Of course, the law doesn’t protect everyone. In fact, it’s more and more used to further injure the already vulnerable. Washington State just passed a law that made involuntary commitment to a psych ward much easier – now, you don’t need a court injunction. You just need a “concerned” family member willing to petition a judge. But no one’s talking about that. We’re not talking about the ethical concerns of some of the “treatment” we’re instructed to encourage our hurting friends to seek.
We’re also not talking about how doctors don’t have to take a single nutrition class in med school (it’s optional) even though eating is not and it’s impossible that what we put into our bodies has no significant impact on our emotional and mental well being. We’re also not talking about 400 doctors – young doctors – that die by suicide every year. Or how to say much beyond “I’m here for you” and validate without further injuring (who’s teaching broader society how to do that effectively?). Most of the advice out there puts the onus on the sufferer to seek help, which, if you ask me, isn’t but a stone’s throw from blaming the victim, when we actually bother to stop throwing stones long enough to follow the flimsy but regularly promulgated advice on how to help a mentally ‘ill’ friend to its logical end.
Most bothersome, though, is that there is no sustained conversation on mental health. I’m kind of glad, given the current state of society’s discussion on it because “talking about it” is not neutral and is, from my view, making things a lot worse. After all, The Daily Mail, The New York Times and other prominent outlets are “talking about depression” currently – how the co-pilot of the Germanwings plane that crashed last week “should not have been allowed to fly,” how “he – gasp! – HID HIS ILLNESS FROM HIS EMPLOYER” and how, basically, depression is the first step towards (mass) murder. It’s frustratingly shortsighted to complain about his failure to disclose his mental illness – there is very little, legally speaking, an employer can do without risking liability for discrimination but beyond that, let’s show some awareness for just how difficult it is to disclose something that carries such a crushingly high level of stigma. Even if your employer legally can’t fire you, you will be treated differently and, in this culture, different is very, very bad. So, if there’s only two choices, I’d rather we go back to being silent about mental illness than talking about it the way we have been. Because really, people who are already being crushed under the weight of isolation and having to mask up every time they go out in public, have to be silent every day of their tortured lives.
And another thing? When you talk about improvements in mental health “screening,” you’re in a way advocating for an invasion of privacy that will likely not help those screened heal or find appropriate help but make things worse for them, given the way the current healthcare system is set up. This is especially true in the workplace, where most employers still expect a strict partition between work and private life. So why should they get it both ways: both knowing everything about your medical – including mental – history and expect you to be a robot at work? And when you only talk about mental health realities after a major, public disaster, you come off as selfishly advocating for the “care” of others so that you can “feel safer.” Those are not scare quotes: if we were to magically rid the world of what we’re currently calling “mental illness,” violence in society would go down about 4 percent. Now, you’d think that might lead people to believe that mental illness maybe isn’t what we’re being led to believe it is and that maybe whatever’s causing the other 96% of the violence in the world may also be causing at least some of the mental distress we only hear about when something terrible happens and is often the scapegoat for that terrible thing. If it doesn’t lead you to consider those and other factors, then maybe you’re one of the ones who shouldn’t be talking about mental health.