The Discipline of Stigma

There is a good case to be made for the stigma surrounding mental illness, at least for those in power.  For one, it keeps money that could go to the rich from reaching social services.  The second is harder to explain.

We need to start seeing shame and stigma as a discipline because that’s the way those in power see them.  The discipline of stigma keeps people in line, following oppressive social mores like not divulging their pay or playing along with the culture’s ruse of meritocracy (the idea that there is a path to success for everyone provided they work hard enough).  The thing about stigma is the worse it is the more people under its thumb live in fear and those in power have a deep desire for all of us to live in fear so we don’t rock the boat.  If we were to conquer the monumental stigma against mental illness we would upset the discipline of stigma not in the least because we would turn our attention to conquering stigmas in other areas which would scare those in power.  Kind of like how after climbing the tallest mountain one can turn their sights on smaller mountains because of the confidence boost of successfully climbing the tallest one.

Why I Reject Forgiveness Culture

STIR article that says what I feel way better than I could:

When I say that I am against forgiveness, I am not judging individuals who choose to forgive. If doing so helps you, then by all means, forgive. What I abhor is a culture that places demands on victims and survivors, insisting that we are not whole until we forgive. Forgiveness culture implies that betrayers and abusers can expect to be forgiven — they can hurt and harm and rage — and should their targets decline to forgive, they can rest smug in the assurance that the refusal reflects a flaw in their victims, not in themselves.

mental health treatments with extravagant promises

There’s a really easy way to tell whether a mental health treatment is likely effective.  If, when the treatment fails, the person gets blamed then the treatment’s effectiveness should be seriously called into question.  For example religion often makes all these extravagant promises and then when they don’t come to fruition the person shoulders the blame for not “having enough faith”.  Same with faith-based recovery group, if you fail you aren’t “letting go and letting God/working the steps” well enough.  Non religious treatments do this too, like the “power of positive thinking” pop psychology, if the person isn’t recovering it’s because they just aren’t thinking enough positive thoughts.

Underlying all of this is the fact that all the effective treatments for mental illness are expensive.  Most people without money or who grew up without money will refer people to the religion or pop psychology based treatments because they can’t afford anything else.  They’ll refer people with mental health problems to pastors (who have no training dealing with the mentally ill) instead of trained mental health professionals.  They generally don’t do this out of spite but out of ignorance.  Religion and faith-based recovery group’s extravagant promises of recovery tend to hook people in the same way those “Down Payment Fairy” ads get poor people to buy homes they can’t afford.


The whole evolutionary point of depression was to serve as a call for extra support from the group.  Modern hyperindividualistic methods of treating depression often don’t work.  It is easy to see why, everyone naturally does (and indeed is expected to) optimize for individual happiness and that involves staying far away from anyone that could bring you down.

on the increasing volume of mass murderers

Mass shooting tragedies like the one in New Brunswick and Seattle Pacific University seem to be happening more and more often.  I am in a unique situation to give feedback on this because the perpetrators often have spec sheets like me–male, angry, withdrawn, mentally ill/aspergers, etc..

Decline of the church as an active force in the community.  Not many people asked “Where was the church” after the Sandy Hook massacre because churches don’t expect anything from their constituents anymore.  Had some church member went out of their way to befriend Adam Lanza maybe those children and teachers would still be alive today.  Instead we put the burden on the government, our (tattered and frayed) safety net is supposed to catch these people.  The problem is by the time a social worker or mental health professional gets to someone their pathology is often at such an advanced stage that it’s too late.  The church often has more intimate access to people anyway and can serve as an early warning system for problems, referring people up the chain as things get worse (and having enough information about said individual to lay the groundwork for better treatment).

A less intrinsically moral polity.  Crime has gone down but most of this has been due to better technology and more targeted policing.   I think as traditional culture has faded away to global consumerism people’s morality has become less intrinsic.  Policing is holding back what traditional culture used to.  Go to Latin America or Africa where traditional culture has waned and you’ll see that crime has risen precipitously.  But here in the U.S. we’ve got effective police (dare I say effective police state).  Better policing works largely by targeting problem areas and bringing more boots on the ground there.  This works well in places where murder likely happens (like the ghetto) but not so well for mass shootings that happen in random places.

