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I appreciate your gracious response, Steve. But to be honest, I’m not even interested in my own thoughts on this matter. I’m more interested in listening to the black and brown people whose lives have been damaged by policing in extremely more grievous ways than my own. And I’ve never – EVER – had a positive encounter with the police. Police in our communities exist to constantly remind us that we’re persona non grata. This is why I say I can’t have this conversation with white men. As Rob quotes Bruce Levine in his article:
“Explaining this to average liberal environmentalists, clouded with prejudices about ‘the mentally ill,’ is like inner-city Black Americans, absent video evidence, describing police to comfortable suburban Whites. ‘Some will try to get it, they’ll try to understand, but they just can’t at an emotional level,’ said Levine. ‘And in their own head, they’ve had a very different experience; maybe they know psychologists or psychiatrists and they seem like very nice people.’
I just have one thing to add in terms of alternatives to policing, however, which is to never underestimate the power of reputation and social condemnation. For example, look at what happened to Amy Cooper. She was punished without criminal prosecution, and she still has a good life and a chance to redeem herself. Everyone should be given the same opportunities for redemption. It’s true that there are sociopaths in society, but I would point you to the case of James Fallon:
Which shows that good education, material security, and career opportunities can overcome even the worst “predispositions.” On the flipside, when affluent people behave badly is often because of too much power and no accountability.
Hi Steve, I appreciate your comment and that you have more questions than answers, although I don’t want to hijack this conversation, and especially don’t feel like getting into this conversation with a bunch of white men. But in regards to your point that “I have known many police/sheriffs…,” I just don’t see how that is relevant, unless the fact that there are “good” psychiatrists is supposed to be a convincing anti-anti-psychiatry argument as well.
Many of the arguments against abolition have been responded to elsewhere if people are genuinely interested. Here are some good links:
oldhead, I might be missing your intended sarcasm, but your comment comes across as very dismissive of “defunding the police” in order to prop up your anti-psychiatry position.
You state that “there is a legitimate social argument to be made in favor of police being needed to protect citizens,” while “there is no comparable argument in the case of psychiatry.” Yet there are thousands of people across the world protesting law enforcement, and not many protesting psychiatry. Can you recognize that the strong feelings you have against psychiatry are similar to how many people feel towards the police?
The police don’t protect citizens, they protect power and capital. Again, the idea that “cops have no substantial social or political power” seems like it must have been intended in sarcasm, because being able to get away with murder is the definition of power. We can acknowledge the pain and abuse we’ve experienced from psychiatry without being dismissive towards the pain and suffering caused by police brutality.
This was really great. I’ll have to check out some of the writings by McKnight and others you mentioned.
I think the processes you describe regarding how society is increasingly pathologizing our distress related to climate change is similar to how society historically treated its victims of racism, child abuse, and sexual harassment (basically any systemic problem in society). You did make this connection with racism a few times in the article, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about recently, so I wanted to pick up on it. How experiences like racism are hard to talk about because (1) our institutions, including our workplaces, schools, etc. discourage people from talking about them (because it’s disruptive, because we have to go through a formal complaint process, because of retaliation, etc.), and (2) other people get uncomfortable when we try to talk about these experiences probably because of the normalization of (1). The only place it’s been safe to talk about these things (prior to this year) is with a therapist. But that reinforces the pathologizing of these feelings, which makes people with these experiences feel further isolated rather than part of the community, and at the same time, as you wrote, “The result is that our communities are evermore homogenous and incompetent” in learning to collectively deal with these problems. That the same process is now happening with our response to climate change is very worrisome.
Thanks so much for writing about this. I hope people pay attention.
Thanks for sharing your story, Karin. It was really insightful. The description of your 35th birthday was beautiful. I am so glad your friends were able to share that moment with you and acknowledge your pain.
We’ve forgotten how to show any modicum of compassion and decency to those who are suffering, and that’s what makes distress isolating. Through our faith in science and technology, we’re led to believe that we’re not supposed to experience suffering anymore, so we outsource its “handling” to “professionals.” You’re exactly right that we’re disregarded as broken. And this just furthers the process by which we all become alienated from each other and our feelings. What does it even mean to be human if we can only relate to each other on one dimension of constant happiness?
