I explained, after an awkward silence, that I take medication every day for depression, because I seem to have a chemical imbalance in my brain*, much in the same way that I take medication every day for asthma, because I seem to have chronic inflammation in my bronchioles. I see a counsellor once a month to help me with tools to build my mental fitness, in much the same way that others might go to a gym for their physical fitness. It was surprisingly hard for me to talk about.
I think it's natural to assume that people only do really bad things because they are not in their right mind at the time; a "psychotic break" perhaps. And I'm sure sometimes that is the case. But it does seem like often it's a convenient way to Other, to dehumanise, to put the perpetrators of bad deeds at a distance from ourselves, so that we don't really have to explain or understand why.
Via a Facebook friend I happened to stumble across this interesting blog post today, which included the timely quote:
Instead of examining what made it possible for [Anders] Breivik to unleash his barrage of racial hatred (he was vehemently against immigration by racialized bodies and supposed ‘takeover’ of Norway through this immigration’), he is excused and deemed insane, being sent to psychiatric care instead of prison. The explanation for his violence – he had a psychotic ‘break’, a break from his normal civility and a break from an ordered society that would never breed such violence.
Never mind his high levels of planning and execution, never mind that he was actively a part of White supremacist organizations with similar views – White society is civilized and non-violent, so he must have been crazy. Madness is used here as a way of explaining away violence within White bodies and White society. It is not the norm, it is a break from it.And then there is this response to the Sandy Hooks shootings, and the leap to assume a role for mental illness there too, You Are Not Adam Lanza's Mother, including this:
The reality is that there is no such observed link: “after analysing a number of killers, Mullen concludes, ‘they had personality problems and were, to put it mildly, deeply troubled people.’ But he goes on to add: ‘Most perpetrators of autogenic massacres do not, however, appear to have active psychotic symptoms at the time and very few even have histories of prior contact with mental health services.’” And most people with mental illness are not violent, although they are far more likely to be victims of crime.. [their emphasis]I don't really know how to finish this post other than to say it has been a difficult day.
I've just edited this, a few minutes after publication, to take out the picture and reference to some of the work the Mental Health Foundation is doing because I don't want to confuse things by writing about them in the same post. Hope that makes sense.
* This is my experience of mental illness, and it won't necessarily reflect how others with mental illnesses see their own experience.