Rant: I Absolutely Despise America’s Attitudes Towards Mental Health, Part 2

Now that a little time has passed and it’s not quite so gauche to mention it, I feel I should open this segment by addressing the implications of the magpie-chattering we’re hearing in the wake of the Florida shooting.

Why is it that mental health and neurodivergence only become salient topics in this decaying husk of a country when Jenny McCarthy opens the vapid idiocy-condenser that is her mouth, or there’s a shooting? Hm? Why is that? I can’t help but notice that the topics most frequently addressed by the Liberal community are the ones which require the least personal investment from us. Sex and Gender? Near constant. Healthcare reform? All day, baby, all day! Free college tuition? Sir, how dare you even imply we wouldn’t! Okay, now let’s talk about mental health!

…guys? Lib-friends? Hello? Anybody? Oh, wait, I forgot, actually caring about people with neurological disorders is hard!  As much as I wanted to agree with those copy-paste-posts saying that the “just include the outcasts!” rhetoric is victim-blaming, I couldn’t. I couldn’t because so many times, I’ve seen that the Liberal community at large only has something to say about mental health when that something is “It’s not my problem!”

Cut us off, then. Stop pretending you’re our friends. Enough of this half-assed, hand-wringing, hypocritical spew. If you decide you’re going to befriend someone with a neurological disorder, you don’t get to just turn around and say, “Oh, actually, I don’t want to deal with your problems.”

Those problems aren’t a separable component, a detachable module we can just pull of and set aside when it doesn’t suit you to help us work on it. They’re an integral part of us as people. We’re stuck with them, and it’s sickening to hear someone purport to care about a person with a mental disorder but being unwilling to help them through it. Now, I hear some of you asking the inevitable: isn’t this what psychiatrists are for?

First off, consider that a lot of neurodivergent individuals, especially on the Autism Spectrum, end up working minimum wage jobs. By what arcane economics do you expect them to afford psychiatric visits in addition to everything else? Second off, please lower your cowl and walk with me from this dark place.

You, friend, have been brainwashed by the Cult of Professionalism. Now don’t mistake me, professionals are a good thing to have. In “conventional” medicine, they’re downright vital (price-gouging less so). If you don’t think about it too hard, it’s easy to assume the same is true in psychology.

It’s not.

Medical science revolves around an intricate understanding of the human anatomy and its workings. We can dissect a body, put individual cells under microscopes, sort it and analyze it and tag it and know how it works. Our understanding of the human brain still largely boils down to, “So these regions are associated with these things, and they light up when you do them.” You may also be aware that different humans think differently. One of my favorite military diatribes concerns the catastrophic stupidity of commanders throughout the First World War.

One quote, which may be apocryphal as I’ve been sadly unable to find it online, purportedly comes from a British General. Having got the notion to actually visit the front line he’d been managing instead of giving orders by map alone, the General found himself staring at a morass of churned mud, shell craters, barbed wire and corpses with nary a shard of cover in sight.
“My God!” he exclaimed, horrified at his own ignorance, “We ordered men to attack in this?!

Living with mental health and trying to work with psychological professionals feels like I’m the soldier trying to make myself understood to that General. Only now he commands from another dimension with no means whatsoever of seeing what I see, but he’s still insisting that he knows better than I how to fight my battles. A psychologist has an excellent understanding of the terminology agreed on to describe mental health, as well as knowing a broad array of conditions, psychological history, and other handy stuff. A good psychologist uses this to parse the input from the neurodivergent individuals they work with, helping them reach a deeper understanding of their disorder.

A bad psychologist just uses this for the basis to an Appeal to Authority, with which they completely stamp out any attempt on the neurodivergent individual’s part to grapple with or take ownership of their disorder. It’s this mindset so many people–who I want to say are well-meaning–invoke the instant neurodivergent individuals try to reach out to them.

It’s conspicuous to me that so much of current Liberal discourse hinges on the assumption that you can’t understand someone’s circumstances just by observing them. I, as a white male, can never understand the life experiences of women or non-white ethnic groups. Even though the vast majority of these experiences center on objective stimuli like sight, sound, and touch, I’m told I can’t comprehend them. And I accept this, because a key part of those life experiences is that they happen where I can’t observe them! I understand that my position in society makes it impractical for me to see a lot of these things.

But when I as an Autistic individual assert that the only way, currently, for someone to understand my Autism is to listen to me, that just bounces off.  My disorder cannot properly be measured by current scientific methods. You cannot really understand what it means just by looking at my tics or noting down how many different tangents I go on. I’ve said it before and I’ll say ’til I’m dead: not everyone needs a professional. Some of us just need a sympathetic ear.

