Not addressed to anyone who’ll read this

Once again this week (not in this forum) I’ve run into the triumphantly ignorant mindset that mental illness and neurological problems aren’t diseases, that people with these problems are not worthy of medical attention, that anyone who hasn’t triumphed over head problems by sheer force of will and/or approved religious or 12 step methods is a weakling, and that people with mental problems are making up stuff.

These people are almost exactly equivalent to those who think that homosexuality is a choice. Somewhere between that and the people who don’t believe in germ theory because germs are really small and you can’t see them.

I can identify a few fallacies that keep recurring when I run into this mindset. Most of them are variations on generalization. They are:

  • Mildly neurotic people annoyingly claim mental problems as an excuse for their behavior, although they could in fact be less annoying pretty easily. Therefore, everyone who has bigtime head problems is also doing this and should just stop being weird already.
  • My own experience with drug addiction/neurotic behavior/weird mental blocks was resolved with 12-step groups/just getting over it/moving to a different town and therefore any other person’s head problems, no matter how different or how much more extreme, should be solved this way too. Otherwise they’re not trying.
  • Drug companies make a lot of money selling lifestyle drugs, and often create new ailments or over-market medications. Therefore, anyone who takes medication for any neurologic or psychiatric problem is making a mistake, because nothing sold by these companies is useful or necessary.
  • I knew someone once who had a lot of head problems and she tried a lot of things to fix it and nothing worked and she didn’t get better and was really annoying. Therefore no kind of medical or psychological intervention works and people with mental problems are tiresome losers.
  • People with head problems are choosing this lifestyle to get sympathy and because it agrees with them somehow, and they’re using medications as a crutch instead of choosing to be healthy, like me. Therefore they are weak and worthy of scorn.
  • Problems that affect behavior and personality should not be treated as diseases or treatable problems. They should be treated in the old-fashioned way as character flaws and sins, and people who exhibit them should be punished, shunned, shamed, and mocked. Only deluded softies and hypnotized idiots believe otherwise. Nothing like this has ever happened to me or anyone I like, the problem can’t be seen with the naked eye, and I keep being told by authority figures who annoy me that it’s happening. Therefore these problems don’t exist, and I’m a unique and beautiful snowflake for standing up to this nonsense. I know this is true because a loud person on the radio said so.

This is all medieval horseshit. I’d like to find the source of it, because it’s both pre-scientific and new. It’s as though someone merged L. Ron Hubbard and Bill O’Reilly and treated this mutant as a medical authority.

Admittedly everyone is insane to some degree about mental health, the way everyone is insane about food and sex and education. But this shit is just off the map. It’s aggressively proud ignorance. I want to collar all these people and take them to a “Scared Straight” tour of the local mental health facilities so they can see how bad it gets.

“Bipolar” isn’t your moody ex boyfriend who used that as an excuse for the time he fucked your sister. It’s people driving from San Diego to Maine for no reason and changing their name eight times along the way. “Phobia” isn’t that woman at your office who hates spiders. It’s someone who has to spend two days in her room if she sees one. And “depressed” isn’t the showy Goth you went to junior college with who wrote sad poetry in large black letters. It’s people who can’t get out of bed or clothe themselves or do anything except wish they were dead for years and years on end. This shit is real, assholes, and it kills and ruins lives.

Shitting on the people it’s happening to just because their lives are outside your cramped imagination is quite literally adding insult to injury, and you ought to be ashamed of yourselves. You should also put down the talk radio and read a fucking book now and then.

24 thoughts on “Not addressed to anyone who’ll read this

  1. Yes, but are they literate? :-/
    One of the problems, I think, is that we’ve gone from people not understanding this stuff at all and just being scared of it, to people using the language for minor shit (as you note above) and thereby rendering it meaningless to those who don’t care to understand.
    Having spent my youth as one of the more “normal” kids in special ed, I have some experience of people not having a fucking clue.

  2. I have 11&1/2 years sober in AA. The 12 Steps are very useful tools for me. And they don’t solve everything. Those who say they do are called Step Nazis.
    Nearly three years ago my AA sponsor collapsed. When was taken into the ER, it was found he had a double duodenal ulcer and needed six units of blood. He’d been real hard core anti-meds, as had I, and paid for it. A program buddy of ours, a sports therapist, said, “You’re naturally depressive and working in the toughest business in America [the film biz]. You might need a little help.” He started on Lexapro and it saved his ass. Half a year later, I started on it, too. Saved my ass, as well.
    ~M~

    1. Another case of “everything in moderation”, yeah. The people I know who have several years sober don’t tend have the attitude I was bitching about, too.

  3. people driving from San Diego to Maine for no reason and changing their name eight times along the way
    And to think I was wondering what to do for spring break!

