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 existence.

Just remember that you are not functioning in a social vacuum here. By accepting the definition of yourself as numbered 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 verification. 

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