What purpose does the concept of mental “illness” serve?
As a Schizophrenic person, I see many talk about me as being mentally “ill” and in need of medicine. I do take medication, but for me, medication usage is similar to what one might see within ADHD communities. Medicine is a tool, not a treatment. It allows me to function in environments that are not designed to be accessible to me or my needs. It allows me to live my life without the constant experience of distress, one that I experience without medication because the world is not designed for me.
All suffering is valid, and all neurodivergence can result in suffering. Not because we are ill, but because the world is a traumatic place to live. Neurodivergent people have to face the oppression of all that is different on a daily basis.
“Illness” as a concept within psychological wellbeing a distress is a convenience. It allows professionals to tell us our suffering is unavoidable. If we die by suicide, then we are collateral damage. Victims of a pathology ravaging human kind. If we are “ill” then professionals and leaders do not have to acknowledge their role in a system, causing us distress.
This is what we are actually experiencing. Distress. When we can move forward from pathology models and start to consider that what is happening is a very human experience, we can start to point the blame where it belongs. A world that is violent and terrifying for a huge portion of the population. It is not on us to recover from a mysterious, unquantifiable entity of illness. The world needs to change.
We need to recognise that distress is a human experience, and no two humans have the same experience. Just because my distress looks like the loss of our shared reality does not mean that I am ill. Just because I take medicine that eases my distress does not mean I have a disorder. We don’t assume ADHD’ers to be ill for taking medication. Why do we do it to other forms of medication-assisted neurodivergence?
This ties us up in ideas around med-shaming and toxic positivity. One of the reasons people feel shamed of their meds is because, to them, it feels like an admission of guilt. They weren’t strong enough to survive without becoming ill. It’s not fair to let people feel that way. It’s also unfair to go the other direction and tell people to manage their distress without tools such as medicine. It’s possible to be neurodivergent (and not ill) and still need medication for day to day life.
Neurodivergence is aggressively neutral. It has positives and negatives, and it also has experiences that are not able to be compartmentalised. Truthfully, neurodivergent experience is human experience. The fact that we have to section off different experiences and diagnose them as “illness” or “disorder” fundamentally undermines the neurodiversity paradigm.
Mental “illness” is a deeply flawed concept, and until we fix this, we will not be able to reduce human distress.
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