Thursday, July 11, 2013

Being open about mental illness?

I was watching a television show where one of the characters is applying for college. She had been suffering mental health issues, including a brief hospitalization. After getting rejected from schools, her counselor blamed it on her admissions essays. Particularly, he took issue with her discussion of how she  successfully made it out of the institution. He calls it overshare, she says that she is just being honest and that this is her greatest source of pride. He argues that it's not the fact that she struggles with a mental illness that is necessarily the bad thing, but in this current climate of mass shootings, schools would not be willing to take a chance on anyone who admits to having a mental disorder. In other words, it’s fine to have a mental disorder, but it’s quite another thing to admit to it.

But what is the signaling power of discussing mental issues (not just disorders but depression, suicidal or violent thoughts, etc.). Does the willingness to vocalize these thoughts mean that you are particularly bad off? Or particularly likely to act on them? Or particularly unstable? Possibly, because if there is a social norm of never discussing these issues, then you are certainly violating this social norm and people who violate social norms are often written off as being dangerous and anti-social. On the other hand, what is the origin and purpose of the social norm? Do we think it’s particularly harmful for people to express these thoughts? That perhaps by voicing the thoughts, they move one step towards acting on them? Or is it simply that we find these thoughts distasteful, the same way we know we all defecate, but it’s highly inappropriate to discuss one's irritable bowel syndrome in public (which perhaps explains all of the commercial advertisements addressing highly embarrassing bodily dysfunctions? People can't talk about it so you have to reach them directly?). But a major reason why we don’t talk about defecation is because we have natural visceral reactions to it (the same way we gag at the smell of vomit). Why such a strong reaction against bad thoughts?

I watched Silver Linings Playbook recently and thought it was a great portrayal of the sorts of internal and social struggles that people with mental illness deal with. Once these people get their disorder under control, what do they have to look forward to? Working minimum wage at a fast food place or mowing lawns? Living with their parents and other family members for the rest of their lives? Certainly not attending university or getting a good job, not without both omitting their mental health struggles and coming up with a plausible explanation to explain a résumé gap. So no, the struggle/stigma with mental illness doesn’t stop after treatment success. And how does society benefit from perpetuating the stigma? Maybe they can more plausibly lie to themselves that their school or place of employment is free of whackjob crazies. They’re not, and the ones that are there are probably the ones who never sought treatment -- which is more dangerous?

Of course all of this goes double for sociopaths. Crazy people are just sick, but sociopaths choose to be that way. 


  1. Excellent post. I had the similar thoughts watching silver linings playbook.

    I undetstand the double edge sword of not feeling shame. i sometimes have trouble on job interviews, never preparing, always being all style and no substance. I guess when people are keenly aware that you arent embarassed in a situation where they would be, its a red flag.

    1. seeming arrogant and entitled are flags.

      i had an interviewer ask me to do something, and i did it excellently, and then they tricked me into saying something with too much confidence. They said something like "you, who are so good" and with a question. I felt the right thing to do was to agree with their assessment of me. It felt like a trick to see if i was full of myself.

      It was a good trick.

  2. It's a tv show. I've been on a bunch of admissions committees, for differing higher education institutions. And I've seen a number of essays talking about struggles with mental illness. I have not, however, seen anyone rejected because of those essays. If anything, they help distinguish the applicants from the essays that are torn out of the "101 Application Essays" playbooks.

    I am *not* saying there's no stigma against the mentally ill. I've seen a number of real life struggles with it. So I'm in agreement with your broader point.

    But using a television show that doesn't even (in my experience) reflect reality is not the way to make that point. If anything, the show should be criticized for presenting an inaccurate portrayal and thus potentially deterring applicants who would otherwise be fine candidates. I'm not even saying there's no stigma at colleges and grad schols. I'm just saying that at the essay level, it's not the bad thing that your account of the show seems to make it out to be. After reading hundreds of rubberstamp essays, actual honest essays--whatever they're about--look good.


    1. I agree with nodog- it is a TV show. It's comforting to think that the reality of college admissions is able to accept more variations within human behavior as I face this process with my daughter this year. That being said, I am pretty sure that this sort of candor would not fly in the professional world. Mental illness is still a shameful underbelly the go getters of this world have resigned themselves to concealing.

      The problem is not the reality of college admissions, it is the so called reality of TV. As kids passively absorb messages like this one (don't overshare) they are far less likely to come to grips with their own pathologies. This sort of "entertainment" feeds the narcissism of this demographic by driving home the message- the world doesn't want the real you. It wants your false self.