People having different beliefs is a big part of the problem of collective action, but I would never use that to justify the clinician taking on a bigger role to be deciding which ideas are dangerous or right or wrong (except when there is a very clear and immediate threat of physical harm to others). Like even though I agree that climate change denial is a mass delusion that is causing real harm right now, and I definitely agree that certain beliefs like intolerance cause real harm to marginalized people, but I don’t think these should be considered mental health issues. We should definitely be “pushing people” to our side in our daily lives, but not as clinicians and not in the guise or context of “treatment.” I think people like Bandy Lee are dangerous for promoting a political role for clinicians.
There was a really interesting discussion on this topic on MIA from three years ago, but it’s worth revisiting:
I think delusions, and beliefs generally, arise because there are gaps in our knowledge, and as you said, we need to create sense and meaning of our experiences. But I think the idea that we can judge that certain perceptions and experiences are real, and consequently that only certain beliefs are rational, is problematic. Because delusions and beliefs are about individual (and sometimes collective) interpretations of reality, and people can experience different realities. For example, before the advent of smartphones with video, white people would accuse black people of pulling the race card when they tried to talk about being followed in stores and being pulled over while driving. This just wasn’t part of white people’s collective reality, and so white people discounted the other reality. In fact, both realities are real to the people experiencing them.
I agree that the boundary between belief and delusion can be hazy, and I think the important takeaway from the article is that most people in this world are deluded to an extent just by being part of a society with its dominating religions, myths, values, etc. For example, being able to ignore climate change and the current mass extinction we’re in takes delusion of a grand scale for most people to go on living their daily lives. Maybe in some cases depression could even be considered a state of being un-deluded.
But the problem with the article is that it still ends up pathologizing the individual, because the author, Greenburgh, omits a key link in her causal reasoning. The author states that what separates delusions from beliefs is that delusions are rigid and not responsive to social context. She states that they are therefore maladaptive because they don’t allow social coordination (and hence, assimilation). But, if the individual does not identify or feel belonging with the social group (“the coalition”), then it makes sense that their beliefs will not be influenced by the social context.
Interestingly, the author cites two works of fiction to support her argument (Don Quixote, really?), rather than cases of sexual harassment or whistleblowing where the victim/whistleblower is gaslighted and often accused of being delusional, or even something in the sociological literature on workplace bullying:
The point is that the distress may come from being part of a hostile, toxic, or abusive environment that is itself unrelentingly rigid and exclusionary, in which case assimilation may be undesirable. The focus on whether the delusion is actual reality or not may be beside the point, as it’s more a matter of which delusion (society’s or our own) that we choose to live in.
“So I can’t help but wonder if I should stop “kicking against the pricks” and get with the program and start reporting suspicious activities I notice in friends and family to the authorities.”
I remember reading about Cold War East Germany some years ago. Nobody knew who among their family and friends was spying on them. There was no trust among people. And today in America we are creating the same climate of fear and suspicion. We’ve become what we were fighting against.
MIA has a discussion forum, but it doesn’t get much activity. Maybe when the conversations go off topic, the moderators can nudge the commenters to go to the forums.
Hi boans. So can you clarify if you are recommending (thumbs up?) the above program, or is it guilty of twisting the narrative? I’m curious to watch, but don’t want to be triggered.
I’m finding that I’m always looking forward to your articles on MIA, Peter. Really enjoy your analyses of the latest research.
“Off their meds,” and the offensive, “take your meds,” which is really just a power play. There definitely needs to be more written about the language of mental illness and how it is used to put people down.
Thank you so much for writing this! The spurious association between mental illness and dangerousness is all about creating fear and scapegoating, which is the MO of politics. Politics at its core is about the distribution of power, and the fact that power — who has it and who doesn’t — often defines who is and isn’t mentally ill suggests why psychiatry is so easily weaponized for politics. Generally, the only times the powerful will self-identify as having mental illness is when they want to make an excuse for a wrong that they got caught committing. For the rest of us, mental illness is something that is imposed on us through labels and victimization. This is what Tamika Mallory meant when she said, “We are not responsible for the mental illness that has been inflicted upon our people by the American government, institutions, and those people who are in positions of power.”
