The negative effects of psychiatric labelling were highlighted in a famous experiment conducted by the American psychologist David Rosenhan in the early 1970s. Rosenhan asked “healthy” volunteers to fake hallucinations in order to be admitted to different psychiatric hospitals across the United States. After admission, the volunteers were instructed to behave normally and to tell staff they were now fine. Despite acting “normally”, all the volunteers were diagnosed with a mental illness, and only obtained release from the institution after agreeing to take antipsychotic drugs. The experiment is widely interpreted as showing that once someone has been diagnosed as insane, their behaviour is usually interpreted as further confirmation of madness, no matter how sane it might appear in other contexts.
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Have any of you felt like that? No matter what you do from the point of diagnosis on, you will always been seen as mentally ill?
I know I have wondered about what I would have to achieve in order to be seen as sane, someone who has completely recovered from all mental health issues. How long does that take? What does that look like? Who gets to decide?
I can easily argue that I did recover from a mental illness once. When I was 16 years old I was diagnosed with chronic depression (Dysthymia) and at 22 or 23 years old I was told that I showed no signs of a mood disorder. I was then told the same thing in August 2014. But with that came a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Traits. Did I recover or did I just switch?
I feel that when it comes to mental health recovery there is the constant weight of sliding back into the disorder constantly hanging over our heads. This is why I have found such comfort in seeing myself as Mad then as sick. It’s easy to be myself. It’s not easy to be sick. But, not seeing myself as sick could be see as part of my sickness; a delusion if you will.
I can think of a few examples from my live where even when I behaved as others did I was not viewed or treated the same way because of my mental health diagnosis. I became angry once at a “friend” who betrayed my trust. When I confronted her she reduced my legitimate anger as a symptom of poor mental health.
With mental health it is hard not to feel damned. I think it is society that keeps us sick, not the disorder we’re told is an illness.