Lack of visceral constructive avenues for expressing anger.  People used to be able to get in fights without getting arrested and/or expelled.  Long ago people could even duel, and it was legal.  Boxing clubs and leagues used to be more common.  Horseplay wasn’t off limits.  Yes we have violent video games now but I think that primes you for violence more than it’s a release for aggression.  Same goes for violent music, it’s catharsis but not release.

Refusal of the therapeutic-industrial complex to acknowledge that man is innately murderous (Matthew 15:19).  According to many anthropologists we killed off the Neanderthals.  The desire to kill is a natural drive in a male just like the desire to have sex.  We’ve spent millennia building philosophies of life taking this into account.  But now it’s politically incorrect to say.  When something true is politically incorrect it’s like removing a tool from a toolbox.  One now has less to work with in building their system.

Keeping Them In Their Place

Just like the economic haves and have-nots there are interpersonal haves and have-nots (though obviously the wealthier and closer one is to being of privilege the more likely they will be an interpersonal have).  Unsurprisingly there are forces keeping interpersonal mobility in check as near as your nearest therapist’s office.

The dog-whistle “innate worth” trope.  Therapists tell their clients they have innate worth.  Interpersonal haves go out into the world and this is largely reenforced by their interactions.  The interpersonal have-nots also go out but are just immobilized by the blowback of experiencing how patently false this is.  The have-not is pushed lower than if they were just gently told the truth.

Lionizing vulnerability.  Vulnerability can be a good or a bad thing depending on the response it elicits.  In the case of the interpersonal haves it’s mostly a good response.  However the interpersonal have-nots it often blows up in their face.  People without serious mental illnesses can be vulnerable and be accepted (just look at Donald Miller) but for those with it’s a very different story.

Stigmatizing bitterness.  The interpersonal haves generally aren’t bitter because their life hasn’t contained elements that would make them so.  The have-nots however often are bitter and have good reason to be.  Bitterness is more understood as an evolutionary adaptation to a hostile interpersonal environment than a character flaw or something that needs to be “fixed” through mind games.  People are naturally trusting.  For the interpersonal have-not this causes them to be in one disaster after another.  Bitterness is like an early warning system for events of trust and it has to be constantly in the background (because trusting comes so naturally).  Obviously like any adaptation it has negative side effects but one must take it on balance, have bitterness’s benefits of keeping someone from getting burned again outweigh its negative effects?  In conclusion for the interpersonal haves, the likelihood of being burned in trusting is low enough that bitterness incurs too much cost, but for the have-nots it’s an appropriate adaptation.

Labeling people insecure.  This is the one thing that some of the interpersonal haves have as well but the have-nots have it worse.  Instead of seeing insecurity as personal insight into the way the world judges someone, it is seen as part of a pathology.  When someone is being judged and they take it to heart do we blame them or do we blame the ones doing the judging?  Obviously the victim gets the blame, not because they are wrong but because they have less power.

Depression Self-Reenforcing Mechanisms

Some observations from inside of depression.

0. Depression is out to kill you.  You are on its kill list.  It just needs your help in getting the job done.  Knowing this will depress you more.

1. Depression makes you contact the people you have no business contacting at the worst possible time.  These being exes, ex friends, and others who don’t reciprocate your engagement.  At the times of my deepest depression I have tried to contact people who no longer wanted to be in my life, worsening the depression.

2. Depression makes you more needy (which brings about contacting people you have no business of doing so).  It makes masking neediness more difficult (everybody’s needy it’s just that most people can hide it).  When neediness is unmasked people run away from you, leaving you more needy and depressed.

3. Depression breeds insecurity directly and indirectly.  It often prevents you from accomplishing the things needed to be treated as someone of value in this society but also makes you porous so the negative thoughts others are communicating about you get absorbed by your brain.

4. Depression makes you absorb love at twice the rate non depressed do.  Most people don’t want to make this sacrifice so they cut you off, worsening the depression.

5. Depression is like Chinese handcuffs.  The harder you try to think your way out of it the deeper you descend into it.

Distorted thinking of “distorted thinking” lists

Every once in awhile you will run across a “distorted thinking” list that claims depression makes you see the world in a way that it really isn’t.  Here are some thoughts on their line of thinking.

