While working on my NDIS application, it occurred to me that all of the mental health issues I now experience are the direct result of ill-advised medical intervention. That had I not been hospitalised and abused by staff, I would not now experience debilitating trauma and compulsions. That if I had died in my bed (that fate itself a result of damaging medical “treatment”) instead of being forced into a mental health ward without a mental illness, I would have died in peace.
What more can we expect from women who are mistreated by the medical system? When we tell them over and over and over again that they are mad, that their pain is all in their head, why are we surprised when it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy?
Perhaps it is deliberate. Years of abuse and disbelief can only have one outcome – trauma and damage, so often in the form of acquired mental illness. Illness compounds illness, and the burden of disbelief placed on the patient means their original health concerns are magnified and multiplied. A weak patient is non-resistant, no longer a bother, a complaint member of society.
The description of Victorian asylums as a “place where insanity is made” is particularly apt, and not irrelevant today.
In The Madness of Women, Jane M. Ussher* suggests it is too easy to slap labels such as “depression” and “anxiety” on women’s distress resulting from disempowering life experiences. These mental states are extremely real and valid, but too often women are placed in the mental illness “box” as a way to dismiss their concerns as intrinsically motivated and therefore invalid, instead of placing the onus on societal factors which may be a significant contributing factor. Once that label is applied, the expectation is on the patient to “recover”, while external stressors, such as medical abuse or societal blame, are buried.
After years of telling chronically ill women they are crazy, malingering, attention-seeking, it’s no wonder they start to believe it.
Michelle wrote a post called “YOU” about the ways we are disabled by society. I would encourage you to read it in full, but here is my contribution:
You who call us mad, hypochondriacs, hysterical**
You who say, “she must be faking it”
You who label us “attention seekers”
You who snarl “just think positive”, as we writhe on the floor, screaming in agony
As if we have any control over this illness poisoning our bodies
As if this was a choice
You who say, perhaps she just needs to see a counsellor
You who suggest meditation apps
She’s been sick for too long – it must be psychological
You who refuse to acknowledge your lack of knowledge
And would project your own limits of understanding onto those who come to you for help
You who look down at us in your offices, with contempt you assume we cannot see
You who tell us, “don’t waste my time”
You who would deny us medical treatment for the crime of being young women
You who would rather strip us of our rights and lock us in secure wards, secure prisons***
Because it is easier to say “she’s crazy” than “I don’t know”
I am disabled by your abuse
I am disabled by your disbelief
I am disabled by your conscious refusal to see me
I am disabled by YOU
*Thanks to Naomi for the recommendation. This book is a gem.
**45% of those with autoimmune diseases were initially labelled as hypochondriacs or “chronic complainers”.
***There is a long history of enforceably hospitalising dissenting women, including those with chronic illnesses. Ussher writes of women who were forced into psychiatric institutions for behaviours such as drinking and having sex with men, or having abusive husbands; where they would be “reformed” with mind-numbing drugs, abuse or ECT. This practice continues today, including a case of one woman who as of 2007 was forcibly subjected to 230 ECT sessions, and others who only underwent ECT under threat of incarceration or losing their children. ME patients are particularly at risk, with up to 125 UK families being investigated by child protection authorities for refusing to comply with a psychiatric model of the illness. One woman, Sophia Mirza, died after being sectioned.