This idea is based off of my own personal experiences and strengthened by the speakers and people I met at PsychOUT 2011, “Anatomy of an Epidemic” by Robert Whitaker, “Talking Back to Psychiatry” by Linda J. Morrison, “Manufacturing Depression” by Gary Greenberg and countless websites such as www.mindfreedom.org.
I want to propose a new type of stigma that attacks all of us, not just those labelled with a mental disorder. If we want to give it a funky technical name MindFreedom would call it “neurodiversity”.
Neurodiversity is the radical idea that we’re SUPPOSED to be different! If your brain is “too different” then we will slap you with the label of mental illness, you are disordered.
I am unsure if I will outright deny that mental illness is real because I feel I have had an illness but also been a victim of simply being someone that society doesn’t want me to be. I will not easily, if ever, comply too the traditional standards of “yes I am ill, please fix me.” I will always maintain that there is more to our mental health system than we think and that the system will let on.
I am proposing the idea that mental illness can be a form of social control. “If you can’t be who we want you to be then we will call you sick.”
We accept different genders, races, religions, beliefs, sexual orientations and so on but mental differences are not making the cut. I like to think of everything about us as being on a spectrum. We are not all in the middle of this spectrum. Some are far on either “extreme” ends of spectrum and others are scattered in the middle.
We have been learning that too much emotion is a bad thing, that being the person who is sadder or angrier is to be the undesirable person. These emotions and behaviours can interfere with your life, I know, and that is when it becomes a problem but would it be a problem if we cared so much about everyone being a certain way? If we allow people to feel and support them in feeling then maybe recovering from those feelings would be easier?
Example: while I was a teenager I found it very hard to not be sad when everyone around me was telling me my feelings were illegitimate. There was no support so there was no moving forward. This is why I ALWAYS legitimize a person’s feelings because whatever they are feeling is real to them and that needs to be understood and respected in order for you to help solve the problem that brought on those feelings.
Should this be an illness though? “Manufacturing Depression” by Gary Greenberg looks at how psychiatry and the pharmaceutical industry have turned normal reactions to upsetting situations into the illness depression. He does not deny that depression as an illness can and does exist but to the extent at which it is being diagnosed he is very suspicious and we all should be.
Example: I was diagnosed with depression only based on my symptoms. My psychiatrist never asked why these symptoms appeared. If he had he would have found out that I initially became deeply depressed because I was excluded and made fun of by my friends and peers for many years. This would make anyone depressed but is it an illness? I personally do not think so. I feel my reaction to my situation was legitimate. Medication cannot take away the fact that people I knew made fun of me. (More on medication in later blogs)
Just like in the media we need to be critical of our mental health system. I realized I needed to quickly develop this critical thinking when I received my diagnosis for Borderline Personality Disorder. I could see myself in the symptoms but I could justify all of them and did not see most of them as being a bad thing. (A commentary on borderline personality disorder to come soon) It seemed like no matter what I said or what I did I was going to get a label. All I really want is to be myself.
Look through the DSM and you will find bits of yourself in many of the disorders. Although not legitimate diagnosing tools (if those exist) online quizzes will also give you different results. According to these quizzes I have borderline personality, major depression, narcissistic personality, various degrees of bipolar and dependant personality.
ADD and ADHD in children is a good example of what I feel is relatively normal child behaviour turned into an illness. If you can find me a child that can sit still, pay attention and keep quiet, please give them a medal but I can tell you those children do not exist. It pains me to see the kids I work with labelled as ADD when they’re made to sit and do math when all they want to do is get outside and run! We need to be careful with ADD and ADHD.
Some of our reactions are learned responses. Men receive the more “violent” diagnoses because men are taught in our society that violence in men is ok (until it’s an illness). Women receive the more submissive diagnoses because women are taught to be submissive (until it’s an illness). (More on gender and mental illness later)
Example: I learned how to be angry when I knew I had all right to be angry at a traumatic situation but no one was letting me be angry. This resulted in now my usual responses being in anger in order to protect myself and get my point across.
We all need help when overcoming tough situations and it’s up to you to choose what will work best for you. I have experienced the intenseness of what could have been an illness but I have also experienced what I feel is an attack on my being. We are supposed to be different. We should love being different. Being able to feel should be a beautiful part of being human and with support people in your life it can be. Do not feel shame in being sad, angry or any of the other “negative” emotions. Be excited that you can feel those things because there are people out there who exhaust themselves trying to always be happy and I think those are the people with the problems.
Neurodiversity, we should be who we are meant to be and with support it is easier to be that person and develop that person. Fitting into rigid categories is madness itself. This will be controversial but we need to be critical about everything around us and I see no reason why mental health should escape our critique.