The Dangerous Social Designation of 'The Mentally Ill'

Graeme Bacque (
Thu, 29 Jul 1999 23:13:23 -0400

The Dangerous Social Designation of 'The Mentally Ill'

I am speaking here as someone who doesn't believe in medicalizing - or
medically suppressing - human emotions, feelings or behavior. And I still
don't - unlike many of my peers. 

I just don't think we should be allowing anyone else to define _our_ lives,
and _our_ experiences, on _their_ terms - not only because in this case
such terms are medically unproven, but because this gives such individuals
enormous (and frequently destructive) powers over every facet of our

Just remember that you are not functioning in a social vacuum here. By
accepting the definition of yourself as numbering among 'the mentally ill'
or by defining anyone else as such, you are (albeit often unintentionally)
imposing it on everyone else with a psychiatric label - whether or not they
accept or wish it.

'The mentally ill' is a designation used for personal distancing, for
designating otherness, and for demonizing any unwanted or socially deviant
behaviors - whether or not said behaviors have any clear impact on anyone
else's life. It is the language of prejudice, differing from the
superstitious doctrine of centuries ago only in that it is born of a
different social era - one that seeks to pathologize peoples' actions or
situations rather than defining everything in terms of good or evil, but
nonetheless with the same motives and end result.

It is also a term that more than a century of research has utterly failed
to verify, yet it forms the basis for some of the most repressive legal
statutes enacted in modern times. It is a designation that a certain branch
of medicine has utilized to obtain inordinate powers and to essentially
place itself above any kind of reproach - again without need for verifiation. 

The label 'the mentally ill' is used deliberately to create a whole
subclass of people, whose words are considered meaningless and whose
self-identified needs are not seen as having any relevance. It is used
constantly to reinforce stereotypes and prejudice, and to foster
intolerance for any deviation from social 'norms.' All this is occurring
behind the insidious masquerade of false compassion.

Damn right I reject the label 'the mentally ill' - completely, utterly and
for all time. This has become (to my mind) one of the most damaging and
utterly false social constructs of human history, being used as it is to
explain away the consequences of social injustices, thus enabling those
responsible to evade culpability. (For example, people like E. Fuller
Torrey and his 'Treatment Advocacy Center' would have us believing that
most homelessness is caused by untreated psychiatric disorders rather than
lack of suitable housing or rampant economic disparities, or that the
recent victims of police shootings in the U.S. somehow caused their own
deaths through lack of 'treatment' rather than being victims of
unjustifiable police violence). 

This same mistake has been made over and over again (in one form or
another) throughout human history, at an enormous cost in terms of human
lives, suffering and social injustice. At one point we had the Burning
Times, and more recently the Holocaust - both born of the same kind of
intolerance as the current enormous upsurge in psychiatric oppression.
Wars, crusades, slavery, pogroms, persecution without end - all born of
some false notion of personal or group superiority, manifest as a specific
set of social mores, based largely on outright lies. All have relied on
some means of separating out certain groups of people, designating them as
'other' and essentially unworthy. This designation of 'the mentally ill'
fits neatly into this historical context.

Why must we continue to repeat the same mistakes over and over again? Are
we totally incapable of learning from error? One of these days our luck as
a species is bound to run out.

On this basis why would you - or anyone - wish to embrace this kind of
designation of self?

JULY 29, 1999