Tamika Mallory’s powerful speech: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kUvGeEQidT0
Thanks to MIA for this info about Project LENS. They seem like a great org, and I hope to start a chapter on my campus this year.
Thank you for sharing your story. Our society has so much difficulty facing its victims. It seems like so much of the psychiatric industrial complex is about blaming victims and hiding them away (and monetizing our suffering of course) rather than dealing with problems openly and honestly so that victims can heal.
Nothing you wrote sounds “crazy,” and I think it’s great how you’ve gained insight into your psychosis, insanity, or however you choose to call it. Were you ever actually a danger to yourself before you were hospitalized?
Everybody experiences the world differently, and I think when people impose a single worldview on others and force people to conform is when suffering occurs. I think about how just now, people are waking up to the realities of systemic discrimination and violence that black people have experienced in America for too long. For decades, they were silenced, gaslighted, and not believed until the advent of camera phones forced the rest of America to reckon with the truth of their experiences. Feeling listened to and validated is so important to healing.
I am glad you’ve found peace and acceptance in life without medication.
If we go by the standard that punching upwards is always okay, then I think the “Harvard guy” reference is fine. These criticisms of Sera come across as tone policing and bullying, and I’m guessing that the people who have a problem with saying “Harvard guy” are the same people who don’t like being called out as “those white men”. It’s that mentality of the oppressor playing the victim. Anyway, I think Sera’s reply to the original concern was genuine and sensitive, which is more than I can say about the piling on I’m seeing in some of the comments.
That makes sense that being infantilized and perceived as threatening can be two sides of the same coin, and both cause a lot of harm. I apologize for the way I wrote that. And your point that “being coddled with drugs and being put in handcuffs” are not so different things, is powerful and true. Elijah McClain was both literally restrained and injected with ketamine. There is so much to process and I’m learning, and listening. Thanks again for your deeply insightful writing.
Thank you for sharing this thought-provoking essay. So true about a lost sense of connection and purpose being important to understanding mental illness and its treatment.
As someone living with mental illness, identity is something I’ve also been thinking about a lot the past few years. I used to identify as someone with mental illness, because 1) it helped me, as someone with severe social anxiety, to gain insight into my condition, to find self-acceptance and learn to respect my boundaries and needs; and 2) I thought that identifying as mentally ill would be a powerful declaration of that self-acceptance and almost strategic even in the sense of taking ownership of my diagnosis and allowing me to identify with similar others and thus better advocate for ourselves, much in the way that LGBTQ people and people on the autism spectrum have taken ownership of their identities and used that political power to fight stigma.
In the past two years, however, I’ve come to realize that a diagnosis of mental illness is dis-empowering for much of the reasons you write about. It’s a label that is imposed upon us and is incredibly reductive. The label is fraught with so much stigma, and there is so much willful misunderstanding and negativity surrounding mental illness that even NAMI recommends that people should not consider it an identity. I’ve suffered tangible consequences of this stigma, having been harassed by police on multiple occasions. The recent murder of Elijah McClain for being black, introverted, and different really underscores the terror that neurodivergent people and persons of color living with mental illness often endure.
It’s very interesting how you observed that there are certain people with mental illness who seem to trade in diagnoses like trophies. I’ve been hospitalized as well and can confirm that I’ve seen this phenomenon, but not much outside the hospital system. I wonder if compliance and race are key factors here. It makes sense, since being infantilized is the opposite of being treated as threatening by society. Must we be compliant with an incredibly abusive system in order to be accepted by society?
Over the years I’ve found self-acceptance with my chronic depression and anxiety, and recognize that living in a society that causes people to suffer is an indication that the system needs to be fixed, not that there is something inherently wrong with me. It shouldn’t be surprising that people want to escape the systems that are abusing them, and when we can’t, we become broken. My problem with psychiatry today (and maybe the way it has always been) is that it is a very authoritarian system that tries to tell us that there’s something wrong with us, not with the society that abuses us.