Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Quoted: Ayelet Waldman on writing about mental illness

When I write about mental illness I feel queasy and ashamed, but I also feel strongly that I shouldn’t feel this way, that this is a disease, like diabetes. — Ayelet Waldman from Why We Write About Ourselves 
 Can I say how much I hate this narrative? I know the “just like diabetes” meme is meant to reduce stigma, but it’s an incredibly simple way to describe mental illness, which isn’t at all like diabetes. I’m not denying the realness of MI, but the process of diagnosis is a subjective one, not something you can see on an x-ray or in a blood test. Symptoms overlap; doctors disagree, and oh yeah, it’s totally okay to question a diagnosis without feeling like a bad patient. Stigma exists in more than one form. Reducing mental illness to a disease "just like diabetes" means there are a lot of things we're ignoring, like how people of color are more likely to receive a diagnosis of schizophrenia instead of bipolar or major depression when presenting with similar symptoms. The former has a worse prognosis and carries with it more stigma. Or that poor and working-class people not only lack resources, but the language of mental health in general, and thus remain under or undiagnosed. Being able to write about mental illness, in contrast, seems like a luxury.