    2. the world doesn't want the real you. It wants your false self.


    3. Maybe if the real world got to see the real you first, not the shiny happy false self that you create to lure folks in with - they just might want you as you are.

    4. they do. i dont get that. i feel like a shell, i talk about feeling like a shell when i'm not super engrossed in them. I hide that i feel like a shell. it's exhausting.

      I dont understand why anyone would want to be around someone so loathing with hate and disrespect for their own mind. And they just look at me like how can i admit something so obviously untrue.

      ^That is false self in a world where no one can see or believe you feel like a waste.

      What the fuck does it matter that someone else like me?

      Can you not imagine what it is like to be me?

      NO, you cannot.

    5. @ 906pm - I'm confused. At 654a, you said the world doesn't want the real you, then at 906 you say they do - anywho...... I knew an S that was good with cars and had a wicked sense of humor. I enjoyed his company because we talked cars and laughed at the same stuff. So, maybe there's more to you than just a shell, only you don't see it?

    6. i am very dpressed

      i have ranted a few times and deleted all.

      thk you for your response. I am just seeing the irony or whatever the word is for when things do not make sense.

    7. @255 - I am 1118 and I have a question for ya - when you say you "admit". Do you sit them down and look them in the eye and tell them that you are an S, or do you hint around at it and hope they get it?
      The S I knew told me that he was depressed and unhappy with his life - he would say things like "Don't expect to much from me" or " I'm used to keeping the real me hidden",or " I don't feel anything", it sounded like things a "depressed" person would say. So I wrote it off as the depression, not the person talking.
      It was later, looking back that I realized that he was trying to tell me in some cryptic socio talk that he was an S.

    8. no i am not an s so i would not admit to that unless i was trying to scare someone. Yes I would do that under certain circumstances...........................

      What I am is detached. I cannot relax into the moments even with some one I "love" to pieces for lengthy periods. I get paranoid they are going to take themselves away from me. I also have disdain for myself and put others as better. When i say better I mean standing on the ground and not afraid or not thinking, analyzing and mentally paralyzed like i feel often. Secure in their skin.

      I am on the outside looking in, but to them i seem entirely engaged. My trouble with empathy is with the affective kind but I am getting the hang of that, Except now i think i see myself pain in theirs, not theirs. I will get better at it If I tell this all to people they scratch their head and argue with me that i am the sweetest most thoughtful person around.
      Well I can be. I can also be completely THERE and attentive to their problems. What they do not know is that all I want to do is focus on something else (them) not because they mean so so much, but in order so i don't have to think about me.

      If I start to think about me I am confused or sad or depressed most of the time, or thinking how i am not like them, how i am only half a person, how i did not develop a full adult Maybe I am more like others than i realize. Probably. But it is extremely uncomfortable and insecure inside me. They do not see this unless i decide to allow it or unless i am having a very bad day and (for lack of a better term)my mask is dropped.

      In these moments they look with disbelief. I want to share this with people like you said, but lots of times i overshare. Like now.

      I have a nagging sadness lurking all the time that i cannot put to the world. If I did, I would be fucked. So I live for to take myself into another's world.and this is very hard to say to people who want to know what you show is sincere giving, not selfish surviving. Do you understand ? I am bipolar too.

    9. no, what i said about affective empathy i think is wrong.

    10. nope just read my post through. it's not right. sorry.. cannot explain well.

    11. Anonymous 631 - every now and then the Socio that I knew would send me emails similar to what you've posted above. Unfortunately I was uninformed/blind/asleep (whatever you wish to call it) and had no idea that it was even possible for another human being to "detached" in this manner. Like I said, I thought it was "depression" and alcohol talking, and I thought that with medications and help - that could be controlled/helped.
      Now that I've found this blog and have read through a lot of it - I now get where he was coming from and what all was really going on with him. If I had known, things would have turned out much better for me and I think for him too.
      You might want to see if you can contact Daniel Birdick or some of the other requlars in the forum on this sight and see if they can help you figure out better ways of dealing with the situation.
      Good Luck to you -

    12. thank you very much. i am not a sociopath. i think their kind of detachment is different from mine, but maybe you are right, and it wouldn't hurt to ask how they handle it.

      your ex was lucky to have someone like you to take an interest in making him ...better. I also had an *antisocial* boyfriend and that is also how i came to read here.

