Is “mental illness” even PC?
We often take physical illnesses more seriously than mental illnesses, and the difference in treatment is often compared. However, many people in the disability community appear to not like having their disability compared to physical illnesses. Many disabled people do not want to be “cured” of their disability. The language around, stigma behind, and treatment of mental disorders seems to still be in a transitional period when it comes to disability acceptance and pride.
I do not “suffer from” autism or my learning disability. The deaf do not “suffer from” their deafness. The physically disabled do not “suffer from” their physical disabilities. That is because our disabilities are part of our identity, and our experience. It’s rude to say that our lives are just endless suffering, because these are our lives. Sure, there are hardships, but we live and grow with them as we develop as individuals, just as anyone else does. It’s society’s fault for not being accessible to the minds and bodies we actually have. With that being said, it is often said that a person suffers from anxiety or depression.
I have a history of anxiety and depression, but I do not identify with major depression or general anxiety disorder. They are diagnoses on a spectrum of severity. It’s hard for me to place emotional and mood disorders because our feelings play such a large role in our lives, and I can understand how draining and impactful these conditions can be.
Another thing that doesn’t sit well with me is how people with mental illnesses have gone about joining the disability community and claiming neurodivergence. To me, it seems they have co-opted the disability and neurodiversity movements without proper acknowledgement to the origins of those movements. By claiming disability, they must understand how they can still perpetuate ableism towards other kinds of disabilities, and by claiming neurodivergence, they must acknowledge the struggles of the autism community.
My feelings about people with mental illnesses co-opting the neurodiversity movement come from personal experiences. This one time I was talking to a friend about how our university lacks neurodiversity friendly counselors, and they replied that they would think that people who go see counselors are neurodivergent. While I understand what my friend was trying to say, it sat uneasy with me. I felt like I was forgotten in the movement that was made originally for people with me in mind. I also don’t think that all people who pursue psychological counseling or therapy are neurodivergent. Going through a bout of depression or anxiety is not the same as having major depression or general anxiety disorder. Everyone is capable of experiencing stress and sadness, as our environments are a major factor in our development. It is also true that neurotypical people can become neurodivergent, such as in the example of PTSD, just as anyone can become physically disabled. After this interaction with my friend, I felt like at a loss of words for explaining my experience, and a bit of frustration with neurodivergence being equated as mental illness rather than autism or other mental disorders that are not mental illness. I guess I now have to say there isn’t any counseling that is friendly for people with neurodevelopmental disorders.
The next incident that left me feeling uneasy about people with mental illnesses claiming neurodivergence was when I attended a mental health conference at my university. At the conference, there was a closed neurodivergence caucus, meaning that only neurodivergent folks could attend the caucus. The caucus seemed to only have people with mental illnesses there, which make sense because the conference was about mental health and mental illness, but the conversation was centered on mental illness. It wasn’t a very great caucus, to be honest. Not many people talked, and people were on different pages about accepting and understanding disability, neurodivergence, and mental illness. But because the caucus centered on the voices of mentally ill folks, it wasn’t really a neurodivergence caucus. There wasn’t space or a topic point for the experiences of people with autism, ADHD, learning disabilities, intellectual disabilities, Tourette’s syndrome, etc. The caucus wasn’t about neurodivergence; it was about mental illness, and that is fine, but let’s not claim it was for the entire neurodivergent community.