In my opinion, the single largest problem facing neurodivergent individuals in the United States is this insistence that we’re not really seeking help unless we seek exactly the right kind of help. I touched on this neurotypical policing before, but let’s be 100% clear: the primary deciding factor in whether a neurodivergent individual receives help and support is how closely they conform to neurotypical expectations about “legitimate” mental disorders.

If you’re not having panic and anxiety attacks 24/7 while bawling for your mother and meditating on how sweet the knife’s hot kiss would be against your soon-corpse’s wrists, you don’t really have problems. Would gaslighting by any other name still be just as maddening? Also, be sure to be born with good facial structure and avoid getting fat. Anorexia is fine–just a touch, mind you–but if you’re not at least a 7, get the fuck out, uggo. You can’t possibly have mental issues when you’re not tragically beautiful!

One particularly insidious criterion deserves its own paragraphs: individuals who don’t spend all of their time visibly, vocally depressed will be accused of faking it for attention. If you dare to have happy moments where other people can see them, then that means you’re just not depressed. After all, it’s not as if we’re constantly told to put on a brave face for other people, and that we might start to feel happy if we just act like we are!

The message is that you can either have a mental disorder, or have a life. How dare someone aspire not to feel miserable for a few minutes! And if you actually try to be defiant in the face of your depression, to stand up and fight or find some way to draw strength from your suffering, you’re obviously just an edgelord who doesn’t understand what depression really means.

Not only does this allow neurotypical America to invalidate the problems of any people who don’t exactly match their lists–because again, the favorite way to deal with mental health in this country is to prevent us talking about it–it discourages neurodivergent individuals from seeking a sustainable approach to our dysphoria. Want to upload that video of a cat you took during a good moment? Oh, no you don’t, you’re mentally ill! Want to go out and socialize a little bit in order to fight your loneliness? No you don’t, you’re mentally ill! Listen to music that doesn’t involve constant references to suicide? No you don’t, you’re mentally ill! Want to construct an entire private ideology based around the need to fight on no matter how futile it seems, because that’s the only option that’ll keep you alive? No you don’t, you’re mentally ill! At every turn, we’re forced to choose between receiving support and taking any steps to cope with our disorders.

Oh, but don’t worry, those of us with less tragic or attractive expressions will receive exactly the same amount of support, which is zero. I’ve begun wondering how much of the refusal to address mental health in this country stems from this: just about every neurotypical person who’s ever drawn breath would have to accept two burdens.

First, responsibility for helping us where we’re weak. Second: guilt for exaggerating our weaknesses with abominable advice. We’re told over and over again to just fall in line and listen to our neurotypical betters. They understand society, they know how it works. Autism-Spectrum people in particular are known for absurd rule-consciousness, making us especially vulnerable to this graceless brainwashing.

Then, when this advice falls apart and we’re left floundering in the societal ocean with no idea which way to swim, we’re told it’s our fault for not being more independent. Oh, but don’t commit suicide! That would be so selfish!

I may or may not do a Part 3 of this; I’m beginning to feel tapped out. I’m sure other people with neurological disorders will agree, and the general public will either ignore it or get up in arms over being judged before they go judge people some more. They’ll continue bitching about how their lives aren’t completely perfect in a system that was built to fit them, and I’ll be trapped outside in perpetuity because I dared be born with a different brain structure.

2 thoughts on “Rant: I Absolutely Despise America’s Attitudes Towards Mental Health, Part 2

  1. Not much better where I live. Heard on the radio that children with developmental delays were asked to tie their own shoes, and if they succeeded, their parents didn’t get a helper.

    When I was a teen, the school sent us on a trip, and we stayed in a boarding school where most of the kids were gone. But a few remained, and one of them suffered from mild development delays. He talked to us and joked. After he was gone, one of the girls said people like these should be locked up and never allowed outside because they’re dangerous. She also exclaimed it’s ‘for their own sake, too, so they won’t get hurt outside.’

    Don’t forget abuse in mental institutions. I read about it on the news on quite a few occasions, and I know behind every story of abuse, there are dozens others that are still unknown. People with developmental delays were once abused horribly in a home. It seems like no one makes an effort to stop these incidents, not enough supervision and hidden cameras.

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    1. That test is cartoonishly spurious. And in spite of that, I’m sorry to say it doesn’t surprise me in the slightest.

      I’ve heard more than a few instances of “for their own sake” myself. Likely a lot more cropped up after I was out of the room.

      I can speak to mental institutions myself, having spent some time in one. I actually wrote an article on that point some time ago. Suffice to say there are plenty of awful but perfectly-legal forms of abuse which are little better than physical assault.

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