It’s a strange thing when going down a rabbit hole of a thought actually leads to something more interesting. When writing for my blog I try and avoid bashing easy targets too often, if nothing else because I get bored and frustrated. Despite what those who know me personally may think, there’s only so many times an hour I can wish hellish eternal torment on the perpetrators of Personal Independence Payment (PIP) atrocities, or Piers Morgan, or those who insist that depression and suicidality are choices consciously made by an individual. So when a couple of friends drew my attention to a recent article claiming that Trump Anxiety Disorder is a thing, it pushed several of my mental health buttons but I resolved not to post about the ridiculousness of this. Besides, I could only find references to it on Fox News affiliated content and Mail Online — sources hardly known for journalistic integrity of late. But with the rush to label almost any type of mental distress as disorder in today’s culture, I feel these arguments cannot be ignored completely — the biomedical model of mental illness is so prevalent that TAD seems like a bandwagon that people will jump on, even if it is completely laughable.
Annoyingly, some news stories and ideas refuse to shut up, and it’s rattled around my brain for the past few days. So here I am writing about it, but I want to take a broader view of it. I often complain in my corner of the internet about the overarching dogma of the social model within disability circles. Now for those that don’t know the social model of disability was devised towards the end of the 20th century, and is summed up rather neatly by the disability charity Scope, who say that:
“…people are disabled by barriers in society, not by their impairment or difference. Barriers can be physical, like buildings not having accessible toilets. Or they can be caused by people’s attitudes to difference, like assuming disabled people can’t do certain things.
The social model helps us recognise barriers that make life harder for disabled people. Removing these barriers creates equality and offers disabled people more independence, choice and control.”
There is, of course, a huge amount of positivity and empowerment in this view of disability, and I do not wish to remove it altogether. The social model has done a huge amount for disability perception, activism and identity as well as giving the public a very simple way of understanding the limitations that an abled society puts on disabled people. As I’ve written elsewhere, the social model in my view is such a dogma as to be a way of stamping out discussion about inherently negative aspects of, and emotions surrounding, impairments and disabilities. In a lightning bolt moment, it really struck me that the social model view of disability is something that the mental health community needs to look at in more detail and possibly adapt. And when I say adapt, I’m reminded of the satirist Tom Lehrer in one of his monologues using it as a synonym for ‘steal’… I’ve said before that emotional complexity is not pathology — a purely medical view of mental ill health is outdated and cannot be simply explained away by genetics and faulty brain chemistry; a broader view is required to look at what is happening in a person’s life.
Let’s apply this to ‘Trump Anxiety Disorder’. Straight away the idea of a genetic or chemical predisposition to anxieties concerning a fascistic, narcissistic, tiny-handed orange moron can be seen for the nonsense it is. Maybe such genetics are in fact to be found in certain populations though? I would class Latinos as an especially at-risk group even as very young children… and speaking of children, younger people seem more at risk of TAD — is this down to these genes becoming more prevalent in later generations as natural selection takes its course?
For the one person reading this who needs to be told that the above is satire — I am sorry…
But those anxieties are not inherent, they are down to people’s freedoms, liberties and welfare being under threat. They are down to a profound shift in the political climate since the start of 2016. The idea of these things being classed as disordered is nonsense because if people justifiably feel under threat from a change in the political and social weather around them, then there is no disorder to be found! The US may be seeing a rise in TAD, but on this side of the pond, not to be outdone, the UK has seen an increase in something that some mental health professionals are terming ‘BAD’ or ‘Brexit Anxiety Disorder’. And again, their application of a medical model of mental ill health means they miss the point. In July of 2016, I had a mild episode of BAD — but this was down to the fact that as a disabled person, I feared (and still do fear) the consequences for me and people like me in a post-EU Britain. The EU provides certain human rights protections for people like me which I do not necessarily believe that the current government will uphold after Brexit. Is this disordered thinking? I would argue absolutely not given the conservative record on the treatment of the disabled. BAD and TAD are merely ways to put people’s concerns in a box and leave them unaddressed.
For many people, the current political situation around the world is intensely frightening and not without cause. Depression and anxiety are on the rise, but we need a social model revolution in order to look at why this is happening. Instead of immediately hitting upon medical causes such as genetics and brain chemistry as causal factors — for which there is scant evidence — we must be brave and address some of the deeper problems that cause so much mental distress. It is no coincidence to me that in talking to fellow depressives, when we talk about causes, we talk about the things that happen to us. We’ll never speak of our serotonin or dopamine levels acting up. But we will talk about barriers caused by society. Inequalities, lack of job security or prospects, financial pressures, declining social safety nets, looking after an ageing population, the looming spectre of global warming, the rise of the far right, struggles with identity, body image issues, physical, sexual or emotional traumas…
I could go on. These are just some of the things people will talk about as reasons for their mental ill health. We are often called disordered. Deemed to be this way by a world that is often unprepared and ill-equipped to deal with root causes. We are fast approaching a point where the cozy facade of the medical model of mental illness will reach a breaking point. We need the social model to start looking at ways to actually deal with people as people rather than a diagnosis.
I would argue that the social model of disability has gone as far as it can go in most contexts around disability (though at the exclusion of a few areas — access to work being the main one). I hope that the mental health activism community can pick it up and make use of it and start addressing barriers, rather than building new (diagnostic) walls.
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.