The following is excerpted from an article on Vonnegut’s new memoir. This section interests me as it relates to Brave New World‘s soma, and the notion of the Savage’s right as a human being to suffer.
In defence of Lithium
Mark is very clear about the fact that the ongoing stability and success of his life has been built on his willingness to use lithium to keep his bipolar disorder under control. His criticisms of pharmaceutical companies are as sharp as any anti-medication ranter and his anguish about the side effects of long exposure to lithium, especially his problematic hand tremor, is palpable.
Mark never claims that society’s problems or the behaviour of his parents gave him his illness. Mark knows that most people don’t lose their minds when their girlfriends are unfaithful or their parents divorce. He lays out the stricken genetic pool of his extended family that provides the context for the development of his disorder.
Canada is currently experiencing a crisis in mental health care. If Mark were again wandering the streets of Vancouver in a delusional state, he would barely be noticed. The devastating impact of untreated mental illness has had its way with many homeless people who are constantly visible. Since one of the most common characteristics of psychosis is that people don’t understand that they are ill, people often refuse treatment. Particular points of view about what constitutes human rights have begun to prevail and it’s becoming more difficult for ill people to receive the treatment that their illnesses make them want to refuse. I know many consumers and even more families who understand the deadly consequences of protecting people’s “rights” to be mentally ill. Many families, including mine, have endured the painful struggles of helping an ill family member receive treatment against their will; we are rewarded when the person, well again, thanks us for fighting on their behalf.
In the article, Susan Inman (its author) notes that she knew Mark Vonnegut and others in the neighbourhood. I should look into that.