People want to be given the benefit of the doubt even though they rarely deserve it.  Not trusting people and guarding your heart is seen as a pathology rather than an adaptive response to past stimuli.

Being negative is seen as a power grab.  Those in power don’t want people with “depression” pointing out the negativity they see around them because negativity is empowering, it unmasks the way things really are.  When one gets the label depressed, their speaking truth to power becomes “venting” and is quickly dismissed.

The only generalizations one are allowed to make are the ones that are politically correct.  If you say “everybody has innate worth” you get a pass but as soon as you say “nobody will befriend me” you get told you have “distorted thinking” even though the latter has been true to your experience rather than the former.  Negative generalizations reach deep into our evolutionary past, when we saw something like a tiger coming we either ran or fought.

Those who are nothing aren’t allowed to have all or nothing thinking.  In real life there are a lot of all-or-nothing experiences.  You either get the job or you don’t, the potential friend either accepts you or rejects you, they write back or they don’t.  It makes us uncomfortable to think about how much of life hinges on all-or-nothing experiences so we pretend they aren’t that important.

The truth is like a pit bull, it bites and doesn’t let go.  The mind often doesn’t have novel thoughts, it works as a conduit.  People with depression generally aren’t idiots.  If everyone they come into contact with thinks they are a loser, they are going to see it as true.  They may go to therapy and try to “reason” themselves out of it but the truth will always be buried beneath the surface ready to spring out at any time.

Therapy Roadblocks for Those Without Privilege

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is designed by white, upper middle class, non-disabled  people.  The further you are from this demographic the worse you will fare.

The changes one is expected to make in order to better themselves are more likely to be met with roadblocks when one is far from privilege.  Most changes one makes to their life involve a social dynamic.  A person without privilege generally faces a harsher social environment so change is stunted.  There is also the issue of a success percentage.  There is a threshold (different for each person) that when dipped below the changes one tries do more emotional harm than good.  Naturally those without privilege will have a lower success percentage.

Those without privilege generally can call the therapist’s self-worth bluff.  They know worth is not innate, it comes from privilege.  It’s asinine to hold someone of non-privilege culpable for their poor self-image.  Their self-image is theirs, not yours, and it comes from life experiences.

Non-Privilege is a singularity.  A white therapist generally isn’t going to reach a black teenager who has seen his brother get twice the sentence a white person did for the same stupid crime.

They generally don’t have access to positive influences.  There’s this idea that people can find edifying friends.  For those without privilege this is more often untrue.  Addiction-oriented people are all they have to choose from.

They often cannot afford therapy.  This means that therapy might only be sought after issues have gotten so bad that it is of less help than if the issues had been dealt with earlier.

Romanticizing Suffering

It always ground my gears hearing chapel speakers wax romantically about suffering while I was in eye pain and serious depression.  I’m sure there are a lot of reasons I don’t have the historical knowledge to grasp but here is my speculation:

Those who have come through suffering with their articulation intact represent a biased sample.  People who haven’t weathered suffering so well generally aren’t readily able to put it into words.   And when they do it often comes out incoherent.

Suffering weakens people to the point where the most adaptive thing for them to be is virtuous.  Christianity lifts up virtue so when it sees people who suffer exhibiting more of it it jumps to the conclusion that the suffering was what made them better.

Suffering makes some people more reflective.  This can cause them to produce better art/writing and we value good work so we say the suffering that led to it must be a good thing.

Suffering makes some people more empathetic.  The fact that someone’s suffering makes your life better doesn’t mean it’s a good thing.

Romanticizing suffering comes from a premodern view of the mind.  There is this dualistic notion that there are limits on what the corporal self can do to the inmost being.  This is shown to be false by modern psychology.  Once you have suffered past a certain threshold your mental health starts to degrade.  And in the realm of mental illness there is actually something called a negative symptom—parts of you the mental illness takes away.

Painting suffering in a positive light assumes the ideal that those around you will support you instead of pull back or drop out of your life entirely.  More often than not people drop out of the lives of those who experience serious suffering (which compounds the suffering).  Those doing the romanticizing are unwilling to take the step of romanticizing the desertion.

Ultimately romanticizing suffering is a way for those who suffer more to make those who suffer less (who generally have more power) comfortable, insulating them from the senseless evil and chaos the world offers those without power in good measure.

See Part 2