us should be treated like everyone else. That largely precludes compassion, because if we’re all the same, why would we even need compassion at all?

This compassion deficit can be seen in some situations mostly all of us encounter at some point. For example, you put in a hard day’s work, then stop by the grocery store to pick up some things. While in line, you see a person with a bunch of unhealthy food. Maybe they are purchasing a pack of cigarettes or a six-pack of beer. When it’s time to pay, the person pays for the food with food stamps.

I’ve talked to so many people who’ve been in that situation, and most invariably say the same thing. “I work my butt off so this loser can buy junk food and beer? What he needs to do is get a haircut and a job!”

I’ve certainly been in that situation myself and reacted just that way, instead of thinking, “it must be hard to have to be on food stamps in order to feed yourself and your family. I wonder what his story is.”

Some of course will say the one to have compassion for is the person who works all day to help pay for the food stamp guy. Understandable. It sounds so righteous, but really, who are we to judge?

We have absolutely no idea what this person has experienced in their life, what illnesses they might have or have had, what their family situation is, the traumas they’ve suffered, nothing. All we know is the person uses food stamps.

Improvements Made, But Still a Long Way to Go

How might this compassion manifest in society? We’ve already seen some positive movement in the U.S. legal system.

Several states, including my home state of Washington, have developed a separate court to deal with those mentally ill people who have found themselves in trouble. A Superior Court Judge and attorneys actually visit a mental health facility and hold court in the dayroom. They also have a drug court where people with substance abuse problems can have their charges dismissed if they successfully complete the program. They’ve also created a Veteran’s court for veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other adjustment problems.

These improvements should be hailed and celebrated. They show compassion. They acknowledge mentally ill people have challenges others don’t have. There is still a long way to go, but these changes give us hope that maybe society isn’t always void of compassion after all.

Visit Mike on Facebook or Twitter.

APA Reference
Ehrmantrout, M. (2014, May 14). Compassion is Needed for the Mentally Ill, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 19 from

Author: Mike Ehrmantrout

renewable energy advantages and disadvantages table
May, 16 2014 at 4:46 pm

Excellent post.I used to be checking continuously
this blog and I'm inspired! Extremely useful info particularly the closing
phase :) I care for such info a lot. I used to
be looking for this certain information for a long time.
Thanks and good luck.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Mike Ehrmantrout
May, 19 2014 at 4:36 am

Thanks for your post. I'm glad you found the article inspiring and useful. Keep coming around, your voice is important.

May, 18 2014 at 3:12 pm

I have worked as a psychiatric nurse for over 30 years. I can appreciate all the challenges with the mentally ill.I certainly appreciate any improvements that can be demonstrated through the court system. I see many patients stay in a state facility for excessively long periods of time awaiting court hearings.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Mike Ehrmantrout
May, 19 2014 at 4:40 am

Thanks for the comment. Wow, 30 years on the front lines! That's amazing! :) Thanks for your service to mentally ill people, some of the most vulnerable people on the planet.

May, 19 2014 at 9:27 pm

Its refreshing when people have a genuine impact during mundane day to day living. Work, shopping, eating out. I think life can be pretty dull sometimes but its those conversations which keep you going. Plus its nice when people make an effort.

Shoshana Cuevas
May, 24 2014 at 4:42 am

Well said! I manage a storage facility nd a segment of my customer base is homeless and mentally ill. Everyone has a story; a compelling story that you only learn about when you look each and every person with in the eye and say "Good Morning". Compassion is taught, it is demonstrated, it is was it offered when you don't have a solution, but are willing to walk with someone on a part of their journey.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Mike Ehrmantrout
May, 24 2014 at 9:30 am

Thanks for your comment Shoshana. Thanks too for showing compassion to people and realizing what it means that "everyone has a story."

it's only me
May, 24 2014 at 4:44 am

thanks for this great post. you should know however, that no one ever paid for beer or smokes with food stamps. :) fixing that detail will help the credibility of your point ... which is so important because the lack of empathy in this society is very important to address.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Mike Ehrmantrout
May, 24 2014 at 9:36 am

Thanks for your comment. You're right, nobody buys beer or smokes with food stamps. If you read again, you'll see I wrote the person pays for the food with food stamps. But You're right, I could've made it clearer.

May, 24 2014 at 10:32 am

Mike, I was wondering if you've heard stories about the mistreatment of those with mental health issues by Providence Hospital here in Washington State. Since my own horrible experience, I've spoken with many who were treated terribly. Providence has told me, in writing, that they do not view mental illnesses as medical illnesses. I have been trying to bring attention to this for well over a year, but have had little success so far.

