Friday, February 14, 2014

Not like a broken leg

So I keep seeing these Facebook and Twitter campaigns aimed at changing public perception of mental illness and they anger me.

They anger me because they are so disempowering to people who actually have mental illness. I have bipolar and I have had it for years and sheer bloody-minded effort has brought all improvements I have experienced. At this point, I am not too troubled by it. But if I had treated it like a broken leg, something I had to hand over to the experts and not contemplate, not empower myself to work on, then I would be a languishing zombie rather than the thriving and successful person writing this blog.

One of the ads shows someone telling a depressed person that it is all in her head. As if saying that invalidates her suffering. As if one negates the other. As if both cannot be true. Get real. It can be exquisitely painful to be in your own head and possible to know that making peace with that pain is possible, but not if you just take pills and do what the doctor says.

It's all in your head. That isn't a stupid thing to say because it minimizes their suffering, because it doesn't necessarily minimize their suffering.

And it's not the worst thing to say because your mental state is changeable through the right kind of growth and effort, by you, which is an idea I believe, It's a stupid thing to say because it's not necessarily all in their head. It is in the world.

People have asked remarkably few questions about mental illness. There are some things people think about now, like a mind-body connection, the undeniable benefits of exercise.  But people, we have an epidemic on our hands. What else do you call it when you look at the number of people taking psychotropic drugs (20% of  American adults take anti-depressants, UK only slightly lower).

Are we really going to think about this epidemic only in terms of SSRIs and brain chemicals? Is no one going to turn it around and ask the hard questions, like maybe we have caused this epidemic isn't in our heads but rather in our relationships by making it too hard for humans to live a comfortable existence. Maybe inequality of opportunity, sexism and homophobia have some part in it. Maybe our culture is causing this epidemic and it is the culture that should change, not the brain chemistry of a large proportion of the people in it.

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