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Empathy for mental illness: It cuts both ways

24 Aug

Since Robin Williams’s suicide, there has been a heightened national discussion of depression and other mental illness. Much of this discussion is from people who have experienced depression and can understand how it could drive a seemingly happy, successful, and loved person to suicide. Much of the more publicized discussion is from people who have not experienced depression (or think “a few bad days” or “sadness” is the same thing) and can not understand that.

I just read John Scalzi’s blog post responding to Henry Rollins’s victim-blaming LA Weekly piece (not linked here). Scalzi says in the post that he has not experience depression, but also that he knows that he does not know what it’s like.

On reading this, I realized that I have no understanding of what being mentally healthy is like. My mental illnesses are so much a part of my inner life, and have been literally as long as I can remember, that I don’t know what it would be like to view the world without that lens. These illnesses are better controlled now than they have ever been, but they are still present and I always know what it is like when they are, for lack of a term, asserting themselves.

The upshot is that I do not have the experience of a Henry Rollins or other victim-blamers. I do not understand what it is like to not understand these problems. Yes, the cultural wisdom is gradually moving toward a disease model of mental illness. But slowly, and not uniformly, either across social sectors, individuals, or specific disorders.

It makes me look in myself for some empathy for the mentally healthy as they respond (clumsily) to the mentally ill.

EDIT: My friend Tomio Black has followed this up with his own thoughts.

 
3 Comments

Posted by on August 24, 2014 in General / Overhead, Health

 

3 responses to “Empathy for mental illness: It cuts both ways

  1. Tomio Hall-Black

    August 24, 2014 at 9:05 am

    A long time ago, I came to a startling revelation: Everyone is doing the best they can. Even the guy who has loads of talent and can’t seem to do anything with it is doing the best he can. That he isn’t successful isn’t an indication that he isn’t trying or doesn’t want success – it’s an indication that there is an impediment.

    I suppose the same thing is true here. Rollins doesn’t mean to be an asshole. He’s struggling to deal with something he cannot understand.

     
    • nagadikandang

      August 24, 2014 at 9:07 am

      Rollins doesn’t mean to be an asshole. He’s struggling to deal with something he cannot understand.

      Yes. Thank you. That’s what I’m coming to with this. One of Jalan’s aphorisms is, “Everyone got where they are somehow.” That may or may not mean you want anything to do with the person, but it introduces the potential for compassion.

       

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