In a mad world, only the mad are sane
– Akira Kurosawa
III – Stigma
When sometime does something that breaches our moral code we try to explain it away by calling them evil, brainwashed and mentally ill, for example Adolf Hitler or Anders Brevik.
It’s more convenient to dehumanise them, as then we don’t have to think about how someone might think it a good idea to do serious harm to other people.
But it’s just lazy, and says more about the person using this as a rationalisation, than the person with the purported behavioural problem.
Once someone has such a label it can be difficult for them to be socially accepted or professionally trusted. This is wrong.
Neil deGrasse Tyson said “Labels are a lazy way of presuming you know something about someone that you don’t actually know“.
People like labels. It reduces their responsibility for actually thinking about the results of their actions: “oh, sorry I was a twat, but you see that’s because I’ve got Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder“.
It’s worth noting that people with mental conditions are no more likely to hurt another person. Simply having this false attitude can stop people with problems getting better. In fact, the psychiatric times says that “persons with mental illness are far more likely to be victims of violence than they are to be perpetrators“.
Calling them disorders, or mental illnesses, is technically incorrect, and removes the autonomy of the individual. There’s no evidence that most of the conditions we talk about are illnesses per se, rather they are ways that people react to bad experiences, and fairly predictable ways at that.
We can talk more about these problems these days – there’s more acceptance. Acceptance that depression is something normal, and nothing to be scared of. Things are getting better in this area but there’s still a long way to go.
People can go to a therapist with less stigma, especially in the US. Alain de Botton reckons the day will (or should) come where every high street has a therapist’s office, perhaps in between the chemists and the greengrocer.
Part IV – Psychiatry in the next post…
Part II – Drugs in the previous post.