Mike Webb
May, 24 2014 at 12:12 pm

While government actions have their benefit, they aren't really expressions of compassion from society IMHO. The real expressions come from individuals and groups within society (as a Christian, I am appalled at the lack of initiative for ministry to the mentally ill among the people in churches--including *my* church) where actions aren't based on rules and laws imposed into a situation, but from personal and group compassion, addressing needs that often fall through the cracks in government programs. I have specific needs for support that very few individuals and no organizations have been willing to address. And that leaves me in the lurch most of the time.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Mike Ehrmantrout
May, 25 2014 at 5:04 am

Hi Mike. Thanks for your comment. I do think government action can be a barometer of societal concern or non-concern. Whatever the government might do to help the downcast in our society, it comes down to money. Usually, what we do with our money reveals a lot about our values. It's important to recognize that in democratic societies, the government is merely a conduit for the will of the people. You mentioned the spiritual aspect of things. There has always been somewhat of a disconnect with some churches and mental illness. Although we've seen some definite movement in the right direction, there's still a need for religious institutions to take the lead in showing compassion.

May, 24 2014 at 1:23 pm

I have no compassion from my family. They expect me to just suck it up and live a normal, productive life. I've tried to explain myself but it falls on deaf ears. I'm sorry I'm not what you want me to be but I would be a lot healthier if I could get some compassion and acceptance of who I am because you really don't know.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Mike Ehrmantrout
May, 25 2014 at 5:08 am

Hi Gina. Thanks for the comment. I'm sorry you experience such difficulty with your family. I too have family members who don't completely understand. I have taken to sending them links to HealthyPlace articles I think would be valuable for them to read. ;)

May, 24 2014 at 5:34 pm

It was pretty clear, Mike. The point is that they were using other money they have to buy the beer and smokes when they should be using that money for food. In essence, taxpayers are paying for the beer and smokes.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Mike Ehrmantrout
May, 25 2014 at 5:09 am

Thanks Amber. :)

May, 25 2014 at 4:50 am

I believe in compassion and that your article comes from a place of good intention. However I have a different point of view: Compassion is needed for everyone! People who experience extreme states of mental health haven't cornered the market on suffering. Many people with labels live very well despite them! I would also ask you to consider using "people first" language - when you use "the mentally ill" it is distancing, discriminating and dehumanizing. It continues to separate "them" from "us", assumes everyone is "alike", and if you question discrimination, just substitute any other Federally protected class (eg. race or sex - black people or women) and it will become startling clear. Similarly I'd argue we should educate ALL people in the legal system about mental health, substance use and Veteran's issues vs. building separate courts for every human plight. Shouldn't everyone be knowledgeable about these common human issues? I think your article sets us in the right direction - that of compassion - but if "Society" has a compassion deficit, then respectfully I think that compassion should be taught to ALL of us FOR all of US.

Dr Musli Ferati
July, 9 2014 at 7:38 pm

Indeed, compassion as humane approach to mentally ill patient underlines the necessity to eradicate stigma on mental pathology in community. This bitter sequel to mentally ill person damages appropriate psychiatric treatment and management of psychiatric patients. It couldn't supply meaningful mental health care, when general opinion of community prejudice and exclude mentally ill person from society. On the other hand, bizanthique attitude toward mental health service compromise seriously epochal achievements of neuroscience on real nature of mental disorders. These and many others bizarre views on psychiatric field, as competent medical branch for treatment of mentally ill patients require radical and substantial undertakes in daily work-out of mental health care system. Without systematic and legal measure that permit continuous and universal mental care, "ad hoc" and partial solutions to mentally ill person would be inefficient. So, compassion as crucial element of psychiatric treatment would be of temporary character. Unfortunately, we are still living in the world where the voice of psychiatry is underrated!

July, 30 2014 at 7:55 am

I agree with Cheri, "Compassion is needed for everyone! People who experience extreme states of mental health haven’t cornered the market on suffering. Many people with labels live very well despite them." I also read Gina's comments about wanting acceptance and compassion and it reminds me of my brother. All he wants is compassion and acceptance, too: but he can't recognize blatant acceptance at all, blind to the kindness of his family, returning even a smile with yelling and verbal obscenities. He has no awareness of his actions or the actions of others, stealing our puppy without a word so that the entire neighborhood was looking for him. Even this, even in cleaning up after him, everyone is trying to manipulate him in his world. And we just take it. For all our pains he gives us only a twisted misinterpretation of the worst events of our lives. Everyday. So, it would seem if the mentally ill can't give compassion that they perceive it either and there's nothing the rest of us can do.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Mike Ehrmantrout
July, 30 2014 at 11:34 am

Hi Catherine. I hear you. That sounds like a very difficult situation with your brother. It sounds like you and the rest of your family continue to give him as much compassion as you can. I agree too that mentally ill folks certainly don't "own the market" on suffering. However, one caveat would be just to see that of course mental illness has challenges others don't have. But that is true of other conditions people have too. The challenges are different, but as was said, compassion is needed for all who suffer.

Leave a reply