Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness

Robin Cunningham Health Guide

    What we have learned over the last fifty years about schizophrenia, schizoaffective and bipolar disorders, as well as other serious mental illnesses, is creating a nonviolent revolution that will change the interpretation of the US Constitution from this time forward.


    Just about everyone who has taken a class in civics, political science, or US history will recognize the famous "life, liberty and pursuit of happiness" phrase taken from The Declaration of Independence written by Thomas Jefferson in 1776. It inspired, no, it demanded, the founding fathers of the States of America to declare independence from Great Britain. It informed these founders in writing a constitution for the United States of America that was intended to guarantee the civil liberties of all its citizens.

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    The constitution has been successful, by in large, in achieving its lofty goals, but like all things man made, it has flaws. It took the emancipation proclamation, a horrific civil war, the marches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the woman's sufferance movement to make over half of our population even eligible for all of its protections and blessings. And we know all too well that in the application of the constitution, we still fall far short of the promise that we assume Thomas Jefferson and the framers of the constitution envisioned.


    One of the reasons our constitution and our nation have survived until today is inherent in the fact that the constitution in many of its parts is vague. Citing primarily principals, it has thereby left room for interpretation. It has been these interpretations, in ever changing times, which have preserved the rights of those living under its umbrella.


    At a time in our nation's history when there was little or no hope of recovery from serious brain diseases, the nation, spurred on by the demands of Dorthea Dix, ensured what it could for those suffering from these illnesses. It ensured life by providing subsistence levels of service. Liberty and the pursuit of happiness seemed unobtainable and were compromised.


    Once viable treatments for mental illness became available in the late 1950's, our society has been locked in a vigorous, and sometimes contentious, debate concerning how liberty and the pursuit of happiness, as set out in our constitution, might best be guaranteed for individuals with serious brain diseases. The debate, carried out both in the streets and the highest courts of our land, is a heady one. However, make no mistake, this debate now directly affects and will continue to affect for many years into the future, the quality of life available to individuals dealing on a day to day basis with one or more of these potentially devastating mental illnesses.


    In my next blog, I will present portions of an interview with Kurt Entsminger who is the newly named Executive Director of the Treatment Advocacy Center. His organization is at the center of the debate concerning how to guarantee to those of us living with schizophrenia our constitutional rights to not only life, but also liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

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    Please remember, this writing reflects my own experience and opinions. If you, or a loved one, are experiencing the symptoms of schizophrenia, or any other mental illness, you should immediately seek professional assistance.



Published On: January 07, 2008