By Hannah – “Mental Illness” Systems Subvert Personal Responsibility and Morality

Personal Responsibility

Personal Responsibility

Often, we hear that some people believe “mental illness” is just an excuse for bad behavior.  Well-meaning advocates say that attitudes such as these are one reason why we need more mental health “literacy.

Mental illnesses, we are told, are biological conditions for which the “sufferer” has no moral culpability, as capricious as diabetes or heart disease.

A more enlightened attitude to those exhibiting behaviors that are disturbing is to view them as biologically ill and in need of treatment, rather than human beings making the wrong choices.

Mental Illness Excused Us from Personal Responsibility

Take, for example Andy Behrman, “Electroboy,” who writes in his article “Dump the Stigma and Focus on Recovery”:

“I was behaving rather erratically, flying from New York to Tokyo to Paris on business three or even four times a month, counterfeiting art and smuggling tens of thousands of dollars back into the United States. At the same time, I was drinking heavily and indulging in drugs (self-medicating my mental illness), engaging in sex with complete strangers that I would meet in bars and clubs, staying up for days on end, and in general living on the edge …”
And here’s Behrman’s explanation for this behaviour:

“My manic depression was ravaging my life, but because nobody could see it, many people thought it was a figment of my imagination. Soon I started thinking this too. But when the symptoms were out of control – the racing thoughts, the hallucinations and the sleepless nights – the fact that I really was ill was reassuring.”

Now when I hear about people engaging in indiscriminate sex, my natural reaction is to question how much they really value themselves, and how much dignity they maintain in relationships.

I have had a few embarrassing periods in my life where I engaged in sexual indiscretion.  At the time, I was filled with shame, and wanted someone to love me.  I was lost, and hoping for a home.  There were all sorts of reasons.
When the mental illness  system got hold of me, it didn’t demand a single reason for my behavior.  It simply declared that these behaviors were part of a larger experience. I had no control or personal responsibility.   They never asked the right questions, to understand the context, of what had driven me to what I now see as desperate acts.
They took away my liberty, and drugged me until I stopped acting that way.  The professionals simply declared that I “really was ill”.  Treating the “illness” became the paramount goal, instead of understanding why I had behaved immorally, and accepting personal responsibility in the future.

When I came out of the hospital, there were always people I had to apologize to.  I even remember one time telling a guy I’d fooled around with, a practical stranger, that I had a mood disorder that affected my judgment.  I did not accept personal responsibility.  Needless to say, we didn’t stay friends.

Some would say he discriminated against me for my illness, but I have a simpler explanation.  I never explained myself, never truly repented, or accepted personal responsibility, for what I’d done.  I never faced the shame that led me to my poor decision.

And I never learned how to love and care about myself, so I would make better choices in the future.

I just kept talking with my doctor, taking meds that were making it hard for me to think, feel and function, and telling people I had a “mood disorder.”  I apologized, but not because I felt personal responsibility, or truly understood the ramifications of what I’d done, but because I’d been cowed into a position of shame by psychiatry.  I needed to regain my friends’ support.

And then I was upset when people stopped being friends with me.

Are Personal Responsibility and Morality Old-Fashioned?

Pope Benedict XVI: Invoking Morality Seems Conservaitve

Pope Benedict XVI: Invoking Morality Seems Dognatic

We live in a society that considers invoking morality old-fashioned, dogmatic, conservative, and religious in a pejorative way.  Since we have so many freedoms in this society — I can show my ankles, won’t get stoned for adultery, can read whatever smut I want, and so on — we view moralistic arguments as a threat to our rights and liberties.

As if to say that judging someone for their bad choices means that you are condemning them as a person.

But I know I wouldn’t want to be friends with someone who lies and cheats, steals, gets drunk and stoned out of their mind and has sex with strangers.  And neither would many people.

That, rather than “stigma”, is why someone would be wary of a person who made immoral choices.  There is a good reason why those with “mental illnesses” are discriminated against.  They are viewed as not having moral or personal responsibility, as not being culpable for what they did when allegedly “ill.”

Your Genes Are Not Your Personal Responsibility

Behrman sounds awfully entitled when he excuses himself to his family. He even has the gall to blame the genes his parents gave him:

“Oh, God. Their son had a mental illness. Was I going to end up living with them for the rest of their lives? And of course, they wanted to know if it was genetic. My telling them that it was didn’t exactly make for a pleasant conclusion to the dinner. Not only were they now faced with the stigma that their son had a mental illness, but the stigma that mental illness ran in the family.”

I think advocates’ compassion is misplaced when they feel sorry for people who behave in harmful, antisocial ways while claiming an illness made them do it.

Those who decide that they themselves chose to misbehave, accept personal responsibility in the future, and don’t accept the psychiatric explanation, are officially considered lacking in insight.  (If you have a diagnosis and you don’t believe you’re ill, you “lack insight into your illness”.  See Xavier Amador‘s writing.)
When I realized that it was my personal responsibility to behave in considerate ways towards others and myself, I embarked on a path that has led to greater personal responsibility, maturity, and satisfaction.
Anyone can do this – as soon as they realize that psychiatric labels are only descriptions for their behavior, not self-fulfilling prophecies.

What place do personal responsibility and morality have in recovery?

Dump the Stigma and Focus on Recovery

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