Well, That's Just Nuts

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Freddie deBoer is onto something here, specifically The Incoherence and Cruelty of a Mental Illness as Meme.

Here’s what we’ve done with mental health in the popular American consciousness in the span of a few years.

  1. Created a pleasant series of lies about mental illness such that it is defined as a set of attractive and romantic quirks which do nothing to stop someone from participating in public life as a savvy and politically correct person.

  2. Defined any behavior that is genuinely ugly or unpalatable or against contemporary social-political norms as therefore necessarily not the product of mental illness.

  3. Excused the people who comfortably fit in the former category from essentially any of the work of adult life, and insisted that expecting such people to still do that work is “stigma.”

  4. Removed the basic social protections we had in place for people who were guilty of the latter types of behavior, under the theory that “mental illness doesn’t do that,” with “that” meaning “anything not approved by social media users.”

So it’s a great time to be an upwardly-mobile Swarthmore graduate with a professional-managerial class job who never shuts the fuck up about having adult ADHD and whose penalty for failing to take their medication is that they send only 80 emails in a day instead of 100. Those for whom mental illness is a hashtag. It’s a less cool time to be someone with severe paranoid schizophrenia whose medication comes with punishing physical and mental side effects and whose penalty for failing to take that medication is that they start muttering bizarre conspiracy theories about the Jews. For the former, online culture has limitless patience and support. For the latter, who violate identity norms when sick, online culture has only censure and blame. For years now, the severely ill have been pushed further and further into the backseat of the public discourse about mental illness. With the new insistence that mentally ill people never do anything really bad, that process is complete; those who suffer the least from mental illness now blot out the sun.

The boundaries between "mental illness" and having personality features several sigma away from the norm are ill-defined and fluctuate according to cultural and political fashion. And that redounds to arbitrary distinctions on how behaviors are treated: eccentric, immoral, illegal, etc.

I don't have any answers, but (like Freddie) I'm pretty sure current answers are incoherent and cruel.

I've linked to a Thomas Szasz book above. I haven't read it, don't necessarily endorse it. (I'm pretty sure Freddie wouldn't endorse it.)