Diagnosing Mental Illness

Something I come across a lot on the internet is people saying incredibly stupid stuff. Racist, sexist, homophobic, truly nasty stuff. And that’s a bit sickening.

But then there’s internet commenters that decide that these stupid, sick, nasty people must be mentally ill. Saying crazy, way-out stuff must automatically mean that they’re not right in the head, in a medical sense.

First, unless you are someone’s mental health professional, you cannot diagnose their mental illness. Maybe if you have the training of a mental health worker, you can look at words and behaviours and take an educated guess at their mental state, but until you work with them personally you really don’t have enough information to make a clear diagnosis.

Second, as a layperson, you cannot diagnose mental illness. You may be able to match some criteria from the DSM to people you encounter, but the diagnosis of mental illness is more complex than that. If it was as easy as just a checklist, then psychiatrists wouldn’t train so bloody long to be able to diagnose and treat it.

Third, the face people show to the internet is not their personality in its entirety, and in many cases it is a fairly artificial construct. Diagnosing a single facet of a person as mentally ill is silly. Mental illness diagnoses take in the entirety of a personality as far as possible, much more than the tiny fragment of a person that they choose to show to the internet.

Fourth, ‘diagnosing’ people who are nuttier than squirrel poop as mentally ill adds to the stigma of mental illness. ‘They’re batshit insane, therefore they must be mentally ill, because everyone knows that people who are mentally ill say crazy things’ is a horrible stereotype. The blunt truth is, people can be racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, and myriad other nasty things without being mentally ill. Some people are just not nice people.

Labelling everyone who opposes your view in a passionate, possibly incoherent, manner as mentally ill is insulting to the mentally ill. It perpetuates the stigma that we struggle against. Some of these people may be mentally ill, it’s true. But many of them are just nasty, or stupid, or deluded. Labelling these traits as mental illness is fucking rude.

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