  4. I knew someone once who had a lot of head problems and she tried a lot of things to fix it and nothing worked and she didn’t get better and was really annoying. Therefore no kind of medical or psychological intervention works and people with mental problems are tiresome losers.
    *waving*
    Hi. Heard this. Been there. Believed it, but never completely.
    L.

  5. I see many of the similarities for my own disease which even has physical manifestations making it harder to deny.
    Some others:
    God is upset/testing you/your faith is weak. Pray about it and you will be cured.
    You can cure this with mental willpower, positive thinking and imaginary WMD’s you launch at yourself.
    And my fave
    “It’s all in your head”

    1. “It’s all in your head” is something I’ve never understood. Of course it’s in my head, that’s where my brain is! If I had a broken leg it would be all in my leg!

      1. Oh, wow. I really would love your permission to use that as a sig file quote or put it on my info page. I’d attribute it to your username, of course. May I please?

      2. i had a old bf (yes, he really was old) who used to say i was depressed because i didn’t sit up straight. he was one of those “i don’t believe in depression or medication” people. he’s been engaged 4 times and chews his fingers until they’re bloody. he’s the sanest person he knows, he says.

  6. I read and re-read this post because i am conflicted. On one hand, I totally and wholeheartedly understand the stuff you have encountered in the world of how people treat people with mental illness. I have seen it myself, and to those ignorant people, it will only take awareness of their own mental illness to accept anything different.
    Then I got down to your descriptions of Bipolar, Phobia and Depressed. While I know you were annoyed at the post, and some of the stuff you’ve experienced personally is quite to the extreme. However, it’s my experience and opinion that not all cases are quite as dramatic as you represent. It’s almost as if you’re saying that you have to wish you were dead for years in order for it to be ok to claim depression. I’m not saying that there aren’t cases like this where people are suicidal and completely depressed all the time. But it also doesn’t always have to be quite to such an extreme in order to be “acceptable to be depressed.” Depression hits different people in different ways. Again, I agree that with your point that people like to blame a mental illness if they are feeling moody or are angry about something, but too often there are also underlying problems that may cause minor bouts of depression.
    Anyway, I’m not trying to flame you. Perhaps I misunderstand the point of your vibrant explanations of various mental disorders in comparison to people who like to place blame upon them. It’s my opinion though, that it does seem a bit extreme to claim that the lighter side of these illnesses are not the real thing when it very well could be.

    1. A very common problem with first-year psychology majors is that they tend to start diagnosing themselves, and then their friends and roommates, with more and more pathologies (usually coinciding with what they’ve learned in lecture that week). It stems from an inability of the inexperienced psychologist to discern between tendency and pathology.
      Behavior is a spectrum, and while bipolar disorder can be milder in some instances than others, the point is that rampant self-diagnosis — or should I say, self-mis-diagnosis, of a tendency as a pathology is what’s fueling this misnomer of “psychological illness as cry for attention”

      1. This is very true. Also, the use of numbers for illnesses to indicate what kind you have isn’t a practice that the average Joe knows about. I have bipolar I, you have hypomania, Bob has bipolar III. Each with a set of symptoms that doesn’t just identify them but makes it possible to diagnose correctly. Lots of mental illnesses are dealt with this way, but the guy using the bipolar excuse for sleeping with your sister doesn’t know shit about it. =)

      2. rampant self-diagnosis — or should I say, self-mis-diagnosis, of a tendency as a pathology is what’s fueling this misnomer of “psychological illness as cry for attention”
        A-ha. Good point.

    2. You’re totally right. I used extremes in my examples, but people can be quite ill and need just as much help without going to the extreme. It was a rhetorical device to emphasize that someone who’s just kind of being weird isn’t the same as someone who’s ill.
      In some ways the people who are stuck “in between” have the hardest time, because they can’t live their lives properly but no one gets that they can’t just fix it by snapping their fingers.

  7. Indeed. Each case is valid on it’s own terms. I’ve personally witnessed a woman whose problems (post rape trauma) were transformed into full blown illness by doctor fumbling, but there were many factors in tha particular disaster which do not invalidate the profession as a whole. It was also over ten years ago and the drugs now used differently.
    I think it’s the issues of emotion, philosophy and perception come up with mental illness and thus people are dismissive when other illnesses involve similar variations and uncertainty and yet are not considered less real. If our feelings presented like broken limbs I’ll bet these presumptions would stop. We don’t dismiss the existence of deep wounds just because some people are overdramatic about paper cuts.

  8. I get a lot of that with ADD. A lot of times I just end it with “I hope you’re right.” Other times I’ll say “Well, assuming you’re right, what do you suggest I do?”

  9. “Bipolar” isn’t your moody ex boyfriend who used that as an excuse for the time he fucked your sister. It’s people driving from San Diego to Maine for no reason and changing their name eight times along the way.

    Actually, I think that’s “Psychogenic Fugue.”

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