      Good Luck to you too. I hope that you have peace with all you must have gone through.

  3. "Sociopaths choose to be that way." You gave away perhaps more then you
    intended to say. So Jodi Arias was not "forced" to kill Travis by her
    jealous reaction. She choose to do so. There are two ways to look at this.
    1) She had an "intellectual" understanding that society would disaprove of
    her actions, so she attempted to cover them up to avoid punishment.
    2) Her passions got the better of her so she didn't really understand
    (at that moment) what she was doing. Temparay insanity? Which is it?
    Can we discount the fact that some people really are just evil? Or is
    that just a concept from a bygone supersticious error?
    If no one forced Jodi to kill Travis then I have to assume that Jodi is
    an evil person. If Jodi was under the grip of a mental state she could
    not control then I must assume that Jodi is a sick person. It's long
    been understood that "crimes of passion" carry a lesser penality then
    murders for monetary gain.
    Of course it could just be that sociopathy has a physical cause. Didn't
    they image the brains of sociopaths and determine they were different
    from normal peoples? What's the name of that chemical that begins with
    an "A" that they think sociopaths are short on, that prevents them from
    putting breaks on their behaviour?
    An interesting film that takes up the question of wheter sociopathy is a
    sickness or a choice is "Anantomy Of A Murder," starring Jimmy Steward.
    As to why people deny the existence of mentally ill people. They are
    regarded as unsavaory and unhealty. People have an instinctual fear of
    contamination. This is also the reason why people with symetrical features have the inside track when it comes to "love" and sucess.
    Not qualitified for the job? No matter, when can you start?"
    There was a gameshow scandle in the 1950's. The "legitmate" ugly champion
    was replaced by a handsome man who was fed the correct answers. The
    ugly man wasn't telegenic enough. The ugly man overheard insulting talk
    about him and exposed the scandle. Survival of the fittest. Old and ugly
    is not the fittest.

    1. "Quiz Show"--great movie. John Turturro is brilliant.

  4. Mach writes: " The problem is not the reality of college admissions, it is the so called reality of TV. As kids passively absorb messages like this one (don't overshare) they are far less likely to come to grips with their own pathologies."

    Yes, that's exactly what should be discussed here, not a television program as if it were actual reality. The message that the show sends is problematic, especially because it suggests false barriers that don't really exist, causing those with mental issues to hold themselves back unnecessarily. Not to say there aren't barriers, but the application essay is not one of them.

    I also would add that the professional world can be far more forgiving than many expect as well. I'd add some personal examples, but that would give too many identifiers, and for reasons unrelated to neuroatypicality, I don't feel like doing that here. (And, as I've stated before, too, I think m.e.'s current issues with BYU probably arise more from her statements about the Mormon church than anything else. Or so goes the legal academic chattermill.)

  5. don't ask
    don't tell

  6. my mask is the distance between me and the rest of the world

  7. I think I know which show you're talking about: Pretty Little Liars! I love that show!
    I just wish I was as successful at ruining people as A...

  8. Sane people are just people who haven't gone crazy yet. Someone who knows and treats his illness is less dangerous that someone who doesn't. But most people prefer to see the mentally ill as other specie who must be caged.

  9. A lot of people, mentally ill or with personality disorders, self-medicate with alcohol or drugs.

    It is interesting when some people don't want to (some sociopaths). They don't want to lose control of their minds.

    I understand that, to a certain extent. People can act very weak and stupid, when drunk or on drugs.

  10. The sociopaths I've known, just 2, don't drink or drug. They have other addictions like food and sex. I think one of them may be more narc though.

  11. i cant get into pretty little liars, but ive tried. the dialogue is just too boring.

  12. i really like the idea of being a sociopath. when i read something that describes me i get a high. could i be a narcissist?

    1. *read something about sociopaths that describes me.

  13. I'm pleased the author watches Pretty Little Liars! :)

    Why not mention the show by its name like you mentioned the movie though?

    A completely non-mean, non-malicious, genuine question: Do you not want to admit that you watch that show?

  14. Best quote I've heard that made me think of you M.E. "Not a person but an amalgam of competing personality disorders."

  15. Is it all chemical?

  16. It is the guilt caused by errors that makes one sick.

  17. Design facilitates the actual reader to know exactly where the admission essay essay is certainly going along with whatever you are attempting to say to them. Think about the actual design to be a 'framework' around which you'll want to create the producing,

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