Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Mental Illness, And a Traditional Approach to It

In part this is an update of my last post, which appeared four days ago, entitled And Still More, which itself was a continuation of earlier posts. (Well, of course. If it wasn't, it's title would've been very misleading. But I ramble.) In those four days, I cleared up some things with "CITIZEN 1," and the two of us have even friended each other on the website where all this discussion is taking place. Before that, a 4th "CITIZEN" jumped into the conversation, and this person and I just didn't get along at all. "CITIZEN 4" ended up not only calling me crazy, but also invited "CITIZEN 1" to join in laughing at the "crazy person."

I don't think I'm crazy. (If I were, how would I know? Whoo-hoo-hoo! That question applies to everyone, in my opinion. And I think many people can't admit to themselves how worried they are that it might indeed apply to them, and that that's why you see the hostile sort of behavior I describe below. Misdirected fear. But anyhow) (To match my mood while I'm writing think, let Gnarls Barkley's Crazy play in your head as you read.) I'm not sure whether "CITIZEN 4" really thinks I'm mentally ill. I kinda think so, at least on the surface. Subconsciously, labelling me so may have been a defense mechanism, because I might actually have been making good sense and may have struck a nerve. So, instead of opting for introspection, considering whether I might have had a point, "CITIZEN 4" lashed out: I'm not the one with the problem here. You are. You're crazy!

So far, not very remarkable. The part that seemed strange to me, that got me writing here, is where things went from there. Assuming "CITIZEN 4" really thinks I'm crazy, he or she seems to think that the appropriate way to deal with the mentally ill is to mock them, and to invite others to join in on the mocking. "CITIZEN 1" was the first invite to join in with the mirth and mockery. "CITIZEN 1" didn't respond at all to the request; on the contrary, as I said above, he engaged with me, we sorted out our miscommunication and are now officially friends on the website. A 5th party did join in with "CITIZEN 4," saying "just slowly back away and avoid eye contact."

I was reminded of scenes from centuries ago. In my mind's eye I saw "CITIZEN 4" laughing and throwing rotten fruit at someone who been deemed insane and now was in stocks in the village square. I wondered if "CITIZEN 4"'s ancenstors threw rotten fruit at people in stocks, I wondered whether "CITIZEN 4" would join in with throwing rotten fruit at someone in stocks if people were still put in stocks today.

I was reminded of the sitcom "Friends," which I generally like -- it definitely got better after the first couple of seasons -- and it's approach to two different, mentally unstable guest characters: the woman played by Brooke Shields who stalked Joey and thought he was Dr Drake Ramore, the character he played on a soap opera, and the man played by Adam Goldberg who was very briefly Chandler's roommate, who was depressed, perhaps even suicidal, over being dumped by a girlfriend, and was strangely obsessed with dried fruit.

In both cases the cast members got rid of the disturbed people by tricking them, and the characters were presented as people to be simultaneously shunned and feared.

I know, it's only a sitcom. But generally speaking, "Friends" put out positive messages about acceptance and tolerance. They really dropped the ball on the mental health issue. I'm not demanding that sitcom characters embrace and befriend the mentally ill; but at the very least, they could've encouraged them to get help; or, in the case of severe delusions such as Brooke Shields' character had, even called 911 and said, "This person could be a danger to herself or others." Because, clearly, a delusional stalker could be a danger.

What did those scenes sounds like before the laugh tracks were altered? I'm picturing some members of the studio audience laughing, but many either in stunned silence, or muttering things like "That ain't right!"

Maybe I'm not in touch with the mainstream on the topic of mental health. Several of my relatives are psychologists, one first cousin is a psychiatrist. We're the people who, historically, objected to the mentally ill being locked up in dungeons or in stocks in the village square, who argued that the mentally ill were not to be shunned, that that was good neither for good nor for the community at large. Some of the avant-garde of the profession were even among the early voices questioning conventional divisions between sane and insane, although psychology wasn't quite as quick in this as the arts.

So no, I'm not used to the mentally ill being shunned and mocked, this traditional approach, thousands of years old, was not instilled into me as I grew. Perhaps I'm still in the minority in this regard, despite all of the gains of psychology over the past couple of centuries. It would be sad to think so.

Or maybe "CITIZENS" 4 & 5 and the writers of "Friends" are just shocking rubes, way behind the curve on this one. It would be comforting to think so.

Oh and lest I forget: of course, some knuckle-dragging rubes still think that autism is mental illness, and when I say I'm autistic they think I'm retarded, and my tagline on the site is "Triple A: Angry Autistic Atheist," so of course that could've played a role too. Some people, perhaps insecure about both their mental stability and their IQ, could feel doubly tempted, consciously or sub-, to mock me just for the opportunity to feel mentally superior to someone.

Or, of course, like I said: Maybe I'm craaaaa-zy/Maybe I'm craaa-zy/Maybe I'm craaa-zy...

No comments:

Post a Comment