I Get a Thrill Being Mentally Ill

Here’s a pretty good Salon article from last month about how “mental illness” is used as a catch-all for the problems of mass murderers and the like, which has the effect of drawing attention away from racism, sexism, and gun control. It’s strange to me how it seems that more people than ever are on prescription psychotropic drugs, yet we can still talk about mental illness as if it’s a specific thing that makes people shoot up schools and churches. Depression is a mental disorder (not officially an illness) that a lot of people have, but it obviously doesn’t mean these people have trouble discerning reality. But then, how many people still think “schizophrenic” means you have multiple personalities? And remember when Debra LaFave blamed the fact that she had sex with minors on her bipolar disorder? From what I’ve heard, the manic phase DOES sometimes manifest itself in increased and often ill-advised sexual activity, but it’s not like it automatically makes people think statutory rape is acceptable, at least as far as I know. Psychiatry is pretty mainstream these days, yet people still don’t understand it.

I’m not saying I really do either, but I do know that the comfortable illusion of simply saying “oh, they were crazy” whenever somebody does something terrible isn’t getting us anywhere. Sure, maybe they ARE crazy, but “crazy” isn’t an official diagnosis, and a lot of these killers haven’t been diagnosed with anything as far as we know. Now, to be fair, that’s probably partially because they assume nothing is wrong with them, so they wouldn’t get psychiatric treatment or diagnosis unless they were forced into it. I also sometimes think about how even a so-called normal person can just snap. It isn’t like there’s a clear line between sane and insane. Not to mention that the people blaming mental illness never seem to want to support better treatment for mental conditions. The article also correctly points out that, throughout much of history, hatred of other groups has been considered perfectly normal. If a white person at the turn of the twentieth century had racist views, nobody was going to think they had mental problems. Normal is a relative thing. Now, it’s possible to take that idea too far; I’m not someone who thinks Don Quixote seeing a windmill as a giant was a perfectly legitimate thing to do. It’s more just that mainstream society isn’t always right. I think the general rule is that someone is considered mentally ill or disordered if they have trouble functioning in society, and particularly if they’re disruptive, but that’s a pretty broad way to put it. And just because someone is unusual, even disturbingly so, doesn’t necessarily mean they’re dangerous. Sure, the guy who randomly yells things can be irritating, but he’s probably not going to open fire in a movie theater. There aren’t really any obvious answers for how to deal with mental issues, as there’s still a lot we have to learn about the brain. I do think, however, that society needs to address the stigma attached to mental conditions.

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