If I were to call out language that stigmatises mental illness every time I came across it on social media, I’d be posting about it every couple of days. But no matter how called for I may feel it is, I don’t want to douse my readers in a bitter diatribe that often. I also enjoy a break from being told to shut up or get over it by people who don’t agree with my assessment of stigmatising language. So I’ve let it go for a while.
But I came across the following facebook post recently, which hit a nerve and left it throbbing for long enough to drive me to the keyboard:
Now, I don’t like the word lunatic – but that is the least of the problems with this post. And as much as I’d like to agree with the sentiment, I have to ask:
What does this post imply about those of us who live with severe mental illness?
It equates us with people who believe and propagate fake news. The most pejorative label for people who don’t believe in climate change, the author of that snippet could come up with was to portray them as mentally ill.
Anti vaxxers, people who don’t believe in Covid 19, or who don’t believe in climate change don’t have those beliefs because they are mentally ill. They believe them because they are poorly informed and possibly brainwashed.
So, let’s not conflate pathological delusions experienced as a symptom of mental illness with people who are just misinformed and who refuse to delve into some scientific research.
I live with Bipolar 1 Disorder, and have experienced delusional thinking as a symptom of this illness. I not only believe in climate change, I am very concerned about it. I believe the overwhelming benefits of vaccination outweigh the few risks. Covid 19? Of course it exists. Donald Trump? Ten of my posts wouldn’t be long enough to list the reasons he has to go.
And yet when I jump onto social media I am bombarded with posts that tell me that the best way to insult the people who believe the opposite of the truth is to call them mentally ill, and thereby imply that if you live with mental illness you are in the same category as people who can be brainwashed.
Delusions caused by mental illness are completely different to the overconsumption of, and belief in, fake news. By labelling all of the people who don’t believe in scientific proof as mentally ill you insult and dismiss the many people who live with mental illness and who are critical thinkers who do believe in scientific evidence.
I can only speak from my experience of delusional thinking, but here’s what I know:
Delusional thinking isn’t a contagious false belief system you are indoctrinated with. True delusional thinking as a symptom of mental illness is completely involuntary. You don’t choose to experience it. It sweeps in on the coat tails of an illness that fundamentally changes how you interpret the truth.
For me, delusions are accompanied by mania which at its worst tilts into psychosis. The inside of my head feels as though I am riding a rollercoaster that’s on fire. I don’t sleep. The first time it happened, I tried to convince everyone of the truth to my malignant belief system. And in my experience true delusions due to mental illness resolve with antipsychotic medications.
The chances are your average antivaxxer or climate change conspiracy theorist will not change their beliefs if you dose them with antipsychotic medications.
So, If you read the post above and shrugged your shoulders or like several of my facebook friends gave it a like, let me rewrite it for you and see if you change your mind. Here goes:
‘If you believe all of (sic) world’s scientists got together to fake 7000 climate studies as part of (sic) elaborate hoax, you are not conservative you are a cancer patient. We have to stop treating people brainwashed by right-wing propaganda as political actors and start treating them on an oncology ward.’
Uncomfortable yet? You should be because the implication that people who live with cancer are idiots, is as ridiculous as it is insulting.
So why is it ok to equate my serious mental illness and the fact that I have at times spent months in a psychiatric hospital to me being an ignorant conspiracy theorist?
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