[Because John Harper requested it and I am incapable of denying my viewing public.]
A lot of times when people talk about mental illness and neurodivergence, they’ll be like “how do we know we’re not just turning ordinary human variation into mental illness? People who are really just sad will be considered depressed! Creative kids will be diagnosed with ADD and become Ritalin zombies! All the nerds have Asperger’s these days! Shy people will be diagnosed with social phobia! Big Pharma wants to turn everyone into CORPORATE SLAVES of the CAPITALIST MACHINE!” (Okay, that last bit might just be my tendency to read dumb articles on AlterNet.)
The thing is that that line of reasoning is based on two premises:
1) The only way we have of dealing with mental illness is medication.
2) The purpose of mental health care is to turn weird people into normal people, instead of to turn non-functioning people into functioning people.
I want to be clear that those are not totally unwarranted assumptions. A lot of times people don’t get mental health care other than meds. A lot of times people get mental health care that tries to turn them neurotypical instead of a neurodivergent person who can cope. (See also: quiet hands.) But that’s a sign of the mental health system failing.
I mean, I personally know one person who was on meds to the point that he didn’t have feelings for a decade, and another person who says if she hadn’t started meds when she did she’d be dead, so I’m pretty aware that this is a complicated situation. Psychiatric medications can have nasty side effects; some of them are addictive; some of them may or may not just be placebos; they’re often very expensive.
But you know what? If an adult who is not hurting anyone has decided, in consultation with their psychiatrist, that their life is better with meds than without them– it is not your job to police them. Other people’s emotional health? None of your business! If your life is more fulfilling with occasional periods of depression, that’s your business, but you do not get to subject other people to depression because you like it, any more than I get to subject people to pineapple-and-olives pizza because I like it.
There’s always this weird sort of “then they will drag you off into the MENTAL HEALTH CARE CAMPS!” undertones to this particular kind of mental illness denialism. You know, generally if people are fine with being social phobic they don’t go to the therapist for it, so the issue doesn’t come up; the vast majority of people diagnosed with social phobia are upset about being socially phobic and don’t want to be socially phobic anymore. And it’s really fucked to be like “people shouldn’t treat something that’s making them unhappy because I don’t want them to.” Fuck you, who says you get an opinion? (Of course some people who are fine with being socially phobic are coerced into going to the therapist anyway, particularly if they’re young– in which case I say the therapist ought to help them get those assholes off their back.)
There are lots of ways to deal with neurodivergence other than medication. Somebody who’s sad a lot can learn CBT skills that allow her to deal with her feelings better. That easily-distracted kid can get extra time on tests so he can show how much he really knows rather than feel stupid because of his inability to concentrate. A girl with autism can learn not to be ashamed of her stimming or her interests. That is the exact opposite of getting rid of difference: that’s accommodating difference, instead of paying lip service to diversity and then treating everyone as if they’re neurotypical anyway.
I do not think that people should not have access to things that make them happier and more able to cope because they’re just a little bit different. Like. You must be This Crazy to get help! If you are Insufficiently Crazy then you just have to solve your problems with Willpower because that totally works.
A lot of times after neurodiverse people get mental health treatment we’re still neurodiverse. I still have borderline personality disorder, I just know that when somebody is on vacation and doesn’t talk to me for two days and my brain concludes that they hate me forever, it’s probably not actually because they hate me forever. I still have massive abandonment issues! The important diversity I’m adding to the world by constantly being convinced that everyone is about to leave me is still here.
…And more to the point, I still have the awesome parts. I still get the intense joy at relatively small stimuli and the tremendous gratitude whenever people are kind to me. Similarly, someone with ADD still has creativity and energy and hyperfocus if they learn how to cope with being disorganized and forgetful and bad at starting things. Someone with autism can still have splinter skills if they get an AAC device. If someone is trying to treat the neutral or awesome parts of a condition, the problem is not that the person got diagnosed with the condition, the problem is that that person is fucking trying to fix things that don’t hurt anyone.
Short version: making people happy is good! Valuing normality over happiness is fucked! Helping people meet their needs actually promotes human diversity! That is all.