“If you suffer from any mental illness, you know how many people will put you down for the pain you feel. I may be only one person but please hear me when I say: There is nothing wrong with you, and you are not alone.” – Lauren Rabin
Speculating about someone’s mental health status is one of the most damaging and dangerous things a person can do. Mental illness is what is termed an invisible disability, one that can be terminal. Those who struggle with it and continue to win the battle should be supported and applauded, not belittled and shamed.
I suffer from G.A.D. (Generalized Anxiety Disorder) and am what is known as a vivid planner. I am able to relax and function without medication through carefully considering all the options available, and envisioning scenarios for each one that might transpire. I am very lucky that my disorder is so mild, but having worked in disability services and frontline crisis counselling I am very aware of the struggles that many with invisible disabilities face – stigmatization being one of the most painful and difficult to overcome.
Rather than pity or special treatment, people with mental illness truly just want to be treated like the normal human beings that they are, and this is evidence based.
I wanted to speak to this as it is something I am seeing more and more frequently in science outreach and advocacy. It is beyond unsettling – not to mention counterproductive in terms of our end goals of supporting consensus while demystifying science and making it accessible to the public at large.
I have seen a person’s mental health status being used as a weapon to shame and silence with increasing regularity – by both antis and pro-science advocates alike. How is this an effective method of outreach? Shaming someone into silence is not the same as dazzling them with scientific evidence. It does not ensure that this person will embrace the concepts we are putting forth, and in turn help us to spread and support them. It just means that they will shut up. This is a pretty hollow victory in my books.
I also have to ask, who exactly makes up this new breed of internet psychologist who is able to diagnose those whom they have never met nor had the chance to assess? These actions are clear violations of the ethical standards of any practicing clinician as they are as ineffective as they are dangerous.
This new incarnation of the classic internet troll seems comfortable throwing around psychological jargon. From “Cluster B” to “Gaslighting” I regularly hear laypersons in this community pepper their conversation with these labels with no clear understanding of the correct application of the terms, or the pathology involved in the disorder they are referencing. And, clearly, they are not aware of the danger inherent in their armchair opinions.
Best case scenario they are wrong, and they are annoying someone with a misdiagnosis, like trolls annoy regular folk in a myriad of other ignorant ways. At the worst, however, they are right. In this scenario, they have outed someone who might not have wanted to be outed, and they have done nothing to help that person or the situation but they have piled on negativity and stress to someone who might not be able to handle it.
While the Psych Troll gets to feel superior for a little while then move on to torment a fresh victim, their last target is left more vulnerable and possibly feels embarrassed, isolated and ashamed. I have not yet heard a convincing argument for why in the fuck this is a worthwhile outcome for anyone involved. Sorry but unless you are trained as a cardiologist I do not want you performing my heart surgery, unless you are a OBGYN you are not going near my baby regions, and unless you are a trained and licensed psychologist, you should not be speaking to my or anyone else’s mental health status. Because, and this is key, if you were a genuine clinician, you would damn well know better than to diagnose a disorder, suggest treatment, or violate your patient’s privacy so egregiously by doing either on a public medium like Facebook.
This is the online version of Russian Roulette, the danger is real world and impossible to ignore. I cannot stress this point loudly or often enough, please take it: Someone will die if we allow this to continue. Harassing those among us who are weak and vulnerable will end in tragedy if we let it. Mental illness is not a joke, nor is it is something to be ashamed of. The only ones who should feel shame are the those who reach out and pluck this low-hanging fruit and use it at best inaccurately… at worst to create a perfect storm of humiliation, isolation and alienation that very well may end in suicide. This is one of those rare instances in which I actually don’t want to be right. But what if I am? Can we afford to take the risk when the possible negative outcome is so severe, and so intractable?
What can you do? If you see this behaviour, say something. It only takes one person to render the bystander effect powerless, and it only takes one person to show a target that they are not alone. We get to decide what kind of community we want to participate in. I want a friendly, inclusive and safe one that supports those who suffer mental illness and invisible disability in all its forms.
Isn’t this what we all want?
Your faithful Science Servant,